Why on earth am I venturing into this territory? Why take on such a deep issue via online? Well, to be honest, it’s because I am exhausted. I am exhausted of the divisive stereotypes that seem to poster the pro-life movement. There is this really false narrative out there that being pro-life is an emotionally based, bible thumping belief that degrades women to ‘nothing more than baby-makers’ and that the pro-choice movement is somehow the empowerment that women have needed to claim the right to decide what they do with their bodies. It’s exhausting to have the pro-life movement being represented by those that don’t know what it means to value life. By those who don’t acknowledge the need for the empowerment of women while simultaneously not eliminating our children to do it. It is exhausting as a 21st century Catholic woman who inherently believes in the dignity of ALL human life AND the empowerment and value of ALL women, to keep seeing these stereotypes replayed over and over. I am exhausted of having to justify or prove the intellectual basis for my arguments because it’s assumed that I just don’t ‘really understand the issue’.
So let’s start here. Yeah, I am Catholic. I don’t hide that fact. Also, yes, my faith absolutely informs my worldview. It does. That worldview does not equate to uneducated or brainwashed. I could argue (but I won’t) that if you hold that opinion, you are likely uneducated on what it means to be Catholic. I am open about my worldview for a reason, it’s so important to understand it. We all have a worldview that shapes our opinions, our beliefs, and our ideologies. We ALL have a bias that comes with it. My Catholic bias is no more blinding to certain aspects of debate than an Atheist one is (but this is a totally different topic of conversation). I recognize my bias and my limitations. I talk about them. I study them. I don’t and won’t compromise my faith, that is very true, BUT that doesn’t disqualify me from having an educated discussion about deeply complex issues, just as a lack of faith, doesn’t disqualify anyone else either.
One of the cruxes in the importance of understanding the context of my faith is that I believe wholeheartedly that my faith is true. However, here is the really awesome thing about truth. Truth, righteous truth, will ALWAYS stand in line with natural law, reason, and logic. You can take scripture out of it, you can take spirituality out of it, but the core principles that comprise it, I believe will always stand firm regardless. I have yet to ever find this to be untrue. With this, I believe pro-life to be a truth. We can dice it any way you want. We can look at it historically, philosophically, socially, morally, politically, scientifically, etc. it doesn’t matter to me. I believe if it is articulated and understood correctly, it will always bring you back to a pro-life understanding. The idea that being pro-life is for the ‘religious’ and the pro-choice is for the ‘educated’… Let me stop you right there. That may be one of the most anti-feminist statements EVER. I am Catholic, pro-life, pro-woman, and stinking educated. So let’s take a step back, take my faith out of it (I already recognized the importance of understanding my worldview but I don’t need to explicitly use it to prove a point) and actually look at the issue.
Defining the Question Being Asked: Is Pro-Choice Empowering to Women?
Generally speaking, I have always felt that hot button topics, like this one, are never given the time nor the attention that they deserve. Debates on deeply complex issues have been watered down to two minute sound bites or a slogan that can be put on a headline. I spent all of the time I have already just setting this up for a thoughtful post. Thoughtful discussion takes time. This topic deserves that thoughtfulness. One of the biggest issues that I see with discussions on these deeply complex issues is that people are typically debating from two different angles. People are answering a different question than they are being asked OR they are attempting to answer too many at once without thoroughly addressing the ONE that is being asked of them. For example, if the question is “Is pro-choice empowering to women?” the answer can’t be, “No, it isn’t, because life begins at conception.” The answer isn’t incorrect, but it didn’t address the question being asked. You are addressing two different topics. One is addressing the social issue of pro-choice while the other is addressing the scientific aspects of the stages of life. Even if your answer isn’t WRONG, it isn’t addressing the correct question and thus leads to mindless shouting contests, not dialogue. I believe every part of the pro-life stance, from the social, moral, and political implications should be addressed and can be addressed. However, ain’t no way it is happening in this one blog post and it shouldn’t. The question I am addressing and the ONLY one I am addressing is,
“Is pro-choice empowering to women?”
