“In this country a man is not a father because of anything he does. He’s only a father because the woman he impregnates decides to keep the baby.”
These words belong to Gary Bell, founder of Dads for Life, whose wife had an abortion without his knowledge.
It was the summer of 1981, a summer I’ll never forget. I came home from work a little early to find my wife in tears. With fear and concern I rushed to see what was wrong. After ten minutes she was able to speak. What she had to say was something I did not want to hear and could not comprehend. She said that she had had an abortion. I was shocked. I didn’t even know that she was pregnant…. I felt used, unimportant, betrayed, and so very alone.
Gary’s statement sums up well the essence of Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court’s 1973 decision that legalized abortion on demand. Under Roe, for example, a man who impregnates a woman cannot claim to have any fatherly relation to the child. The father who co-authored the life of another human being is categorically treated as someone completely outside of any relation to the baby. Not only do unborn children not exist as persons under Roe, neither do men.
Abortion does not simply kill unborn children. Abortion does something else that is equally dangerous — it attacks the very essence of how human beings are in relation to one another. Abortion undoes the most basic and intimate human bonds — the bonds of the family upon which society and indeed all of civilization are dependent. John T. Noonan in his 1979 book A Private Choice called abortion the most unrestricted liberty in America today. Yet what we are faced with in abortion, as it is practiced under Roe v. Wade, is not so much a liberty as it is a raw, unmitigated power. This power of life and death over unborn children has been placed in the hands of women and with it the power to undo all human relatedness.
If radical feminists had to choose between the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment and legalized abortion, there is no question that they would choose abortion. This is because radical feminism is ultimately not about rights but about power, and the ultimate feminist power is abortion. Roe v. Wade itself is a type of feminist manifesto that is rooted in a particular philosophy about power, especially about how power is attained. Roe refused to recognize the humanity and the legal personhood of unborn children. By refusing to recognize the personhood of the unborn, Roe placed fetal children outside of all human relations. This disfranchisement from the circle of the human family and human rights is enough to facilitate their deaths.
But Roe also did something to women. Before a woman could have absolute power over the life of her child, Roe first had to place the woman in complete isolation from all others — from her boyfriend, from her husband, from her parents. The woman had to be isolated from anyone who could claim to be in relation to her and her unborn baby. Once the woman is severed from others she may in her sheer autonomy finally sever herself from her own child.
Roe invented the autonomous woman. This is the woman who stands alone, the absolute individual, who once disconnected from others may then control or destroy the lives of others because she is placed outside of any intrinsic relation to them.
Recently the Supreme Court in Rust v. Sullivan upheld Federal regulations that prohibit federally financed family planning centers from referring for or counseling for abortion. In his dissent from the majority opinion Justice Harry Blackmun stated: “Roe v. Wade … and its progeny are not so much about a medical procedure as they are about a woman’s fundamental right to self determination.” Blackmun’s words are important. The chief architect of Roe has himself revealed a crucial element of that decision. Feminist theologian Sister Madonna Kolbenschlag, at the 1986 Women in the Church Conference, stated the philosophy of Roe more pointedly when she said, “The abortion controversy is not about life. It’s about control over women’s sexuality and power.”
Privacy and Isolation
The fact that in Roe v. Wade abortion is based upon the “right to privacy” is a key to understanding what this Supreme Court decision did to women. Ultimately, privacy in Roe not only means that people may make reproductive decisions free from government intrusion and regulation. In Roe, practically speaking, privacy is the zone of privacy around the woman. It is synonymous with her isolation, and this sort of privacy is a deadly thing. This privacy rests on the assumption that human freedom is freedom from being in relation to others because the very presence of others compromises my freedom and my selfhood. Abortion in America is acting out the Sartrean philosophy that “Hell is other people.” To be free, the other who calls me into relation and responsibility must be annihilated.
Roe’s idea of the “right to privacy” supports the moral declaration of pro-abortion women: “I have a right to control my own body.” Abortion is centered on the meaning of a woman’s body. Indeed, the feminist quest for power through birth control and abortion is made by sacrificing the female body. A major principle of feminism is its dislike of the female body. This resentment of female physical nature is rooted in the belief that female reproductive powers keep women back from self-fulfillment in a “man’s world.” Pregnancy, birth, nursing, and the extended care of children keep women “in their place.” The home is where, from the feminist point of view, women’s talents and authority are stifled and left unrecognized and unappreciated because they are not blooming instead in the arena of public power.
