BY KARIS GONG
Comments on abortion must always begin with disclaimers. I am not here to argue from the perspective of a scientist, doctor, philosopher, or theologian. I am not here to argue about Roe v. Wade or broader State policy, although I personally believe abortion is wrong. To choose abortion is to choose death, and everyone should agree that wanton, preventable death, especially that of an innocent person, is not a desirable moral end.
Here, though, I would like to address the culture of so-called “sexual and reproductive rights” and the narrower claim that the right to government-sanctioned abortion (which is the only positive right I can think such a term means to assert) is good for women. The argument, I believe, goes like this:
Women now flourish not only because they may legally commit abortion but because doing so is a celebrated personal right. Women can pursue their dreams because they’re no longer burdened by a societal fear that they may become pregnant and abandon whatever endeavors they’d otherwise pursue.
I find this argument problematic. In particular, it is troubling to me that advocates for abortion claim that my opportunities are just that – opportunities to do great things and not just pipe dreams – because of the right to abortion. The argument has several flaws whose notice strikes me as not necessarily conventionally conservative or right-wing.
First, it presumes that women must be expected to be the ones charged with sole child-rearing responsibilities. If instead of fighting for abortion rights women had fought for better parental leave benefits for both men and women, maybe today’s cultural presumptions would be different. If gender equality were really the ultimate goal, we should also see more stay-at-home dads or at least more fathers working part-time; pregnancy wouldn’t be the woman’s “fault,” and the responsibilities of childrearing would fall equally upon both mother and father.
Second, we generally would otherwise never be thankful that someone’s death had relieved us of a burden. For example, society would not excuse a man who killed his senile father because he couldn’t afford to take time off work to care for him. We would condemn him as cold-hearted and insist that he should have found other ways to overcome his obstacles. But the pro-abortion argument above depends on the same premises as this hypothetical man’s pithy excuse: it is irreverent towards life, and it adopts an “ends justifies the means” attitude, which is dangerous because it is difficult to draw non-arbitrary distinctions between it and other behaviors that are clearly morally wrong.
Finally, the argument, if true, means that in reality women have achieved little in terms of changing attitudes. Instead of convincing a male-dominant society that mothers are equally capable of exceptional thinking and achievement, the message is now that women are willing and even expected to give up something men have never been asked to give up in order to succeed. The result is that women are forced into a choice: they can choose their careers or their family. This isn’t progress. Whereas women once faced chauvinistic employers who feared they would unexpectedly leave upon becoming pregnant, they now face chauvinistic employers who expect them to choose work rather than family. If there were no right to abortion, one hopes, women by now wouldn’t have to work for such chauvinists. Moreover, celebrating a right to abortion reinforces the irresponsible attitude that sexual freedom has no consequences – only now, neither men nor women need suffer the “costs” or endure the responsibilities of raising children when they don’t feel like it. These hardly seem the attitudes indicating the “success” of decades of struggle.
As Christians, I do not want us to be fooled into thinking that choosing life means choosing a world in which women are oppressed. We know that life is a gift to be cherished. Yet we also see that the Proverbs woman succeeds in business, the community, and in caring for her family (Prv. 31:10–31). Ideally, our culture would truly celebrate both family and career achievement, and it makes sense that individuals in loving and supportive families would also have the strength to do well in the workplace. The message that society needs abortion in order for women to prosper is foolishness. It should not stand in our way of choosing life.