A group of male pro-lifers arrived on the campus of Penn State University recently to dialogue with students about what is truly the most important moral issue of our time. The results were mixed. However, a few female students rigidly maintained that men have no business talking about abortion. Therefore, dialogue between men and women, in their minds, on the subject of abortion was not a possibility. Men were trespassers for whom “keep off the grass” was all that needed to be stated. To emphasize the point they began chanting obscenities, much to the consternation of more academic-minded passersby.
A number of thoughts ran through my head after viewing the video of the event. The contention that men should stay out of the abortion discussion strikes at the very heart of what feminists have been using to promote their agenda. It has been their very linchpin. And a successful one at that.
There was a time when women were not allowed to enter the medical profession precisely because they were female. A few sensible and stout-hearted women reasoned that sex should not be a barrier to knowledge. Medicine, after all, is built on science, and women, being rational beings, just as men are, should be allowed to pursue studies in medicine.
Well, some men were listening and the sex barrier was finally broken. Women entered medical schools and many of them made outstanding contributions in the field. Elizabeth Blackwell, on Jan. 23, 1849, became the first woman to receive a medical degree in the United State. The local press reported her graduation favourably and the dean, Charles Lee paid tribute to her when he awarded the degree by standing up and bowing to her. And, as they say, the rest is history.
A male fetologist knows a great deal more about the unborn child than, let us say, a freshman co-ed who has never taken a course in biology. Knowledge is the key factor and, to reiterate, sex is not a barrier to knowledge (though willfulness can be).
Ironically, sex is the universal property that allows men and women to know each other in a profoundly personal way. To argue that sex alienates the sexes is to argue against the kind of empathy that allows people of different sexes to know each other most intimately.
To be liberal, it seems, is to encourage togetherness, collaboration, unity of purpose, and not allow sex, race, religion, or opinion to stand in the way. If a man has nothing to say about abortion, perhaps men should not be allowed to pursue careers in obstetrics or gynecology. Going a step further, perhaps, as Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir have argued, marriage between men and women should be prohibited. Is one’s status as a father irrelevant to the welfare of his own unborn child? By logical extension, though without realizing it, the strident female students who denounced the role of the male in the abortion issue, were calling for a form of alienation between the sexes that would oppose all those beautiful and desirable qualities that are part of a liberal agenda.
But a woman cannot claim to be liberal if she insists on alienating men from women on so serious a notion as life itself. Someone once said that Herman Melville had no business writing Moby Dick (which some scholars regard as America’s greatest novel) since he was not a whale. Perhaps this turns a good argument into a facetious one. Nonetheless, it has become fashionable in liberal circles to “save the whales.”
Have people lost sight of what it means to be human? By virtue of our common humanity we have a built-in capacity to know each other precisely as co-humans and to share and enjoy the fruits of that fundamental capacity. One does not need to be pro-life or Christian to realize this. Publius Terence, the old Roman playwright remarked, “I am human, and I think nothing human is alien to me” (Homo sum, humani nihil a me alienum puto).
What does one say when people do not listen? How are consciences formed in an existential vacuum? James Joyce must have felt something of this frustration when he had his character, Stephen Daedalus, state the following: “I go to encounter for the millionth time the reality of experience and forge within the smithy of my soul the uncreated conscience of my race.” For Daedalus, as his name implied, we are “dead, all of us.” To talk about abortion is to remind people that we should wake up to the fact that we are all human.
One keeps on speaking or writing without evaluating one’s success. Doing one’s duty does not guarantee victory. The abortion issue is the most critical of all moral issues because it touches upon the basic notion of being human. Knowing and caring for each other is neither an option nor a position. It is why we are here and is bound up with the very meaning of life. A sad future awaits those women who reject the care and concern that men can provide. Reality will not be kind to those who shun reality.
Donald DeMarco is professor emeritus of St. Jerome’s University and adjunct professor at Holy Apostles College. He is a regular columnist forSt. Austin Review. His latest two books are How to Navigate through Lifeand Apostles of the Culture of Lifeand he is currently working on 12 Values of Paramount Importance.