The False Virtue of Abortion Rights

I realize this is a sensitive topic and that part of why it's so hard to talk about is because it's so common and often a secret source of pain. I love many women who have had abortions, men who have been affected by abortion. My aim in this is never to increase hurt. I also love many who I know disagree with me on this topic. My aim is not to spark unhelpful debates, but to encourage an honest look at the values that drive abortion rights. 

“Today we are taking a giant step forward in the hard-fought battle to ensure a woman’s right to make her own decisions about her own personal health, including the ability to access an abortion. With the signing of this bill, we are sending a clear message that whatever happens in Washington, women in New York will always have the fundamental right to control their own body,”

Andrew Cuomo, governor of New York.

Abortion has been a frequent topic in the news over the last year or so, with states such as New York taking drastic measures to protect abortion rights up to the moment of birth, at least if continuing the pregnancy threatens the vaguely-defined “health” of the mother. States such as Louisiana and Ohio have passed bills banning abortion once a heartbeat is detected, though putting the resulting laws in to effect will likely be a lengthy battle.

Laws such as the one passed earlier this year in New York are disturbing though not shocking. Perhaps most disturbing is the celebration that accompanied, the celebration of abortion as something good and virtuous, something kind and just and necessary to equality for women.

There is nothing just about abortion.

There is nothing just about killing innocent humans. No matter how small and unseen they are. 

I believe in equality for women. I believe men, women, and children of all ages are first and foremost humans, equal in inherent value and equally bearing the image of God. 

The rights of women matter because the rights of humans matter. The rights of the unborn matter because the rights of humans matter. 

I have rights as a human, a woman, and an American, rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Life is the most very basic of human rights. Without it the rest are meaningless. 

I believe in the equality of women. But I don’t believe in the superiority of women. 


Being a woman does not entitle me to decide who lives and dies. My pursuit of happiness never justifies taking the life of an innocent human, no matter age, stage of development, location, or status of dependency. 

My financial stability is not more valuable than another human’s life. My opportunity to pursue further education is not more valuable than another human’s life. My mental and emotional health, my convenience, my freedom to do my own thing, my status in my current community – not one of those things are more valuable than the life of another innocent human being. 

My rights as a woman do not negate another’s rights as a human.

There is nothing kind about abortion. 

Abortion is certainly not kindness toward human babies, the most obvious victims of abortion. 

If we killed unwanted dogs and cats the way we kill unwanted babies, it wouldn’t be celebrated. It would be called unkindness and cruelty. There would be all sorts of outcry. As there should be. 

Reasonable people don’t think it’s acceptable to violently dismember animals the way abortion providers violently dismember babies. 

Human babies have no voice, no ability to advocate for themselves. Human babies are the weakest and most vulnerable of human beings.

We human beings, men and women, have a responsibility to protect the weak. There’s nothing kind or good or virtuous about using your power to harm those who are weaker than you. 

We women, of all people, should remember that. 

Abortion is not kindness toward women.

It is absolutely true that for many the prospect of raising a child will threaten their stability in many ways.  Education may seem out of reach, poverty may seem inescapable, the possibility of providing a safe and healthy environment for a child may seem unattainable.

Many women seek abortion not as a means of convenience but as a means of survival. And without support from family and community, many mothers, along with their children, will barely survive, let alone thrive.

We who believe in the value of all humans should be willing to take on the inconvenience of caring for those mothers and babies who are vulnerable to abortion. This isn’t just about HER values. It’s about OUR values. This is on us too.

There’s nothing kind about making abortion the go-to solution for women who don’t really want abortions. What’s kind is providing the support that all mothers need but that many have no access to.

Too many women make decisions they hate and that hurt for the rest of their lives because no one was there to speak truth into their fears.

And the truth is that women are strong. The love between mother and child is strong. Love will always call out a woman’s greatest strength.

I’ve seen a video of a woman without arms breastfeed her baby, prepare her food, and wash her laundry. I’ve seen women struggle through mental illness and trauma and abuse and judgment from their families to give their babies life. I’ve sat with a fifteen-year-old mother in a situation far less than ideal while she nursed her newborn and shared her birth story and early parenting struggles. 

“It’s not about me anymore.” she said.

