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Feminist speaker puts forth pro-life message

| Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Feminist for Life advocate Joyce McCauley-Benner spoke at Saint Mary’s on Wednesday night as part of Respect Life Week. The talk, sponsored by Belles for Life, focused on how women can be both feminist and pro-life.

“I thought you couldn’t be feminist and pro-life,” McCauley-Benner said. “But feminism changed my life.”

“ … I became pregnant in college. I didn’t know if it was my rapist’s, or — I had been in a loving relationship — if it was my boyfriend’s.”

When she went to her college’s wellness center and found out the pregnancy test was positive, McCauley-Benner said she considered an abortion, even though she grew up in a pro-life household.

“I begged [the nurse] to tell me what to do,” she said. “She told me to take prenatal vitamins, find a doctor and be on my way. She didn’t tell me to go get an abortion [but] a lot of nurses will.

“Did I think about abortion? Sure. I didn’t have a clue as to how to take care of myself during a pregnancy.”

McCauley-Benner said her best friend changed her perspective on abortion.

“She said, ‘Joyce, I know you’re feeling really overwhelmed right now, but I want you to know: no one feeling lasts forever — an abortion will,’” she said. “While I did not know who the father of this pregnancy was, I did know who the mother was.”

McCauley-Benner then moved back home with her parents and gave birth to her baby boy.

“My boyfriend didn’t sign the paternity papers because we didn’t know who the father was, but it didn’t matter to me as much anymore,” she said. “I was not going to be transformed from a woman to a mother. Rather, my experience of womanhood was expanding.”

Life as a single mother was not easy, she said.

“Take the most stressful week in a semester — that was my daily life as a parent,” McCauley-Benner said. “Everyday life was a struggle for me.”

She said society tells women they can’t handle having a child and going to school, or even have a child and be successful. Feminists for Life’s goal is to get rid of this mindset.

“The status quo will tell us that we can’t do it, we shouldn’t do it or that we have to choose between motherhood and womanhood,” she said. “I’m here to tell you that we deserve better. I said no to the status quo. I said that you can heal from rape and bear a child. I am victorious over the violence committed against me.”

McCauley-Benner went on to graduate with her bachelor’s degree and, later, a master’s degree. After having her son, she realized that abortion is not a free choice, but an injustice.

She defined free as, “not to be compelled by circumstance.”

“Women who endure domestic violence, rape, incest, abuse and trafficking — all of that lead to situations where you are not free,” McCauley-Benner said. “At Feminists for Life, we are feminist first, but we also believe women deserve better than abortion. This doesn’t have to be a religious issue, it doesn’t have to be a political issue — this is a women’s justice issue.”

Feminists for Life create pregnancy resource forums for women who undergo unplanned pregnancies. Additionally, they discuss what resources are available on college campuses and work to solve other issues such as housing, child care, classes, health care and financial aid.

“We come together with administrators to work on resources for women,” she said. “When I was in college, I thought I was all alone. I thought that the only way to be strong was by doing it by myself, but my real strength came through finding resources for support.

“You shouldn’t have to terminate your education in order to keep a baby.”

Other women who became pregnant by rape ask her how she managed to heal, McCauley-Benner said.

“It’s still a very scary night,” she said. “But women who experience unplanned pregnancy also experience unplanned joy. We are more powerful and creative than we have ever been told, and that is how we can heal.”

According to McCauley-Benner, the number one reason for abortion is the lack of resources and support for women.

“Doing a medical procedure that is not good for your body is not good enough for me; it’s also disempowering,” she said. “There are other choices.”

When an abortion is recommended, usually medical personnel tell the woman who is pregnant that they can take care of the problem for them, McCauley-Benner said, but that is not the problem.

“We need to understand how powerful we are,” she said. “If women heard that more from our sisters, our best friends, our roommates, our brothers and our boyfriends — whatever the crisis may be — the more you hear that, the easier it is to say ‘I’ve got this.’ To me, that’s what’s missing.”

McCauley said providing help and support is key to empowering pregnant women, but our society resorts to shame.

“How do our communities, our schools, our churches treat women who have an unplanned pregnancy?” she said. “We need to stop the shame. Every women is a gift; every women is beautiful.”

President of Belles for Life Katherine Dunn said being pro-life and being feminist goes hand in hand, and she hopes McCauley-Benner helped to spread that message to other Belles.

“I hope that it gets people thinking who are pro-life and pro-choice,” she said. “I also want it to raise awareness for what resources Saint Mary’s has for its parenting students.

“Being pregnant doesn’t have to change your goals as a college student. Saint Mary’s supports you [and] Belles for Life supports you.”

Junior Emily Lambert said she thinks McCauley-Benner’s message is essential on Saint Mary’s campus.

“I think it’s good to be informed on this because we are an all women’s campus,” she said. “Sometimes it’s hard to be both pro-life and pro-women. I think it was important for people to understand how we can be both.”

Junior Leah Buck agreed with Lambert and McCauley-Benner’s message.

“[Being pregnant] isn’t the end of a woman’s life,” she said. “Women are powerful enough to deal with unforeseen circumstances and to be successful.”

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  • RandallPoopenmeyer

    That is nice that you found a decision that worked for you, but just know that your choice is not right for all women. Also, the baby was probably the rapists, unless you were irresponsible and didn’t use birth control with your boyfriend.

  • Brendan

    Great article, Stephanie! Notre Dame needs to continue increasing resources and support for pregnant women on campus. That’s great that you’re helping reclaim feminism as well. Many people won’t use the word because use it to champion child murder.