Abortion, the Workplace, and Life

As Catholics in the United States mark Labor Day, two key elements of Catholic social thought deserve our attention: the intersection between the right to life and work.

Until now, the abortion debate has largely been a political one, played out in terms of legality in the legislatures and – for almost fifty years – the courts.  In the wake of Dobbs, however, expect at least part of the debate to shift from politics to economics, as certain pro-abortion actors leverage financial incentives to tilt the debate in a capitalist society that, occasionally, likes to appeal to “social justice.”

Since Dobbs, leading companies have tripped all over each other to announce that they would happily fund their employees’ abortions, even to pay for travel to states allowing prenatal killing if it were banned where they were located.  Not a few corporations pressured state legislatures against considering pro-life legislation.  New Jersey’s Governor Phil Murphy and California’s Governor Gavin Newsom have even been touting their states as destinations for businesses to relocate to, not because of their oppressive tax structures but because both had “codified” abortion-on-demand through birth.

A standard trope of pro-abortionists is that abortion-on-demand is essential to the advancement of women because, bereft of “reproductive health care and control,” females are inherently disadvantaged economically.  That claim, of course, collides directly with the mythology of abortion as “health care.” But when health is defined even more expansively as something as vague and subject to manipulation as “financial health,” the alleged “benefits” of abortion can be rationalized by almost anything.

No one, of course, lays out the truth in its bare-naked obscenity: it is markedly cheaper for a company to abort babies than to provide maternity and subsequent child healthcare, along with the immediate parental and long-term sick leave, annual leave, school leave, and schedule accommodation that follow from having babies.

Abortion-funding firms will undoubtedly insist their policies are driven by their “commitment to choice,” without allowing it to be seen that their bottom lines are likely more friendly to certain “choices.”

One suspects that the companies that are so ready to devote such economic “generosity” to terminating pregnancies (i.e., killing babies in the womb) would vehemently protest if they were required to cover maternity care with the same liberality in order to create a truly equal “choice” environment.

That’s why it’s critical that both of our main political parties be challenged to create true family-friendly/child-friendly economic policies going forward.

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Social justice cannot be achieved apart from the protection of the most basic of social and individual rights, i.e., the right to life.  Different political philosophies notwithstanding, virtually all thinkers must agree that the absolute sine qua non of any society is to protect its members’ basic rights.

That first axiom involves two corollaries: that the society identify who its members are (and not feign epistemological agnosticism about the status of the unborn or others in conditions of dependency) and understand what rights are “basic.”  Even an utter materialist like Thomas Hobbes admitted there is no more basic right upon which everything else depends than existence.  You might even say, as our American bishops have, that it’s “pre-eminent.”

Catholics, therefore, need to jump-start that social justice debate.  With Roe gone, the Constitutional obstacles to reframing that discussion are out of the way. But the alternative narrative needs to be rearticulated in a society that hasn’t heard it clearly for almost half a century.

We forgot that liberals like Mark Hatfield, William Proxmire, and Harold Hughes were pro-life because they rightly recognized that the protection of the life of the unborn was a civil rights issue, arguably the civil rights issue of our time.

Reframing that debate requires asking why women’s economic advancement is deemed contingent on abortion.  Is it because, in the economic world, women could not advance qua women because they were not men, i.e., because they became pregnant, because they had and wanted to raise children, and because they wanted career paths that adapted to those realities rather than expecting those realities to adapt to their jobs?

Is the largesse of today’s “we’ll pay for your abortion” corporations just the expression of a kind of company’s vision of its female employees as “misbegotten males?”

The decade following the end of schooling (high school or college) is usually marked by “putting away childish things” (I Cor 13:11) and transitioning to permanence in life.  That usually meant finding a job, moving into one’s own living space, then getting married and having children.

Our current economic configuration – including “we’ll pay for your abortion” corporations – is undermining that “work/life balance.”

Jobs often at minimum wages and maximum expectations make economic independence increasingly difficult to attain, delaying marriage and parenthood.  Indeed, many of the same woke corporations will pay female employees to freeze their eggs to delay pregnancy, as if one is as ready to be a mom at 45 as at 25.

Maybe Professor Henry Higgins was really secretly a modern HR professional in a woke Fortune 500 Corporation when in My Fair Lady he asked: “why can’t a woman be more like a man?

 

*Image: Rex Harrison and Julie Andrews in the 1956 Broadway production of My Fair Lady [Credit:Friedman-Abeles]

You may also enjoy:

Robert Royal’s Our Labor Day

Hadley Arkes’ Justice Byron White and Abortion

John Grondelski (Ph.D., Fordham) is a former associate dean of the School of Theology, Seton Hall University, South Orange, New Jersey. All views herein are exclusively his.