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Pro-life is pro-woman

| Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Hopefully most people at Notre Dame would agree that someone’s worth is not based on their circumstances, accomplishments or abilities, but simply on the fact that they are a human person. Regardless of our political or religious persuasions, this idea is generally a point of common understanding — and if this is not always the case in our actions, it is at least true in our rhetoric.

For example, ideally no one would say that a person of a different nationality, a person of low socioeconomic status, a person of a different religion, or a person with a disability, etc. is somehow worth less because of any one of these qualities. In fact, to say so would spark outrage throughout the Notre Dame community and probably across the media at large.

However, when it comes to talking about the value and worth of women, the mainstream narrative suggests something quite different. Despite an intense desire and effort for widespread recognition of women’s dignity and equality, the promotion of contraception, abortifacients and abortion on demand as a means of achieving this goal sends exactly the opposite message.

To say that access to contraception and abortion is an absolutely essential part of making women’s equality a reality is to say that women are not valuable as women. It says that women must fundamentally change who they are in order to have an equal place in society. It says that there is basically something wrong with the natural physiology of a woman, so that she must escape from it in order to make the most of her gifts and talents.

At the heart of the movement for readily available contraception and abortion is not simply the proposition that women are just as valuable as men, or that women can achieve the economic and intellectual heights that men have (both of which are absolutely true). Rather, the underlying message of the abortion and contraception narrative is that women must become exactly like men in order to succeed in a male-dominated working world.

To put it lightly, women must medically alter their reproductive biology, either through preventative or remedial action, so that they can behave sexually in a way similar to men. To put it harshly, women must either sabotage the natural reproductive structure of their body or kill their own child, so that neither themselves nor the men involved are in any way “burdened” with what has been considered throughout history the natural, biological result of sex.

Ironically, the wholesale promotion of abortion and contraception, which has come to be seen as the hallmark of modern feminism under the work of Planned Parenthood, NARAL Pro-Choice America, Emily’s List and other groups, has made feminism not really feminism at all. Instead of working for a culture that recognizes and supports women as women, and striving for a society in which the encouragement of the gifts and talents of women exists alongside responsibility and care for women in their natural capacity to become mothers, modern feminism works for a culture in which women are recognized only insofar as they can become like men in their economic and sexual lives.

We should all be striving for a culture that honors the value of women in all their uniqueness and in all their capacity for greatness. Neither abortion nor contraception provides an answer. Widespread usage of contraception has largely resulted in a culture that values women only for what they can give sexually, and that does not see women as worth a lifetime commitment of love and support. And, inevitably, contraception fails. And, when it does, the availability of abortion on demand means that, despite the language of “choice,” women feel this is their only option, that no one will support them, and that they are totally alone.

While choosing abortion might temporarily “fix” a situation (setting aside, of course, the lasting emotional, psychological and spiritual damage caused to the woman and all involved, as well as the deliberate killing of a totally innocent human being), it does nothing to change the cultural attitudes and structures which led the woman to be in the circumstances in which she felt that abortion was her only option.

We do live in an imperfect world, and it is naive to think that there would never be an unplanned pregnancy free of difficulty (in fact, bringing a child into the world, whether it be expected or unexpected, always requires great sacrifice), it is also wrong to think that abortion is ever the right answer. It makes much more sense to establish laws providing paid family leave, build pregnancy support centers instead of abortion clinics and support the commitment of marriage and family than it does to legalize the abortion of the most innocent as a means of achieving women’s equality.

From the beginning of the movement for legalized abortion, the pro-life stance has been unceasingly criticized as inherently “anti-woman.” While some members of the pro-life movement have in the past lacked sensitivity toward the unique situation of women, and have even opposed abortion as a part of a broader goal to oppose women’s equality, these viewpoints are not a part of the authentically Catholic pro-life worldview.

The truth is that to be pro-life is to be pro-woman. The Catholic, pro-life understanding of women, men, sex and children is inherently pro-woman, and always has been. Pope John Paul II wrote in his encyclical “Mulieris Dignitatem” that in parenthood, God “entrusts” the human being to a woman in a special way. And, because of the woman’s more demanding physical role in parenthood, he adds that a man must be “fully aware that in their shared parenthood he owes a special debt to the woman.” Men must take responsibility for their actions, and not leave women alone and unsupported.

This is a beautiful vision for a society that values women as such, and protects the most innocent and vulnerable. It is a vision for a society in which each woman who experiences a “special communion with the mystery of life, as it develops in [her] womb” is valued and supported both as a mother and for her intellectual, creative, and professional gifts.

For all of these reasons, the theme of Notre Dame Right to Life’s Respect Life Week this year, Oct. 1-7, is “Pro-Life is Pro-Woman.” During the course of the week, we hope to show more fully why this is true, and how we participate in supporting women and in supporting life. We invite you to dialogue with us, and to be open to seeing how the pro-life vision is something everyone can support. We invite you to explore the power of self-sacrifice for building a culture that recognizes the value of every human person. We invite you to take a step forward into a life of real, self-giving love.


Noelle Johnson

Notre Dame Right to Life, Director of Spirituality

Sept. 21


The views expressed in this Letter to the Editor are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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