Catholic Culture News
Catholic Culture News

Abortion and the Isolation of Women

By Dr. Jeff Mirus ( bio - articles - email ) | Aug 14, 2009

It may be that nobody cares enough to change, but writers across the spectrum have pointed out how divorce impoverishes women. More often than not, the woman retains custody of the children. Frequently the woman has devoted significant amounts of time and energy to homemaking while the man has built his career. Statistically, more women depend financially on men than vice versa. If we remove a supportive and protective adult male from a household, that household will almost always experience a dramatic drop in per capita income.

Then there’s the question of a woman’s relative ability to make a good income. There are some legitimate reasons that women don’t (statistically) fare as well in the workplace as men. If one’s goal as an employer is to hire someone who will put work first for a great many years, then women are not the safer bet. Nor, in my opinion, should they be. But whatever the combination of reality and prejudice that holds women down in the workplace, these factors provide additional reasons that divorce tends to impoverish women far more than it does men, even when men have the additional financial burden of alimony and child support. Which too often goes unpaid.

Now one might think that abortion would be part of the solution to this problem. Left to nature, women who are embraced intimately by men will normally conceive and give birth. Therefore it would seem that if we thwart nature by aborting the child at a reasonably early stage of development, then we are effectively defending the woman’s equality with the man. Of course, unless we also condone and encourage both infanticide and the killing of older children, we cannot through judicial murder address the fact that many couples start off by wishing to have children. The kids come, by mutual intention, before the divorce or abandonment. In any case, as we will see, the abortion mentality invariably lowers the position of women in a whole variety of ways, no matter what stage of motherhood they are in.

Lack of Sympathy

Even a woman who was once married, if she is now burdened with children, will receive very little sympathy. The very fact that abortion was an option conveys an implacably cruel message to women: “The children are your fault. You and you alone could have ended the pregnancy, but you stubbornly wanted kids. So you’ll just have to live with that decision, won’t you?” The same mindset applies doubly for an unmarried woman impregnated by her boy friend. If she resists the pressures (and often the beatings) by which either her man or her parents seek to compel her to abort, then she has only herself to blame when the man moves on to a more sexually-competitive woman, leaving the mother in poverty. The very possibility of abortion always tends to isolate women.

In an article in the August/September issue of First Things, Richard Still developed this point thoroughly under a compelling title: “Her Choice, Her Problem: How Abortion Empowers Men”. Here is a sample passage:

Prior to the legalization of abortion in the United States, it was commonly understood that a man should offer a woman marriage in case of pregnancy, and many did so. But with the legalization of abortion, men started to feel that they were not responsible for the birth of children and consequently not under any obligation to marry. In gaining the option of abortion, many women have lost the option of marriage. Liberal abortion laws have thus considerably increased the number of families headed by a single mother, resulting in what some economists call the “feminization of poverty.”

Stith has it exactly right. There is now a relatively affordable, relatively safe (for the mother), relatively acceptable and extremely widespread mechanism for preventing birth even after a pregnancy occurs. And the decision to make use of this mechanism rests (legally, at least) with the woman. Therefore, the man’s role in the pregnancy, a mere malfunction of recreational sex, does not really cause her any insurmountable problem. She simply has to make a sensible decision. It’s her problem if she doesn't.

Social Isolation

Now in many good religious circles, particularly good Catholic circles, a pregnant woman in distress will generally be afforded the psychological support she deserves. Even if the conception of the child is regarded as sinful or unfortunate, the role of the male is recognized, and the decision to carry the child to term is considered admirable, even heroic. Thus family and friends can help her to deal with the sense of isolation caused by the blame and abandonment of her superficial lover. This is so because in such circles abortion is not a legitimate option.

But in most secular circles, including circles of those who adhere only to secularized and attenuated notions of what it means to be “spiritual”, it isn’t just the now-absent father who abandons the mother, but nearly everyone else in her social circle. She will be psychologically abandoned by many friends and family members: “Why couldn’t you see reason? Why couldn’t you take the easy way out? You’ve just brought trouble on yourself. Why should we feel sorry for you when you have nobody but yourself to blame?”

Nor does this isolate only those women who become pregnant out of wedlock (or, let us say, outside of a relationship they fully expect to last). The availability of easy abortion puts all women on notice that anything to do with kids is essentially their fault. But just as it is natural for women to both bear children and nurture them, so too does easy abortion strip women of their nature, fostering a cultural atmosphere which pressures the woman to suppress her very self—her deepest desires, her instinctive tendencies, her highest aspirations and dreams of fulfillment. All these must she deny if she is not to be cruelly isolated from the world she used to cherish, the world in which so many enjoy each other’s carefree company and seem equally ready, if she will but deny herself, to enjoy hers.

Most persons are at times sexually playful, but it takes a deep denial of our very selves to become a sexual plaything. Immature men, including many older men who are trained up to a high level of immaturity by a pornographic culture, have a chronic tendency to make of women their sexual playthings while denying their personhood, their deep yearning for commitment, for family, for nurture and for growth—characteristics that are not only deeply personal but especially well-developed in female persons.

When society presses contraception, abortion and sterilization on women in the name of liberation, society speaks a colossal lie. The overwhelming effect of this technocratic separation (also a divorce) of procreation from intimacy is to eliminate commitment, eliminate nurture, eliminate growth, eliminate family. To play this game a woman must, as it were, isolate herself, engaging in a kind of self-alienation which fractures and destroys. Yet to refuse to play the game—or to have failed to play it when she thought she had a family commitment that later broke down—results in her alienation and isolation from others.

Women’s Liberation?

In this context, all talk of woman’s liberation is utterly laughable. One marvels that the feminist movement is not outraged by all these steps our culture has taken to ensure that women cease to be themselves and become both physically and psychologically barren—like men with curves. A few feminist writers have seen it and have denounced the results of abortion and divorce and all that goes with them for women, but most are so jealous of the male’s capacity for reproductive irresponsibility that their only thought is to exalt that same capacity in women instead of seeking to diminish it in men.

To the contrary, women will never be liberated unless our culture can send them a vastly different message, a message of affirmation instead of isolation, a message that the aspiration for commitment, nurture, growth and family is altogether good and noble, and a message that women who exemplify this aspiration are to be praised, supported and emulated. Our idea of sexual intimacy must be reunited with its natural outcome in procreation, so that sexual intimacy can once again become personal intimacy: A profound physical, emotional and spiritual joining which more perfectly images the Creator and demands a stability and fidelity capable of mirroring the Creator’s love. The idea of masculinity must also be reunited with the male instinct to create space for him and his, to protect what he loves against anything that would tear it away, to make a noble sacrifice that is uniquely his own.

Unfortunately our culture, our media, and our laws are largely controlled by overheated adolescent minds, both male and female, which have almost no idea of the consequences of their own disordered desires. Indeed, the world is full of people who can easily understand why a woman might get pregnant, but cannot understand—for the life of them or anyone else—why a woman should give birth.

An abortion culture—a culture of death—hurts everyone, but in different ways. First of all, of course, it kills the baby. But over a longer term and in deeper psychological, emotional and spiritual ways, it enables selfish men to twist women to their own deceptive purposes, deeply alienating those whom they are most called to cherish. Men need to learn to embrace women again as persons, not just as bodies. This is the only way to end the abortion culture, a culture that, despite its claims, always and invariably isolates women by refusing them love.

Jeffrey Mirus holds a Ph.D. in intellectual history from Princeton University. A co-founder of Christendom College, he also pioneered Catholic Internet services. He is the founder of Trinity Communications and See full bio.

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