Why Abortion Is Antithetical to Women's Empowerment

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The New Year has rung in some new twists on an old debate. Speeches by Hollywood actresses, fresh political intrigue surrounding the Equal Rights Amendment, and the upcoming anniversary of Roe vs. Wade offer an opportunity to reconsider the question: Is the freedom to choose abortion necessary for women’s equality?  

January of 2020 began with a salvo on the cultural front when actress Michelle Williams proclaimed in her Golden Globes acceptance speech that she would not have been able to win without “employing a woman’s right to choose.”  The media widely lauded her public abortion declaration as a flexing of “Girl Power,” yet it seems distinctly un-empowering to conclude women need to depend on abortion.  As if women are too weak or incapable to succeed without it.

Contrast Williams’ view of Girl Power with authentically empowering messages of three women who are icons of the left.  Notwithstanding their own pro-choice beliefs, these women recognize and celebrate Mom Power.  

The most powerful woman in America, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, credits the 20 years she spent as a stay-at-home mom raising her five children with forging her into the leader she is today. Now third in line to the presidency, Pelosi advises women to “know your own power” as mothers in a fascinating profile in the Washington Post.  

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg asserts in the epic “Notorious RBG” documentary that she was a better, more focused student at Harvard Law School precisely because she had a baby.  

MSNBC’s Mika Brzezinski’s Know Your Value movement tells women to stop being paralyzed by fear.   Her new book, “Comeback Careers,” speaks of the resourcefulness of women to handle curveballs in their lives, and to rebound stronger than before.  Though Brzezinski is speaking more generally, it is often precisely the fear of being sidetracked from career or educational goals that lead women to tragically choose abortion.   

And the cost of abortion dependence is indeed tragic, both in terms of babies lost and its effect on mothers.  Even some abortion advocates concede this.  In Hillary Clinton’s words, “We can all recognize that abortion in many ways represents a sad, even tragic choice to many, many women.”  But if we can all agree that abortion is a heartbreaking choice, leaving many women physically and emotionally scarred, why settle then, and accept abortion as the price of equality? 

In the political quest for equality, a contentious and litigious new debate has begun over the timeworn Equal Rights Amendment.  The ERA died a definitive legislative death almost 40 years ago when its deadline expired because the requisite number of states failed to ratify it.  It failed largely because its language would have been used as a blunt legal instrument to hammer unrestricted abortion rights into the fabric of the nation.   

Yet ERA proponents are attempting a comeback, circumventing the constitutional process, and seeking “ratification” by bogus means.  The Virginia statehouse passed the ERA this week, claiming to be the final state needed for ratification.  The U.S. House of Representatives is poised to pass a resolution purporting to go back in time to retroactively, and absurdly, change the deadline.  

The first feminist suffragists proposed an equal rights amendment, but would disavow today’s ERA because they saw abortion as trampling on the rights of the unborn and degrading to women.  These celebrated first-wave feminists from Mary Wollstonecraft to Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton recognized that abortion was, in the words of their movement’s leader, Alice Paul, “the ultimate exploitation of women.”   Victoria Woodhull, the first woman to run for president (in 1872), declared with her sister and fellow feminist Tennessee Claflin that “pregnancy is not a disease, but a beautiful office of nature.”  

Next week, the 47th anniversary of Roe vs. Wade will draw thousands upon thousands of pro-life advocates to Washington, D.C., for the annual March for Life.  The theme of this year’s march is “Life Empowers: Pro-Life Is Pro-Woman.” In the United States, there have been 60 million abortions since Roe, half of which – 30 million – aborted developing baby girls. Let’s pause to acknowledge this reality: That’s a lot of missing girl power.

The vision of women’s equality promoted by Roe v. Wade, Michelle Williams, and today’s ERA is far too narrow.  It assumes women need to be more like men.  But women bear children, and that gift is not a deficiency; humanity’s very existence depends on our life-giving capacity. Women ought to be valued as they are, and Mom Power embraced.  In a culture of true equality and authentic female flourishing, women would not be told to choose between their children and their success. 

Maureen Ferguson is a senior fellow for The Catholic Association.

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