Abortion as a Feminist Concern

Janet E. Smith
Reproduced with Permission

For the MOST part abortion has been included in a package of "women's issues" and as one of the "rights" or even "goods" which women have been denied. Indeed, the U.S. Supreme Court based, at least in part, its opinion of January 1973 on what it perceived as a woman's right to privacy. I argue that such a view is a fundamental misunderstanding of women's rights and, even more importantly, that behind pro-abortion thought there lies a confusion about what it means to be a woman. I argue that abortion is an act which will, on analysis, prove to be harmful to the woman.

Rather than being a "right" of women, abortion is a great disservice to women, one which reflects both a growing lack of appreciation among women for those powers and capacities which are distinctly theirs as women and a growing despair that women are willing and able to be full participants in society and to make the sometimes noble sacrifices demanded of individuals for the good of society Seeing abortion as solely a matter of women's rights assumes that the fetus has no rights or that the rights of the woman are unquestionably superior. But abortion, no matter where it tits into the scheme of the rights for women, is a violation of the right to life for another human being.

You may be surprised to learn that, in our law, although the fetus is currently without the right to life, it does have some rights. For instance, under civil law the unborn child has the right to inherit part of his father's estate should his father die before he is born, and he has the right to sue his mother, or a doctor, for injuries sustained while in the womb.1 In fact, before 1973, when the Supreme Court declared unconstitutional the laws forbidding abortion in the states the law had given ever more protection to unborn human beings Such increased legal protection reflected the medical scientists' growing .knowledge that the care a fetus receives - or doesn't receive - affects the developing child. It may also be surprising to learn that there is precedent in law for respecting the rights of the fetus over those of the mother. In 1964 the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled that a woman who had religious objections to blood transfusion must submit to such a procedure for the well-being of her unborn child.2 We might ask why such legislation exists, why such decisions were made. Clearly because life and hence certain rights do not begin at birth. As biology tells us, life begins at conception. It is information well-known to anti-abortionists though perhaps news to the general public, that the fetal heart begins to beat 18-25 days after conception - that is, before a woman even knows she is pregnant; that brain waves have been recorded as early as 40 days, and that at 12 weeks all organs are present and functioning. From this point fetal development is largely a matter of growth in size and sophistication. This information is not hard to come by, but many are genuinely ignorant of it; others evidently choose to ignore it.

What then excludes the fetus from the right to life granted to other humans? Its size? Its stage of development? The fact that it receives its food and oxygen in a manner different from the rest of us? Or is it its inability to defend itself? What rights of a mother or a father or even the state, for that matter, can supersede the right of another human being to life?

I once gave a talk to seventh graders (who had no trouble at all in perceiving that abortion was the killing of a baby); a youngster asked: "If all that you say is true, how could our government permit abortions?" I asked myself "How does one account for seven men of the Supreme Court trivializing a value basic to Western civilization - the right to life for all men regardless of race, color, creed, and, might I add, size and age?" It seemed to me that her question amounted to wondering why mankind does evil. I responded that mankind in general, our society in particular, seems inclined to choose the easier way. It is difficult to be loving and caring. It is challenging, demanding, exhausting, and expensive to provide the care and support needed by women in distress. It is much easier, quicker, and cheaper to send a woman to an abortionist. Unfortunately our society seems to be so insensitive and materialistic that we would rather kill life than find the means to support it.

But we are not concerned here with the reasons why the Supreme Court and the society-which it guides permit abortions, but with another even more perplexing question. So abortion is killing, so that killing is now legal. Still, why are over a million women a year in the U.S. aborting their own children? And given the fact that they are doing this, what does it tell us about the conception which women have of themselves? Is it a true view of what it is to be a woman?

Some would have us believe that the women who are having these abortions are poor and uneducated, and/or that their health is threatened by childbirth. But such claims are demonstrably false, for most are young and healthy, and childbirth has never been safer. Furthermore, a large portion of women having abortions are college-educated and have greater prospects for attaining material success and "self-fulfillment" in this world than their parents and grandparents ever dreamed of. True, most of the women getting abortions are unmarried, but the stigma attached to single parenthood and even that of unwed parenthood has very nearly disappeared. And never before have there been so many couples waiting to adopt children; but what are their chances when in some communities the number of abortions has already surpassed live births? And at the risk of promoting what is an appalling possibility, I can inform you that a woman could sell the baby that she chooses to abort for $15,000 on the black market. So the situation today is that an unmarried pregnant woman has unparalleled access to assistance and considerable assurance of acceptance by society should she choose to bear her child; she could be an unknown but willing benefactor to a couple who desperately want to adopt a child; or, if she were willing to deal with the syndicate, she could be rich.

