The legalization of abortion is widely cited as a breakthrough for the feminist goal of overcoming male dominance. It allows women, like men, to find sexual fulfillment without the risk of having a child. But can women find a true sense of fulfillment in changing themselves to become more like men? In this piece, I argue that women are instead empowered when they embrace their natural femininity and reject abortion as the easy way out of an unwanted pregnancy. I approach this idea from a Christian perspective, but also reference practical social perspectives to which my secular readers can relate. I am not making a case for the relative rights of the human fetus and adult; for this argument it is sufficient to assume that the fetus, as a potential for human life, deserves at least some level of respect.
I will begin this discussion with an introduction to the argument supporting abortion as a means of bringing women to social equality with men. I will then discuss the woman’s identity struggle and the solution of Biblical Femininity (her identity as decreed by God): the path by which she finds fulfillment, and what it actually means for her to reach equality with man. Finally, I will explore ways in which prohibiting abortion can empower the woman to reach her full potential.
It has often been argued that legalized abortion has helped to liberate the woman from male dominance. Now that she has the option of abortion as a fallback should contraception fail, the modern woman can find full sexual fulfillment without worrying about the consequences. If conception does occur, she simply makes a responsible judgment as to whether she is equipped, willing and able to support a child. Whether she is a victim of rape or simply unwilling to postpone her career for a few months, the woman has the option of easily escaping her unwanted pregnancy. Abortion is also useful to the woman who wants children, as a planning tool to ensure that she does not have children at inconvenient times or with serious genetic defects. For these reasons, many advocate abortion as a way of giving women the freedom and peace of mind that men always had.
However, is becoming like men the key to women’s quest for equality with them? Men and women are obviously very different, physically, emotionally, and psychologically. Thus if womankind, in general, tries to emulate mankind’s strength to rival him in the ways that men are strong, she will always fail. She was made to be a woman, with specific strengths unique to women and she will never be able to be a man as fully as he himself can be. This is not a negative truth; actually it is a liberating one. Women reach equality with men by embracing their natural differences from men. For example, in the Old Testament, we read about a woman named Abigail who accomplished with kindness and peace, natural female tendencies, what David and his mighty warriors could not win by their swords (1 Samuel 25). Only by embracing their femininity as different and not inferior to masculinity do women reach full potential.
Biblical femininity is special in its distinction from masculinity. In the creation narrative recorded in Genesis 1, we are told that God created man and woman “in his own image” (Genesis 1:27). Man and woman are so different, yet each represents dimensions of God’s character that the other cannot effectively portray. For example, while man serves as a physical representation of God’s might, woman exemplifies his compassionate love. Woman, then, has strengths unique to her, purposely bestowed on her by God. Through growth in these traits, rather than attempts to become more masculine, she will become truly empowered. Here, I focus on two such aspects: her nurturing devotion and her desire for commitment in her relationships. For both cases, however, abortion prevents her from reaching her full potential of Biblical Femininity.
Women have a compassionate instinct to nurture and protect those incapable of protecting themselves (Isaiah 49:15). When confronted by an unwanted pregnancy, a woman can find fulfillment by making voluntarily sacrifices for this life entirely dependent on her. By rejecting abortion as the easy way out, she is refuting the demeaning stereotype that she is weak and unable to cope with the unexpected twists in life (Callahan, Sidney. “Abortion and the Sexual Agenda: A Case for Prolife Feminism.”). She realizes that her “pregnancy is not like the growth of cancer or infestation by a biological parasite; it is the way every human being enters the world” (Callahan). Rather than regarding it as a curse, she embraces the fact that unlike man she can give birth to new life. Because it is entirely unnatural for a woman to want to cut off this new life within her, by opposing abortion she is also embracing her identity as a woman. To again quote Callahan, “Pitting women against their own offspring is not only morally offensive, it is psychologically and politically destructive. Women will never climb to equality and social empowerment over mounds of dead fetuses, numbering now in the millions.” In these ways, by rejecting abortion and instead embracing the ability to give and nurture life, women find fulfillment in who they were made to be, rather than disappointment as they try and fail to match and rival men.
God also created woman to yearn for commitment in their relationships. This desire is obvious even in very young girls who love any fairytale about a princess who falls in love with the prince that she is fated to live happily ever after with. A grown woman has that same desire. She wants to be emotionally close to someone who will stick by her through everything, not a man who may leave her on a whim. She wants to be a valued half of a serious relationship, not below man but with him, her strengths complimenting him and his complimenting hers. This desire was placed in woman from her beginning. Eve, the first woman, was called man’s “ezer kenegdo,” roughly translated as “helper,” for he was not complete without her (Eldredge, John and Stacy. Captivating. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2010, pp. 32-33). This Hebrew word “ezer kenegdo” appears twenty other times in the Old Testament, always referring to God’s powerful, relieving support when we are most desperate (Deuteronomy 33:29). This absolutely essential supporting role in a relationship is the one that woman was created to fill, but to be such a “ezer kenegdo” she needs a man committed to her. Unfortunately, abortion allows men to be less committed to the long-term aspect of their relationships.
By rejecting abortion, women force men away from their oppressive desire for irresponsible, uncommitted sexual relations. As things are now, the woman bears legal responsibility for the choice of whether or not to terminate a pregnancy, and the man, who may well have played no role in the decision, cannot be reasonably forced to help support and raise any children not aborted. Further, the increased acceptance of abortion has led to the dominant rationalization that “if she refuses to get rid of it, it’s her problem” (Callahan). This can be very detrimental the woman’s natural desire for a committed relationship. As long as abortion is not an option, however, the man is pushed by responsibility to help deal with the problem instead of leaving or coercing the woman into terminating her pregnancy.
What is fulfillment? What does it mean to be empowered? How does feminism fit in with religion? In this essay I argue that they are closely connected by the identity which God gave to woman when he created her. This identity is unique to her, distinct from man’s identity, and in pursuing it, she finds fulfillment. One way in which she can do so is in resisting abortion, which does not empower women but pushes her into the futile race to equal man by being like him. Actions like the active resistance of abortion are necessary because only through fulfillment and contentment in their differences can the balance between men and women ceases to be a power struggle and become a beautiful expression of who God is.