I am addressing this question for many reasons but mainly because it is the one that pro-choice likes to claim. They claim that they speak for the empowerment of women and I, quite honestly, wholeheartedly disagree.
The Cycle of Poverty
One of the largest arguments that the pro-choice side loves to claim is that by providing abortions to women they are helping women who live under the poverty line break the cycle of poverty. They like to claim that the higher the ‘access’ to abortions, the less likely a woman is, and her children are, to remain in poverty. Looking at feminist history, it is true that women, when they lack agency or any means to provide for themselves (i.e. before women had a place in the public arena, unable to hold property, etc.) they historically would sell the last commodity they have – their bodies. One thing is clear, if there is something that has always been on the market since beginning of human society, it’s the female body. This, in many respects, is an age-old cycle for women who live under the poverty line. As women sell their bodies, children come into the picture (I don’t think I need to get into the birds and bees here), and therefore more money is needed to feed those children and thus requiring more selling, which leads to more children, then the need for more money, more selling, etc. See the cycle?
Here is the thing, I don’t disagree with the notion that the cycle of poverty, particularly for single mothers under the poverty line needs to be broken. It is also true that women are more likely to be poor than men are. I undoubtedly believe that reform needs to happen. That change absolutely needs to occur (remember the question we are answering, this is another deep, complex issue that deserves another post). What is so fascinating is that pro-choice is somehow blaming the existence of children for the system that impoverishes them. By saying that abortions are fixing the problem, you are therefore saying that children are the cause. If they aren’t the cause, well then ‘eliminating’ them isn’t the solution either. Ridding a woman of her child does not give her a quality education. Ridding a woman of her child does not give her equal pay in the workplace. Ridding a woman of her child does not give her a safe place to live. Ridding a woman of her child does not solve the cycle of poverty. It tells women in poverty that their motherhood isn’t viable. The system needs fixing, not a woman’s ability to mother. Abortion is a horrendously placed band-aid of a broken system at the indispensable cost of human dignity.
The Consumerism of Femininity
I don’t think it is any big secret that women have been the cornerstone for consumerism. Just look at the beauty and fashion industries. Women have been used and abused in an increasingly consumer obsessed society. We are being sold what it means to be a woman. Consumerism has infiltrated our womanhood to a point that we have lost what it means to be a woman and the inherent value that comes with it. We aren’t valuable as we are, as we were born. Our femininity has been manipulated to be rooted in the products we use and our appeal to men. Women’s ‘healthcare’, if you want my personal opinion, in many ways has become the next marketplace for the exploitation of women (I think you could say this about healthcare in general, but I am staying on topic here). Just take this pill, just inject this needle, and you can be a ‘better’ woman because of it. Let me be super clear, no one is ‘selling’ you motherhood, but someone is absolutely selling you, and profiting from, your abortions and your birth control pills. I also personally believe that if you want to see if something is exploitive, look to those most vulnerable. Single pregnant mothers living in poverty are some of the most vulnerable in society (outside of children… which is also very much wrapped up in this topic but I am staying on my original question). This, interestingly enough, is the very demographic that those business’ that provide abortions target and who they openly advertise their services for (don’t get it twisted, it’s a business, not a social program). They are targeting those most vulnerable. Giving them a ‘choice’ while being highly suggestive in their ‘options’ they give. Don’t believe me? Take a look at the questions that are given to ‘help women decide’, I’ll just point out one on this extremely suggestive list of questions, that reads, “Would my decision change my life in a way I don’t want to?”… really? That is the the question you want to ask someone who is facing motherhood? That isn’t a choice, it’s manipulation and quite frankly, exploitation of vulnerable women.
