Turning Terms of Discord into Common Ground Harmony

Pro-Life Feminism and Overcoming the Abuse of Power

 by J. David Franks, Ph.D., Chairman of the Board, MCFL

[This is part of a blog series, entitled ReVitalize, and is a project of the MCFL Lincoln Forum's Certificate Program in Human Dignity. Curious about our next reads? Look out for the next post, or consider joining us in December, or January. More details on registration can be found here ]

The well-being of women and the well-being of the unborn are inseparable concerns. Because of this fact, during the first session of the Social Ethics and Solidarity Certificate program, we looked at J. S. Mill’s The Subjection of Women(published in 1869) as one of our orienting texts.

Mill was grappling with legal and political impairments imposed upon women (denied the vote, barred from the professions and universities, compromised in their property rights) which have since been largely remedied. But he was also grappling with the social and intimate roots of these public impairments. And here the picture is very complicated indeed. Perhaps the greatest symptom of a persisting disorder in the relations of men and women is the epidemic of domestic abuse. (We discussed Judith Herman’s Trauma and Recovery during the second session as a natural sequel.)

Why address such questions in a pro-life course?

Two reasons. In general, a pro-lifer’s whole concern is making a preferential option for the more powerless. In particular, protecting the dignity of unborn babies cannot be separated from ever-greater realization of the dignity of their mothers.

Mill identifies the subjection of women as a variation of the immemorial social ordering principle of might makes right. 

“[The most advanced nations] now live in a state in which the law of the strongest seems to be entirely abandoned as the regulating principle of the world’s affairs: nobody professes it, and, as regards most of the relations between human beings, nobody is permitted to practice it. When any one succeeds in doing so, it is under cover of some pretext which gives him the semblance of having some general social interest on his side. This being the ostensible state of things, people flatter themselves that the rule of mere force is ended; that the law of the strongest cannot be the reason of existence of anything which has remained in full operation down to the present time.”

We seem to have left behind slavery and absolute monarchy, and yet physical and psychological violence against women is still epidemic, and structures too many intimate relationships. Abortion is a paradigmatic tool of that abuse of power. And abortion, one way or another, is an extreme instance of “the law of the strongest.” 

We always say, “Love them both.” Tyranny cannot be defeated any other way.

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