If women are getting abortions for reasons other than poverty, shame, and lack of alternatives, what are their reasons? What accounts for the epidemic of abortions in the U.S. since 1973? Several explanations come to mind. A complete analysis would require a lengthy critique of our culture, of the values of our society. I prefer, though, to use a technique employed by my favorite teacher; that of parables and subsequent analysis. I shall begin with the biblical story of Solomon whose fame as a wise man, for most of us, is best known through the story demonstrating his understanding of women.

Solomon made his judgment based upon his recognition of a certain "instinct" in women. You know the story: two prostitutes bore children at the same time. One woman's child died and she laid claim to the other woman's baby. This case of disputed motherhood was brought before Solomon, the wisest of judges. Since he had no means of establishing who was the rightful mother, he offered to cut the baby in half. He depended upon the love of the real mother for her child. He was proven right: the real mother, willing to lose her child to save its life, begged Solomon to give the child to the other woman. Now, these women were not pillars of virtue; they were prostitutes. Even so, Solomon was sure he could depend upon the maternal instinct to determine who the real mother was. Would Solomon be able to use the same method today? Are today's women women?

Do women today have this maternal feeling, this "instinct" or tendency - or whatever term one wishes to apply to this special love for their children? Possibly I should phrase the question differently. For indeed, if it is an instinct or tendency inherent in all women, today's women must have it. But since even naturally-good tendencies and talents need to be developed and nourished, perhaps the question should be: are today's women and the society in which they live failing to encourage and foster this tendency in women? Or has it been weakened by those "modern" ideologies which argue for "self-fulfillment"? Do we want, as women, as we pursue other goals, to sacrifice anything - even our children - for these goals? Do we want to lose the ability to be mothers and motherly? It does seem that women today have such an underdeveloped or diminished maternal instinct that they are not only unwilling to make sacrifices for their children but are also willing to kill them.

Certain conversations which I have had with women recently have made me realize that women today are indeed gravely confused about what it means to be a woman. These conversations have convinced me that behind women's demands for unlimited access to abortion lies a profound displeasure with the way in which a woman's body works and hence a rejection of the value of being a woman. Whereas one might hope that the women's movement would be based on the assertion that it is great to be a woman and that women would endeavor to promote the powers and qualities which are theirs, the popularity of abortion indicates quite the opposite. Abortion is a denigration of women, a denial of one of the defining features of being a woman - her ability to bear children. Now some may deny that this is a defining characteristic of women. But is there any more certain criterion? A woman is a woman because she can bear children.

Traditionally, the most admirable qualities have been associated with motherhood. Throughout the ages good women, both mothers and non-mothers, have been portrayed as warm, sensitive, loving, and generous. The source of these qualities is the love for one's children - and those whom a woman succeeds in some way in viewing as her children. These qualities are allied with a woman's willingness to make loving sacrifices in behalf of both her physical and adopted children.

I should like to relate four recent encounters I've had with women which I consider vivid illustrations of the fact that we are losing the view of women which enabled Solomon to demonstrate his wisdom. To me, they reveal that some women have a distressing lack of appreciation for being women. I realize that the women in these stories hold fairly extreme and certainly not altogether representative views. But that which is normal or usual, "the middle way," can best be ascertained by looking at the extremes. Women who are willing to die for their children are an extreme of goodness; women who kill their children so that they might obtain a certain self-centered "lifestyle" are another extreme. The following conversations should help any woman to locate herself on the spectrum.