Injustice to the Women Before Us: The Degradation of Motherhood
When looking at the pro-life and pro-choice ideologies, I think it is important to look at the historical place of women in the past and the present. When we talk about the history of women, we must refer to it as feminist history (sometimes referred to as ‘herstory’) why? Because the history in your school textbooks is the history of the public sphere, one that women didn’t have a place in until the recent century. Yes, you have those women that have made the history books, who have been given special agency and made it to the literary pages. You have the Joan of Arcs, the Queen Elizabeth I’s , the Marie Antionette’s but they don’t embody what it meant to be a woman in their times. We don’t have the stories of the women, the MOTHERS, at home, raising the generations that made it to your history books. We have thousands of years of women with stories and their contributions going largely untold. However, just because the stories are untold, doesn’t make their contributions to society less valuable. We don’t even really understand the impact that the women before us have made but it doesn’t make their impact less important.
We live in an age so obsessed with pushing women into the public sphere, we have degraded the value of the private sphere. We idolize those women who stood up to the patriarchy, who have broken the glass ceiling, while disregarding the role that women play, and have always played, in the home, in the family. When we do this, we have begun to do an injustice to the contributions of the women before us. Not just the ones that made the history books, but the mothers, wives, sisters, and daughters that shaped the world in a way we don’t really understand. We can’t undervalue the private sphere. We can’t undervalue mothers. The moment we do, we have begun to do a great injustice to all the women that came before us. We are no more valuable today just because we now have a place in the public arena. THAT is not pro-woman. That is pro-patriarchy. The pro-choice movement in so many ways, I believe is a product of this push.
With such a blinded focus on women joining the public sphere (which don’t me wrong, giving agency to women is HUGE! Particularly for disenfranchised women but we can’t blind ourselves to the private sphere either), we have begun to degrade motherhood. We have begun to put qualifiers on when and how it is okay to be a mother based on standards put out by the public sphere. By telling women that abortion is an option, you are inherently implying that there are times when a woman shouldn’t be a mother. You can say the right to choose, however, it becomes clear that there is one option that you hope (as stated in MANY pro-choice arguments) that those under the poverty line choose – abortion. You can say its up to the mother, but the majority of arguments FOR abortion are on the basis that women under the poverty line need them. Please see previous section about my thoughts on the breaking of the cycle of poverty.
In order to empower women, I think the empowerment of motherhood for ALL is implied. You have to. Being pro-life means you must be pro-mothers too. I would say anyone who says differently, isn’t really pro-life anyways. This is motherhood in all forms. Stay at home, working, adoptive, etc. All mothers. Yes, it absolutely means advocating for longer paid maternity leave, daycare for working mothers, more lactation rooms for women in the workplace, etc. yet many on the pro-choice side who claim to promote these same ideals are simultaneously telling women that they need to rid themselves of their children if they are in a situation that is less than ideal because statistics tell them that they will be a subpar mother otherwise. Well, if they are adding certain qualifiers for what makes you a good mother, you are defining successful motherhood by their socio-economic status. Want to talk about equality? It is making motherhood a luxury for the elite. It is playing motherhood into the patriarchal system that you are claiming to want to take down. It tells women who are struggling that they haven’t earned their right to motherhood until they have made enough financially or had a ‘good enough’ education. We have reduced mothers to statistics. We have degraded the mother as an individual, as a MOTHER, as less capable of love if they don’t check the societal boxes. You are now placing different values on motherhood. That is the opposite of equality for all women.
It breaks my heart for women to live a world that tells them that birthing a child is only necessary when convenient. In a world that tells them that they can only be an adequate mother when they check off all the boxes that society deems appropriate. That they are only empowered when they fit into a patriciarchal system that defines success as anything outside of the heart of this life, the family. That they are not strong enough, smart enough, or capable enough to be what we were born to be. That being a mother is somehow a side occupation you sign up for when you feel you have the time. An occupation more suited for the elite and a detriment to the vulnerable. A world that tells women that you need a BUSINESS to give you a pill or a clinic to fix the deeply rooted issues of poverty. It degrades women from all social classes, cultures, races, and all backgrounds, to nothing more than pawns to be sold to. It, quite frankly, tells women that their road to happiness and success is just a procedure away. It tells women, that your inherent motherhood is not enough. That your womanhood isn’t enough. THAT. That is the opposite of empowerment.
So to answer the question, “Is pro-choice empowering to women?”
No. No it isn’t.