Essay #4 - What Women Want

   One of the reasons that many men support liberal abortion laws is because they have been persuaded that this is something that women really want. Public opinion pollsters, however, have consistently found that women and men do not differ significantly in their views about abortion, and that when there is a difference (and that depends on how you phrase the questions you ask) women are slightly more pro-life than men. Elite white women tend to be more pro-choice, while poorer women (especially women of color) are more pro-life. Elite women are in a better position to make their voices heard and present themselves as representing the women’s position on the issue; elite men who are policy makers accept this picture because the women they know are pro-choice.

   Women are more passionate about the issue because it impacts them in a more intimate way, and this is true regardless of which side they are on. Of course there are women who feel passionately that women should have the right to terminate their pregnancies whenever they choose to. But, the pro-life movement has enormous grassroots support among women, and many women who have never been involved in politics before have been drawn into political involvement because of their passionate pro-life convictions. Women are leaders at all levels in the pro-life movement. When I first became converted to being pro-life I was single and in my thirties, and I hoped that through my involvement with the pro-life movement I might find a compatible husband. Imagine my frustration when every meeting I went to was attended exclusively by women!

   Seething just beneath the surface of public debate on the abortion issue is a bitter battle between careerist women and those who seek fulfillment primarily in motherhood (with some women, of course, trying very hard to embrace both). When I attended an elite women’s college, I got a very clear message that women who only married and had children were somehow failures; careers were the way to fulfillment. And hostility to feminist activists is common among working class women who perceive such women as holding them and their values in contempt. Many non-elite women would kill for the opportunity to stay home with their children, while many elite women sneer at those who do so and regard them as oppressed.

   In short, not all women want the same things. Furthermore, what they want for themselves is often different from what they want for other women. Elite women who are strongly pro-choice often say that they themselves would never have an abortion, but that they believe other women should have the right to, often inviting us to sympathize with the plight of women trapped in lives of poverty. The subtext, all too often, is that abortion is being used as a way to keep down the numbers of the poor, especially people of color. (Eighty percent of abortion clinics are located in poor minority neighborhoods.) Thus, instead of being a compassionate and progressive cause, the pro-choice movement is driven by, or at least harmonizes well with, a selfish desire on the part of those in positions of power and wealth to preserve their elite status and not have to shell out money to help the poor. This is not a pretty picture.

   Nor is it consistent with Catholic social teaching. The “preferential option for the poor” is something we hear about constantly from the pulpit. We believe that all human beings ought to be provided with the essentials for living a fully human life. We are to have solidarity with the weak and oppressed. And who is more vulnerable and helpless than the unborn child? Solutions that enable both mother and child to flourish must be sought for.

   Finally, what women want and choose in a moment of desperation is not always the same as what they would choose upon calm reflection or what they will be feel at peace with having done. In addition to the possible physical damage they may suffer as a result of an abortion, the emotional fallout can be devastating. The largest longitudinal study ever done (designed by a pro-choice researcher hoping to debunk the whole idea of “post abortion syndrome”) found that women who have had abortions do in fact suffer from serious psychological problems that they did not suffer from before their abortions. Those who carried their pregnancies to term did not manifest these patterns. (The Eliot Institute ( is the best source for information on post abortion syndrome.) Post-abortion healing ministries are springing up around the world. As a bumper sticker put it: “Abortion: one dead, one wounded.”

   Women deserve better than abortion. A country with the resources we have can afford to take good care of its children – born and unborn – and help mothers get the support they need to raise the next generation.