The patriarchal Catholic Church claims to be pro-Life. But is it pro-Life? Or is it pro-Birth? A Catholic Benedictine sister outed the pro-Life movement. Her position: the pro-life crowd shows little if any ongoing interest in life after birth. They’re pro-birth, but not pro-life. Legislators who enact laws to restrict a woman’s right to an abortion, but then stand firm against funding programs that assist the mother and her baby once the child is born are not pro-life. Too often the goal of anti-abortion advocates is for the fetus to make it to birth. Birth is the important value, life not so much.
I propose the starting point for deciphering this puzzle is to look at our desire as human beings for immortality. We want to defy death believing that there is a spiritual continuation of who we are after our bodies shut down. We want death to be a new beginning.
A great deal of effort goes into seeking an answer to the question what comes next. A question we presently lack the capacity to answer. We honestly do not know what if anything happens following death.
Are we going down the wrong path when we pursue the spiritual avenue for the answer? Ironically is it instead our bodies that continue to exist? Consider that our genes are passed from parent to child. If the answer to immortality lies here, then why don’t we think about the passing on of our DNA as a type of immortality? Perhaps because it is not me the individual who achieves immortality, but rather me genetically that is passed on and on. This immortality does not give me reward or punishment as promised by some religions. Regardless, our DNA does live on in our progeny and is a recognizable path to immortality.
If biology provides a path to achieve immortality, arguably biology takes on new meaning. Our bodies which are often viewed as inferior to our intellectual/spiritual life are elevated. When sex is viewed as our path to immortality, sex becomes far more than erotic pleasure. If we are to grasp this quest for immortality, exploration of our sexuality takes on new importance.
I propose that given the male’s role in reproduction he is more inclined to support pro-birth. The female is inclined to support pro-life given her role. The male’s strategy is both quantitative and qualitative in assuring the continuance of his genes. The female is confined to the qualitative strategy.
The human male has an abundant renewable supply of sperm. Given the opportunity the human male can potentially impregnate several females in any one day with low to no negative impact on his body other than fatigue. After he impregnates the female, he is free to leave. This isn’t necessarily the best choice, but it is a choice available to him.
By contrast the female supplies a nutritious rich egg and the use of her body for nine months. She produces typically one egg a month, and if impregnated, she will give birth to a full term baby nine months later. Her likelihood of reproducing is reduced at best to once every nine to ten months. If she has multiple births she can do slightly better. Additionally pregnancy and childbirth are not without risk. The bottom line, males have a quantitative edge in reproduction which the female does not share.
The female has no alternative, her presence is required at the birth of her child. If she wants to abandon the child or give the baby up for adoption, her action is required. This is after months of intimate awareness of the growth of the baby and her experience at birth.
There is no requirement that the father be present at the birth of his child. He has the option of being totally uninvolved with his offspring. He may impregnate multiple females relying on some portion of these females to produce full term babies and nurture and raise them so they will continue his genes in new progeny. The father is not excluded from the role of nurturer, but he can avoid whatever responsibility he has. He can take his chances that some of the females that he impregnates will successfully raise his progeny and his genes will continue to exist.
The male has both a quantitative and qualitative strategy available to him to insure the continuance of his DNA. When pursuing the quantitative route he may attempt to limit any interference with his opportunity of impregnating females (birth control), and once the female is impregnated he will want to prohibit termination of the fertilized egg (abortion).
The female is restricted to the qualitative route. Since she is limited in the number of offspring she can produce and has a meaningful investment already by the time of birth, she typically makes the most of her investment and raises the child. She is far less likely to terminate her relationship with her baby.. Even if her choice is to not raise the child, she does not by this action significantly increase the number of offspring she can produce.
The bottom line: those wittingly or unwittingly who would prohibit birth control and abortion are enabling the male’s strategy of a quantitative approach to reproduction.
In summary, I write not only to put forward a biological explanation for the inconsistency of those who interfere in women’s reproductive choices and then not follow through with assistance after the baby is born. I write also to advocate that women be able to choose birth control and abortion which can be a part of their reproductive qualitative strategy. A woman best knows when she is able to take on the awesome responsibility of pregnancy, birth and child rearing.
And one last thought … everyone involved in raising a child can benefit from support.
Winifred Nathan BA, MSW, JD, is a retired attorney. Her resume includes in chronological order sworn police officer, mother, social worker, and psychotherapist. Her bachelor degree was in philosophy and sociology. She lives with her husband in South Carolina but her heart is in Wisconsin where she was born, raised and lived for most of her life. She was born a feminist.