We wildly underestimate the strength and resilience of women when we present abortion as the only or the best option, when we can justify killing another human being because a woman’s circumstances are not ideal for motherhood. To place the focus on abortion as a solution to difficulties allows us to neglect to address the difficulties themselves. 

Women who give their children life when death would have been easier embody what we should all aspire too.

Sacrificial love is virtuous.

Persistence is virtuous.

Hard work is virtuous.

Bravery is virtuous.

These are things worth celebrating, worth praising.

Yet, somehow the idea of “women’s equality”, secured by “reproductive rights”, has become the idea with the highest value, the one most celebrated. The right to control the when and if of having children, the right to put oneself first, the right to not be inconvenienced by motherhood, has become more valuable than protecting the unseen, but already-existing life of a human child.

This space of women’s equality has become sacred ground that we dare not tread on, full of values and assumptions we dare not question.

But we must tread on it.

We must ask the hard questions. These things we’ve been told are necessary to the flourishing of women – are they really so necessary? Are rights more important than lives? Can we have a coherent set of values if the justice and equality we aim to secure for ourselves requires the death of the innocent?

Or is it just self we value? Is it just power we value? Do we appeal to the virtues of justice and equality only if they serve to further our ability to get what we want no matter the cost?

Who do we think we are? To demand that our pursuit of happiness be considered more valuable than the life of another human?

We are women.

We are humans with intrinsic value equal to but not greater than that of other humans. We are women, created  in the image of God to fulfill a good and valuable purpose in the world.

Our femaleness does not make us more valuable than other human beings. Violence done to us does not give us the right to do violence to others. That men can evade parental responsibility more easily than women can, does not make evading parental responsibility a good thing.

Let’s not pretend selfishness is virtuous.

Killing life instead of nurturing it contradicts our very nature; it spits in the face of the very image of God in our womanhood. Ultimately, it severs us from the purpose made clear by our biology, disconnects us from the very thing that makes us unique as women. Not every woman can or will physically bear children. But we lose something precious when we abhor our life-giving and life-nurturing purpose in the world and trade it for a power and equality that primarily serves our own selfishness and costs the lives of the weak and the vulnerable.

Abortion is not virtuous. If we want women’s equality to yield something good and beautiful and virtuous in the world, we cannot continue to sacrifice the blood of the innocent for its sake.

Femininity Defined

What does it mean to be feminine?

I’ve sought the answer from others many times. I’ve wished that people who are smarter or godlier or more well-read than I am would talk about it in a way I could trust. I still wish that. But I think it’s worthwhile to try to answer your own questions, to be curious enough to at least do a little bit of work to figure it out. So this is me trying to do that.

Femininity in the Church

Growing up in the church, femininity was often defined by lists of virtues or spiritual characteristics such as the fruits of the Spirit or by functions and roles within the home and family. Sometimes it was even defined by common psychological and social differences between men and women.

All of these approaches held some truth, but I think only clarified part of a much larger picture of what femininity is.

The fruits of the Spirit or even characteristics of godly female examples in the Bible are largely traits that BELIEVERS should cultivate, not necessarily traits that define humans as women.

Being a godly and virtuous human is foundational to being a excellent woman, but these virtues are not what sets us apart as women.

Certainly a woman’s role in her family is important, and we should understand what makes a woman a good wife and a good mother.

But wife and mother is are only two of the many roles a woman may fulfill. And defining femininity solely in terms of family life fails to acknowledge the many single women in our church, some who are longing for marriage and motherhood and some who are joyfully serving God in their singleness, with no expectation for marriage and family.

Being a daughter, sister, and friend are also vital and important roles in the physical family. Further, believing women all have a familial role in their spiritual family, the church.

Being single or childless does not make you less feminine.

Psychological or social differences between men and women may be common, but they are generalizations. And all generalizations have exceptions. They describe the reality of how most women function, not necessarily an ideal to which all women should aspire.

But they are often treated as an ideal. And doing so stunts women in their spiritual, emotional, and intellectual growth, both those who fit the more typical mold and those who don’t.

Femininity in the Secular World

In the secular world, femininity can be described any way an individual wants it to be. Feminism further complicates it. In the largely secular birth world that I often interact within, I’ve been exposed to the very best of feminism. In fact, it is the women in the birth world, both Christian and secular, who have most affirmed me as a woman.

