Reflections of a Christian Feminist
In the past two years, it has been a joy to learn more about feminism and feminist applications to academic and clinical work as a Campus Representative for SPW. The process has also provided me with so much ‘food for thought’ in reference not only to my clinical and research work but also to my Christian worldview perspective and conservative values. I am acutely aware that disclosing my beliefs and values in a more liberal or secular context exposes me to criticism and allows the possibility of misunderstanding. But as a feminist, I believe that my voice is just as valuable as anyone else’s. I would like to share my reflections pertaining to life policy after a semester of contemplating women’s rights and the right to life. I would like to say that these views are solely mine, and it is not my intention to impress them upon anyone else with a differing worldview and values.
There’s a Planned Parenthood five minutes down the street from where I live. Most days out of the week involve driving past the building and its black metal fencing around the perimeter. I often see men and women standing outside this perimeter with signs or tape over their mouths, rain or shine. I wonder what it would be like to be a woman driving through the entrance, passing these protestors, and hoping to not catch the attention of drivers on the road or pedestrians on the sidewalk. I can only imagine the range of emotions women might be experiencing- shame, relief, apprehension, ambivalence, fear, perhaps confidence and pride. I wonder what it would be like to be a protestor, feeling the conviction to stand up for those without a voice, regardless of the physical conditions- cold rain, sore feet, intense humidity, angry drivers yelling from windows or beeping their horns. In many ways, Roe v. Wade was founded on the principle of the ‘right to privacy,’ but that privacy in the real world is often nearly an illusion.
It fascinates me that perspectives about unborn children vary as much as they do. To some women, to learn of pregnancy involves making preparation for the future, celebrations, and picking out a name. To another, it could mean a decision to rid oneself of a cluster of cells. It seems to me that viewing this cluster of cells as merely that is a form of dehumanization. After all, the cluster of cells will not grow to become a houseplant, a pair of socks, or a bird. The cluster of cells becomes a human being. It’s precisely that it becomes a human being that one decides to terminate the pregnancy. Perhaps the key word here is “becomes,” implying future outcomes. When asked if she regretted the situation of becoming pregnant, jeopardizing her career, and giving her daughter up for adoption, actress Kate Mulgrew stated, “Do I regret her? Not for one second!” The nine-month commitment she made to carrying this baby into the world was one from which she benefitted from for years, by being able to have a relationship with her daughter. As a Christian, my faith continuously orients me to the future and life beyond this one, so I cannot help but think this future orientation is as important as a present reality. And personhood is this reality. I suspect that Mulgrew felt similarly when she chose to put her daughter up for adoption.
One thing all psychologists know is that community and social networks are important. Young adults often search for communities that offer activities and networking opportunities, families seek safe and secure neighborhoods, and older adults benefit from social engagement. This came to mind in light of Hillary Clinton’s frequently used saying, “It takes a village to raise a child.” This is certainly the case in many communities around the world, but in the United States, women alone are able to make the decision to not raise a child, despite two biological parents or even willing communities. While there are many programs and resources for women who are unprepared to parent a child, the societal stigma of being a single mother and the double standards that prevent women from maintaining their careers undercut these communal values we otherwise cherish. Yet, I sincerely believe that we are called to provide for the vulnerable and give to those in need. As described in the article I mention next, “A fetus is not an attacker with malicious intent, but instead the picture of vulnerable dependence.”
Recently, I read an article authored by John G. Stockhouse Jr. in Christianity Today. Even as I state this, I am conscious of reactions along the lines of, “A man and a Christian has no right to talk about what a woman can do with her body!” While I empathize, I’m going to reject this sentiment on several grounds. First, women surely have thoughts about when matters involve men. So if women strive for equality, it means equality, and not women’s opinions trumping those belonging to men. Second, women are not the only ones endowed with valuable perspective, regardless of the point of view. Third, the challenging decision to undergo an abortion involves not only women but also men and the larger community, despite our individualistic culture. All to say, opinions and perspectives should not be discounted on gender alone.
Stockhouse Jr. raises many points that are worthy of reflection. Some have to do with gender roles pertaining to responsibility and parenthood. He describes the thoughts of feminist Catherine MacKinnon who argued that legalizing abortion does less to emancipate women than to empower irresponsible men. In other words, if women have the sole authority over what happens to their children, then men argue that women are solely responsible for the baby she chooses to keep. Surely this does not help to ensure the quality of life for and the women’s rights of the single women who decide to raise their children. This situation does not reflect a community pulling together but rather a community fractured from individualistic self-interest.
This author raises another interesting point that I believe is an insufficient argument but still worth consideration. On one extreme, many in conservative circles advocate that abortion should be restricted to the 2% of cases nationwide that involve incest, rape, or threat of a mother’s life. But this leads to a problem: would women have no other choice but to accuse men of rape in order to qualify for a legal abortion? While numerous polls (cited in Camosy’s Beyond the Abortion Wars) indicate a noteworthy majority of Americans prefer greater restrictions to abortion under the current law, but clearly, if restrictions are to be adopted, they must be done so carefully and with consideration of all potential implications.
Controversial topics like abortion, that have the power to polarize, shame, and alienate, require caution and compassion for those on both sides of the proverbial trenches as well as those wandering in the wilderness. Those who believe that we are “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14), crafted by the hands of a divine creator who knew us before our birth should not be attacked for these deeply rooted convictions that honor and strive to protect the sanctity of human life. However, women who have real world needs, find themselves without support or in the position of making monumental decisions about their futures should not be condemned, shamed, or attacked. How do we reduce stigma, strive for equality of genders in life policy discussions, conceptualize personhood, minimize or avoid trauma-associated with unplanned pregnancy and abortion? I believe pro-life should be defined as pro-all-life, the woman’s and the child within her.
As a Christian, and as a feminist, I believe upholding the sanctity of life requires that we, as a culture and community, must do what it takes to ensure women’s needs are met while preserving lives that are not ours to extinguish.
- Written by Nina Silander