Have you noticed that everything today is about sex? “Women’s health” is about sex. “Equality” is about sex. The choice of the next pope is about sex. “Freedom” is about sex. The prevailing narrative is always pushing us toward sexual license and away from voices that would help make the experience of sex more joyful.
Take a recent headline on a New York news website that read “Coalition: Women’s equality more than just abortion.”
If it weren’t Lent, I’d have exclaimed “Alleluia!” in response.
Alas, that would have been premature: The story itself goes on to explain that while the New York Women’s Equality Coalition also cares about things like ending income inequality and human trafficking, these women also insist that expanded abortion access be a legislative priority in New York State.
The governor of New York is inexplicably pushing for such “expanded” access in a state where abortion already looks to be the preferred method of dealing with pregnancy. We used to hear talk of “safe, legal, and rare,” but now we look at numbers that in New York State amount to 111,000 a year. As a friend points out, 111,000 people would be enough to pack two Yankee Stadiums plus most of Madison Square Garden. And yet advocates of legal abortion, many of them themselves arms of the abortion industry, are banding together to insist that expanded abortion access remain a part of Governor Cuomo’s “Women’s Equality Agenda.”
Violence is done to the unborn child in abortion, of course; sometimes this is justified with the best of intentions — concern for the mother’s resources and quality of life. But there is an injustice done to the women, too. The Reproductive Health Act that Governor Cuomo and the Women’s Equality Coalition are pushing has been kicking around Albany since Eliot Spitzer was governor. It has gone nowhere, because New Yorkers know abortion access isn’t a problem in their state. And when they are made aware of the numbers, there is even some consensus that those numbers are too high. Consensus? On abortion? Indeed. You’d think we would take advantage of that opportunity to make some progress. But we have become so accustomed to looking away, out of indifference or frustration, that it has become too easy for those with the loudest megaphones to run away with the conversation.
“Access” has become one of those misleading — so misleading as to have become meaningless — words like “choice” and “equality,” proffered to obscure a loaded agenda, a radical agenda that, if it were laid out clearly, would give people pause. Too many of us buy into these campaigns because they involve such complicated, intimate issues, and there is never an easy answer. But there are people who will walk the walk in order to help. And whatever our political and moral positions on a particular procedure or policy may be, we ought to help the real-life choices that they provide to flourish. Not shut them down. Not push them to the margins.
“It is crazy,” Theresa Bonopartis, the director of Lumina, a post-abortion ministry in New York City, observes about the current conditions. “What we were sold as a bill of goods was the necessity of abortion for the health of women, but this great ‘right’ has become out of control. The ‘abortion right’ is now more protected than the women it claims to serve.” About the Reproductive Health Act, she worries that it “would enshrine abortion as a ‘fundamental right’ in our law and make abortion untouchable at the expense of risking the very health of women its advocates they are claiming to protect.”
This debate in New York is taking place as the trial of Kermit Gosnell is beginning just a bit down the northeast corridor in Philadelphia. The grand-jury report about his hellish practice explained: “This case is about a doctor who killed babies and endangered women. What we mean is that he regularly and illegally delivered live, viable, babies in the third trimester of pregnancy — and then murdered these newborns by severing their spinal cords with scissors. The medical practice by which he carried out this business was a filthy fraud in which he overdosed his patients with dangerous drugs, spread venereal disease among them with infected instruments, perforated their wombs and bowels — and, on at least two occasions, caused their deaths. Over the years, many people came to know that something was going on here. But no one put a stop to it.”
With that in our background, you’d think we’d be a little more sober — and urgent — about actually protecting women and considering what we can do for that other patient.
Our conversations and debates about abortion all too often hit dead ends. “War on women” rhetoric shuts progress down. Bonopartis offers: “I think it gets to a dead end because we look at either the baby or the mother. We need to address both. Both are loved by God, both before and after abortion. We need to look into real ways to help women so they do not feel that they have to abort. Most women who abort do it because they feel they have no choice — not because they are happy doing it. And we need to reach out to those who are hurting and let them know there is hope for healing and it is possible to be joyful again. So many think that if they say they are against abortion they would be judging someone they love who has had one. You can be against abortion and voice that while at the same time offering compassion and help to those who are suffering. It is not one or the other. The babies are not abstract; they are the sons and daughters of these women.”
As commentators continue to express their hopes that the next pope will follow the doctrines of sexual liberation rather than re-propose orthodoxy in a compelling way to the world — and in no small part to Catholics who have been lost along the way — I am stuck on a tweet. “Be careful not to make a woman cry, for God counts her tears!” Gianfranco Cardinal Ravasi tweeted that Talmudic wisdom as he was leading a retreat for the now-emeritus pope and Vatican officials in the final days of Pope Benedict’s papacy. The next time you hear someone dismiss a pro-life position, be grateful there is someone to count the tears, and to follow His lead in trying to wipe away the tears and prevent more.
— Kathryn Jean Lopez is editor-at-large of National Review Online, a director of Catholic Voices USA, and a member of the Archdiocese of New York’s Pro-Life Commission.