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Authentic Feminism

La Donna Gravida (The Pregnant Woman), Raphael, 1505-1506

Yesterday, I had the good fortune to attend Women Speak 2018. This gathering that was organized by Americans United for Life and hosted by the Heritage Foundation brought together women to evaluate the questions, “Has Roe v. Wade been good for women?” There was a panel of legal scholars, a panel of medical professionals, and a panel of cultural experts that included an economist, a sociologist, and a journalist. All of them were women. You can find a full list of the esteemed speakers as well as a video of the entire conference here. I think it would be well worth your time to watch.

The conclusion was that Roe v. Wade has not been good for women. Abortion on demand has had unintended consequences that have hindered, not helped, the flourishing of women in the physical, emotional, professional, and cultural realms. Again, watch the video for just a sampling of the innumerable negative consequences of abortion.

Most of the information I had heard before because I have spent a lot of time studying this issue. But I did come away with an important new insight. We talk about overturning Roe v. Wade because that is really the emotional and symbolic beginning of the abortion debate. But the current law of the land is based on Planned Parenthood vs. Casey. This case reaffirmed the central holding of Roe that women need abortion. The majority opinion invoked the reliance doctrine. They argued that women relied on the availability of abortion in planning their lives and it would be detrimental to their success to remove that availability. 

… for two decades of economic and social developments, people have organized intimate relationships and made choices that define their views of themselves and their places in society, in reliance on the availability of abortion in the event that contraception should fail. The ability of women to participate equally in the economic and social life of the Nation has been facilitated by their ability to control their reproductive lives. See, e. g., R. Petchesky, Abortion and Woman's Choice 109, 133, n. 7 (rev. ed. 1990). The Constitution serves human values, and while the effect of reliance on Roe cannot be exactly measured, neither can the certain cost of overruling Roe for people who have ordered their thinking and living around that case be dismissed.

This reasoning is a continuation of the misogynistic thinking that was the underpinning of the feminist movement that dominated the 1970’s and continues today. The central tenet of this thinking is that women are not as successful as men because physically they are defective. If we remove the hindrances of fertility and pregnancy, women will be as successful and as esteemed in society as men. Maleness is the normative model to which all should aspire.

How different would our culture be if we did not treat fertility as a disorder or pregnancy as a disease? Authentic feminism does not deny our feminine nature, but rather, embraces it. The capacity for motherhood is a feature, not a bug. It would be so much easier to advocate for family-friendly business practices if the culture celebrated motherhood and children, rather than despising them. 

I had my third child while I was practicing medicine in the Air Force. It was a small hospital without a lot of redundancy so my pregnancy was going to impact the hospital operations. When I told my hospital commander that I was pregnant, he glared at me and exclaimed, “How could you do this to me?”  And that was pretty much the attitude of many of my male colleagues. Most of them were fathers who had welcomed their own children. But all they could see was the temporary inconvenience that my pregnancy posed. The flight surgeons who were supposed to cover the emergency room while I took a lunch break routinely did not show up so I was left working 9-10 hours per day as the only physician in the emergency room well into my third trimester until I began having symptoms of pre-term labor. Even then, I was monitored for a short while in the labor and delivery suite, given a shot of terbutaline, and sent back to the emergency room to keep working. 

This hostile attitude was engendered by the Roe v. Wade reasoning that concludes female physiology is defective. Women who refuse to cover it up are defective and undesirable. The truth is motherhood made me a better doctor. Being a doctor made me a better mother. My contribution to society is enhanced, not diminished, by my feminine nature.

The central assumption of Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey is erroneous. Women do not need abortion. Only in a culture that holds maleness to be superior to femaleness would it be expected that a woman would kill the unique life growing within her in order to gain societal esteem. It is time to work for a culture that embodies the writing of Pope St. John Paul II in Mulieris Dignitatemwho lauded the feminine genius:

The moral and spiritual strength of a woman is joined to her awareness that God entrusts the human being to her in a special way. Of course, God entrusts every human being to each and every other human being. But this entrusting concerns women in a special way - precisely by reason of their femininity - and this in a particular way determines their vocation.
The moral force of women, which draws strength from this awareness and this entrusting, expresses itself in a great number of figures of the Old Testament, of the time of Christ, and of later ages right up to our own day.
A woman is strong because of her awareness of this entrusting, strong because of the fact that God "entrusts the human being to her", always and in every way, even in the situations of social discrimination in which she may find herself. This awareness and this fundamental vocation speak to women of the dignity which they receive from God himself, and this makes them "strong" and strengthens their vocation.
Thus the "perfect woman" (cf. Prov 31:10) becomes an irreplaceable support and source of spiritual strength for other people, who perceive the great energies of her spirit. These "perfect women" are owed much by their families, and sometimes by whole nations.
In our own time, the successes of science and technology make it possible to attain material well-being to a degree hitherto unknown. While this favours some, it pushes others to the edges of society. In this way, unilateral progress can also lead to a gradual loss of sensitivity for man, that is, for what is essentially human. In this sense, our time in particular awaits the manifestation of that "genius" which belongs to women, and which can ensure sensitivity for human beings in every circumstance: because they are human! - and because "the greatest of these is love" (cf. 1 Cor 13:13).

Authentic feminism recognizes the inestimable value of the total woman to all aspects of our culture. This means acknowledging and celebrating our femininity, not distorting or destroying it.


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