Abortion, Life, & the Dignity of Women

IMG_0014_2 (2)By Johanna Hatch

When Dr. George Tiller of Wichita, KS, was murdered in his church almost a month ago, I hugged my belly and cried. I was a little over 15 weeks pregnant, and even though my pregnancy was (and is, praise God) healthy and strong and I was committed to carrying to term, I was terrified. What kind of a world did I live in, where a man who committed his life to the well-being of women would be murdered at the door of his church? What kind of world, which held people who had so little disregard for women like me? What kind of world would my beloved little Cabbage be born into?

Maybe it’s because I’m pregnant, not only with fetal life, but with raging hormones, that I took Dr. Tiller’s murder so personally. Like I said, I’m immensely grateful that everything about this pregnancy has been blissfully normal, from symptoms, to weight gain, to heart rate and nuchal fold measurements and alpha-fetal protein levels. I’ve never faced the decision to end a pregnancy, and I don’t know anyone who sought Dr. Tiller’s services. As the commentary unfolded and the debate around abortion continued on unchecked, a little voice crept up from my heart and exploded my brain: “But what about me? Who will stand up for us?” As I approached the half-way mark, I was still awaiting test results and a routine ultrasound – those seemingly mundane moments which had radically altered the course for so many women who were Dr. Tiller’s patients. Moments that should be joyful were turned dark with fetal or maternal diagnoses that left no easy answers. Markedly absent from the ongoing debate were pregnant women – those of us whose very lives were on the line.

My conviction that women have the legal right to determine their childbearing comes from, I was surprised to realize, my Catholic upbringing and sensibilities. How many times have I heard that each human life is sacred and dignified, a unique image of the Divine? Every Catholic has heard this over and over again, most often in regards to the issue of abortion, but it also appears in documents on immigration, gays and lesbians, and those subject to abuse and torture. It took some time, but I finally realized that the Church was talking about me as well. My life has sacred worth. My life has dignity. And now, more than ever, I want to talk about that. As Frances Kissling, former president of Catholics for Choice once so eloquently said, “Are we not capable of walking and chewing gum at the same time; of valuing life and respecting women’s rights?”

How can we as Catholics, particularly young Catholic women, whose generation is at the forefront of the “common ground” movement, alter the dialogue around this contentious issue to include not only fetal life and legal rights, but the dignity of our lives as well?

Johanna Hatch is a feminist activist, writer, and amateur hagiographer. She currently resides in Wisconsin with her spouse Evan and their mostly blind dachshund. They eagerly await the arrival their newest family member in mid-November. Johanna will presenting a prayer session, “Women Mystics for Today” at the national Call to Action conference.

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2 Responses

  1. You wrote: As Frances Kissling, former president of Catholics for Choice once so eloquently said, “Are we not capable of walking and chewing gum at the same time; of valuing life and respecting women’s rights?” How can we as Catholics, particularly young Catholic women, whose generation is at the forefront of the “common ground” movement, alter the dialogue around this contentious issue to include not only fetal life and legal rights, but the dignity of our lives as well?

    Me: Without right to life, all other rights are worthless. If there is life in the womb, then none of us have that right to take that life away for convenience. There is no dignity to violating the rights of others to life, liberty, and property. And aborting or killing babies violate their rights to life. And in China, where it is commonplace to kill female unborn babies, that make abortion anti-feminism, but many feminists won’t object, since if they do, they will be forced to admit to humanity of those being aborted or killed.

  2. Dear “Truth,”

    Thanks for your response – it is conversation among those of us who disagree that will hopefully turn the tide on this discussion, and it I hope that you responded in that spirit.

    You wrote, “There is no dignity to violating the rights of others to life, liberty, and property.” Essentially, what I am asking for is an openness in the dialogue around the issue of abortion to authentically include a respect for the life, liberty, and dignity of women. It is my belief that when the state dictates a woman’s reproductive life, it violates her right to life and liberty. And in the case of many of Dr. Tiller’s patients, denying them access to an abortion would have been a very real threat to their lives. (I invite you to Google search “Kansas stories” for their narratives.)

    I think China is a prime example of where the “common ground” movement can engage in this kind of dialogue. A majority of feminists and those who identify as pro-choice oppose China’s cruel one-child policy, as we believe the state should not force women to end or continue a pregnancy against her will. Groups such as UNFPA have done good work in this area. By convincing the Chinese government to allow them to do voluntary family planning programs in certain counties, they were able to drastically reduce the number of abortions in the areas where they worked.

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