A decade later, my husband and I sat in an examination room with a panicky doctor. I was 13 weeks pregnant and an ultrasound revealed extreme fetal abnormalities. The doctor told us the news and rushed us to a genetic specialist to get a second sonogram. “What is the rush?” I asked through tears. She told me that we should find out as soon as possible if the baby had a disorder in case we wanted to end the pregnancy. We assured her that whatever the results, we would not end the pregnancy. In pedantic tones she repeatedly told us, “You may change your mind.” We felt pressure from the medical community to abort, which is common.
As a female priest, I have met with several women to talk about regretted abortions. These women often remember what their child’s due date would have been and keep track of how old their son or daughter would be, year by year. What strikes me when I hear their stories is that they speak so little about their own desires when they chose an abortion. They talk about boyfriends, husbands, fathers or mothers who did not offer support or outrightly pressured them to abort. They talk about how they couldn’t afford to have a baby. They talk about how they were afraid that they couldn’t finish school, how they felt panicked, ashamed and alone.
I know this is not every woman’s experience of abortion. The women who ask to meet with me tend to be ones who are grieving their past choices. Still, these women do not tell stories of feeling empowered to make their ideal decision. They describe feeling cornered.
Stories abound of women who say that having an abortion is what allowed them to go on to a successful career. But these stories tacitly acknowledge that abortion on demand has created a culture where the social status of women depends on us making one, and only one, choice when faced with an unplanned pregnancy. Abortion is cast as the price of entry for women’s equality. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Many European countries have far more restrictive abortion laws and lower abortion rates than the United States without curtailing the advancement of women. As Ross Douthat wrote in his Times column, “Is it really necessary to found equality for one group of human beings on legal violence toward another, entirely voiceless group?”
Instead of building the equality of women on our actual flourishing, we as a culture predicate gender equality on a technological intervention that denies what female bodies actually are and what they do.
“Rather than challenge workplace norms head-on,” wrote Erika Bachiochi in National Review, “the decades-long quest for unfettered abortion feeds into the model of the ideal male worker who is beholden to no one but his boss. If abortion is what enables women to participate in the workplace, then perhaps costly accommodations, flexible work schedules, and part-time-pay equity are not so necessary.”
Women feeling that they must extinguish life in their womb in order to be admitted into the world of success, career advancement and equality with men is a reality shaped more by sexual double standards and male-centric acquisitive capitalism than by valuing women’s choices, bodies and desires. This allows a still-patriarchal society to not invest in systems that make childbearing an easier choice: a more just work culture like Bachiochi suggests, but also paid parental leave, widespread availability of lactation rooms, better access to maternity care, affordable health care for children and government-subsidized child care.