The first woman would surely have robbed Solomon of his title as a wise man. She was certainly very different from the usual characterization that pro-abortionists provide of the women seeking an abortion. Attractive, healthy, college-educated, about 20, she approached me one day (at a university) to argue that women had a "right" to abortion. I countered, as usual, with information about prenatal life, to demonstrate that the fetus is in fact a living human being I chose this line of argument because I like to believe that people who support abortion do not believe that it is the taking of a human life - thus, perhaps, a demonstration of the humanity of the unborn would be sufficient to change their views. But this girl cut me short; she readily agreed that the fetus was a human being; she demanded the right to abort anyway. Such an admission, sad to say, seems common now among those who argue for abortion. I then proceeded to ask what reasons she considered legitimate for taking another's life. We went through a series of the usual reasons. With some success I argued that killing babies is not a good solution to the supposed population crisis; that it's better to want the unwanted than to kill them. I even managed to argue, again with some success, that the child whose father is a rapist has no fewer rights than one whose father is a loving man. But then she stumped me. She said: "Well everything you say is all right, but if I became pregnant I would have an abortion. I don't want stretch marks." I repeated: "Stretch marks?" She answered: "Yes. If I carried the child to term I might get stretch marks and then I could not wear a bikini." And then - would you believe? - she said: "Vanity is a very important part of my life." She agreed that she would be killing a baby were she to have an abortion but she was still willing to do so simply because of her vanity. On reflection, I realized that her case fell in the most extreme category used to justify abortion - that of abortion to save the life of the mother. Now I do not mean her biological life (a medical necessity doctors tell us is quite rare) but her life in a perverted sense. To her, to be a woman is to be a sex object. As a self-admitted sex object she had been completely drawn in by the modern hedonistic philosophy which tells us that unless you are young beautiful, slim, and without stretch marks your life is not worth living. Pregnancy was a threat to her "life," perceived as the possession of an attractive body. This young woman was not a freak, but simply a very frank product of our times.

One indication that the cries for abortion are the cries of those who view women as sex objects is the fact the Playboy magazine contributes generously to the pro-abortion lobbies. Nor has this connection gone unnoticed. John T. Matthew's (in The Human Life Review, Winter '76) observed: "To state the paradox - if it is one - the same ladies who protest so vehemently that men should stop treating them as 'sex objects' also demand abortion: which can only be required, one would imagine, if in fact they are sex objects."3 The young girl so concerned about stretch marks is an extreme example: she saw a baby as a hindrance to her desire for self-fulfillment - i.e., being a desirable sex object. Nothing, today, is supposed to stand in the way of devotion to the newly-enshrined god (or is it goddess?) of "self-fulfillment," not even babies. But isn't it true that women have the potential to bear children, and to fulfill one's potentials is fulfillment? The vague and elusive dreams of self- fulfillment seem to have gained precedence over the more basic, immediate and literal fulfillment of childbirth. Beware the exhortation to self-fulfillment! Women must make certain that in trying to find themselves they do not lose themselves - in a sense quite contrary to the Biblical injunction to lose one's self in order to find one's self.

Abortion is a denial of one of those powers which make women women. Child-bearing is basic to them. We might expect that deliberate and violent denial of such a potential may be devastating. Some women argue that the fetus (be it a human being or not) is a part of their bodies and that they may do with it what they will. In one sense - a very different sense -the argument is true. Pregnancy and childbearing are perfectly normal conditions for women, and hence a part of her physical and psychological make-up. To have an abortion is to destroy part of one's self. It is normal for a woman to carry the children she conceives to term. To remove that child forcibly interrupts and harms the healthy functioning of her body. To put it bluntly, an abortion amounts to a mutilation of the woman's body and to a denial of her nature. Studies documenting the frightening physical and psychological dangers of abortion corroborate this interpretation that abortion does violence to the woman. The physical dangers include increased chances of sterility, of subsequent spontaneous abortion and an inability to carry future pregnancies to term (with the attendant increased likelihood of retarded or handicapped children).4 These dangers are not insignificant. Moreover, statistics always do represent actual women. That means us. In the psychological sphere percentages are harder to compute, but studies5 have found that among the psychological after-effects are recurrent nightmares about the fetus, even a feeling of repulsion for sex and for children. Both physically and psychologically one's "femininity" has been impaired. If the young lady so concerned about her attractive body ever has an abortion, she may well avoid stretch marks, but she will not retain her appealing womanhood; she will be less of a woman.