But without a higher standard to conform to, secular definitions of femininity offer ideals that are too fluid to aspire to.

Often, the church’s definitions of femininity are too narrow to be applicable and affirming to all women, and the secular world’s definitions of femininity are too subjective to be meaningful.

I have struggled to find a definition flexible enough for all women to aspire to, but that affirms women as they are created to be and gives them something to aspire to outside of personal fulfillment.

A Meaningful Definition

So if femininity defined by lists of characteristics and roles within the family is too narrow, and femininity defined as whatever you want it to be is too fluid, where does that leave us?

Genesis 1:27 says,

“So God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.”

English Standard Version

Human beings came into the world, male and female, in the image of God. The biological sex of a human being is meaningful to their purpose in the world and in their accurate reflection of the image of God.

Our biology, our physical characteristics and the functions of our bodies, which are often treated with so much suspicion by the church and disregard by the world, are meaningful in our definition of femininity.

Men’s bodies are bigger and stronger than women’s. Men are naturally more aggressive. Using one’s physical strength to protect and provide safety for one’s family and community is at the heart of being a man.

Women’s bodies are undoubtedly designed to nurture life. Women carry, birth, and nurture babies, the offspring man and woman create together. Giving, sustaining, and nurturing life is at the heart of being a woman.

So I would like to offer this definition, in hopes that it can provide clarity without legalism and be applicable to all women in a way that calls them to a high ideal while still affirming them as the unique individuals they are.

Femininity is the cultivation of virtues, skills, and gifts to the end of being a life-giving, life-sustaining, and life-nurturing force in one’s circles of influence.

As I write this definition I am immediately sensitive to the fact that I have defined femininity in terms of female biology and that the reality is that many women feel disconnected to their bodies.

And perhaps many more feel betrayed by bodies that have failed to create, grow, sustain, or nurture life, women who have experienced infertility or miscarriage, even women who feel their bodies are inadequate to attract a good mate.

Desires for sex, marriage, and children are natural, God-given desires, so I want to honor those good desires, but I know that the church has often failed to create a meaningful vision of womanhood to single women and childless women, who whether due to choice or circumstance are growing in number.

So, single woman, childless woman, this is for you too.

Let’s flesh this definition out a bit.

Cultivation

Femininity is cultivation. Cultivation is work, hard work. It requires purposeful self-discipline to bring forth fruit. There’s nothing passive or lazy about cultivation.

Femininity is not just about doing what “comes natural” to you as a woman. Your individual, natural tendencies will need to be trained, strengthened, and sometimes killed to become an excellent woman.

Virtues

Virtues are good and valuable characteristics. I realize this can be a bit subjective, but virtues are characteristics that will help you achieve a high standard in the roles you are called to fulfill. Many will be valuable across multiple roles and applicable to both men and women. Virtues make you a good human, not just a good woman.

I am a wife. There are virtues that I need to cultivate in myself to be a good wife. Many of them don’t come naturally to me. I need to be understanding. I need to be slow to anger. I need to be generous and loyal and truthful and encouraging. And if I were married to someone else, there might be certain virtues that I needed to cultivate more than others.

I am a mother.  I need to be gentle. I need to be patient. I need to be self-controlled and disciplined and hard-working and self-sacrificing. Those are the virtues that my children need in me.

But those virtues are not only valuable only in the spheres of marriage and motherhood, nor are they only valuable in women. They will make you a better friend, a better employee, a better entrepeneur, a better boss. They’ll make you a better member of the body of Christ, a better voice in your community. And they are worth cultivating regardless of your familial status.

Skills

Skills are learned capabilities. Some will come easier than others. They are practical in all different spheres. They may be professional skills, homemaking skills, or relational skills, and I think there are minimal basic competencies all women should pursue in each of those areas.

They might be learning the duties of a job you are paid for. They might be learning to budget and meal plan and change diapers and breastfeed. They might be learning to manage conflict better or discerning when to push and issue or when to let it go. They might be learning how to listen to a friend in the depths of grief.

Gifts

Gifts are the characteristics you’re particularly strong in, the skills you’re are particularly good at, the things that perhaps come easiest to you.

