Listen to the Woman

Several years ago at the March for Life we handed out signs that carried a message that was brand new to the pro-life movement. You would have thought we were the Beatles. People surrounded us and literally screamed for those signs. The message, created by Feminists for Life, simply said: “Women Deserve Better than Abortion.” And thus a pithy slogan gave voice to one the greatest acts of political jujitsu in history.

The great trick of the pro-abortion feminists was to convince women of two propositions: that abortion was good for them; and that the “conceptus” was their enemy. Naturally and properly, the pro-life movement was born to wade into that fight on behalf of the unborn child. The fight over abortion crystallized over that divide between mother and child with the pro-abortion side seeming to defend the woman and the pro-life side unequivocally defending the baby.

A number of things over the years have arisen that change the abortion debate.

Widespread use of ultrasound imagery has shown America the face of the unborn child. The partial-birth abortion debate showed America the skull-crushing reality of the procedure. But something else that has changed the debate is taking women’s arguments away from the other side. Abortion advocates consistently said, “Listen to the woman.” Good idea.

There are two parts to the pro-life/pro-woman arguments, one pre-abortion the other post-abortion. The post abortion arguments let us listen to women who have had abortions. These brave women stand in the public square and tell their stories of having killed their unborn children and how this terrible fact led them to depression, alcoholism, drug abuse, family breakdown, breast cancer, and much more. These are the post-abortive, women-centered arguments.

But they also say something that cuts right to heart of the feminist claim that abortion is a “choice.” They say they were all alone in their choice, abandoned by those who should protect them, and in a very real sense forced by family or circumstance to kill their own babies. For most of these women, they felt they had no choice: I wanted to keep my job; I had no choice. I didn’t want my boyfriend to leave me; I had no choice. My family would kick me out; I had no choice. I wanted to stay in school; I had no choice.

John Paul the Great said we were called to a radical solidarity with the woman in need. And this is the most potent pro-life/pro-woman argument of all. Her family should support her. The father should stand with her. Her job should be secure. School should provide day-care instead of just abortion coverage. Somehow abortion became the default position, the compassionate response for a woman in need. Actually, this is what Roe v. Wade hath wrought. We leave our women all alone in the killing of their children. The pro-life/pro-woman arguments, both pre-and-post-abortion, are about changing this terrible equation.

Do these arguments forget about the unborn child? They are in fact built on the future prospect or the actual fact of killing another human being, a woman’s very own child. These arguments in fact link mother and child together irrevocably. Mother and child are not enemies; they are natural allies and together are the most potent defenders of unborn life.

The three great aims of the pro-life movement are, first, to save lives, second, to change hearts and minds, and, third, to change the law through legislation or litigation. The pro-life/pro-woman arguments work on each of these levels.

They save lives because we stand in for those who have abandoned the woman in her hour of greatest need. Look at the 2,000-plus pregnancy care centers in America and you see the women-centered arguments actually saving lives.

Pro-life/pro-woman arguments change hearts and minds in that they take away the final argument of the other side, that abortion is somehow good for women and that abortion is the compassionate response to a woman in need. Watch a pro-abortion feminist react to “Women Deserver Better than Abortion,” and you will see how potent this message really is.

Finally these arguments are necessary to change the law. The Court in Roe created a societal dependency on abortion and then in the Casey decision had the gall to cite this dependency as a key reason for sustaining Roe.  Not only the culture but also the Court itself must be disabused of the myth it created, that abortion is good and beneficial for women, in order for this precedent to change.

The fact is we are winning the abortion debate and the pro-abortion feminists are desperate to keep their remaining argument.  In the end what the pro-life/pro-woman arguments do is to recast the pro-abortion feminists in their true light, not as true defenders of women but as the defenders of abortion.

Austin Ruse is the President of the New York and Washington, D.C.-based Center for Family & Human Rights (C-Fam), a research institute that focuses exclusively on international social policy. The opinions expressed here are Mr. Ruse’s alone and do not necessarily reflect the policies or positions of C-Fam.