These are the times that try women’s souls, or at least, this woman’s soul. A few weeks back on an unseasonably warm Saturday, women across the country met in Chicago, Washington D.C., Los Angeles, and hundreds of other locations to support women’s rights and protest what many of us recognize as reprehensible behavior and forthcoming policies from our new President.
If you are the type who doesn’t believe in the value of protest and public dissent, this post is not for you. If you are the type who doesn’t understand why many women are deeply uncomfortable with Donald Trump holding a position of political power, this post is not for you. If, however, you are a pro-life woman who felt excluded from what should have been a unifying cause last week, this post is most definitely for you.
Having carried five children (two to term, two lost to miscarriage, one in utero now), I live with the certainty that life begins at conception. There is an assumption among many who support abortion rights that Catholic women swallow the “life begins at conception” line because we are told to and that our faith somehow institutes a backwardness in us that results in the proliferation of larger families than we want.
This assumption is not only insulting, it’s flat out wrong. It is insulting because it assumes pro-life women are incapable of the rigorous and academic pursuit of scientific fact. It is wrong because our country is full of strong, intelligent women who have used the same brains that inform us misogyny is wrong to determine that having the freedom to take an innocent life is also wrong and not a “woman’s right.”
Certainly, it comes down to that question: When is a fetus viable? According to an Ethics Guide provided by the BBC, “There’s no agreement in medicine, philosophy or theology as to what stage of fetal development should be associated with the right to life.” In America, the majority of states outlaw abortion around 24 weeks, a time determined by the ability of a fetus to live outside the womb. The problem with this is the fact of scientific advances that will likely allow us to sustain the life of a child before this time. When science advances in this direction, will our morality encompass the fact of viable life earlier?
I am a strong woman and I oppose abortion in every case. I would have liked to march last week, but the truth is I did not feel welcome. As was widely-reported, Destiny Herndon-De La Rosa’s group, New Wave Feminists (a group I feel a strong kinship to), were ousted from a partnership with the Women’s March on Washington after many asserted that a pro-life group was inconsistent with a rally in support of women’s rights. Apparently, an opposition to misogyny and abortion is inconsistent. Apparently, I have to support the right to abortion to be a strong, empowered woman.
Except I don’t and I can’t because both my personal experience with carrying children and my pursuit of scientific evidence points to life at the earliest stages of development. I am empowered enough to know I am not empowered enough to make the decision to end that life.
Because of this, I live in an in-between place in America right now. I won’t use the word refugee here because our current President’s policies against actual refugees make it gross and unseemly for me to even use it as metaphor. But I am without a home politically. I cannot rejoice with my pro-Trump friends and family because I find so much of what he is doing terrifying and diametrically opposed to the basic tenets of the pro-life movement. But I also cannot join with friends who are rallying because I am not welcome and because I cannot quietly stand with them while they bear posters that say “Keep Your Laws Off My Body.” Women, please change that slogan. Almost all of our laws protect our bodies.
Also, I cannot quietly stand with them while they shout that men cannot legislate for them because I have a husband who is my equal and who is allowed to have an opinion, even a politically powerful one if he were so inclined, about life. Life is inherently genderless and neutral which is the actual foundational premise of the women’s rights movement. If we really believe in equality, we have to accept that men should have an equal say in when life begins.
Yes, as women, we carry the burden of fertility. I cannot argue with that. If you knew me and how difficult my pregnancies were, you’d understand the full breadth of how acutely I understand the burden of fertility. But I also understand the gift of it.
So this is an open letter to my fellow women. This is to my friends whose beliefs are inconsistent with mine and whose understandable outpourings on Facebook are making it increasingly difficult to find camaraderie with you. We both have to be able to speak out. I don’t know how we’re going to get through this together, but I’d like to try.
And to my friends who share this common ground with me, those women who are pro-woman and pro-life, I cherish you now more than ever. In a time of increasing division, I need you to feel less alone because I need to feel less alone. I am pro-woman and I am pro-life. I look forward to a time when these two advocacies are understood as forces not in opposition to each other.
Until that time, while I don’t know what lies ahead for us in the next couple of years, as an American, as a woman, and as a human being, I will continue to assert my right to protest, fight for my beliefs, and not be silenced by anyone.
Molly Jo Rose’s column, In and Of the World, focuses on finding God's goodness in the darkest places of the world.