These will often be things that are most often associated with femininity. They may be things like facilitating teamwork in your job place, exercising gentleness and patience with your children, creating a beautiful home, offering compassion to the abused church member.

But for some women, their gifts may fit into a more typically masculine category. These may excel in problem-solving, they may naturally be more objective, or they may be very physically and sexually driven.

And if that’s you, it might create a feeling of disconnect with other women, a feeling of defectiveness, a feeling of not being very feminine.

But we need your more typically masculine strengths in our feminine spheres to protect us from blind spots, to help us understand others better, to help us cultivate the good characteristics that don’t come easy to us.

You are not less feminine when you use your more typically masculine traits for your God-given purpose.

To the end of being…

This means for the purpose of. It’s pretty self-explanatory, but as we cultivate virtues that are valuable to all humans, skills that allow us to fulfill our roles well, and gifts that set us apart as unique individuals, we do so with a goal in mind. The goal of giving, sustaining, and nurturing the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual lives of those around us.

Life-Giving, Life-Sustaining, and Life-Nurturing

These actions of giving, sustaining, and nurturing life are deeply interconnected, and this is the part that most reflects our biology.

When God creates life in our bodies we do the often exhausting work of sustaining and nurturing that life. This nurturing of life of our physical children requires self-sacrifice in every imaginable way. We give up our old bodies, our old priorities, our old habits, for the good of the children God has given us.

But it’s not just about biology.

Even if we are not mothers, we will sacrifice much when we give our lives to whatever task God has called us to.

We nurture the people around us, including our husbands, our co-workers, and our brothers and sisters in Christ, by serving them, by encouraging them, by working with them side-by -side, by lovingly confronting them when necessary.

We nurture  bodies, feeding our children, bringing meals to the new mother, bathing the elderly at the skilled nursing facility we work in.

We nurture minds, sharing ideas, reading to our children, teaching the ABC’s to our kindergarten class.

And we nurture souls. Memorizing Scripture with our children, praying for our loved ones, offering the life-giving hope of the gospel to the spiritually dead we come into contact with every day.

Force

I use this word because it connotes strength. We are not weak and fragile flowers, passively floating through life.

Women are strong. And I don’t say that to equate us with men. Our strength is distinctly feminine. But I think both the world and the church has lost sight of that. There are all kinds of reasons, but I believe some of it can be traced back to the disconnect with our biology.

We eat what we want even when it makes us feel like crap.

We routinely numb the emotions we don’t feel ready to face, or perhaps that others aren’t ready to face.

We pump ourselves full of synthetic hormones and accept anxiety and fatigue and disinterest in sex as normal.

When we give birth we “rescue” our bodies from pain and choose not to feel what’s actually happening to us. We forget that women have had the strength to give birth for thousands of years and we are no different.

Fear of our own biology has let us forget how strong we really are, the gift we have to endure physical, emotional, and spiritual pain for the sake of love, to face death to bring forth life.  

And with the loss of distinctly feminine strength in our consciousness, we, both in the secular world and in the church, fall victim to two things.

First, we fall victim to judging our strength by masculine standards. We equate femininity with weakness, despise ourselves for it, and spend our lives frantically trying to prove our value in masculine spheres.

Second, we fall victim to thinking we are not strong enough to do the hard things that being a woman, that being feminine, actually requires. We default to what is easy instead of cultivating what is good.

Circles of Influence

This is wherever you are right now, your family, your church, your community, your workplace. Your circle of influence is wherever you are, whether you want to be there or not.

You might be a student working toward a degree. You might be a mother with a house full of young children. You might be a leader in a workplace, a widow in the church, a married woman, an unmarried woman, a woman content and single, a woman single and longing to be married.

Wherever you are, you are there for God’s purpose. And you can nurture the lives around you. You can show others what God is like as you bear His image and influence His creation with your life-nurturing, feminine strength.

Recommended Resources:

Doc&Devo: Masculinity with Paul Maxwell. His clarification of masculinity has been a tremendous help to me as I attempt to define femininity. If you know of a discussion of femininity of that caliber, send it my way!

Womanly Dominion” by Pastor Mark Chanski

Love Thy Bodyby Nancy Pearcey