“Are abortion restrictions about controlling women?” Debunked (Part 2)

See the first part of my rebuttal here.

For the original article, click here.

Last week, I debunked the first half of an article on the blog, Defending Feminism, where I basically did rebuttals of the author’s rebuttals of someone who was arguing pro-lifers are not opposing abortion under false pretenses—needless to say, I do not think it is plausible that such a massive conspiracy of that sort among pro-lifers. However, those were just the first part. In the second part, I will debunk her arguments for why she thinks we are trying to control women. Without further ado, let us begin.

Anti-abortion activism is driven primarily by conservative Christianity

While a minority of pro-life people are atheists, anti-abortion policies in the West have been driven largely by conservative Christianity, in particular Catholicism. What are some notable features of Catholicism? It has an all-male power structure, and it specifically celebrates virginity and motherhood as important features of one of Mary, one of its few noteworthy female figures. Catholicism’s central text, the Bible, clearly and explicitly tells women that they should submit to their husbands; the Bible also says that women will be saved through childbearing.

A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. 12 I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet. 13 For Adam was formed first, then Eve. 14 And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner. 15 But women will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety.

1 Timothy 2:11-15

I think we all saw this coming. First of all, I feel complimented that the Catholic Church is best known for opposing abortion. We have that one credit to us that even Joe Biden cannot mar. I already explained the comment on submitting to husbands in my previous article. However, I cannot pass up the comment on Mary, the Mother of God and Our Mother, the Queen of Heaven, the highest and most powerful of all of God’s creatures, the Co-Redemptrix, and the Dispensatrix of all Graces. First of all, I am not sure how her being celebrated for her virginity and motherhood is relevant except indirectly. Yes, the Catholic Church encourages and praises perpetual virginity, but that is not even a gender-oriented thing. Jesus Christ is also known for His perpetual celibacy. Yes, that may have been lost somewhat since the Protestant Reformation when the virtue in celibacy began to be disregarded, but among Catholics, it is strong. Priests (who, as she noted, are all men), monks, as well as nuns, are all supposed to remain celibate. Besides, Mary is known for her virginity and motherhood, but not many other ladies can really do both at the same time (unless, perhaps, if they are part of a romantic comedy drama), so I do not see the point.

It is also a misleading if not erroneous statement to call the Blessed Virgin Mary one of our “few noteworthy female figures”, although I see why someone might make that mistake because there is a disproportionate number of figures in the Bible who are male, although there are several other figures such as Ruth, Deborah, Jael, Judith, and Esther, among others in the Old Testament, and in the New Testament, we have women such as St. Elizabeth and St. Mary Magdalen (some might say of St. Mary Magdalene that she does not count since she was allegedly a penitent prostitute, but there is really not much evidence for this aside from a rather unattested association between her and the unnamed woman in Luke 7:37-50, and even then it simply says that she was a sinner, not a prostitute).

However, even if one will say that in the Bible there are not as many great women, among the saints that is undoubtedly not the case. There is St. Catherine of Sienna, who was basically an ecclesiastical politician who was instrumental in persuading the Pope in Avignon to return to Rome. Then there was St. Joan of Arc, who lead the French to freedom against the English. There are four female doctors of the Church, St. Teresa of Ávila, St. Catherine of Siena, St. Thérèse of Lisieux, and St. Hildegard of Bingen, which recognizes them as saints who have made a significant contribution to theology or doctrine through their research, study, or writing. And I have just scratched the surface. However, there is one saint in particular I would name as relevant, St. Gianna Molla.

St. Gianna was not a consecrated virgin, unlike many saints (true for both male and female). She was an Italian woman, born on October 4, 1922. As a child, Gianna openly accepted her faith and the Catholic education provided by her parents. In 1942, she began her study of medicine in Milan, and actually became a doctor, opening a medical office in Mesero, Italy in 1950. Now, most married saints, in my experience, only choose marriage in what almost feels like the “second best thing” after consecrated celibacy, because in a sense, it is. Gianna, however, chose the vocation of marriage and considered this to be a gift from God, completely dedicated to “forming a truly Christian family.” She did this, by the way, while still managing to practice medicine—so in other words, she was even still helping to make money for the family, which seems to me rather inconsistent with what many view to be “patriarchal” ideals.

Now, when she was pregnant her fourth child, named Gianna after her, it was discovered she had developed a fibroma in her womb in other words, she was carrying both a baby and a tumor. The doctors offered three choices: an abortion, which would save her life and allow her to continue to have children; a complete hysterectomy, which would preserve her life, but take the child’s life, and prevent further pregnancy; or removal of only the fibroma, with the potential of further complications, which could save the life of her baby. Wanting to save the child’s life, Gianna asked them to remove only the fibroma. Her daughter, Gianna, survived, but she gave her life to save her. 

Gianna went to God on April 28, 1962, when she was thirty-nine years old, and she was canonized by Pope John Paul II on May 16, 2004. 