The core of feminist philosophy is that the woman — and the woman alone — must have absolute control over her reproductive powers. It is a feminist tenet that the biology of a woman keeps her enslaved. Feminine biology is deemed a burden because it is constantly changing due to the biological rhythms of the feminine cycle. In a sense a woman can never be free of her body in the way that male physical constancy allows a man to be free. But more important than this, the feminist’s desire to have absolute control over her reproductive powers stems from the fact that female biology intrinsically places the woman in relation to other persons. The woman’s life-giving powers bind her to others and bind others to her. Only when the woman is free from such human connectedness can she claim the radical autonomy that is necessary to have control over others. “I have a right to control my own body” means women have the right to cast others out of relation to them and deny that they are in a moral relation to others.
Just the words “my own body” in this slogan are very revealing. In this pro-abortion battle cry, “My own body” are words filled with isolation — an isolation which is the antithesis of the true meaning of female or male sexuality. In the sex act “my own body” is given over to another. In this act another person is truly received and accepted. In this act the “frontiers of solitude” (to use a phrase from John Paul II) are dissolved and permanent human community created precisely through the agency of “my own body.”
Abortion represents a complete contradiction of the sexual meaning of the body. The kind of control over her body that a woman exercises in abortion tears apart what her sexuality is intended to build. Abortion not only literally tears apart the child that her sexuality has created, but as Gary Bell knows so well, it tears apart her relation to the father of the child. It tears apart the relation her other children have to this child and that her parents have to this child.
One year after Gary Bell’s wife had her abortion she became pregnant again. This time she told Gary that she was pregnant and that she was going to get another abortion.
I begged her not to do it. I told her that I would be fully responsible for my child. I told her I would be willing to give the child up for adoption, “Just please don’t kill my baby.” She just turned and said, “There’s nothing you can do about it.” She was right! I had lost my second child.
Gary spent the next two weeks contacting every attorney in town in the hope that he could block his wife’s abortion. “I believed in our American system of justice. It never occurred to me that a father had no rights in relation to his unborn offspring. I thought I could save my baby if I could find an attorney to help me. But the attorneys gave me no relief at all.” Some attorneys told Gary the very same thing his wife had said: “There’s nothing you can do about it.”
If Roe v. Wade is, as Blackmun stated, about a “woman’s fundamental right to self-determination,” this kind of self-determination is gained by making all others surrounding the woman utterly helpless in the face of her own will. Yet the power of abortion actually represents the dissolution of authentic feminine power — or authority.
Dissolving Female Authority
The authority of woman flows precisely from her life-giving abilities. Her authority exists in that her life-giving abilities bind others together. She causes others to be in moral relation to each other and to her — bonds that are imbued with ethical responsibility because they are bonds that confer human identity. In his apostolic letter Mulieris Dignitatem John Paul II states, “The moral and spiritual strength of a woman is joined to her awareness that God entrusts the human being to her in a special way … precisely by reason of her femininity.”
Once the woman places herself in isolation from others by refusing to allow her sexuality to be at the service of life and the building up of human community, society is faced with the breakdown of its moral order and foundation. George Gilder in his very insightful 1973 book Sexual Suicide (later re-issued as Men and Marriage) understood very well the meaning of feminine authority. Between men and women the female is the life-giving center towards which male creative energy and labor is ordered. When male sexual behavior is no longer placed in the service of the familially centered reproductive powers of the woman, the primary means by which social and moral order in the world is maintained collapses. Male energy is now disassociated from the feminine cycle of reproduction; instead of being put in the service of life it serves only chaos and death in a reversal of civilization in which women end up, no longer honored, but used and then abandoned.
As Gilder provocatively states:
The crucial process of civilization is the subordination of male sexual impulses and psychology to long-term horizons of female biology. If one compares female overall sexual behavior now with women’s life in primitive societies, the difference is relatively small. It is male behavior that must be changed to create a civilized order. Modern society relies increasingly on predictable, regular, long-term human activities, corresponding with the female sexual patterns. It has little latitude for the pattern of impulsiveness, aggressiveness, and immediacy, arising from the male insecurity without women…. This is the ultimate and growing source of female power in the modern world. Women domesticate and civilize male nature. They can destroy civilized male identity merely by giving up the role.
