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viewpoint

Women deserve better

| Wednesday, April 6, 2016

On Monday, former state senator Wendy Davis gave a talk entitled “Rise Up: From Single Mother to Harvard Law.” While in public office, Davis achieved notoriety after her 11-hour filibuster against comprehensive pro-life legislation in Texas. She supplemented her political advocacy with personal testimony about her own two abortions, including the fact that, guided by faith and prayer, she made the “right decision” to abort after learning of her daughter’s severe disability. Describing abortion access as “sacred,” she stated that she supports no limits to its access.

In sum, Davis held, and made clear last night that she continues to hold, a public, unrepentant and unmitigated position utterly antithetical to the Church’s teachings on the sanctity of life, the value of people with disabilities and the intrinsic dignity of all women. Yet, on the very day that the Church celebrates Our Lady’s freely-given choice to cooperate in the profound mystery of the Incarnation, some University administrators found it fitting to present. Davis as an inspiring example of female success. Though the event’s promotional material has curiously disappeared from the Notre Dame website, it touted Davis as a “modern-day Texas heroine” who stood against “devastating legislation seeking to limit women’s access to abortion and reproductive healthcare.”

I could use this space to lament the scandal engendered by the decision to host such a talk on a Catholic campus. As we say in the law, however, sometimes “the thing speaks for itself.” Instead, I want to speak to the passionate and eager women who attended last night’s talk, women genuinely seeking to understand how best to do good in the world. I want to tell you something that perhaps no one has yet had the courage to state bluntly and unapologetically: The message presented by Wendy Davis is an odious, pernicious lie, and you deserve better.

For, underneath the seductive language about power and progress lies the central principle of Davis’ message — namely, that our ability to conceive and bear children renders us inherently unequal to men. We can only achieve equality by resorting to technology (and, where necessary, violence) to mimic as best we can the masculine human experience. It says that our worth is measured by the level to which we conform to the male paradigm. Left unchecked, our natural femininity waits like an omnipresent, shadowy specter, ever threatening, as Davis phrased it last night, to “derail our dreams.”

This approach radically misunderstands the source of our dignity and equality and remains ultimately unfulfilling to the women attempting to force themselves into the masculine mold. And I believe, ladies, that deep down you agree. I believe you realize it in those instances when, despite your best efforts, your “no-strings-attached” relationship has once again made tears spring to your eyes. I believe you know it as you vent frustration that your contraception regimen has continued to mess with your weight, your mood, your appetite or your skin. I believe you feel it in those moments late at night after the texts have stopped and the music has ended when that still, soft voice begins to whisper once more, asking whether you will ever know what it means to have a peaceful mind and a contented heart.

I am here to tell you that you will realize your freedom not by denying part of what makes you essentially a woman, but instead by embracing your womanhood, allowing it to blossom into its full potential. Scripture teaches us that “God created mankind in his own image; … male and female he created them.” This “image” enables us to reason, reflect and enter into interpersonal relationships. Since we are the only creatures that innately possess these faculties, this “image” also endows each person with intrinsic dignity and equality. As Pope John Paul II stressed in his “Letter to Women,” this understanding does not ignore the very real social and economic inequalities faced by women. Yet, the Church’s view correctly recognizes that any viable solution to these problems must root itself in the central tenet that each woman is good simply by virtue of her existence. Women do not require intervention alterations to their nature to achieve equality; they claimed that equality as their birthright at the very moment of their creation.

The Church provides myriad examples of women living out these teachings, further undermining Davis’ claims that authentic freedom, equality and success remain unattainable without abortion and contraception access. What about Helen Alvaré, wife, mother, Cornell Law School graduate, author, professor and advocate for the weak and vulnerable? Or Mary Ann Glendon, former ambassador to the Holy See, member of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, wife, mother and Harvard Law School professor? Or Reggie Littlejohn, wife, mother, Yale Law school graduate and tireless advocate against women’s rights abuses in China? These represent just a few of the many bold, powerful, high-achieving, feisty women who change the world while joyfully living in accordance with the Church’s moral doctrines.

So this is my challenge to you, women of Notre Dame: Critically question the dominant cultural narrative that being born a woman means being handicapped by a fertility problem that you must “rise up” against. Listen to that still, soft voice the next time she speaks to your innermost heart and entertain, even for a moment, the radical belief that, by virtue of your very creation, you are enough. Ask God to reveal your fundamental uniqueness and irreplaceability to you. Pray that He shows you what it means to be truly free and gives you the strength to pursue it with all your heart. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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