Fr Ray Blake said something that gave me pause for thought the other day.
We should recognise most women have abortions because of economic reasons, that controlling the size of families through contraception for most people is an economic decision.
We need to promote an authentic feminism (and masculinism) that is based on relationships, we need to promote the real rights of women to be parents, simply to be able to have children without the constant anxiety to find childcare and to be able to afford it.
I wouldn’t disagree with any of the above, but I think it’s worth unpacking and exploring a little further. Most women do have abortions for economic reasons, the increasing numbers of abortions performed on women who already have at least one child, as capitalised upon by BPAS in their recent advertisements for abortion claiming that 50% of women who abort are already mothers, indicates that for many this is an economic decision. Most women who have already given birth are well aware of the various stages of foetal development and the reality that this is an unborn child whose life they are choosing to terminate, but feel that they have little other choice.
Few women who abort their pregnancies take the attitude of Caitlin Moran who claims (and I would posit that she’s in serious denial) that she gave the matter less thought than choosing her kitchen worktops. Most women would not choose to abort if they genuinely believed that they were killing a living human being, which is why so much sophistry is employed by the pro-choice advocates as well as attempting to involve irrelevant scientific arguments about sentience. Either life begins at conception or it does not. If the latter, at what particular point in its development is a foetus deemed ‘alive’, at which point science is invoked to justify philosophy. The biology is simple. A new independent human being is formed at conception, with separate DNA and capability to develop itself to the mature stage of a human organism given the right environment.
It is precisely because the human conscience is pricked on the issue of abortion that women become quite so aggressive and defensive on the matter. If abortion is not the destructive of unborn life, then why do women get quite so angry about it and why are they bothered by the peaceful prayer vigils? If abortion is a difficult choice that isn’t undertaken without much soul-searching, why is that and why are they so bothered by the presence of people praying for them or trying to offer an alternative? Even the most well-meaning of pro-choicers will claim that abortion is an economic decision, women genuinely don’t have a choice and so abortion must be available for the most pragmatic and compassionate of reasons. The old “I wouldn’t have one myself but I wouldn’t deny it to those who need it” adage.
But undoubtedly there are a few women who abort, not solely for economic reasons but simply because a baby will not fit into their current plans. That’s not to condemn or cast judgement, society has to bear as much responsibility in that it implicitly encourages and coerces women into abortion, with babies being little more than a lifestyle choice, who aren’t fully alive until such moment as becomes convenient in the mind of the individual.
But regardless of whether babies are aborted because of lifestyle choice, economic necessity or even thoughtless recklessness in those rare cases where we see young women having undergone as many as 8 abortions, (I really don’t believe that many women have abortions because they can or because they are inherently cold-hearted or even evil) there is one factor in common and that is that a baby is seen as a burden or difficulty and never a blessing.
Whilst pro-lifers have to be careful not to overdo the sentimental saccharin schmaltz when it comes to the indisputable beauty of a newborn child, we have to ensure that we don’t fall into the opposite trap of over-emphasisng the gritty reality of child-rearing in an attempt to make our society equipped for unplanned pregnancies. The truth of babies is that they encompass both extremes. Having a baby does entail a lot of hard graft and often economic difficulty but it also brings with it an outpouring of joy, blessings and love to which no language can do adequate justice and which compensates for the difficulties. There isn’t a mother I know, not even mothers of severely disabled or terminally ill children, who wishes that her child had never been born, or that she hadn’t experienced the love of her child. Even mothers in the most challenging of circumstances wouldn’t wish away their children, but instead wish that their lives could be easier.
What pro-lifers need to do, is work for ways to make life tenable for women with unplanned pregnancies, whether that is the mother of 3, expecting her fourth child, the pregnant teenage mother, or the young woman with a career that seems to be going places.
Pro-lifers often focus upon the idea of free or cheap state childcare in order to incentivise a woman not to abort her baby and to help her back into the workplace. I’m not so sure that this is the right answer, admirable though it may seem. The problem is that for the overwhelming majority of women, having a baby will have an enormous financial impact upon them if they are already in full-time work. Although women can now, quite rightly, enjoy up to a year’s paid maternity leave, most do not look forward to the idea of returning full-time. And who can blame them? You give birth to a beautiful child, you spend at least six months giving them your full attention, nurturing them, feeding them, helping them roll, sit, manage solid food, you know them, you can recognise the signs when they are tired, hungry, you know how they like to be settled or held, which is their favourite cuddly, they haven’t been out of your care for more than a few hours at a time, maybe 24 hours at granny’s at a push, then all of a sudden you have to hand them over to a stranger for at least 8 hours a day, 5 days a week. It’s no wonder that most women do not want to return to full-time work, but feel that they have little other choice. In addition it tends to be just as your baby is getting interesting, beginning to walk, talk and most mothers are devastated that they will miss their baby’s first steps or key milestones.
