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We feature commentary but most of all action alerts on the same positive, abortion-reducing measures we cover in the Directory.

These measures include post abortion healing; male responsibility; comprehensive sexual/reproductive health education; all voluntary pregnancy prevention methods, plus rape and incest prevention & treatment; and life-affirming ways to get through crisis pregnancy and beyond.

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Saturday, July 14, 2007

What's Messed Up About the Abortion Debate: A Little Case Study

From the annals of why the abortion debate seldom moves towards practical resolution...And I hope I have the good grace to avoid ad hominem attacks and dissing anybody's spirituality myself while I'm at it... I'm trying, please forgive me if I don't quite pull it off...

Theologically and politically conservative US Catholic Matt Abbott complains "Pro-abortion nun still active." He is referring to Beth Rindler, and faulting her for the 2004 National Catholic Reporter letter she wrote with two other leftist-feminist Catholic nuns, Donna Quinn and Jeannine Gramick, entitled "Pro-choice isn't pro-abortion."

This letter asks why Catholic Church leaders don't listen to women more about the reasons why they might seek abortions, and poses a question further: "If war can be understood as acceptable in some circumstances, why cannot abortion be at least similarly understood?"

Abbott's assessment of this ethical analysis? A dismissive "Good grief." The end.


Good grief indeed...But not for the reasons he uttered these same words...Where to begin?

How about with Abbott's basic failure--refusal?-- to respect that Rindler and the other nuns define themselves as prochoice rather than proabortion? No one likes to be told who they are or what they are really about, as if they did not have the head, heart, or conscience, let alone jurisdiction, to determine that for themselves.

For example...prolifers generally don't cotton to having the term "antichoicers" or "woman-haters" imposed on them...And no fair protesting, "But we're the ones who are RIGHT! THEY monstrously decidedly aren't, so THEY don't get to define THEMselves like we do!" An outcry, by the way, I've also heard from prochoicers re: prolifers.

(If there's any route around the abovementioned tautologies, I'd love to see the map!)

Of course Abbott has the right to disagree with the nuns' position on abortion. It would even be valid for him to ask (albeit with utmost respect and commitment to listening deeply) whether their position on abortion is the one that best serves their aspiration to secure women's freedoms. He could inquire into the parallel they draw between war and abortion and whether and what sense(s) it might be warranted.

But that's not what he does with the disagreement. No, he immediately casts doubt on the nuns' good intentions, their good faith, so to speak--and that in the absence of any evidence that they are, for instance, all about forcing other women to have abortions because abortions are such great things to have!

His "evidence" against Rindler and her cohorts appears to be (or so I gather from a reading of his other writings re: other instances of women who question or challenge certain points of Catholic officialdom on sexuality and reproduction) that they are women-out-of-order, and therefore suspect, even "bad," by definition.

Now, I definitely don't want to get involved here with the intra-Catholic question of "Who's a real, faithful Catholic?"! For one, a big one, it's the wrong frame for the issue of abortion. Abortion is not just a turf war between two camps within this one religion...a big, ancient, and influential religion, yes, but, by the way, it's not the only one on the planet. And not every person belongs to a religion, for that matter.

Abortion is a universal human rights issue for people of all faiths and none. It is a matter where every day the lives and well-being of real, live flesh-and-blood human beings, female as well as male, born as well as unborn, are under threat.

The sooner it gets massively recast as such, the sooner (dare I hope?) the burning practical issues of our shared human responsibility to care for women and children, born and unborn, in need can be effectively engaged.

However...Abbott's thing re: women-out-of-order is one that immediately arouses my suspicions...because it is the same old same old argument that has been levelled for how many centuries of patriarchy, in contexts Catholic and other-than-Catholic alike, against any woman who dares challenge the treatment she and other women receive at the hands of men. The same old same old way of (however consciously or unconsciously) deflecting the justice that may actually (!) inhere in those very voices of protest.

One of feminism's founding mothers, Mary Wollstonecraft, was excoriated as "a hyena in petticoats" bent on "unsexing" herself and other women. The "evidence"? Why, of course--analogus to being an "uppity" nun, she had intercourse and became a mother without being a legal wife. That "evidence" prevented many otherwise potentially sympathetic souls from recognizing and respecting her deep passion for justice, her eloquent and deeply intelligent sense of what it was and wasn't, and how to bring the world closer to it.

Abbott gives no hint here that he has seriously considered whether the nuns may actually be asking fair questions, out of real insight and passion for justice. But their questions are eminently fair....

People in positions of authority have a responsibility to listen to and respond to the very human beings their actions most affect. If male Catholic leaders--or any other men--are going to say to women, "Abortion is wrong, don't have an abortion"--then they are...OBLIGATED (1) to find out why women consider it and resort to it in the first place and (2) to personally devote themselves to alleviating the root causes of abortion.

And certainly it is right on the mark to ask, as these three nuns do, why male Catholic leaders, or anyone else, would empathize with (generally, historically) men's dilemmas over war but not with women's dilemmas over abortion. Can anyone say, Double Standard?

The selfsame Double Standard that directly causes many an abortion! I am talking about the setup whereby men don't have to take any responsibility for sex, family planning, pregnancy care, or parenting--but woe be unto the woman who conceives and bears a child in "unauthorized" circumstances--she'll just have to go it all by herself and suffer in every possible way!

I do have to admit, I am troubled by the parallel the nuns draw between war and abortion. It's apt in that both are deeply institutionalized forms of violence and lifetaking with all manner of complex and disturbing repercussions. And in that sense, I think it's valid to encompass both issues under a nonsectarian/interfaith/secular "consistent life ethic."

However, if the comparison is valid, the following needs to be made clear in it: Decisions over if, whether, and when when war is justifiable tend to be made by men in positions of power...and women facing problematic pregnancies tend to be in situations of deep disempowerment. Women facing such pregnancies are often more akin to soldiers who have been drafted and face heavy, heavy penalties if they refuse to commit violence, or who joined the army because a racist, poverty-making culture left them no other way to get an education and make a living.

Also, I am not sure whether the nuns are arguing this: "If war is sometimes OK, then abortion must be sometimes OK, too." If they are...that's unfortunate. Because (especially in this fifth year of the atrocious war in Iraq, in this time of social-program slashing that rips up women's and children's already tenuous safety nets) we need less violence. And more relief of the causes of violence.

More moving of both men and women towards the care for life that has been traditionally considered the province of the female, but really belongs to us all.

'Nuff said. For now. My head spins, my hands hurt.


Anonymous said...

Hi Marysia,

I found your blog via Jen R's blog. Thank you! The issue of abortion needs a lot more of this kind of thoughtfulness and insight. I've been on both sides of the issue (used to be pro-choice, now pro-life), so while I think pro-choicers are deeply misguided, I don't think that they are necessarily evil. In any event, the constant name calling and tension between the two sides doesn't ultimately help women or children.



Marysia said...


Welcome here, and gratitude for the thumbs up.

Please visit often, and if you ever want to say more about your own personal shift on this issue, feel free. The voices of those who can see both sides or who have been on both sides often go unheard, yet (I feel) they deserve a wide hearing.