The second young woman told me that as long as there is no 100% effective form of birth control, abortions must be available as a "back-up." Now, many people are appalled at the notion of abortion as a means of birth control, but, of course, for those who really believe abortion is only the removal of extraneous tissue, such abhorrence is irrational. Abortion is indeed being used not only as a "backup" to failed birth-control but instead of birth control. The Badgley Report, a government study in Canada,6 reported that 85% of the women who had abortions in 1975 were "contraceptively experienced." They had full knowledge of birth control but chose not to use it, for a variety of reasons: too dangerous, too unaesthetic, or simply a hindrance to spontaneity. Abortion could always "take care of any unwanted pregnancies.

To this woman who argued that abortion is necessary as long as methods of birth control are imperfect, I answered that there is one infallible means of birth control - abstinence, either total or periodic. To this she laughed. Our society has taught us that sexual activity is essential to our happiness. The principle that one should engage in an act only when one is willing to accept all consequences of that act is unpopular with our irresponsible age. Yet the demand for abortion as a "back-up" for birth control is a residue of the "daddy will fix it" attitude. If something has gone wrong (how twisted we have become: "going wrong" now means that one has conceived a child) then it must be fixed.

Many of those who have been involved in the anti-abortion movement for a long time maintain that there are definite links between the attitudes fostered by birth-control and the current popularity of abortion. If man (and I use the term generically) has done all that he can to prevent conception, any conception which happens is by definition an accident, not a blessing from God, as in Judeo-Christian teaching. The use of contraception implies that man can control conception; that he can "plan" parenthood. I argue that the phrase "planned parenthood" is misleading. One can only create conditions favorable or unfavorable to conception but one cannot plan a pregnancy. There are too many women who have been trying to conceive for years without success, and too many women who have conceived contrary to their intentions to make any talk of "planned parenthood" accurate.

There are those who say that more and better birth control will eliminate the "need" for abortions. But surely there have never been so many abortions as in the last 15 years when birth control has been vastly improved and made widely available. In fact, all the evidence shows that the increased use of contraceptives corresponds to the increased numbers of abortions; failure of contraception, you see, produces that fearsome "unwanted" child. Studies tell us that in England in 1949, couples who used contraception had 8.7 times the number of abortions as other couples and "in Sweden after contraception had been fully sanctioned by law, legal abortions in- creased from 703 in 1943 to 6,328 in 1951."7 When man feels he has control over creation he believes that he has the right to destruction also. A far cry from the consoling thought "Only God can give life, only God can take it away."

Yet back to my interlocutor. Her argument for the imperative of a perfect means of birth control or a "back-up" had another disturbing twist. She argued that as long as men could engage in sex without the "danger" of becoming pregnant, women should have this "right" also: otherwise the sexes would not be equal. Thus women should go to the extreme of killing their offspring in order to gain so-called "equality" with men. It seems to me that feminists should find this a very "unliberated" attitude. At root this argument suggests that the manner in which a male's body functions is better than that of a woman. The argument amounts to an admission that a woman would rather be a man and that she is willing to tamper with her natural body chemistry to have sex on a man's terms, not on a woman's.

Now, while abortion"and birth control are on very different moral planes (one is the taking of a human life already begun, the other is preventing life from beginning), they are alike in that they interfere with the natural functioning of a woman's body. Some women apparently consider their bodies imperfect in that they, on occasion, are able to conceive.'A woman who uses birth control rejects this ability, which is evidently considered to be an imperfection. In seek- ing to correct this imperfection, a woman takes measures which are customarily prescribed only for illness or defect. But can a woman who is able to conceive be said to be in need of medicine or corrective devices? Is not her body operating as a woman's body ought to operate? In using birth control, women render useless one of the properties which defines their womanhood. In a sense, these women become more men than women, since they now operate like men; they can engage in intercourse without the possibility of conceiving.

You will not be surprised to hear that many in the women's movement are disturbed about the way in which the most "popular" forms of birth control work, arid the effects they have on women. Recently, in Winnipeg, where I spoke at a feminist conference, I had the pleasure of being entertained by Germaine Greer. She, perhaps the most famous of feminists, spoke adamantly against birth control. She argued that women are relatively infertile creatures - fertile for only a short period each month, which is, in fact, easily calculable. Thus, she argued, it is foolish for women to put lethal devices into their bodies or to take massive doses of drugs (all the dangerous side-effects of which remain unknown) to combat a condition - fertility - which is not a disease. She also maintained that present methods of birth control are not suitable for "liberated" women. Birth control makes women more open to exploitation by men - they can't say "no" so easily. More importantly, the use of contraceptives fails to acknowledge the difference between the sources of female and male sexual satisfaction. So in her view, once again, women are ruining themselves; they are interfering with their natural body chemistry, for the sake of the pleasure of men.

