On June 27th, the Supreme Court of the United States overturned a Texas law, ruling in favor of a woman’s right to easy access to abortion. Women’s rights advocates rejoiced. At least, the women’s rights advocates who are pro-abortion. But for many Catholic women’s rights advocates, both male and female, across the nation and right outside the Supreme Court building, June 27th was disheartening, to say the least.
Since its national legalization in 1973 via the Supreme Court’s ruling in Roe v. Wade, abortion has been a hot-button political issue. But for Catholics, human life and health is far more important than mere politics. The well being and care of every person is fundamental to the Catholic faith, and all the Church’s moral teaching is based on the necessity of loving each individual as you love yourself.
However, many Catholics, who are drawn and enchanted by the Church’s teaching on all enveloping love and care for their neighbors, are repulsed by Her unequivocal statements proscribing abortion. The Church is so adamant in Her condemnation that unlike Her political counterparts, She brooks absolutely no exceptions, not even in the case of rape or incest. How can a worldwide, self-proclaimed spiritual family, be so unfeeling towards the plight of even Her own most vulnerable children? How can the Church who calls Herself a Mother, forbid relief and mercy to a scared and suffering daughter? How can a priest who calls himself a father, not take pity on his child who is arguably most in need of love and protection?
Thousands of people, both Catholics and non-Catholics, struggle with this apparent contradiction. And many Catholics who align themselves with left-leaning politics and the beauty of love and mercy, reject the Church’s teaching on abortion. Sure, the Church loves babies, but do they love women? Do they love me?
Pro-abortionists champion the woman’s right to choose. To them it seems the Church wants to take away that choice; it seems the Church chooses the baby over the woman. What so many people fail to understand is that Catholic teaching on abortion doesn’t make a choice. The Church wants the woman to choose: to choose love and motherhood. The Church refuses to choose between mother and baby. She wants to love both.
This is hard to wrap your head around if you don’t understand the Church’s vision of love. Catholics don’t believe that women are baby-making machines, that their health and happiness is less important than that of men. But they do believe that men and women are fundamentally different, and God didn’t make a mistake when He made you who you are. If God made you a man, it’s because He wants you to be the best man you can be. And all truly good men are fathers. If God made you a woman, it’s because He wants you to be the best woman you can be. And every truly good woman is, from deep, down inside herself, a mother.
The Church is unique in how broadly She defines motherhood. Though most women will be mothers in a biological sense, motherhood extends to the care of all human persons. and in a way of which only women are capable. Women, in many different ways and to many different degrees, are tender and thoughtful. A little girl wants to take care of helpless animals. An older woman makes soup for a sick neighbor. A woman listens intently and encourages confidences of joys and heartaches. She comforts readily and recognizes another’s needs almost automatically.
All these qualities are observable in the wonderful women that we all know. Most of these women have grown children, and they are so practiced at mothering that they can mother anyone. They nurture and support. They sacrifice their quiet evening or hot dinner so that a friend knows she isn’t alone, or a guest is made to feel fully attended to. Any time you’re with a mother like this, you feel comfortable and safe because you know that you are loved. You are accepted as you are, even if your appearance is unexpected or inconvenient. St. Edith Stein, a towering intellectual and loving woman, said, “The woman’s soul is fashioned as a shelter in which other souls may unfold.”
The beauty and power of a woman’s soul as mother is the reason why the Catholic Church stands so firmly against abortion. The impact and gift of one woman’s motherhood is so monumental, that to rob the world of it is a gross injustice. For the woman also, to be denied her destiny, and to freely choose for her body to be not a shelter but a grave, is not freedom but self-destruction.
Ultimately, the model of all women is Mary, mother of Jesus and also a virgin. For us, it is impossible to be both a virgin and a mother; we must choose one or the other. But all women are meant to be chaste and motherly. All women are meant to embrace the special capacity they have to sacrifice their own physical desires, sexual or otherwise, in order to love and nurture. Abortion is the tool of a culture which wants women to be neither virgins nor mothers. This culture encourages women to put their desires first, and to love their own freedom more than the people whose lives they could change with their care. That kind of woman isn’t really a woman at all.
The Church denounces abortion not because She loves humans in the womb more than other humans. She denounces abortion because She loves women. She sees the inexplicable beauty and mystery with which women are entrusted, and which they instill in the world through their nurturing care. She clings to the vision of the overwhelming joy women could have if they embraced this mystery. She hopes for a world recreated through the astounding power which women wield in motherhood.
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