Monday, March 11, 2013

Abortion, women's equality, and the misogynist male standard

Erika Bachiochi, who in 2011 authored "Embodied Equality: Debunking Equal Protection Arguments for Abortion Rights" in the Harvard Journal of Law & Public Policy, explains a key problem with the claim that "women's social, relational, and legal equality requires abortion":
By equating equality with abortion access, we have capitulated to the misogynist view that equality requires women to become more like men, i.e., not pregnant. This is not to say in a biologically determinist fashion that because women's bodies have the capacity to gestate fetal life, women are assumed by nature to be designed only, or even primarily, to be wives and mothers. It is to say that a culture that relies on abortion to achieve equality between the sexes takes male—wombless—physiology as the norm, and in so doing perpetuates the cultural devaluation of motherhood, and of parenting generally, and the social conditions that are often inhospitable to childrearing. Abortion leaves every societal and familial injustice just as it is, and expects nothing more or different of men.

Sexual equality via abortion looks to cure biological asymmetry—the fact that women get pregnant and men don't—by promoting the rejection of women's bodies. Authentic equality and reproductive justice would demand something far more revolutionary: that men and society at large respect and support women in their myriad capacities and talents which include, for most women at some time in their lives, childbearing.

If pregnancy and motherhood are understood as burdensome conditions to women—experiences that represent our inability to compete with wombless men—they will never be given the respect and accommodation they deserve. Not all women become mothers, but those who do so depend upon a cultural esteeming of both pregnancy and motherhood—the nurturance of an individual and unique human being—for their social and professional support.

To belittle the moral status of the unborn child is to belittle the state of pregnancy, and so too the child's mother. To upend the mother's bond with her unborn child by allowing abortion is also to deny the paternal duties that come with siring offspring. Current abortion law treats pregnancy as a woman's choice—and so too her problem. And many men have been just as happy to (have sex and) oblige.

The sacrifices that mothers endure during their pregnancies—and mothers and fathers endure beyond—would be far more honored (and perhaps even rewarded) were we as a culture honest about the dignity of the human beings—born and unborn—entrusted to our care.