Ms. Greer has even advanced the startling suggestion that women actually refuse to engage in intercourse if better contraceptives are not devised. I make a simpler suggestion; that is, that women "make love" only to men whom they love and with whom they are willing to share responsibility for any "products" of that love.

All this suggests that women ought to reconsider their acceptance of the pill as the great "liberator." They must reflect upon what it does to their bodies, to their relation to men and to their status as women. Moreover, if the use of contraceptives makes women and society more receptive to abortion, not to say insistent upon it, we ought to be extremely wary of considering birth control as a good. To con- sider it as an answer to abortion becomes positively ludicrous.

The third woman with whom I spoke reinforced my impression that our age puts a very low value on human life, that we now value our feelings above the good of others, and that women, in asking for abortion, reveal that they wish to place their own desires above the good of society. Instead of being the transmitters of life and a warm source of love and generosity, women now are willing to kill life growing within them in order to spare themselves some real or imagined pain, physical or psychological.

In my speaking tours of high schools I have found increasing numbers of students who do not grant immediate assent to the notion that all human life is valuable and deserving of protection". A perplexing question from a young lady reveals in a striking way this growing indifference to life.

During one particular session I completed a lengthy presentation about pre-natal life and-abortion in which I had been careful both to enumerate the alternatives to abortion and to praise the nobility of those women who have the courage and generosity to carry a child to term and then to give it up for adoption. A girl then asked a question which threw me. She asked, "What really is the difference between having an abortion and giving a child up for adoption?" At first I missed her point and answered that most fundamentally the difference was between a dead and a live baby, the difference between a couple which is able to adopt a child and one which can not. She repeated again, "I still don't see the difference." She was referring, you see, to the difference for herself; either way she was without the child. It made no difference to her whether it was dead or alive. Only with the aid of a philosopher friend could I discover the root of her confusion. He reminded me that we live in a society in which man is considered to be a combination of chemicals, differing only from rocks, plants and other animals in his chemical make-up. Hence one should be able to dispense with any combination of chemicals as easily as with another. Ours is, after all, the disposable society. When something displeases us we simply dispose of it. We can't, as of yet, legally dispose of all other humans who annoy us, but I begin to think this is only because they may protest. The unborn babies can hardly cry foul. The social contract into which most of us enter - I will respect your rights and life if you will respect mine - is denied the aborted baby. We are living in a society which is not generous enough to extend such rights to the unborn (or, increasingly, to the "unwanted" of any age). For some the "might" of the born makes "right" over the unborn. Thereby all of our rights are less secure since all humans are not granted the right to life, only those who have qualified. Presently this means all those who are born; but we all know we only need a mad man like Hitler to come along and insist on further qualifications.

My philosopher friend helped me further. He maintained that unless we view man as being made in the image of God we might well ask why we respect human life. Unless the right to life is inherent and possessed by all, our hold on it is tenuous. Viewing children as a gift from God is not a silly sentimental view. It happens to be the one view which requires that we respect another's gift of life - because it is God's will that the person live; we are not empowered to decide otherwise.

A woman who sets her rights, the supposed right to privacy or right over her own body, above the life of another human being is saying that a woman's rights are superior to human rights. She has put herself above the human race, she has made herself the executor over life and death. Is that a woman's right?

In refusing to see the difference between an abortion and putting a child up for adoption, my young friend had effectively removed her- self from society. The only will she needed to consider was her own; not the baby's, not her lover's, not society's, not God's. She had become a unit, an island unto herself. She holds a view I have heard other women expound. Many girls have told me that they could not live with the memory that they had given up a child for adoption. They would always wonder what had happened to that child. They prefer the finality of abortion. One needn't be reminded of one's past, or leave reminders of former mistakes. Yet women fail to realize that one cannot "unconceive." A woman is a mother at the moment she conceives. She cannot erase the fact that new life has begun in her. She either allows that life to continue or she "terminates" it. Psychologists tell us that some women, even if they do not physically carry their children to term in their wombs, carry their children to term in their heads. A woman will most likely be aware of the projected due date for her child and may be as aware as a mother who has given her child up for adoption of the age her child would be over the years. The difference between abortion and adoption for the woman herself is not that one action allows her to forget her pregnancy and the other does not. After abortion she must live with the fact that she has asserted her will over the life of another; in giving the child up for adoption she respects the life of another; she recognizes rights beyond her own.

