At the Democratic national convention in San Francisco last summer, Jesse Jackson ended his address with a plea to everyone to vote according to conscience. A vote for conscience, he stated, is a vote for truth “and when conscience and truth win, the poor win; and when the poor win, women win; and when women win, children win; and when children win, we all win because they are the future!” It is uncertain whether the problem lies in our voting or with our consciences, but lately children haven’t been winning. Abortion has. Abortion, like the word of God, divides. It slips between the bone and marrow, within conscience, within families, within bodies, within our culture and it separates, making the one into two. Most of the rational arguments on both sides of this issue have already been articulated. What I submit here is not an argument but a challenge and a plea to women to examine how the women’s movement may be unfairly coloring this issue. My challenge is this: Look at what is happening within the feminist movement and discriminate, separate what is legitimate from what is a temporary and unhealthy overreaction. The influence that women’s groups have had on women regarding the question of abortion falls into the latter category.
As it stands right now the women’s movement has seized the abortion issue as its own issue, a women’s issue. It has linked the right to freely choose to have an abortion to the right to full equality. This is a disastrous and unfortunate connection which leaves everyone poorer, children, women and men. The arguments vary a little, but always there is the common denominator: “This is a women’s issue!” “Men don’t get pregnant!” “We have a right to our own bodies!” “If men got pregnant, the abortion laws would have been changed years ago!” These arguments are the result of an overreaction and an unhealthy hypersensitivity that is temporarily clouding many women’s thinking and robbing them of one of their most precious qualities, compassion. Too many women, I submit, are being sucked in by an excessive feminism which is making them defend positions (in this case, the right to abortion by demand) which are far from their true feminine nature. Thus, for example, there is the argument that abortion is a women’s issue. As if men should decide issues of war, economics, politics and the like, and women should decide about drapes, kids, day care and abortion. There are no women’s issues, just as there are no men’s issues. All these issues are everyone’s issues. But that is a fringe point.
More salient is the issue of femininity itself and how it is desperately needed to bring sanity to the issue of abortion. Radical feminism argues: “If men became pregnant, they would have changed the abortion laws years ago!” Sadly that is probably true. But it is more a commentary on the callousness of men than on the justness of abortion on demand. Men would have probably changed the laws, but they would have done so because they, men, were selfish, insensitive and unwilling to let their lives be upset by pregnancy and young children. Women, fortunately, have always been the ones who have been less selfish, who have let their lives be upset by pregnancy and children. Accordingly, they have also been the ones who have had a deeper sense of the sacred, the sacredness of life and the sacredness of children. It has been women who have always been the ones sensitive to the young, the helpless, the aged. They were, and to a large extent still are, the humanizing component in a too-macho, too-cold and too-unfeeling world. As men shot each other, women protected the children and bound up the wounds. Their greater sense of compassion stems from that. But the males kept the females away from the places where important decisions were taken. Men decided the issues of war, politics, economics, law, education and religion. Little wonder females eventually grew frustrated and angry.
I don’t doubt that if men could become pregnant that they would have long ago liberalized abortion laws. But that would just have added to an already unjust, cold, macho and inhuman system. Knowing men and knowing our history, I fear for a society where women no longer protect the helpless and the unborn. And so my challenge to women is this: Through having your lives upset by pregnancy and child-rearing, you have developed a compassion that, for now, men can only envy. Don’t jettison that in order to imitate a macho insensitivity to the helpless. Equality will not come as a result of punishing men by punishing the unborn. Challenge men, not the helpless. Men need to be challenged to allow their lives to be upset by pregnancy, children, the helpless, the weak and the aged. That part of the feminist movement that challenges here is eminently healthy. That part which demands, in the name of feminism, abortion on demand is not. Jesse Jackson stated that “when women win, children win; and when children win, we all win because they are the future!” Lately women have been winning…but children haven’t and the future hasn’t been winning either.