Anger and outrage over the recently enacted “Reproductive Health Act” (RHA) is no surprise for those who foresaw its damaging consequences. Most supporters, I suspect, believe, or have been led to believe, they were doing something good and “progressive.” Certain assumptions, however, turn out to be very questionable even as they drive such laws so harmful to women, children, families and our entire social order.

One such assumption is that a woman’s liberty is advanced and her equality secured only when the body within her body no longer has any value at all. This devalues both mother and child by setting them up as rivals to the table of life, instead of welcoming them. 

No doubt fears of the imminent demise of Roe v. Wade have ramped up the urgency of legislation first introduced in 2007. Prior to the RHA, however, abortion was already widely available in New York, virtually on demand. What the RHA changes is not so much the choices available to a pregnant women, practically speaking, but any recognition of the humanity of the unborn child — in some cases, even after being born.

Granted the goal is removing any vestige of criminality attached to a woman and agent procuring abortion. But in an odd, maybe unforeseen twist, we are seeing now how, as a result of the law, a pregnant woman wanting to exercise her choice to have her child, may actually be deprived of it. Some restorative measures are clearly needed and may be on the way. (https://www.timesunion.com/local/article/Churchill-When-
a-pregnant-woman-s-choice-is-13604193.php.)

Other alarms are showing up. The law removes protections formerly offered to a child born alive during an abortion. Few of its proponents, I suspect, entertained any thought of sponsoring infanticide. Or perhaps the over-the-top “celebration” after the law’s enactment is a telltale sign of a need to suppress the thought. Some form of collective denial.

The seeds of such denial, however, can be seen in certain no longer tenable assumptions about the relationship of an unborn child to its mother and the persistence of other assumptions that resist the growing evidence of the humanity of the unborn.

“Abortion is the ultimate exploitation of women,” wrote Alice Paul, an early feminist. Experience proves her prophetic. “Pro-choice” is a slogan that for too long has harbored assumptions no longer valid, if they ever were. For example, the “choice” our current law claims to offer women may not really respect her real choice. I have already referenced how the new law places added burdens on a woman’s freedom to choose. 

It is rare that a decision to abort is made for its own sake, and not to avert some other feared or foreseen harm or difficulty. What did Alice Paul mean by “exploitation of women” when she referred to abortion? A foundational principle of feminism is that no woman should be forced or induced to act in any manner just to please or conform to another’s desires or standards. Frederica Mathewes-Green notes that abortion acts as an instant cure-all, like a funnel into a drain, which “doesn’t cause trouble for the father of the baby, or her boss, or the person in charge of her college scholarship. It won’t embarrass her mom and dad.”

The question is, how often is it her “choice,” and not someone else’s, a way of conforming her behavior — her body and the body inside her body — to standards generally enjoyed by men, who do not show up at a job or interview or at school with a child showing (or likely to be at any time), or to inconvenience the work-flow or curriculum or economy with absence, whether paid or not? Her “choice” to liberate herself from her child as a form of relief or opportunity; is it really something good for her as a woman, never mind the obvious sacrifice of her child? 

How is a woman free if her freedom is bartered with the life of her own child and her “choice” limited to only one? Were the world not so cruel, would she not rather both of them live and flourish? Blame men, blame nature even, but why not the assumption that a woman only achieves “equality” if she conforms to a “men-only” mode of being-in-the-world? Why, to be “equal” (to whom?) must she repress or be denied her womanhood, the right to bear her child and to bring it with her to the table of life? 

Recall Roe v. Wade saw legitimate state interest in protecting the health and lives of the unborn, at least in the third trimester. This even at a time (1973) when the obvious humanity of the unborn could not be viewed on a sonogram or genetically verified by the unique DNA code etched into every living cell of the newly conceived. New York law now is at odds with both science and experience. How is this any kind of human progress? 

The missions of Catholic Charities, among other agencies that support women and their children before, during and after pregnancy, continue to grow. We seek to partner with and support other organizations in our state and society that enable the full humanity of women and their children to be given the respect and support they are entitled to, and to promote the family life that is foundational for any civilized society. It is time to move beyond ideological and unscientific assumptions no longer tenable about women and their unborn children. We need restorative justice that welcomes ALL human lives equally to the table of life!


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