Although some believe that it is easier to live with an abortion than with giving up a child for adoption, increasing numbers argue that abortion is always an agonizing, bitter experience. One woman poignantly revealed to me the nagging sorrow which women can feel. She came and stood quietly by the side of the "pro-life" table I was tending. Her eyes clouded with tears, she whispered: "I am certainly glad to see you here. I had an abortion 20 years ago and have regretted it ever since. I do not want young girls to go through what I have " You may say that this is only one woman's response, that many women can be found who think the abortion they had was the "right thing to do." I do not doubt that such women can be found. But I ask: What ought to be the response of รค woman to her action of destroying life growing within her? Is the apparent ability of some women to go through abortion without regret indicative of a certain callousness? Is it possible that the woman who experiences intense and lingering sorrow over an abortion is having the correct response? At least those women who are sorry can be forgiven - what is our response to those who kill and experience no sorrow?

Let us beware, lest we think feeling sorrow excuses the action. Magda Denes, in her book In Necessity and Sorrow,8 records her visits to an abortion clinic and the terrible effects which the endless killing has on doctors, nurses, and the "patients" too. The author has had an abortion herself, and argues that abortion is necessary but that it should be done in sorrow. You see, she admits that abortion is killing but she claims that it is necessary and suggests that the sorrow felt in some way excuses the killing. First, I ask, necessary for what? Certainly not for the well-being of the child. Then for the well-being of the mother? But if pregnancy is not a disease (though the U.S. Center for Disease Control in Atlanta has classified unwanted pregnancy as a venereal disease) but rather is perfectly normal for a woman's body, how can the surgical procedure of abortion be said to be necessary? Surgery is properly used to correct malformations, or imperfections, and, as a branch of medicine, is supposed to heal. So if there is no healing to be done, how can abortion be necessary? But if Ms. Denes is correct, why should the "necessary" treatment of abortion need to be done in sorrow? I suppose that I can hardly disagree with her that killing should be done in sorrow, but, truly, isn't it rather that killing of the innocent ought not to be done at all? As with any other killing, do we not think that the killer is harmed as well as the victim? Those who kill, whether justifiably (as in war) or not, suffer from the act of killing. Do we not think that in a sense the "humanity" of killers is lessened? Have we not argued for ages that war is dehumanizing? And since a woman, by nature, is a giver of life, isn't the killing of life - especially of the life growing within her - isn't it bound to cause a severe diminishing of her "humanity" or more specifically her "womanhood"?

As a member of the human genus, a woman who aborts her child has committed a violation of a fundamental human right. She has taken a human life. As a member of the female sex, she has violated her own nature; she "has snuffed out that marvelous maternal instinct of which all of us were once beneficiaries. A woman does society great harm, and herself as well, in having an abortion.

The fourth and final woman about whom I am going to speak did meet the "usual" description given by pro-abortionists. She was in her sixth month of pregnancy with her second child. She was twenty- seven, mother of a four-year-old, divorced, abandoned by the father of the second child - and trying to finish her college education. As we spoke she told me that absolutely everyone who knew she was pregnant had advised her to have an abortion: her doctor, the nurse, her friends. They all told her that it was irresponsible for her to bring another child into this world. She was poor, unmarried, and still unemployed and untrained. Others had told her that it took a great deal of money to raise a child. Her answer was that no one had handed her a check as she emerged from the womb.

This woman was resolute in her determination to have her child. She said that since she had borne one child there was no chance of her having an abortion - no one could convince her to kill what she knew was life. She said she knew it would be hard but why should the child pay with its life for her mistake? Here was a woman willing to assume her responsibilities but who was being told that she was irresponsible. How many women could withstand such pressure? More important, why did her friends respond in such a fashion? Why was it assumed that she should not have the child? Why, instead of asking how they might help her keep her child, did her friends urge her to commit an act she knew to be killing? The answer, it seems to me, is based on two primary assumptions: that happiness depends upon a certain present and potential financial status, and that a mere woman could not cope with such adversity, i.e. we no longer believe that old maxim "love will find a way." I reject both assumptions.