It is not the economy of the marketplace that women control — rather what they have authority over is what Gilder terms “the economy of eros: the life force in our society and in our lives.” Because women are the keepers of the mystery of life, a woman’s authority lies in calling the male to the service of life and the family of which she is the center. Abortion as the power of alienation, instead of calling men to their familial responsibility for others, “frees” them from any creative masculine role whatsoever.
Woman as Savior
The Book of Genesis teaches the meaning of feminine authority in relation to men. In Genesis 2:18 we are told, “It is not good for the man to be alone.” From the beginning, the man, for whom solitude was “not good,” was ordered towards completion in the woman — “the suitable partner.” Genesis 2:24 states that it is the man who leaves father and mother and clings to his wife. The directionality here is very instructive. The woman brings an end to the frontiers of solitude both for the man and for herself. It is the man’s relation toward the woman that establishes unity.
To be alone is the antithesis of authentic living. A life that is truly human is not individual but corporate. The word “alone” in the Hebrew text has the sense of isolation, even alienation. Scripture scholar Samuel Terrien in his book Till the Heart Sings points out that the word helper in reference to the woman does not at all mean someone who serves the man’s interests in a menial sense of being merely “his helper.” The Hebrew word is derived from a Semitic verb (ezer) that actually means “to succor,” “to save from extremity,” “to deliver from death.” In a real sense the woman is the “savior” of the man who provides him with purpose and identity.
If God gave woman power to save man from his loneliness, Roe gave women power to place him back into it. Abortion renders men remote from women. Instead of saving men from extremity — from existing at the farthest and most isolated point away from human unity — abortion creates the hell of male solitude. This is true whether or not the man agrees with the abortion. The difference is that the man who fights for his child whom the woman nonetheless aborts profoundly knows that he is alone.
The fact that a woman in pregnancy actually bears another person within her own body is a great anthropological lesson. We learn from this kind of utter dependency and closeness, precisely through a woman’s body, whose womb is a space for another person, the meaning of being human. To be human is to be connected to another — to be in relation — and again it is the woman who is the center of this human connectedness. For a human being to live, even after birth, he must be connected to another. Pregnancy assures that the child from the very beginning of his existence will be personally related to another. It is this experience of being personally related to another which confers the most lasting and profound human identity.
This is why, among other reasons, the Catholic Church is opposed to artificial forms of human reproduction. The 1987 Vatican Document Respect for Human Life in its Origin and On the Dignity of Procreation teaches that it is through the body of man and woman that personal love is communicated to the child. The child has a right to be conceived in such personal love because such personal embodied love is intrinsic to the establishment of authentic human identity. There simply is no substitute for the personal love of the self. According to the document, personal love is communicated through the body, not simply through feelings or the soul or spirit. The body is synonymous with the personal self.
A pregnant woman gives personal identity to her child. It is significant that pregnant women naturally call the growing embryo within them “my baby” and never simply “the fetus.” It is only the abortion-bound woman and those at the abortion clinic where she plans to undo her relation to the child who refer to the unborn baby in the most depersonalizing terms such as “clump of cells,” “uterine tissue,” or “POC” (products of conception). Such language is deliberately intended to place the child outside the orbit of the human family by first removing the child from any personal relation to his mother who is, ironically, the origin of his existence. What is no longer personal to me can be killed and left behind by me.
Teachers of Charity
Woman is entrusted with the human. What does this really mean but that women will preserve the personal identity of the individual from being lost or effaced by all that is not human — all that, especially in our technological age, would reduce a man to a thing. And the first way to treat a man as a thing is to make him unrelated to everything else that is human. The primary bulwark against such dehumanization is the pregnant woman who claims the unborn child as her own.
It is through the feminine that deadly isolation is overcome. Indeed, mothers are the first teachers of charity. Because woman is the source of human relatedness, it is the mother as source of the family who teaches us how to love our neighbor. The first lesson in this kind of love comes through the woman because it is from the woman that human beings know their unity with and bonding to one another. It is through the life-giving powers of woman that the meaning of neighbor is known. To be neighbor is to know one’s radical dependency and relation to another of which the bond of the mother to her child-in-utero is the prime instance.
Abortion is the last act in his century’s drama of human fragmentation. If the authority of woman resides in her power to be the center of communal ties and human relatedness, then surely abortion, which feminists cling to as the source of true female power and liberation, is the definitive threat to authentic female authority. Abortion does not simply kill an unborn child. Abortion dismembers human beings from each other and thus it is the dissolution of feminine power.
