Two years ago I wrote my first column. It was for the first issue of The Interim and was on “pro-life feminism,” a constant theme of many subsequent columns.
When I wrote that first column, I thought I’d soon run out of things to say on the abortion issue and I’m sure that some of you who persist in the reading my ramblings would agree that I had.
I was prepared for neither the sheer amount of material I would need to gather, nor for the growing list of issues that need to be discussed. In March 1983, my filing system was a small cardboard box. Today I’m nearly out of space in a four-drawer filing cabinet; my tray of newspaper clippings “to be filed” is in danger of collapsing, and the piles of paper on my desk collapse once a week. (The piles on the floor are stable – until my children come around.)
No, this isn’t one of those desperation columns, written at the deadline, with nothing to say. The problem is, there’s too much. Here are a few items I’ve been thinking about lately and haven’t had the time to research and to write about.
The subject of Baby Fae, and of human/animal transplants in general, has bothered me since last October. At the time that Baby Fae made headlines, and since, I have not come across any pro-life reaction – either critical or supportive – to such a procedure.
My unease with the procedure stems from my conviction that Baby Fae was an experiment. The baboon-to-human heart transplant had never been tried before and the chances of success were slim. We all know Baby Fae died and the doctors in charge of the experiment say that they will try again. How many more babies will be experimented on before the procedure works?
While I sympathize with those who arguer that if such an operation saves a child who would otherwise die, I cannot help but worry that, in these cases, we’re meddling in areas in which we cannot begin to understand all the dimensions. For one thing, the scientists involved in this kind of cutting-edge research stand to gain a lot of attention and, indeed, fame. Will this mean that less-glamourous, but no less valuable, research gets under-funded because the money doesn’t stretch to everything?
I have read that transplant patients, as well as people who have been adopted, become anxious to trace their genetic heritage. In the not-too-distant future, those who have been given life through artificial insemination, in-vitro fertilization and surrogate arrangements may share the same anxiety. Transplant patients try to search out the donor’s background; adopted children try to find their natural mothers; those conceived through the latest technology will try to find out who their “donor” mother or father was. Will a person who survives with an animal organ feel somehow less than human? To us, that might seem a trivial problem; after all, the person will be glad enough and satisfied to be alive. My point is that we have no idea how that person will react, but react they will.
The technology that allows an infertile man to father, or an infertile woman to conceive a child that is (at least genetically) half their own, also worries me. The science is so refined now that almost any permutation, any combination of factors controlling fertility can be programmed.
Until recently, the birth of a child was a blessing from God – and a privilege and responsibility at that. Certainly, childlessness can cause sadness and suffering in a marriage but then, childlessness, as much as child-bearing, was seen as the will of God. The average couple learned to live with the condition and often they became stronger because of it.
Today, having children – or not having them, as shown by the millions aborted – is seen as a right. Science bypasses infertility and the morality of such a science is not questioned. Babies are no longer a joy in their own right, they are being conceived so that a couple – or often a single woman – can be “fulfilled.” What happens when that carefully-selected child turns into a rebellious teenager, or simple does not achieve at a high-enough level to satisfy parental expectations?
I found it both bizarre and amusing to follow the story of Baby Cotton. You recall, she was born in England of a “surrogate mother.” I must be stupid, for I cannot understand why Mrs. Cotton was labeled a “surrogate mother.” The baby was biologically hers, conceived, I believe, as a result of artificial insemination. Mrs. Cotton was not carrying another woman’s child for nine months; she did not go through labour and deliver another woman’s child. What she did was to enter into a business arrangement with another couple and agreed, for a fee, to give up her baby at birth to the child’s natural father and adoptive mother.
The main objection to this kind of arrangement seems to be that it is a financial one. Terms such as “womb-leasing,” “rent-a-womb,” and “selling babies” are used. It seems to me hypocritical that, when other forms of artificial insemination r surrogate arrangements in which no money passes hands are permitted, we can object to a woman’s being paid to nurture a child in her womb for nine months when her motive is merely to pay a few bills. As I understand it, the kind of money involved would not be enough to make most women consider renting their womb an attractive career.
We are witnessing the birth of the “high-tech” baby. In the past, before wide-spread legal abortion, there were enough babies to go around. Whether or not it was convenient for them to be pregnant, women carried their children and then released them to adoptive parents. Childless couples accepted those babies with open arms and with joy; they didn’t worry that the child’s genetic heritage was different. A baby was a baby.
Today, widespread abortion has had many side effects – apart from the tragedy of dead babies. The aborting woman sometimes becomes sterile and subsequently would welcome another woman’s baby. But now there aren’t enough available. The pregnant unmarried woman either aborts or carries the child (and refuses the adoption alternative). She has bought the notion that the child is there to give her something that has been missing in her life – she often doesn’t reflect, until much later, that perhaps it would be better for both of them if she had considered adoption.
Judging by the amount of manuscript now piled up on my desk, I’ve already gone over my allotted space and I have only discussed a quarter of the items on my list.
However, I must pass on a piece of good news – for a change. It’s an item of vital interest to Catholic women, though I hope other women will welcome it.
An organization called “Women for Life, Faith and Family” is now welcoming support in Canada. The organization was started by a group of Catholic women in the U.S. who had become irritated by women bringing secular feminist demands into the realm of their church.
Both in the U.S. and Canada, a vocal minority of women have been pressing their bishops for reforms in the church (and its thinking) on the role of women. “Women for Life, Faith and Family” aims to let the Canadian bishops know that many more women support the Holy Father and the Magisterium than oppose them.
I don’t as yet know very much about “Women for Life, Faith and Family,” but what I do know has me quite literally jumping for joy. They are strongly pro-life and strongly pro-family. Article 4 of their “Affirmation for Catholic Women” states,
“We accept and affirm the teaching of the Catholic Church on all matters dealing with human reproduction, marriage, family life and roles for men and women in the Church and in society.” And I don’t see many orthodox Catholic women rejecting that.
I’ll pass on more as I hear about it. In the meantime, if you can’t wait, contact Women for Life, Faith and Family, 4038 Livingstone Avenue N., Victoria, B.C., V8N 3A6.