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Don't Free Me From My Family
Asking for help with obligations, not separation from them
I got to contribute to Plough’s forum of reader responses to Erika Bachiochi’s essay“After Roe v. Wade and Dobbs v. Jackson.” Erika looked back to the early feminists to imagine what a pro-life movement can look like that supports both mothers and children. I wrote in response:
Some modern social justice movements tend toward the transhuman – they aim to liberate human beings from any limit on who we can be or what we can do. Any restriction is suspect.
In essence, many modern activists look for freedom from being human. Thus, a feminism shaped by these views doesn’t advocate for the freedom of women to be women in the world. Instead, it advocates for the right of women to be free of the burdens of being women.
While early pro-life feminists saw a man’s ability to walk away from a child he’d fathered as a grave moral fault, present-day feminism often sees the ability to walk away as the basic prerequisite to being an equal citizen. Their argument depends on seeing the basic unit of society as the lone unencumbered citizen.
I’ll have more on this topic in a forthcoming piece at Comment and I’ll be speaking on this theme at Notre Dame’s fall conference put on by the de Nicola Center for Ethics and Culture. This year’s theme is “‘And It Was Very Good’: On Creation.”
In Commonweal, Eve Tushnet has an excellent piece on what kind of support the most vulnerable mothers need, drawing on her experience of twenty years work in a crisis pregnancy center. I’m stitching together an excerpt below, and the piece is worth reading in full:
Many of my clients want an abortion because they believe it is the most responsible choice. […] Sometimes they think it would be irresponsible to have a baby before they’re married. (Most of our clients’ sexual decisions are made with the intention of eventually marrying. But not “waiting until marriage”—that, too, is irresponsible, because you risk marrying the wrong person or never marrying at all.) Sometimes they think it would be irresponsible to have a baby before they have their lives in order on an emotional level. Most often they think it would be irresponsible to have a baby before they’re financially stable. For clients who already have children, there’s an extra urgency, since each additional child pushes that stable future a little farther away. […]
[T]here is no way to talk about abortion in America without talking about the suffering, shame, and guilt caused by the belief that it’s wrong to have a baby when you’re poor. When do you have enough money and security to earn the right to have a child? You aren’t supposed to get married before you’re financially stable; you aren’t supposed to have a baby before you’re financially stable. Who, exactly, are poor people allowed to love?
What Eve describes is also chronicled in the excellent Promises I Can Keep: Why Poor Women Put Motherhood before Marriage by Kathryn Edin and Maria Kefalas. The two sociologists talk to lower-income women who have children young and out of wedlock, and they find that many of them wanted a child because they wanted someone to love and to love them back.
They knew what the “responsible” path looked like in theory, but they felt they had no hope of reaching the end of the success sequence and earning a child. And if they were going to be poor and stuck anyway, why not be poor with someone to love, rather than striving like Sisyphus, alone?
Justice doesn’t mean putting this natural desire for a family on indefinite hold. It isn’t a help to advise these women only on avoiding pregnancy. They don’t want to be sole and safe—they want to have people who they take care of and to be able to live up to what that dependency demands.
When we start from the assumption that a full human life involves relationships of mutual dependency, it becomes obvious that no one can wait indefinitely to be ready to be depended on.
Even if you aren’t a parent, being someone’s child, someone’s friend, someone’s neighbor carries the chance of being depended on in a way that will disrupt your own life.
We all need some slack in our time, our finances, and our work, so that we’re ready to respond to the needs of others, and so that we know it isn’t a catastrophe if we ask others to take care of us.