St. Gianna Molla

So yes, Catholics have holy and powerful women to look up to, and not all of them were virgins (again, plenty of male saints took vows of celibacy too, so Catholics just like being celibate no matter what one’s gender is, so I am missing the point there). Now let me pose this question, and this I mean in all seriousness and solemnity: if all pro-lifers are motivated simply by the desire to control women’s bodies, why would a woman give her life that her unborn child might live?

Finally, we come to the other point: why does the Bible say that a woman “will be saved through childbearing”, especially considering that at other points, the Bible encourages virginity? Well, frankly, many Bibles say “if she continues in faith and love and holiness”, but the Greek for she continues is meinōsin, which is plural. The Greek for “will be saved through childbearing”, however, is sōthēsetai de dia tēs teknogonias. So “she will be saved” is singular. So, what it is saying could be read more as, “Yet woman will be saved through bearing children, if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with modesty.” The antecedent of they, therefore, is children. In other words, if the woman raises the children in a way, enabling them to continue with faith and love and holiness, then she will receive eternal reward through it since it is a sin to neglect one’s children’s formation in that area. That would actually make much more sense in interpretation, since at other points, Paul, who wrote that passage, actually encourages perpetual abstinence for both men and women in other places (see 1 Cor. 7:8, 1 Cor. 7:38, and 1 Cor. 7:27-28). So, in all, I do not think this reading of Scripture works.

Anthropologists note that a driving fear in Christianity, Judaism, and Islam is that of “female birth nihilism”, or the idea that if women are given full control of reproduction, they will choose not to go through the pains of childbearing and humanity will go extinct. Paradoxically, despite Christian propaganda that suggests women naturally want children and are happiest as mothers, Church fathers have been historically very concerned that liberated women will not have enough children to sustain the population.

Citation needed. I feel I could really use a quotation from an actual early Church father who said as such. The earliest Christian source to comment on abortion is the Didache (dated from the late first century AD) and it says the following, “Thou shalt not procure abortion, nor commit infanticide.” (Didache 2:2) But instead, the author quotes a gentleman called David Gilmore in her article:

The biblical scholar Jacob Lassner…speaks of an underlying fear, in both biblical myths and Arabo-Muslim texts, that women, given a free hand, will rescind the covenant of motherhood, defying both their husbands and their God by abrogating His decree to propagate. The implications of this course are made self-evident in the texts that warn about women refusing motherhood, “humankind will not be able to sustain the species and in time will become extinct”…

Misogyny, David Gilmore

I grant that she at least quoted a man who paraphrased a man who might believe in the Bible, but Jacob Lassner is hardly a Church father. From my research, he seems to be Jewish. Yes, Jews are typically also more or less pro-life, but this Jewish man is not even a Jewish version of a Church father. Church fathers sort of have to have lived in the early Church. This Lassner fellow is rather contemporary. At any rate, if this is an accurate presentation of his views, I do not agree with him and I do not see how this should affect my mind about pro-life motives overall.

Thus we have evidence that members of Abrahamic faiths have motivation to control women’s reproductive lives and in particular prevent women from accessing abortion. Of course, this doesn’t by itself mean that anti-abortion attitudes are driven by a desire to remove reproductive control from women, but it suggests that the major forces behind anti-abortion legislation have at least a major interest in removing control of reproduction from women.

That is one way of looking at it. Another way of looking at it is that Christians are opposed to abortion because they adhere to Deuteronomy 5:17. Anyway, considering that no one is arguing for forced impregnation (the only way one could actually control women’s reproductive systems), I am not convinced.

Feminist theory best explains anti-abortion attitudes towards embryos and fetuses in other contexts

If anti-abortion attitudes are driven primarily by a genuine belief that zygotes are equal persons with a right to life, we would expect anti-abortion activists to care about zygotes and embryos generally as well as within the context of abortion. For example, we would expect that anti-abortion activists would think miscarriage was at least as serious a human tragedy as the COVID pandemic.

We would expect that anti-abortion activists would think miscarriage was at least as serious a human tragedy as the COVID pandemic—she says that as if we do not. I wonder if she has ever spoken to a woman who has recently had a miscarriage. I have literally heard pro-lifers make the exact opposite argument: if a fetus is basically on par with an ovum, then there would be no reason to console a mother grieving over a miscarriage. It is my understanding, at least from what I have been told, that in general, one would expect a mother who has miscarried to be heartbroken, which seems a bit odd if a fetus is just a potential person. It is not, after all, as if she is no longer have future children either. So yes, a miscarriage is a great tragedy. I personally know a few people who have had formal funerals for them and had them buried in graveyards, gravestones, and all. I imagine there are plenty of parents who would be none too pleased that anyone would treat it any less than the tragedy that it is.

We would also expect serious and sustained opposition to IVF, a procedure in which women who are trying to get pregnant implant healthy embryos (unhealthy embryos are discarded at high rates.) While the Catholic Church nominally opposes IVF, there are no major legal initiatives to ban IVF and few, if any, public protests against IVF clinics. In El Salvador, IVF clinics and surrogacy are perfectly legal even though the country has some of the harshest anti-abortion policies in the world. Nor do we see major efforts in these places to reduce the risks or rates of miscarriage; there appears to be little scientific attention paid to preventing miscarriage anywhere.