Perhaps because the state is becoming ever more intrusive or presumptive, but there is additionally, something a little sinister about having to hand one’s child over to state-approved childcare for the majority of the working day. For me the approach is summed up in our attitude towards single mothers who are expected to go out to work, as soon as is feasible after having a baby. The attitude of the former government was equally disturbing with Tessa Jowell trying to formulate policies to encourage mothers to go out to work and Patricia Hewitt describing mothers who stay at home with children under two, as being a ‘real problem.‘
Again we see how modern feminism has failed women, who are expected to be on equal terms with men in the workplace, to be able to work full-time, or work at all, as well as bring up children. I’ve been a working single mother and it was horrific. I had little other economic choice at the time, but on average I saw my daughter less than an hour and half a day, Monday to Friday, having to drop her off early in the morning before work and then having precious little time to spend with her in the evening, to ensure that she got a good night’s sleep. Quality time consisted of bathtime, stories and bed and I put myself through agonies of guilt. It meant that I had the worst of all worlds in that work saw me as not fully committed and I felt that I was selling everybody short. It is only now that society is realising that unless you are a wealthy fund-manager with a bevvy of nannies and housekeepers, that the idea of ‘having it all’ is nothing more than a myth.
So, what’s the answer, especially from a pro-life perspective? The problem with childcare, is that not only is it expensive and puts pressure on a woman to go out an earn her keep, but it also treats women as if they are only valuable if they contributing to society in a purely economic sense. I think if we are going to promote an authentic version of feminism, then we have to promote the innate value and worth of motherhood on its own. That’s not to denigrate women who do go out to work, but actually women need to be supported by economic policy to stay at home with their children, until such time that their children are of school-age, particularly if they are single mothers. Whilst this may seem counter-intuitive and contrary to normal feminist principles an authentic feminism recognises the value women have as mothers and how the opportunity to spend as much time as one can with one’s children, is actually of benefit to society.
It’s a difficult balance to strike, because clearly the state is not a bottomless pit and clearly one can’t have policies in place, be they encouraging mothers to stay at home, or work, which will encourage state dependence, but I think to a certain extent society has to bite the bullet and accept that a single mother is facing more difficult odds than a two parent family and so enable a mother with children under school-age (say 5) to stay at home, regardless of her marital situation whilst implementing policies such as, for example, forcing employers to be more flexible and creative in terms of the working hours that they can offer to mothers and phasing women back into employment when their children are of school age. It is a difficult balance and most of us know of families who do not work, simply because with the cost of childcare it is not in their interests to do so and who are as a result, reliant on the state.
This is not to attack mothers who do want to work, often women say that they need the stimulation of a work environment, that they lack the patience to stay home and several women are trapped in the situation where they need to work for economic survival, but I wonder, if we began to value motherhood more, if we began to give examples of how intelligent, educated women can be stay-at-home mothers, or work part-time and still be happy and fulfilled would it transform society? I think so. I often think that women who state that they don’t have the patience or wherewithal to full-time parent their offspring, under-estimate themselves and with the right examples and in the right environment, would surprise themselves. I can think of at least ten of my friends who have Oxbridge degrees but who have eschewed the work environment to be full-time mothers and who have never been happier.
One of the reasons that families are financially struggling is not only due to rise of consumerism and the idea that it is only through material goods that we can find fulfilment, but more importantly because the expectation that women will automatically work, regardless of whether or not they have children, means that two income families entailed bigger mortgages which fuelled the rise in property prices. Every family should be able to afford or live in a decent home with access to a small garden. Affordable housing alongside the removal of the expectation that a woman should and must earn her keep would be another small part of the strategy. If we have more mothers at home, then our communities which have been so fractured will begin to heal. It was traditionally women who were at home with the children, who provided a mutual support network, who passed on valuable skills and knowledge in terms of child rearing and helped each other in times of trouble, with babysitting etc instead of having to pay a stranger. It was also the same women who helped to look after the elderly, who had them either living at home, or who would drop in and help their neighbours, enabling them to be supported at home, instead of reliant on a government for care and assistance. I’m not saying that women should be expected to do this kind of work, but it is a natural by-product of what happens when we have communities and besides there is nothing demeaning about caring for other people.
True feminism should allow women to have the choice as to whether or not to enter the workplace (something I’m hugely in favour of, if women want to work then they should and on equal terms) but equally, a real authentic feminism values motherhood as a vocation in and of itself.
We need to stop looking at motherhood as being demeaning, inadequate or beneath a woman’s dignity and celebrate it as a worthy vocation, one that benefits her, her children and society as a whole. We need to re-gear society to remove the current expectation upon women to work, unless and until men have the ability to bear children in their wombs! There is nothing innately sexist in stating that as women give birth to and nuture their infants, then they are best placed to provide the primary care. By all means allow women to work on equal terms, introduce legislation that gives women watertight protections to allow flexible working, allow women to reach the top of their profession, but by no means force a woman to work or define success in purely professional terms. Staying at home to help one’s children reach their potential, is not demeaning by any means.
A pro-life society does not buy into the notion that a child is a burden or economic problem that needs to be overcome, but celebrates motherhood and enables women to have real choice as to how best to raise their children, instead of expecting them to be handed over to someone else from an early age. And if this puts more responsibility on men to work and provide for their offspring – sorry but them’s the breaks. No wonder so many men identify themselves as “feminists”. Authentic feminism recognises motherhood as an innate good and children as a gift, flowing from the consequences and blessings of being part of the feminine sex. It recognises our ability and responsibilities as bearers of life, given to us from the Creator himself.