February 13, 2012 (HLIAmerica.org) - Those of us of who still remember when both the “Huntley-Brinkley Report” and Walter Cronkite were on television also remember the reports of the women’s liberation movement. Bras were burned in defiance of “male chauvinist pigs.” Virginia Slims cigarettes told us, “You’ve come a long way, Baby!” Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs played out the “Battle of the Sexes” on the tennis court. And amidst all of this, the United States Supreme Court ruled that a woman had the right to destroy the child within her womb.
Those were some heady days for women. I would say that a big reason I went to medical school was the rhetoric I heard at that time: Men say I can’t be a doctor? I’ll show them! About one in five of my classmates in medical school were women. Many of my professors and, later many of my patients, disapproved of female physicians. I had a male classmate suggest that I was getting by on my pretty smile instead of actually putting in the hard work to become a doctor. Truthfully, I was probably working harder than most of my male classmates because I didn’t have the “good old boy” network looking out for me. Instead, I had male physicians hoping I would screw up so they could give a knowing look and make some comment about why women didn’t belong in medicine.
Yet I persevered and reaped the rewards of my labor. As years passed, a female physician was no longer an oddity and my abilities were no longer suspect.
Opening up careers in medicine, law, politics and business to women was a positive development for our culture. Unfortunately, this social progress came with the baggage of abortion. The birth of the professional woman was inextricably linked to the death of the child within the womb. The Roe v. Wade decision became the iconic victory of women’s equality. Even today, the hint of a decrease in the availability of abortion brings hysterical shrieks from women who claim they are being driven back to a state of subservience. Just look at the frenzied media circus that arose when Susan G. Komen for the Cure suggested that abortion industry giant Planned Parenthood would be ineligible for future grants. President Barack Obama issued a statement on the 2012 anniversary of the Roe v Wade suggesting that abortion was necessary for the next generation of women to have the same rights, freedoms and opportunities as men. This is interesting considering that at least a quarter of the next generation of women will die as victims of abortion.
The reality is we will not cultivate a culture of life until all women realize that we do not need abortion in order to be considered as smart, competent and professional as men. Not only do we not need abortion, we do not want it. Abortion does not elevate the dignity of women. It demeans us and forces us to reject our true nature. Rather than celebrating our femininity, abortion forces us to deny our womanhood. It treats our unique ability to bear and nurture a child as a liability.
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In addition to squelching true womanhood, abortion is literally killing women. Sex selective abortion is blamed for the dearth of women in countries like China and India, where boys are culturally preferred to women.
And there is now strong evidence that post-abortive women are more likely to suffer an increase in depression, substance abuse and suicide. Abortion is also linked to a highly aggressive form of breast cancer.
The generation before mine opened the doors for women to offer their talents in ways previously denied to them. My generation battled persistent bias to make women in demanding professions and in positions of authority the norm rather than the exception. The challenge I now offer my daughter and my granddaughter is to fearlessly embrace this freedom as complete women. Do not reject the strength of your femininity.
Ironically, perhaps the greatest expression of authentic dignified womanhood did not come from the words of the giants of the women’s rights movement like Gloria Steinem, Betty Friedan or Bella Abzug. Rather, it was Blessed Pope John Paul II who gave a voice to the strength of women. He recognized the power and potential of women as the heart and soul of our families, our communities, our culture and our Church. From Mulieris Dignitatem:
A woman is strong because of her awareness of this entrusting, strong because of the fact that God “entrusts the human being to her,” always and in every way, even in the situations of social discrimination in which she may find herself. This awareness and this fundamental vocation speak to women of the dignity which they receive from God himself, and this makes them “strong” and strengthens their vocation. …
In our own time, the successes of science and technology make it possible to attain material well-being to a degree hitherto unknown. While this favours some, it pushes others to the edges of society. In this way, unilateral progress can also lead to a gradual loss of sensitivity for man, that is, for what is essentially human. In this sense, our time in particular awaits the manifestation of that “genius” which belongs to women, and which can ensure sensitivity for human beings in every circumstance: because they are human! – and because “the greatest of these is love” (cf. 1 Cor 13:13).
My prayer is that all women of today and tomorrow will reject subjugation by those who wish to extinguish their true femininity. May they recognize that their strength comes from their total womanhood, including their life-giving nature. Contrary to the ideas of President Obama, the rights, freedoms and opportunities of the next generation of women depends on their expression of their feminine “genius” in a way that elevates our culture and holds sacrosanct the dignity of all human life.
Denise Hunnell, MD, is a Fellow of HLI America, an educational initiative of Human Life International. She writes for HLI America’s Truth and Charity Forum, where this article first appeared.