And in a country that genuinely believes that a fetus is morally on par with a tumor, yet although up until very recently, abortion was totally legal anywhere in the United States, in 38 states, fetuses are legally considered persons in any other case of homicide, including Washington State and California—two liberal states if ever I saw them. In other words, there are inconsistent laws in regard to the personhood of the unborn all around the board, but that does not invalidate a claim being made.

As for in vitro fertilization, that should definitely be illegal in my opinion, and be considered a serious felony.  If El Salvador allows it, that is the country’s own problem. As the author of this article points out, the Catholic Church does expressly forbid in vitro fertilization—although I do not know what is meant by “nominally”, as IVF is clearly a mortal sin, meaning that anyone who participates in IVF needs to go to confession or else he or she will burn in hell for all eternity (see CCC ¶23762377). So, if nominally opposing a thing is telling people they will be subject to everlasting torture if they do such a thing, she is correct.

I admit that we, as pro-lifers, probably ought to work harder to ban IVF. The reason that it is not illegal in as many places may vary and I cannot say for sure, but I suspect that it in part relates to the fact that the first baby to successfully be born via IVF was in 1978. Following this, fourteen pregnancies resulting in nine births were made by in vitro fertilization in 1981, making for only a 64% success rate, which is probably less than people would have wanted. It was not until the middle of the eighties that IVF became more and more possible. At the same time, abortion was gradually being made legal in various countries. Since cultures throughout the world were gradually becoming more and more pro-abortion (if the author of the article continues to use “anti-abortion”, I will use “pro-abortion”), not to mention beginning to abandon more and more of society’s age-old sexual ethics, there became less and less incentive to illegalize IVF, while some abortion laws often remained intact because abortion is a much older procedure and therefore there were already laws to prevent it.

Besides, as bad as IVF is, abortion is still more directly killing children while in IVF, child-deaths are basically collateral damage (from a pro-life perspective, of course), so although this does not excuse IVF, which is very much a horrendous evil, I think it shows why many people do not immediately make that connection between it and children dying, unfortunately. Frankly, because it is so new, I cannot help but doubt whether as many people are sufficiently educated on what is going on in IVF, although that does not pardon its legality.

Under the assumption that anti-abortion activists are driven primarily out of concern for the welfare of fetuses, these data are hard to explain. But under the feminist view that anti-abortion activism is driven by desire for patriarchal control of childbearing, with concern for fetuses as a mere pretext, these data are easily explained. Women who undergo IVF are trying to become mothers; they are fulfilling the role patriarchy wants of them. Miscarriage is usually unwanted; women who have miscarriages are likely trying to have children; they are also fulfilling their proper role under patriarchy. Thus patriarchal systems will not be motivated to do much about either of these things; that is exactly what we see.

Actually, IVF rather destroys the necessity of a man to impregnate a woman in a natural way, thus undermining the family. A child is meant to be born from an act of love, not an act of a mad scientist. So, perhaps these evil patriarchists might actually oppose IVF as well, if they are consistent. Plus, as I said already, I find it extremely unconvincing that pro-life people do not treat miscarriages as tragic.

Let me try this myself: if pro-abortion activists were driven primarily out of belief that fetuses are not human persons like the rest of us, we would expect miscarriages to be considered as trivial as losing a lottery and no one to feel the slightest discomfort about abortion any more than they would about getting tonsils removed, but we rarely do (I cannot tell you how many times I have heard a pro-choice advocate say something to the effect of “no one likes abortion”), which would be hard to explain. However, under the psychoanalytic view (for lack of a better term) that pro-abortion activism is driven by the desire for convenience and the disregard for unwanted human life, with the claim that fetuses are not human children as a pretext, these data are easily explained. Women who have miscarriages are losing wanted human children, so that is sad, and deep down, anyone feels disgusted by murder, even though they may support it legally speaking.

Now I admit this sort of reasoning is invalid for any sort of dialogue, but I think it is about as legitimate as what my opponent has just said.

I want to reiterate that I agree with Dr. Nobis that the statement “anti-abortion activism is about controlling women” is not a good one for engaging in debate about the topic. Analytic philosophy offers much better responses than that. However, that does not mean that the statement that anti-abortion activism is driven by “desire to control women” is not true.

While analytic philosophy offers important tools for understanding and engaging about abortion, it also has some drawbacks. Analytic philosophy sometimes ignores historical and anthropological context in favor of focusing strictly on arguments, but the insights history and anthropology provide can be essential to understanding the origins and (actual) motivations behind a particular social phenomenon. Feminist approaches to abortion and women’s rights more generally should use insights from both.

Well, I suppose if she really believes we are all opposing abortion under false pretenses, there is no particular reason to argue, but I do not even know what she is arguing directly. But, for the most part, I am once again unconvinced.

Bonum Certamen Certemus
I am the Chivalric Apologist