“Shhhh! Men can’t say anything about this!”
So read a comment I saw recently on social media from a pro-abortion woman trying to silence a man about abortion.
For decades, abortion advocates have tried to justify abortion by isolating it. They want to isolate it in the realm of privacy, and solely the privacy of the mother.
It’s a “woman’s issue,” after all. And according to them, it’s only that.
The law, too, has followed them there for the most part, giving men no say in the life of their own child.
We can think, for instance, of how the Supreme Court in 1992 upheld four out of five provisions of Pennsylvania’s Abortion Control Act, the only provision they struck down being the need for the consent of the male spouse to the abortion of his child.
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Yet as many have pointed out, the flip side of rights is responsibilities. If we tell men they have no rights over the life of their child, that simply reinforces the attitude of many that they can walk away from any duties towards a child the mother chooses to raise.
Moreover, the Alan Guttmacher Institute, in its analysis of why women get abortion, has long noted that one of the key reasons women give is the absence or lack of support of the father.
So many men make the easy mistake of saying, “It’s your choice,” and instead of experiencing that as support, women normally experience that as further isolation, leaving them to face a difficult, life-changing decision all alone.
And that increases the temptation to abort.
The rhetoric of “only a woman’s issue,” in other words, backfires in reality, and only harms women. The harm, furthermore, done to the whole family by abortion – the father, the grandparents, the siblings, and others – harm well documented at AbortionShockwaves.com, gives the lie to abortion as a “personal, private choice of the woman.”
If we are to overcome abortion, we must overcome the isolation, and the rhetoric of isolation. It is not simply about the woman. It’s about the family. It’s about restoring the supportive relationships within the family, as God intended it, to be the “sanctuary of life,” as the Catholic Church refers to it, the community of persons which is meant to provide the stable framework for welcoming and raising new life.
And it’s about a Culture of Life in which every citizen understands that we have all been entrusted to the care of one another, and that we all share responsibility for innocent blood shed upon our land.
Yet we as pro-life activists have to be careful that we don’t unintentionally contribute to the isolation of abortion as “just a woman’s issue.”
This can happen if we take a good thing – namely, raising the female voices of pro-life advocacy – and separate it from its context – namely, the advocacy of human rights that is the right and duty of every human being equally.
Abortion is the killing of a child. Protecting a child is just as much the business of a man as of a woman. Speaking up for the voiceless, and defending the vulnerable, is not a task that rises or falls with gender. It is everyone’s responsibility, equally.
Yet at times we see certain messaging and strategic planning within the pro-life movement that says, or implies, that women’s voices should predominate those of men. This is a mistake that simply plays into the agenda of the other side to isolate the issue as a woman’s issue only.
And it’s one of the excuses so many clergy make for their silence about abortion.
Now I have been from the beginning, and still am, a leading advocate for the voices of women in the abortion debate. I am the Pastoral Director for the Silent No More Awareness Campaign worldwide. This project gives a platform for women who have had abortions to share their stories. I am also Pastoral Director of Rachel’s Vineyard worldwide. This is the world’s largest ministry for healing those who have had abortions.
Back in the 1990’s, moreover, it was my suggestion to Royce Dunn, founder of Life Chain, that the sign “Abortion Harms Women” should be added alongside “Abortion Kills Children.”
And over the years, the key ministry leaders in my own organization, Priests for Life, have been mostly women: our Executive Director Janet Morana, Dr. Theresa Burke, Marie Smith, Evangelist Alveda King.
I can go on with examples of how I believe in putting women’s voices front and center in this debate.
My point is that we accomplish our goal only when those voices are firmly rooted in the wider context of a vigorous cry for human rights, accompanied by the voices of men and the advocacy of the unity of the whole family.
We want pro-life women vocal and visible because we want to counteract the other side’s narrative that all women are pro-choice, and that being pro-choice is somehow essential to being a woman.
That needs to be our strategic motive, not the idea that only women should (or can persuasively) speak against abortion.
In reality, the other side doesn’t even believe their own rhetoric, because they are only too happy to utilize their male Democrat Presidents, members of Congress, and judges, not to mention the abortionists themselves.
They’re not against having men involved, as long as they can intimidate pro-life men to stand quietly by with their hands in their pockets while babies are slaughtered and women ravaged by the abortion industry.
We will accomplish our goal only when we make it clear that nobody has a monopoly on the defense of life – not women or men or those who have had abortions or those who have not.
It is precisely when we persuade people that every human being has the equal right and duty to defend our most defenseless children that we will end this violence.
Our success is not simply in raising up pro-life women; it is in restoring the unity of the family: mothers, fathers, and children giving themselves to each other in a community of love which is the sanctuary of life.
We live in an age of identity politics, when the focus on who is saying something, rather than what is being said, is completely out of control. There is no need for the pro-life movement to contribute to that dynamic.
For a movement whose very message is the equality of every human being, we need to be extra careful to point out, by word and deed, that every voice in defense of life is equally necessary and valuable.