The question of abortion, always prominent in American politics, has come to the fore this year. Videos purporting to expose Planned Parenthood’s sale of fetal body parts for profit ignited national controversy this summer, and House Speaker John Boehner resigned last week in the wake of a bitter split in his caucus over the prospect of defunding the organization. Other institutions are also focused on the issue: Pope Francis indicated last month that Catholic priests would be empowered to forgive women who have had abortions as part of a “Year of Grace” in 2016. And the American public remains deeply divided. Only half of adults consider themselves “pro-choice,” and only 44% view Planned Parenthood favorably. Even in the Yale and New Haven community, abortion is a hot-button issue, and a pro-Planned Parenthood rally outside Old Campus last Tuesday was dogged by anti-abortion protesters.
So the annual Vita et Veritas Conference at Yale, a pro-life event held at the Saint Thomas More Catholic Chapel and Center, is especially timely. Speakers addressed various aspects of the abortion and reproductive health debate, including the ethical implications of abortion and the global state of women’s healthcare. Among them was Erika Bachiochi, author of “Embodied Equality: Debunking Equal Protection Arguments for Abortion Rights,” who delivered a presentation on the place of abortion in constitutional law and American society. After describing her personal journey from pro-choice to pro-life beliefs, Bachiochi highlighted concerns about America’s relationship with women generally, arguing that “abortion is a cultural Band-Aid” and that pro-choice feminism unnecessarily emphasizes the concept of unencumbered sexual activity – telling women, she suggested, that they should aspire to be as free from obligation as men who walk away from parental responsibility.
Rejecting abortion as a lazy solution, Bachiochi proposed an alternative approach to the additional obstacles in the path of women who are pregnant or raising children. Fatherhood ought to involve more responsibility than it currently does, she argued, and employers must make comprehensive accommodations for women who continue to work during pregnancy and the years when they are caregivers for their children. Only when society fully embraces the potential of parents (both mothers and fathers) to discharge work and family obligations and contribute in both spheres will the problem be effectively resolved.
Bachiochi’s conclusion that abortion is a detriment to the feminist cause may gain little traction on our undoubtedly pro-choice campus. But substantial portions of her argument should ring true on both sides of the abortion debate. Whether or not we consider abortion a necessary or constitutionally protected right, and whether or not we believe it prevents real reforms in the direction of gender equality, the signs that women are frequently given a lesser chance to succeed – because of the particular responsibilities of pregnancy, and, in some cases, of supervising child-rearing to which their husbands contribute too little – are too numerous to ignore. They point to a problem of which reproductive autonomy is only a part, a problem that demands a solution much broader than abortion alone.