The anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade provides a yearly opportunity to consider the aftermath of the landmark Supreme Court decision.
The court’s ruling has made a political battleground of human life’s earliest stages. Abortion is the most intimate of issues, piercing the into heart of our deepest questions concerning freedom, dignity and what it means to be human.
Politicians frequently flounder when forced to defend their position. At one point in the 2016 presidential campaign, then-candidate Donald Trump suggested the need for “some form of punishment” for women who have abortions, for instance, and this fails to recognize the many pressures women, unsupported in an unexpected pregnancy, face.
A few days later, Trump’s opponent Hillary Clinton angered her base by referring, presumably accidentally, to the “unborn person” rather than employing a euphemism preferred by abortion rights advocates (“pregnancy” or “tissue”) for human life in the womb.
In that campaign-year moment of “rote histrionics,” feminist philosopher Camille Paglia published a piece of remarkable clarity in Salon arguing for abortion as a necessity of female self-interest.
Yet Paglia, insisting that feminists stop dehumanizing the unborn and argue for the right to terminate life, acknowleged that the pro-life position has greater beauty.
“I profoundly respect the pro-life viewpoint, which I think has the moral high ground,” she stated.
We career women are arguing from expedience: it is personally and professionally inconvenient or onerous to bear an unwanted child. The pro-life movement, in contrast, is arguing that every conception is sacred and that society has a responsibility to protect the defenseless.”
Self-described as “an atheist who worships only great nature,” Paglia in fairness quotes the Catechism of the Catholic Church to illustrate the beauty of the pro-life stance:
I recognize the superior moral beauty of religious doctrine that defends the sanctity of life. The quality of idea and language in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, for example, exceeds anything in grimly utilitarian feminism….’Human life is sacred because from its beginning it involves the creative action of God…no one can under any circumstance claim for himself the right directly to destroy an innocent human being’ (#2258). Or this: ‘Human life must be respected and protected absolutely from the moment of conception. From the first moment of his existence, a human being must be recognized as having the rights of a person—among which is the inviolable right of every innocent being to life’ (#2270).
“Beauty will save the world,” Dostoevsky famously said. We must never give up on the possibility that he was right.
Roe has been law for so long that we now have the opportunity to listen to women who have put its logic into practice and reflected on the experience. It’s not surprising that two sides have emerged. Some witness to their abortion with satisfaction; others to regret. Each deserves a hearing.
Feminist icon Gloria Steinem is among the leading women who speak with satisfaction about the decision to abort. Her abortion after a broken engagement, she says, allowed her to pursue her own path without the burden of motherhood.
“I was desperate. I really was desperate,” Steinem writes in her memoir My Life on the Road. “I just knew that if I went home and married, which I would’ve had to do, it would be to the wrong person; it would be to a life that wasn’t mine, that wasn’t mine at all.”
It’s important to hear that cry of desperation. Mocking or minimizing this woman in her hour of need is just plain wrong.
But women who accepted the same ideology as Steinem and now regret it are speaking out as well. One of the most articulate is memoirist and NPR contributor Heather King.
After disclosing having had three abortions in Poor Baby: A Child of the Sixties Looks Back on Abortion, King offers a reflection of another kind.
Her small book is much more than an illustration of the sorrow many, many post-abortive women experience. King helps us understand, too, how pro-life rhetoric misses the mark when it fails in love.
When women who have had an abortion (and that’s one in three women in our culture today) hear the rest of us coldly debating the issue, we often wound them with our withering words.
Abortion’s “secret sorrow,” King writes, is what it seems to say about women like herself:
The desire to get rid of the unborn is also the desire to get rid of the women who have them: people who don’t get it, poor people, unlucky people, people who think if you sleep with the guy he’ll love you, people who hunger and thirst for connection, people who have difficulty believing there will be enough: money, support, love.
Abortion may be “the easy way” (as King once heard a radio interviewer put it), but she found that it’s also “a lonely way.” And where, in all the loss and loneliness, she asks, is the guy?
In time, King accepted that her abortions represented three children who’d have had lives of their own had she made a different choice. She talked about her abortions. She shared her story with other women whose difficulties led them to make the same choice.
“Abortion,” she writes tenderly, “is a failure of love.”
King reclaimed her dignity by conferring it on her children. Despite the fact that she, like the rest of us in one way or another, had failed at it, she humbly elevates love. Her humility breaks the heart.
When arguing abortion, remember that defending the sanctity of all human life is recognizably beautiful when it is sincerely, devoutly undertaken. Choose beauty.
And choose love.
Love for the women, love for the men, love for the the most vulnerable among us: the unborn human being.
Love is always the most beautiful choice.
Related post: The Extremists We Need Right Now.
Some of the most compelling witnesses to love are women who have had abortions and are finding the courage to speak of their sorrow. Five of these 9 Pro-Life Warriors Who Used to be Pro-Abortion are among them.
A former Cosmo writer gives a fascinating insider’s look (names included) at how the ideals of true feminism were undermined by the marketers of the sexual revolution. Subverted: How I Helped the Sexual Revolution Hijack the Women’s Movement is a riveting read by Sue Ellen Browder, who also reveals the story of her abortion and her healing. Essential reading for anyone who wants to recover a feminism of generosity and dignity.
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