Soon after Gary Bell’s wife aborted their second child, the marriage itself dissolved. “I’m not sure that my wife understood that the abortions were the root of all our problems,” says Bell. It is extremely common that following an abortion, boyfriends and girlfriends, husbands and wives will split. The other partner serves as a constant, painful re-minder of the abortion — a reminder that the child they had conceived together they plotted to kill together. The pre-born child’s death is a true absence, and in this void the couple seems to sense that their being together was not based on anything lasting.
In 1981 I stood outside of the Concord Medical Services in Chicago one of the busiest abortion clinics in that city. I stood at my usual Saturday post outside the black wall that surrounded part of the abortion center. I tried to talk to the women as they entered, hoping to persuade them not to kill their children. It was only 8:30 in the morning, but already seven women had entered. I saw two more women approaching Concord from down the street. One was the woman getting the abortion and the other was a girlfriend. I walked up to them and offered literature that had a photo of a 13-week unborn child on the cover. The younger of the two took the literature from me, stopped, and proceeded to tear it into shreds. She then cast it on the ground with a look of anger and a defiant air. She and her friend quickly passed through the abortion center doors. I bent down to pick up the pieces but could hardly grasp them into my hand as the heavy winds quickly scattered the unborn child’s image into the street.
When I looked up I caught sight of a small man. He had just come out from the abortion center. I remembered him walking in earlier with a woman. That he was walking out now did not surprise me. Many times boyfriends or husbands would leave the woman in the clinic and go down to Kamar’s restaurant at the corner of Grand and State to wait out the abortion. The little man appeared to be of Laotian or Cambodian descent. He was thin and dark and poorly dressed. His face bore an expression of desperation and pain, the kind of look that comes only with a grief so large it cannot be hidden. He looked at me with his dark oriental eyes.
“You don’t want this abortion do you? So why are you here? Why did you bring her?” I asked.
“I say no abortion. I want baby — she not want baby,” spoke the little man through his foreign accent and broken English. “I do want baby,” he said again as he shook his head in disbelief and helplessness. The awful pain in his eyes became even more intense. “She my wife. Why she not want baby?”
The man looked at me in confusion as if I could give him comfort and a way to understand. He was the very essence of a lonely soul — cast out from his wife, cast out from his child, He had been returned to extremity.
“Go back and talk with her,” I pleaded. “Maybe she’ll listen. Maybe it’s not too late. This is your child too!”
“No, no,” he said walking away slowly. “I try. I try. She don’t want baby.”
The Progeny of Roe
Justice Harry Blackmun, quoted earlier, had referred to “Roe and its progeny.” The progeny of Roe. How ironic it was for him to link the word progeny with the Court’s abortion decision. The progeny of Roe was this little man walking away from the abortion clinic, his wife still inside, and their unborn child that she would leave behind. It is the woman of Roe who has the power to cause such dissolution. The woman of Roe creates a stranger of her husband and most incredibly she creates strangers of her children.
I have seen the progeny of Roe, the babies who went from the womb to the trash in pools of blood and darkness. Nine abortion centers from around the country, seven of them all owned by one woman, Susan Hill, sent the remains of their aborted children to Vital Med, a pathology lab in Northbrook, Illinois. In 1988 I, along with a handful of other pro-lifers, spent ten months retrieving the bodies of these children for burial. The bodies of the fetal children were in cardboard boxes, each in its own little specimen bag. The boxes were piled on a loading dock in a haphazard fashion. Dozens of boxes, hundreds of bodies. The bodies were put out on the loading dock where a waste disposal truck picked them up to be burnt with trash and medical debris.
At the edge of the loading dock all ties are undone. These were human beings cast adrift. Their bodies were stacked at the edge of a loading dock as if stacked at the edge of the world. Cut off from mother, cut off from father — the real plight of the aborted children is not that they are killed. Set out at the edge of a loading dock the plight of the aborted unborn is that they are horribly and frighteningly alone.
It is not independence, isolation, and autonomy, so cherished by the woman’s movement, that causes life — but the very opposite. It is the willingness to be connected by a responsive receptivity and yielding of the woman to the man that life can be conceived into this world. A woman’s sexuality means that she must freely open herself to the man and allow herself to be penetrated and filled by him. In this act of feminine freedom a woman’s authority is expressed. The man remains in isolation unless she does so. As Gilder has so brashly but insightfully stated, “The woman’s place is in the home, and she does her best when she can get the man there too, inducing him to submit most human activity to the domestic values of civilization.”
