While reporting on a December 2021 pro-life vigil outside a Planned Parenthood clinic, I witnessed an exchange between an abortion supporter and two vigil attendees. A young woman friendly with the clinic staff challenged the pair – a man and a woman, both senior citizens – as they asked an incoming client if she would like information about abortion alternatives.
“Do you have a uterus?” the young woman snapped, glaring at the man.
“No, but I do,” said his companion.
The young woman sneered. “Yours is out of commission. It doesn’t count.”
Seeing my camera and press credentials, she looked at me and shrugged. “Sorry, but it doesn’t.”
Judging from their calm and composure, I surmised the couple were veteran pro-life advocates and, like many others, quite accustomed to insults. But the young woman’s words troubled me for some days afterwards – and this past week, they echoed once again in the coarse comments of a New Jersey legislator, as that state prepared to enshine what it calls “abortion rights” in its constitution.
Moments before the vote on the bill, an assemblywoman informed her dissenting colleagues that unless they were possessed of a particular female organ, they had “nothing to say” in the matter.
Unlike the young woman at the clinic, the lawmaker didn’t qualify her remark with a condition on the anatomy’s functionality. But both she and the clinic supporter articulated a stance that, while claiming to empower women, ultimately leads to their impoverishment and devaluation.
After decades of widely available contraception and abortion on demand, we have more than enough evidence that splitting the atom of human sexuality – divorcing its procreative and unitive aspects – is actually a greater threat to our species than weaponizing nuclear fission.
Since the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court rulings on the Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton cases, over 61 million abortions have taken place in the U.S., an average of 2,000 per day. Abortion particularly impacts communities of color: Black, Hispanic and other non-White patients accounted for 62% of all U.S. abortions in 2014, as the Guttmacher Institute notes on its website.
Globally, there are a total of some 73.3 million abortions each year, according to Guttmacher – a number at least five million greater than United Kingdom’s current population, and almost 15 million more than the United Nation’s 2019 crude death rate, or total number of deaths worldwide in a given year.
And those statistics don’t reflect the children whose conception was prevented in the first place by artificial methods. We will never truly know, at least on this side of eternity, how many gifted and beautiful souls our world never had a chance to welcome.
Still more difficult to measure is the profound physical, emotional, psychological and spiritual damage wrought by abortion and artificial contraception – on both women and men, whose roles and relationships are too often embattled by confusion, mistrust and injustice.
Pope Paul VI predicted such suffering in his encyclical Humanae Vitae, noting that “the fundamental nature of the marriage act” by divine design engenders “new life” amid “the closest intimacy” between a husband and wife, “and this as a result of laws written into the actual nature of man and of woman” (Humanae Vitae, 12).
Contravening those laws through the use of artificial contraception invites misery and chaos: “This course of action could open wide the way for marital infidelity and a general lowering of moral standards” (Humanae Vitae, 17)
Some might counter that artificial birth control methods should instead “strengthen” marriages by reducing the “burden” of unplanned pregnancies; others might merely roll their eyes and dismiss the papal warning as prudishness. Yet Pope Paul VI accurately foresaw that “a man who grows accustomed to the use of contraceptive methods may forget the reverence due to a woman, and, disregarding her physical and emotional equilibrium, reduce her to being a mere instrument for the satisfaction of his own desires, no longer considering her as his partner whom he should surround with care and affection” (Humanae Vitae, 17).
More than 50 years later, the World Bank declared in a 2021 report that “violence against women and girls … is a global pandemic,” with “one out of three women and girls (35%) worldwide between the ages of 15 and 49 (experiencing) physical violence, sexual violence, or both.” The trend has soared during COVID-19, with United Nations (UN) chief António Guterres repeatedly calling for an end to a “horrifying global surge in domestic violence.”
Women are at much greater risk for human trafficking, particularly sex trafficking: the UN notes that “in 2018, for every 10 victims detected globally, about five were adult women and two were girls.”
Analysts also decry the “feminization of poverty,” which disproportionately impacts women and children worldwide. Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger insisted artificial contraception would lift women out of destitution, yet millions of users nonetheless continue to seek abortions each year, frightened they will not have the means to support a child – a vicious cycle to which pro-life advocate Patricia Sandoval, a former Planned Parenthood staffer and three-time abortion survivor, has courageously attested.
In reality, safety nets – Social Security, tax credits, housing and food assistance – have the greatest impact on reducing poverty, including that experienced by single-mother families, as a 50-year trend report issued in 2016 by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services showed.
Artificial birth control and abortion, by contrast, don’t offer a safety net, but rather a widemouthed trap – one that ensnares us all, even as it isolates us from each other. Liberating ourselves from this bondage requires that we unmask so-called “reproductive autonomy” for what it is: a brutalizing autocracy that systematically oppresses us and demeans our dignity.
And, despite the assertions of the assemblywoman and the clinic supporter, that’s a fight for freedom to which every member of the human family is called.
Gina Christian is a senior content producer at CatholicPhilly.com, host of the Inside CatholicPhilly.com podcast and author of the forthcoming book “Stations of the Cross for Sexual Abuse Survivors.” Follow her on Twitter at @GinaJesseReina.
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