The Real War on Women
If this year’s debate about mandated contraception coverage rocked the boat on women’s reproductive issues, last week’s debate on the legality of gender-selective abortions officially tipped it over. The debut of two incriminating Planned Parenthood interviews, staged by the pro-life activist organization Live Action, jolted a nation’s moral sensibilities to question whether a woman can have an abortion just because she prefers a baby of the opposite gender. The videos (here and here) revealed a Planned Parenthood staff member discussing a contingency plan with a patient to terminate her pregnancy after the baby’s gender had been confirmed. An interview transcript revealed some of the organization’s other persuasion techniques, including sidestepping post-abortive side effects, claiming the fetus doesn’t actually have a heartbeat until 17 weeks (up until then, the sound is called a heart “tone”) and a physician stating, “This is very safe…Much safer than having a baby. You know, women die having babies.”
Following the release of Live Action’s recordings, the U.S. House of Representative voted whether to make sex-selective abortions illegal. The Prenatal Nondiscrimination Act (PRENDA) proposed fines and jail time for, “anyone who performs or attempts to perform an abortion knowing that the abortion is sought based on the sex, gender, color or race of the child, or the race of a parent.” The legislation failed with a 246-168 vote against the ban.
But interestingly, the Planned Parenthood sting and PRENDA Bill shut down appear to be as polarizing as they are provocative. After the kicked-up dust of covert interviews and congressional debates has settled, the ideological lines in the sand haven’t moved. Both pro-life and pro-choice groups agree that gender-selective abortions are a morally repugnant indication of a cultural problem. They just can’t seem to agree on what that problem is.
Pro-life Americans became incensed at the women’s health organization. The gender-selective counsel became evidence of an abortion-pushing organization that will stop at nothing short of a practice resembling communist China in order to carry out a social goal that didn’t depend on a woman carrying to term. One Congresswoman called gender-selective abortion, “The ultimate war on women.”
Those holding to a woman’s right to choose agree that gender-selective abortions are appalling, particularly since they almost invariably favor the male population. Yet, the sex-selective abortion itself is not considered the source of social sin. Instead, the real problem is a society enslaved to its own gender discrimination. “(Sex-selective abortion) happens because boys and men have, on the whole, better lives – more rights, more opportunities, more freedom – than girls and women. Men are not subject to the very restrictions on reproductive freedom that Lila Rose and Live Action are demanding. And that is why some parents want to have boys rather than girls.” The Physicians for Reproductive Choice and Health agree. Doctors say it’s wrong because it promotes gender bias, claiming the PRENDA bill, “would do nothing to address the underlying issue of gender inequality, showing that the sponsors’ true purpose is to pass yet another piece of legislation attacking safe and legal abortion in the United States.” Thus, the key to ending gender-selective abortions, which would almost certainly be to the advantage of women and girls, isn’t to end abortions, but instead to end the gender stereotyping and discrimination that produces the preference for giving birth to a boy rather than a girl.
And, truth be told, they have a point. Our culture isn’t naturally inclined to value women.
Feminism tried to fix that. And, at least in appearance, it achieved its goals. No educational opportunity is denied us. No occupation is out of reach. No lifestyle preference is off-limits. Women no longer need men to support and provide for them. In fact, beyond the role of a sperm donor, they no longer even need men in order to reproduce. In the effort to be free from the control of men, women are now free to talk like men, act like men, look like men and be sexually aggressive like men. Women are now so free that they can choose whether they want to give birth to the next generation of women. Which begs the question, despite this complete social turnaround, why does gender discrimination still exist? In such a culturally progressive, woman-empowered world, why would gender-selective abortions still be a threat to women?
We value women’s rights, but we do not value the right to be a woman.
The book of Judges is a sobering picture of some of the same cultural trends we see today. Throughout the book, women progressively appear in more dominant, even militant roles. Deborah had to stir a military leader to get up and take action (ch. 4-5), Jael becomes an unlikely warrior when she assassinated Israel’s enemy (ch. 4). Chapter nine records a woman who killed a military commander when she dropped a stone on his head. And finally the unnamed concubine of Judges 19 is the sickening story of an unprotected women, whose weak-willed husband (a Levite no less) abandoned her to be repeatedly raped, tortured, and left to die. It’s one of the most blood-boiling accounts in scripture and it stuns us into realizing just how depraved a once God-fearing nation can become.
But these women’s stories also tell us something about our own culture: A measure of a society’s spiritual temperature is how it treats its women. In Whispering the Word: Hearing Women’s Stories in the Old Testament, Jacqueline E. Lapsley said it this way: “The state and treatment of women in Judges indexes the health of Israel’s social and religious life in the same book.” When sacrificial male leadership is absent, women are mistreated. When the roles are reversed from what God designed them to be, women are left unprotected (Gen. 2, Eph. 5).
The real war on women happens when it isn’t safe, respectable, or even valuable to be a woman.
But could it be that the same indications of spiritual and social upheaval in the book of Judges are the very things we exalt? With the new cultural norms of aggressive women and passive men, are we fueling and even celebrating the very trends that indicate our mistreatment? Could it be that as we champion the results of the feminist movement, which appear to have liberated women, we are actually embracing the unbiblical patterns that lead to our being valued even less?
The secular rhetoric of cultural feminists and pro-choice organization is accurate: gender discrimination does still exist. But they’ve misdiagnosed the problem – it’s not about reversing the roles, but about recovering the God-ordained ones. And their solution to do away with the distinction between male and female will only take us further off course. We’ve tried fighting for more women’s rights, many of which have been good and worthy causes. But the root of the problem is one that social change can never reach, much less transform.
Gender-selective abortions are yet another indication that the very social changes women fought to achieve are now consuming them. But the true war on women isn’t a matter of health care, reproductive choice or even equality. The Real War on Women is the attempt to culturally capsize our created gender distinctions and to abort God’s gospel-proclaiming purpose for womanhood.
Katie McCoy is pursuing a Doctorate in Systematic Theology at Southwestern Seminary. When she’s not studying for her classes (a rare occasion!), she loves hanging out with friends, eating sushi, learning new words and is currently a political news junkie. Connect with Katie on Facebook or Follow her Twitter!