To holders of the first assumption, I address the question: Are the poor necessarily unhappy? Furthermore, should we kill the poor rather than help them? It is popular nowadays in the U.S. to point out how costly it would be for the taxpayer to support the babies of welfare women if we do not pay for their abortions. So life does indeed have a price tag. And is our society really so impoverished that we are not able to assist the poor - that we would prefer that they abort their offspring rather than strain our pocketbooks? What kind of people have we become? Do we value human life so little, and, more in keeping with my argument here, why do we underrate our women so?

As to the second assumption: Why is it that we assume women are incapable of dealing with the adversity of an unwanted pregnancy by any other means than that of destroying life? Is this a flattering view of women? Is this a true view of women? Are women so weak psychologically that they cannot deal with what I so often hear referred to as the "trauma" of an unwanted pregnancy? I argue that by allowing women to abort their unwanted pregnancies we are telling them that we have a very low opinion of them. Isn't a mark of a mature and responsible person the ability to face problems squarely? Does not the mature person have the ability and the desire to consider the well-being of all those who are involved in a situation which presents problems - not just herself?

In fact, I take the legalization of abortion to be an indication that as a society we expect less of our women than we do of our men. After all, society has traditionally in times of war asked men to risk their own lives. But we are unwilling to ask women to offer a few months of their lives in order to give life. Why is it that we expect men to be able to risk their lives for the well-being of us all, while we do not ask a woman to give a few months to protect a life she is responsible for creating?

In this day of unparalleled opportunities for women, when women pride themselves on their ability to fend for themselves, when many agencies are designed for helping women in distress - why do we assume that women who become pregnant when inconvenient for them are not resourceful enough to find a way to nourish the life they have conceived? Or is it not a lack of resourcefulness - but a lack of love? And, as I have been arguing, a lack of love not only for the unborn child in whose creation the woman has played a part - but also of love for oneself for what she is; that is, a lack of love for being a woman and for the power which belongs exclusively to women, that of bearing children.

A popular saying in the women's movement claims that "women hold up half the sky." I would like to take the sentiment further and suggest that only women can hold up one particular half of the sky and thus it is necessary that women remain women. We cannot deny one important fact; women are the bearers of life, and thus it follows that they are entrusted with the protection and care of life, which, we might say, is their half of the sky. One of my male friends is fond of saying that his pregnant wife considers him merely a donor. In a very real sense, the future of humanity is in the hands of women, or, more specifically, in their wombs. We ought not, as women, to be demanding a world in which we may destroy freely the life we are capable of creating. Rather we ought to demand and work toward the goal of a world where life is safe for all.


1 Swain v. Bowers, 91, Ind. 307, N.E. 598,1927, and Torrigan v. Watertown News Co. 352 Mass. 446, 225 N.S. 2nd 926, 1967. [Back]

2 Fitkin v. Anderson, 421, 201 A. 2nd 537, 1964. [Back]

3 John T. Matthews, "Reflections on Abortion," The Human Life Review, Winter 1976, Vol.11, No. 1. [Back]

4 For further information on the physical dangers see Dr. and Mrs. J.C. Willke's Handbook on Abortion, revised edition citing the Nursing Times, London, 1971, pp. 90-97, and Spontaneous and Induced Abortion, report of World Health Organization Scientific Group, Technical Report Series No 461 D 37 See also by M. and A. Wynn, Some Consequences of Induced Abortion to Children Born Subsequently, London Foundation for Education and Research in Childbearing [Back]

5 For psychological dangers see a study by L.K. Gluckman, "Some Unanticipated Complications of Therapeutic Abortion," New Zealand Medical Journal, August 1971. [Back]

6 Badgley Report, p. 341. [Back]

7 John T. Noonan, Jr., Contraception. (Belknap Press: Cambridge Press, 1966), p 519. [Back]

8 Magda Denes, In Necessity and Sorrow: Life and Death in an Abortion Hospital. (Basic Books, Inc., 1976). Excerpt in The Human Life Review, Winter 1977, Vol. Ill, No. 1. [Back]