The violence of abortion severs a baby from the mother’s womb—quite literally. And yet so often the way we approach the issue of abortion also severs baby from the mother in another way: by focusing on one over the other. Whose rights do we choose to respect? The Church is clear that both mother and child have rights and that the lives of both are equally sacred. Unfortunately, even pro-life politics often attempts to separate the mother—and her full identity—from her child and to focus solely on her child’s rights.
Too often, “pro-life” politicians lobby for legislation that gives unborn children rights while failing to produce—and even opposing—legislation that secures protection for pregnant women from things like expulsion from school or being fired. Leaders of the pro-life movement fail to support bills that would provide paid family leave, healthcare, a living wage, a path to citizenship for migrants, affordable childcare, or other social safety nets. Certainly many pro-life charities provide things like diapers, car seats, and baby clothes, but in order to improve the lives of women who have crisis pregnancies, we must do more than provide baby supplies.
To do otherwise is to devalue or ignore the needs of the woman and further severs the fundamental bond between mother and child. When addressing abortion, we must engage the needs, voices, and even arguments of women who support legal access to abortion. Pro-choice women often claim that opposition to abortion is about control of women’s bodies. How often is this immediately dismissed by pointing out that this is about the baby’s body? While it’s true that there are two bodies involved, clearly this point hasn’t been engaged effectively.
From the time we are girls, we are taught repeatedly, through countless messages in this highly patriarchal society, that our bodies are simply for the pleasure of men. These same men benefit from abortion. Men legalized abortion and it is men who write abortion laws. It is men who make more money on the dollar than women, men who are hired for more executive positions, men who are given disproportionate influence, power and wealth in this country, and men who have greater influence on creating and enforcing our laws. Even today, only about a quarter of the members of the US congress are women.
Men benefit from abortion because it leaves the consequences of pregnancy to women. This is in spite of the fact that every unplanned pregnancy involves a guaranteed male—not female—orgasm. I do not believe that abortion will ever completely go away, if for no other reason than men—who hold so much power—benefit from it.
Yes, some men make political promises that they will outlaw abortion. But do we have reason to believe that they are serious in their resolve to end abortion when they regularly support laws that perpetuate the patriarchal power structure? In the decades that the Republican party has been the political home of the pro-life movement, why have they not supported laws that protect women from losing their jobs, helped them stay in school, and given them financial security during and after pregnancy? Wouldn’t bipartisan legislation to protect and aid pregnant women be one of the easiest and most immediate ways to reduce abortions? And yet it seems that the states that pass the strictest abortion regulations, don’t even provide basic social nets. Benefits such as paid maternity leave and a living wage would be a good way to address the leading cause of abortion—poverty.
Why does the political party that claims to promote the pro-life cause consistently oppose legislation that would support poor and pregnant women? Why are only 9 of the 50 Republican senators women? Is a woman wrong to cry foul that the men who support legislating what she should do with her body are not also supporting legislation that will protect her rights? Or that the men who define womanhood in our culture also dominate the law?
Misogyny is often defined as a hatred of women. But misogyny is not as much about a man’s feelings toward women than about the systems that control, oppress, and police women. Often misogyny doesn’t come from men who are overtly hateful, but from men who are more interested in appearing morally superior to women. In this form, men disregard the voices of women and create systems that control them. While it is true that unborn children have a right to legal protection, how can we not see the misogyny in the tunnel-vision approach of the pro-life movement? There is something misogynistic about a movement that puts so much money, energy, and resources into electing men who promise to criminalize abortion while ignoring the need to create legal protections and aid for women.
The pro-choice slogan, “my body, my choice,” is a plea from women to take back control in system that gives so much control to men. The argument may be flawed in that the control the woman seeks transfers subjugation from herself to the unborn person. However, the way to effectively address this is not to counter it, but to fix the truth of its premise: men should not control the lives and sexuality of women.
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Melinda Ribnek is a lifelong Catholic, originally from Savannah, Georgia. She currently lives on California's Central Coast with her husband Brian and their seven children. In her spare time, she volunteers for the Church and in her community.