The National Catholic Review

“I was lured into one of the oldest, biggest, most tempting lies in human history: the enemy is not human. “ And you, in this article, have done the same toward women. You show absolutely no respect for the acts of gestating a fetus and giving birth - giving new life to a human, something that only women can do. Since this is something that only women can do, the misogynist institution of Catholicism and other repressive religions IGNORE these acts - thereby completely erasing the role of the woman in the birth process. In their view, once a woman conceives, her role - and her ability to make decisions regarding it - ends. She becomes a subhuman non-entity, a mere Petri dish. Most likely, this attitude compensates for the fact that the man has no role in the process after he donates the sperm. It is totally out of his hands (unless of course, he murders the pregnant woman, as happens all too often). I’m sure this has frustrated and enraged men for thousands of years. Until anti-abortion advocates like yourself come to terms with the reality of biology, that is, that a fertilized ovum is not a human being in any sense of the phrase - and until you can figure out some way to gestate a fetus to term without the willing participation of a woman and her womb - you are merely living in a dream world, parroting senseless propaganda. “As I researched issues like partial-birth abortion, I frequently became stunned to the point of feeling physically ill upon witnessing the level of evil that normal people can support.” Late-term abortion is almost always used in tragic cases of fetal abnormality or danger to the woman’s life. Would you like to explain why you think that medical professionals are “evil” for helping in these cases? Are you really ready to say that the life of a fetus trumps the life of a grown woman? It’s easy to say such things when you make the woman invisible and rob her of her humanity and her authority over her own body.

Heather-Rose Ryan
Intervale, NH

Heather-Rose: of all the comments I received, I was most looking forward to responding to this one, because I really understand where you’re coming from. There’s a lot of ground to cover here, so let’s start with this:

LATE-TERM ABORTIONS FOR HEALTH REASONS

 

You said: "Late-term abortion is almost always used in tragic cases of fetal abnormality or danger to the woman’s life. Would you like to explain why you think that medical professionals are ’evil’ for helping in these cases? Are you really ready to say that the life of a fetus trumps the life of a grown woman? It’s easy to say such things when you make the woman invisible and rob her of her humanity and her authority over her own body."

Well, late-term abortions are the killing of babies who are at or near the same age as the premature infants in hospitals’ infant intensive care units. Clearly, this is infanticide. "Late-term abortion" for "fetal abnormality" is the killing of disabled infants, and, yes, I am opposed to that. I think that disabled babies should have the same rights as able-bodied babies.

As for the question of the health of the mother, it is undoubtedly an agonizing situation. Believe me, the entire concept of a woman having to make the choice between her own life and her child’s life is deeply distressing. I’ve put no small amount of thought into this, especially since I have a blood disorder that is complicated by pregnancy and has the potential to cause life-threatening problems. A couple things to consider:

1. There are countless cases of women being told that they will die if they don’t terminate their pregnancies, but when they put their feet down and demand that doctors work with them to find alternative solutions, they are able to find a way to save both people’s lives. The wonder of modern technology allows for a lot of creativity these days, but unfortunately the medical establishment is far too quick to err on the side of abortion rather than go into more complicated alternatives.

2. Again, because this is such a distressing issue, I can understand wanting to have a dialogue about it. However, I think it is important to clarify the terms: when we are talking about terminating pregnancies at 20+ weeks, where the child is old enough to have a chance of surviving outside of the womb, there is no question that we are talking about infanticide. I think it confuses the question and gives one side of the debate an unfair advantage to mislabel the situation as a woman "aborting" her "fetus" to save her life. If we debate the issue of a woman "killing" her "infant" to save her life, we are at least bringing the situation out into the light and having a discussion about what’s really going on.

As for the doctors who perform these procedures, I do not think that they’re evil. I think that they’re good, normal people who have fallen into doing something gravely wrong by telling themselves a story. For example, when Dr. Leroy Carhart testified before the Supreme Court in Stenberg v. Carhart to describe what he does at his job, he said, "[W]hen you pull out a piece of the fetus, let’s say, an arm or a leg and remove that, at the time just prior to removal of the portion of the fetus...the fetus [is] alive." He went on to say that he’s observed babies’ heartbeats via ultrasound with "extensive parts of the fetus removed." In both statements he was talking about children who are at or near the same age as the infants with cute little booties on in hospitals’ infant intensive care units. But, in his mind, he’s not dismembering babies. He’s "aborting" "fetuses."

Almost nobody ever says, "I’m going to do something evil today, and I’m OK with that." The way any of us ever do anything that’s evil is by telling ourselves that what we’re doing is not evil at all. Evil always works through lies.

WHEN HUMAN LIFE BEGINS

 

You said: "Until anti-abortion advocates like yourself come to terms with the reality of biology, that is, that a fertilized ovum is not a human being in any sense of the phrase - and until you can figure out some way to gestate a fetus to term without the willing participation of a woman and her womb - you are merely living in a dream world, parroting senseless propaganda."

I’m not sure what the process of gestation has to do with the question of when life begins but, to that question: technically, "life" does begin at conception. A fertilized cell is certainly alive -- non-life cannot create life. Given that it has all the genetic material of a human being, what else would it be other than human? The benchmark for deciding when human life begins is a critical one since it marks the line between people and things, between meaningless medical procedures and the taking of human lives. Given the lack of any better benchmark for determining when human life begins, and since even people who think it begins later cannot know for sure, it seems like the most prudent course would be to assume that it begins at conception.