In her life-bearing, life-giving powers the woman is inclined to what is personal and interrelated. One might say that femininity is that power in the world that holds things together, always against the threat of some contrary raw force that seeks the destruction, thus the separation of things. Maternal love is what saves the human person from being placed at the service of utilitarian mechanization. The desire of the scientific and medical community to use aborted babies for fetal experimentation and for the harvesting of their organs is the result of their having been disowned. With no one there to say this is my child — which is to say, this is another human being in relation to me — the name less and homeless aborted fetus can be reduced to a thing to serve man’s purposes. Abortion has placed the fetal child out there away from human unity, a unity that women have been entrusted by God with the power to guarantee.
Because woman is the keeper of the seal of creation and the moral order of the world grounded in human relatedness, the disintegration of moral order is accomplished by attacking the feminine. The attack we are speaking of is aimed precisely upon the life-giving powers of women entirely bound up with the meaning of human relatedness. Once the feminine is attacked as the center of life and communal ties, the relationships of human beings one to another crumble into the disorder and alienation of unrelated atoms. Order is then achieved, not through the intrinsic authority of the life-giver, but through the sheer extrinsic force of those who are stronger and more mighty who arrange human beings according to their arbitrary will.
“He made war upon the woman.” So states Revelation 12:13. This is the woman who gives life by bearing a Son. The Devil must attack this kind of woman. Her elimination creates a portal through which God’s good creation can be undone by the other woman — the one who commits fornication with the kings of the earth and who is drunk with the blood of men. The first Woman overcomes the Devil and restores order to the world precisely by giving life.
Act of Reclamation
On September 10, 1988, we buried 1,200 of the children we retrieved from the pathology lab’s loading dock at Holy Cross Cemetery in Milwaukee. One day, about a month later, I visited the grave with my friends Edmund Miller and Dan Zeidler, who helped with the burial. The grave was easy to find. It is the largest grave in the children’s section of the cemetery. The thirteen silk red roses Edmund had placed on the grave on the day of the burial were still there, and also the potted white chrysanthemums I had left, now faded and shriveled.
As we approached the grave we noticed someone had placed a rather large, pink stuffed rabbit on top of it. Many of the other children’s graves had small toys placed on them by their parents. I was glad to see a toy for the aborted babies. The rabbit was wrapped in a plastic bag to protect it from rain. Through the plastic I caught sight of a folded paper attached by a rubber band to the rabbit’s paw. We removed the rabbit’s plastic shroud to investigate.
As Edmund stooped over the grave, Dan and I hovered over him. The paper was a note. As I read its words tears came into my eyes. The note, written in a swirly, feminine hand, was the cry of a young mother to the baby she had aborted.
Please forgive me and maybe someday I can forgive myself…. I’ll always wonder what you would have been, what you would have become. I can’t stop hating myself right now, regretting the hardest decision I’ve ever made in my life, wishing I could do it differently now. But I can’t. I will always remember this. It was a tough lesson to have to learn…. I pray to God and to you to forgive me so I can go on with my life, and I swear to both you and the Lord that I will never ever do it again. Please forgive me so I can let go and go on!
The burial of the 1,200 babies received a great deal of media attention. The Milwaukee Journal printed that several of the “fetuses” were aborted at Metropolitan and Summit, two Milwaukee abortion centers. The girl’s note seemed to indicate that she knew her child was buried in this grave. She had abandoned her baby. The woman knew this deep within herself. We had traveled to a loading dock and retrieved her child. By burying the baby we had returned him to his mother. The burial gave the aborted children a human place in the world. But it was in this woman’s graveside grief that the awful tearing of human bonds caused by abortion knew a more perfect healing.
Even at the grave of crushed fetal children the alienation of abortion did not triumph. The order of the world rooted in woman’s life-giving powers could not be erased. Beyond abortion stood a mother at the edge of her child’s grave. On one lonely day the empty woman had come to this site and in the power of a mother her act of recognition for the child banished the lie of abortion. From out of all the nameless, faceless children buried there the woman from the depth of human relatedness claimed back to herself the one who was her own.