Abortion advocates tilted their hand recently by defending the right to end the life of a viable infant. No white-suited woman could bring herself to rise and applaud even the obvious, base-line assertion from the State of the Union address that we should build “a culture that cherishes human life.”
Pro-choice extremists can find no guardrails in their doctrine of a woman’s right-to-choose. Or, as theologian Al Mohler notes, “Abortion reigns as the only sacrament that remains amongst the political left.”
There is, however, a vital question we seldom consider in this discussion: how does the cultural devaluing of a capacity utterly unique to women—that of bringing life into the world—affect the woman?
Women’s Bodies Are a Part of Them
The core of the issue is that you can’t separate a woman’s body from her psyche. For the past 40 years, mental health practitioners have been guided by Carl Jung’s notion of “wholeness,” the idea that health comes from bringing together every aspect of a person’s being—body, soul, and spirit—into a flourishing whole. A fragmented, split-apart psyche makes for a miserable man or woman. Christian and Jewish thought agree on this as well. We thrive as we live into the fullness of being created male or female, to the glory of God.
Along comes an abortionist’s scalpel, and it separates not just the baby from the mother, but the mother from an essential part of her self and her unique capacity to bring life into the world. A woman carries within her the innate knowledge that she—unlike her counterpart—can house people. She can give birth to new life, and sustain that life for months on her nourishment alone. Like the original Eve, whose name means “the mother of the living,” this is a primal aspect of a woman’s psyche.
What can top the sheer wonder of conceiving and bearing life as the most amazing physical act a woman’s body performs? A man’s ability to complete the physical act of sex is unambiguously celebrated. Why is a woman’s ability to give birth treated increasingly as a problem to be solved, something to be rid of? Imagine the riots in the streets if those two variables were reversed.
The great gift of a woman’s being is a chance to shape the life of a real person she has birthed in pain, rocked through ear infections and strep throat, and eventually watched grow into loves of his own. Any woman who has rested her cheek on the downy head of her sleeping infant while she breathes in his sweet baby smell knows that few things compare to this experience.
The estrogen that courses through her body gives her an ability to “attune” to another human being so completely that she knows what this particular child needs. Without words, she just knows. In spite of the obvious challenges, women claim that birthing and raising a child brings out the best of who they are. It’s not the only way, but it’s a major way a woman grows into her own.
The “Shout Your Abortion” movement takes a woman’s great capacity for nurturing life and tramples it in spiked high heels. It declares the fruit of her womb a burden. The culture of abortion fosters a self-hatred in women, as it denigrates this essential glory at the core of being female. Her great asset is reconfigured as a liability, and many women feel that devaluing in their bones.
Naturally, this devaluation has a trickle-down effect in the lives of children. The culture of abortion belittles the sacrifices of motherhood, too. You should be doing something important with your life. That’s the unspoken mantra. So if children come into the picture, the temptation is to let them be a backstroke, a hobby. We give them stuff—but not ourselves. Children need to adapt and come along, as we press on with greater goals.
But women sense, better than men, that children are, indeed, the long-term investment of our lives. We didn’t really need Atul Gawande in his book, “Being Mortal,” to tell us that as we near life’s end, seeing our children will be all that really matters. Women get intuitively that nothing good in life comes without sacrifice. And the goodness connected to bearing children and raising good people is the greatest cache of sacrifice and blessing on the planet. It’s this innate “knowing” that women are asked to discard, to their own harm.
Of course, anyone who’s read the results of happiness studies in women could be forgiven for wagging their I-told-you-so finger. Year after year, Dutch women and their children smile for the cameras, with fields of tulips in the background. They rank high on contentment and low on anxiety. In the Netherlands, a woman with children is (actually) encouraged to work part-time if she wants, and she can’t be penalized in her profession for that choice. Women feel happier when they can pursue many interests and balance work and family more easily, rather than having to sacrifice their fertility for professional interests.
Reducing The Body To A Tool For Power
If the “right to choose” is the supreme value, one that determines all outcomes, a woman’s body becomes a means to an end. It becomes, rather easily, a tool for power.
Imagine this scenario: A woman gives birth to a baby in the state of New York. Her boyfriend, who is also this child’s father, recently left her for another woman. She is furious, a woman scorned. She’s too upset to feel much for this purple, crying baby laying on the delivery table. A dark vision takes shape in her desperate mind. By claiming mental duress, she has the power to insist the doctor end the life of this man’s offspring. Within her grasp is the ultimate act of revenge.
There is precious little to stop that progression in the current culture of abortion. If a woman’s power to choose what happens with her body and the product of her womb is sacrosanct, we are staring in the face of macabre possibilities. Some would make even Nietzsche flinch. The body can be reduced to a tool to gain power, the god of our age.
But remember, this is not the path by which human beings thrive. It’s just one more Gnostic way of splintering the body from the whole person. So the paradox for a woman is that this culture entices her to use the “rights” to her body as a means of power, although she is diminished in the process. It’s oddly like she gains the world, but loses her soul.
A woman’s body is meant to be integrated into the whole of who she is. It’s not a tool but a pathway, an avenue that ushers her and everyone around her into endless possibilities for relationship. From her come generations of living people that stretch into the horizon, where the potential for human love multiplies exponentially.
The True Cost of Our Abortion Culture
There’s an old, grainy, black-and-white movie clip shown to aspiring therapists and social workers, one they never forget, in which a mother tiger on the banks of a raging, flooding river systematically lifts each of the newborn cubs to higher ground. The catch is that her tiger cubs are dead. So strong is the maternal instinct to protect the life of one’s offspring that this mother tiger is determined to move even dead cubs to what she perceives as safety, all at the risk of drowning herself.
This, you are told, is why the bond between mother and child—in both animal and human species—is considered the strongest attachment there is. Then comes the voiceover that knocks you back on your heels. “Indeed, the only other force strong enough to break the maternal instinct is….a drug addiction.”
The culture of abortion is not a tangible substance like heroin or cocaine, but it runs a close second in terms of the violence done to the natural bond between a mother and her child. It’s a systemic desensitization to the deepest instincts of a woman’s being to care about her baby even more than she cares about her own concerns. It is a modern form of splitting the self, a way to “hate” the very aspects of a woman’s self that, by all rights and measures, she should be celebrating. It comes perilously close to psychological castration.
The odd part is that for a secular person, discarding some form of one’s actual self is as close as the modern mind comes to a deadly sin. But abortion says, “Here, have a heaping dose of that.” The irony is overwhelming: under the guise of female empowerment, the culture of abortion tutors a woman to hate herself.