UNFAIRNESS TO WOMEN

 

Here is where I feel like I really know where you’re coming from: "[Y]ou, in this article, have [dehumanized] women. You show absolutely no respect for the acts of gestating a fetus and giving birth - giving new life to a human, something that only women can do. Since this is something that only women can do, the misogynist institution of Catholicism and other repressive religions IGNORE these acts...Most likely, this attitude compensates for the fact that the man has no role in the process after he donates the sperm. It is totally out of his hands (unless of course, he murders the pregnant woman, as happens all too often)"

Heather-Rose, I think that you and I share a sense of outrage about what is going on in the world today regarding women’s sexuality, we only differ on what we believe the source of it to be.

The fact is, women can get pregnant and men cannot. I used to hate that idea. If I could have waved a magic wand and somehow made both men and women have to share equally in the gestation of a baby, I would have. It seemed so cosmically unfair that women had to deal with this huge burden that men didn’t even have to think twice about if they didn’t want to.

With this point of view of seeing pregnancy and babies as bad things, it is tempting to see abortion as a solution that makes the "problem" of pregnancy go away. But the thing is, it’s not really a solution. It doesn’t resolve the "unfairness." Even if you don’t think it’s the taking of a human life, it’s still an invasive, violating procedure that men will never have to deal with.

I think that the great unfairness we both sense is ultimately rooted in the lie of consequence-free sex. Our culture tells young women that such a thing as "protected" sex, i.e. sex without life-altering consequences, is not only possible but the default. Women then end up in agonizing situations when it doesn’t work out as promised, as happens all too often. When we try to make the pro-contraception worldview work in real life, we end up at war: at war with men, with our children, and especially with our own bodies.

I think that the path to peace on this issue does not lie in abortion. I think that it lies in embracing our roles as the bearers of the next generation, understanding just how empowering it is that the human race will only survive with our cooperation. And I think that a fundamental component of finding peace as women is to boldly, unapologetically reject the lie of consequence-free sex.

Jennifer Fulwiler

Comments

Anonymous | 7/8/2008 - 3:02pm
Leaving Men Out Of the Abortion Discussion This is on a related note. I think it's really tragic to leave men out of the abortion issue based on the assumption that the female body has more "biologically" on the line during pregnancy. Yes, my husband is not the one hugging the toilet during bouts of mourning sickness or dealing with the painful contractions at birth. Yet his biological imprint is equally on this unique growing child. In some ways, being outside the whole hazy, child-birth as a cross to bear, makes him more clear sighted and loving towards our young children. As I had mentioned before, as a pro-choice Protestant, I helped a dear friend procure an abortion. It was many years after my initial confession of that sin, that I thought about another person I equally hurt in this action- the Dad. The Dad who loved the Mom, who loved the baby, who wanted to be a father and husband. Yet because the abortion was solely the women's decision under the legal rubric of Roe v. Wade, got left on the sidelines and told a palatable lie that the baby "died" in a miscarriage. The oppression of women is a tragic result of original sin and must be objected to and avoided in all areas. Yet, abortion is not a real "remedy" for the violence and oppression of women. While there are certainly abusive and/or absentee fathers, I suspect there are far more men like my friend's dear boyfriend. Men who muddle around in this "safe sex" culture, who suddenly find that their voices don't count in the abortion debate once the "decision" to abort concerns their own children.
Anonymous | 7/14/2008 - 7:18pm
Jennifer, Thanks for your extensive and fascinating insights. I have a brief question. I was wondering about your views on miscarriage as it relates to Catholic theology. Is miscarriage (or accidental abortion) seen as an act of God? Do miscarriages reflect on the deeds or misdeeds of the would-be parents? Can other theological connections be drawn between abortion and miscarriage? Thanks very much.
Anonymous | 7/8/2008 - 3:30pm
Julie: Until its birth, the "baby" (fine with me if you want to call it that) is parasitical dependant on the mother. Its status as a "fetus" or "person" or "human" is therefore of little consequence. If you've wrestled with this issue, I am sure you are familiar with Judith Jarvis Thomson's famous argument about the violinist (available here, for those who may not know it: http://spot.colorado.edu/~heathwoo/Phil160,Fall02/thomson.htm). How do you respond to Thomson's argument?
Anonymous | 7/11/2008 - 10:29am
In a way, a strict pro-life stance fights abortion by aborting women. They are taken out of the equation, are disregarded, or at least given secondary status. The full complexity and wonder of pregnancy is underappreciated by pro-choicers and pro-lifers. Each sees mainly the woman or the unborn, missing the unity of woman/unborn, a unity needing considerable understanding and support. Our current economic structure, however, regards pregnancy and birth and child caring as impediments to less important productivity. Women are pulled every which way these days. They need more say -- fewer glass ceilings -- including at work and in church. Until there are more female higher ups at work and in church, this is unlikely to happen. Whatever else we do to promote life, let us pray and work for this to happen.
Anonymous | 7/9/2008 - 12:06pm
A developing fetus is human in every meaningful way, as Jenn said. We do not metamorph. A fetus does not start out as some sort of pink caterpillar that crawls around the womb for 9 months, then slips into a coccoon and emerges out the vagina a beautiful butterfly. We start out rather small and we grow bigger for the next 20 years. If a fetus is a parasite, it is the only known parasite that will grow into a human baby on its own. This would be fairly typical and expected behaviour if the fetus were actually human itself, but it is quite remarkable for a non-human. Scientists have identified thousands of types of cancers but I don't think any of them have every morphed into a human baby, even a colicky one.
Anonymous | 7/9/2008 - 9:43am
Joe: Babies are dependent on the mother long after birth, too. A six-month-old will not survive without its mother, or at least some adult assistance. Your argument, then, would seem to demand that mothers have the right to abort not only unborn children, but all children who have not yet reached some state of basic independence.