Catholic Culture Resources
Catholic Culture Resources

The Ultimate Motherly Act

By Dr. Jeff Mirus ( bio - articles - email ) | Apr 20, 2007

In her April 13th column in the London Times, Caitlin Moran argued that abortion is the “ultimate motherly act”. Moran’s column was written in response to a radical feminist who began to have doubts about abortion after experiencing the birth of her own child last year.

Journalist Miranda Sawyer had made a television documentary in which she recounted her own personal journey from viewing a fetus “just as a group of cells” to understanding what it really is. “When you’ve experienced…pregnancy and birth, and the fantastic beauty of the resulting child,” said Sawyer, “it’s hard not to question what a termination does, or is.” In contrast, Moran claims that her own experience, after having two children, was just the opposite: she became less conflicted about abortion, and gladly chose to terminate her next pregnancy.

An Alternative World

Moran cannot understand why abortion is treated differently from any other medical procedure. She cannot understand why women feel guilty about abortion, and why people don’t give women the same moral support when they abort their babies as they do when they experience other health problems. As she puts it, “There are no ‘Good luck with your morning-after pill!’ cards.” Moran believes this is because we have an image of the greatest mother or the perfect mother as someone who “would carry to term every child she conceived, no matter how disruptive or ruinous, because her love would be great enough for anything.”

Moran also states flatly that she does not understand anti-abortion arguments which “centre on the sanctity of life.” But she does offer alternative sanctities:

However, what I do believe to be sacred—and, indeed, more useful to the earth as a whole—is trying to ensure that there are as few unbalanced, destructive people as possible. By whatever rationale you use, ending a pregnancy 12 weeks into gestation is incalculably more moral than bringing an unwanted child into this world. Or a child that, through no fault of its own, would be the destructor of a marriage, a family, a parent. It’s fairly inarguable to say that unhappy children, who then grew into very angry adults, have caused the great majority of mankind’s miseries. If psychoanalysis has, somewhat brutally, laid the responsibility for mental disorders at parents’ doors, the least we can do is tip our hats to women aware enough not to create those troubled people in the first place.

For this reason, Moran would like to think that if she decides to have another abortion in the future it would be “unlikely to provoke a moral dilemma in anyone, least of all me.” She would like to see a time when “abortion is considered an intelligent, logical, humble, and compassionate thing to do.” She would like to see abortion “considered as, perversely, one of the ultimate acts of good mothering.”

A Modest Proposal?

Caitlin Moran’s use of the word “perversely” in her last sentence just might reverse the whole meaning of her column. It is just barely possible that she has written something like Jonathan Swift’s Modest Proposal for eating Irish children. It might be so far around the bend as to be a deliberate satire designed, through its very horror, to make us all think a little more clearly about life. Truth to tell, that’s the impact it had on me. But I still think the safer path is to assume it is meant to be taken seriously.

If so, I’ll be the first to do so. The number of logical, social and even emotional errors in the column is staggering. Taken as a whole, the argument represents a new high in the modern effort to call black white and white black. Here are just three out of many problems:

First, does Moran seriously believe her own argument for why we have an obligation to prevent the birth of unwanted children? That is, does Moran really believe there has been a reduction in mental and emotional instability since the advent of the abortion license? Is that what modern statistics show? If you want a recipe for instability, try raising kids who gradually grow to understand that their mother kills the ones she doesn’t want. Moran herself calls to mind the old “mum joke, often heard in playgrounds on wintry February afternoons – ‘What do you think should be the cut-off point for terminations?’ ‘I dunno. Secondary school?’” I wouldn’t want to grow up with a mother who, having had an abortion, still found that funny.

I’ll refrain from pushing this point much farther, because I wouldn’t want to speculate as to whether it would be acceptable to kill other people’s children in order to fulfill the moral imperative of saving the world from the unbalanced and the destructive. Nor would I want to ask the even more obvious question: Is a mother who refuses to love the baby in her womb unbalanced and destructive? In any case, perhaps there are unbalanced and destructive seeds in all of us. Sometimes well-raised people end up being overwhelmed by these weeds. Sometimes badly-raised people succeed in uprooting them.

Second, does Moran really have such a mechanistic view of human nature that she thinks people can exercise no control over their emotions? Is the only solution to an unwanted child to kill it? Surely a less draconian solution is for the mother to change not her child but herself. It is, after all, she who has the psycho-spiritual problem which leads to unwantedness. Killing the child will not solve this deeper problem, whereas bearing the child just might do so. In fact, women (and their husbands) do this all the time, both those who have contemplated abortion and those who would never consider it at all. “You know, honey, I honestly didn’t want another child; it’s a burden in so many ways.” “I know, but we’ll take the adventure God sends and, from this moment on, we'll love this new little one just the same.”

Third, whatever the case for contracepting to avoid bringing unwanted children into the world, once you are pregnant you are already a mother. Now your choice is to act like a mother and nurture your child, or to deny motherhood and kill it. Regardless of the arguments pro and con, does Moran seriously expect society as a whole to view the point-blank denial of motherhood as “one of the ultimate acts of good mothering”?

Doing it for the Children

On the same day as Moran’s column appeared, seventeen-year-old Nicole Marie Beecroft prevented an unwanted child from coming into the world by stabbing her newborn baby girl 135 times and disposing of her in a garbage can. As she stands trial for murder, Beecroft will not likely be much consoled by Caitlin Moran’s judgment that she has performed “one of the ultimate acts of good mothering.”

No. What Beecroft desperately needs now is the love she couldn’t give her child. And Caitlin Moran, who has in truth gone even farther down Beecroft's road, desperately needs it too. Both need that precious free gift of personal love which, while transcending all of us, has been given to mothers to image to the world in a special way. They need that love which is preeminently realized in sacrifice and most convincingly demonstrated in crucifixion. They need that gigantic and inexhaustible love, without which all the world is stillborn.

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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