Forty years ago tomorrow, Roe v Wade was decided. The decision-makers were all men.
The important group Feminists for Life was founded at about this time, and for decades these and other pro-life feminists have been fighting for women by presenting evidence that–contrary to conventional wisdom–broad abortion rights serve the financial and sexual interests of men. And, tragically, hurt the flourishing of women.
Many who read this blog are familiar with these kinds of arguments (if you are not, here is a good place to get a sketch) and the traditional evidence presented. Most recently, however, we were reminded that having broad access to abortion choice in a developed country does not make women safer. Indeed, though Ireland gives its prenatal children equal protection of the law, it has significantly lower maternal death rates than similar countries (like the United States and the UK) which protect broad abortion choice.
The conventional wisdom is that broad access to abortion is necessary to protect women’s health. This is false. Another piece of conventional wisdom is that supporting equal protection of the law for prenatal children is part of a war on women and that those who pursue this end risk alienating women. This is also false. A new Pew poll shows not only that women are more likely than men to want to see Roe overturned, but that 49% of women see abortion as morally wrong–compared with only 45% of men.
Later this week, hundreds of thousands of people who will once again descend on Washington DC to protest against the systematic injustice involved in denying prenatal children equal protection of the law. Though it will receive almost no substantial coverage from the news media, this will be an incredibly diverse gathering of human beings from every race, language and way of life. There will be conservatives and liberals, Muslims and Jews, Tea-Partiers and Pagans, theists and secularists, whites and blacks, heterosexuals and gays and lesbians, young and old.
There have been several stories done in recent years about the overwhelming numbers of young people at the March. This is hardly surprising given that only 37% of Millennials consider abortion to be morally acceptable–a dramatic shift from what young people thought a generation ago. Today we honor the man who led energetic marches for equal protection of the laws for a group of human beings, and last week the Huffington Post did a story on the lack of civil rights activism in a post-MLK world–implying that young people have failed to step up as they did in that era. But that spirit of civil rights activism is not dead: this week there will be another energetic march also designed to get equal protection of the law for a group of human beings.
How such equal protection should look in the law, practically speaking, is a difficult issue about which reasonable people can disagree. Only those unfamiliar with the complexities of abortion believe that there is an easy legal answer. Certainly, whatever the law looks like, the health and life of women should be protected–as it is in Ireland. But a young, diverse group of people–one that is disproportionately female–is pushing all of us to focus on having this kind of difficult conversation. We have 55,000,000 reasons to do so.
For all of the attention paid to the Roe v. Wade decision, and subsequent efforts to overturn it, legal and legislative battles are a distraction from the decisive arena in which the fight against abortion will ultimately be determined. The law can only ever reflect the consensus values of a culture. Any law, or ruling which defies that cultural moral sense will inevitably fall. Jim Crow fell because American culture changed and would no longer grant legal sanction to racial discrimination. Women secured the right to vote, by challenging and overcoming cultural prejudices about gender. Similarly, Roe v. Wade was a signpost and an accelerant of cultural decay, not its cause. Should it be overturned by some future court, unless we have taken dramatic steps to lay the groundwork for a Culture of Life in which the rights and dignity of every human person are respected, nothing will change.
A hyper-materialistic culture which defines our humanity in strictly economic terms, that values its members as nothing more than consumers and producers, collections denies the essential character, dignity, and sanctity of the human person. A philosophy which reduces us to collections of appetites to be sated and urges to be acted upon is intrinsically violent. In this inhuman calculus of a culture that hallows such twisted notions of virtue, children are not understood as gifts or blessings, but as threats and rivals to the humanity and equality of women. In this perversion of culture women will seek, and society will tolerate abortion as a regrettable, but unavoidable necessity and content itself to normalize the unspeakable.
The dehumanization of the prenatal, the elderly, the handicapped, the poor, the immigrant is only possible because they are so economically inconsequential. If we would protect the unborn, and all of those on the tattered margins of life, we must first build a culture which cherishes them all the more for their fragility and need, and that, I am firmly convinced is possible only through the intercession of, and our cooperation with the Theotokos, Our Lady, the exemplar of the maternal, against whom abortion most foully offends.
Until that time, every law and legal appeal, every human effort is doomed to fail.
Thank you for your eloquent and beautiful post that is a most accurate analysis of the underlying cause of abortion.
I hope you would not disagree with me that we should never stop speaking against abortion or working to limit unrestricted abortion rights while we strive to “build a culture” that cherishes the fragile. This can be done in a peaceful and loving way, trusting, as you say, on the the power of the Lord and His Mother to change hearts.
I agree with you absolutely, Frank. We need to continue to witness to the truth that abortion is not a right, but part of the tangled web of degradation that follows from the denial of huamn dignity. We are redeemed by God, but are expected to be active participants in our own redemption, similarly, it is only through the intercession of Our Lady, not through our own strength that the Culture of Death will be usurped, but we are still called to be active participants in the redemption of our culture.