The American Feminist
Real ChoicesAn Interview with author Frederica Mathewes-Green
by FFLA President Rosemary Bottcher
We abhor and condemn any coerced abortion, whether the coercion is physical, economic, psychological, or in any other form.
Vice President Al Gore, "Meet the Press," 1994
Many books have been written about abortion. Anyone wanting to learn about any aspect of the issue has plenty of material to consider: ho-hum historical accounts, matter-of-fact technical guides, stupefying statistical analyses as well as defenses and condemnations of intense passion. Very little has been written about what may well be the key to resolving the apparently tremendous difference of opinion on abortion, namely, why is abortion so important to women? Why do women have abortions? And, most important, what changes in their situation could encourage women to choose life for their children?
Frederica Mathewes-Green, longtime Feminists for Life member and former SisterLife editor, is the author of an important new book that asks post-abortion women those questions, and the answers contribute a great deal of insight into what it will take to reduce the incidence of abortion. The title of the book is Real Choices.
Real Choices is a delightful read, constructed with sparkling prose and striking metaphors that reflect so well Frederica's gentle brilliance.
How did Real Choices come to be written?
This book summarizes a project of the same name that was undertaken by the National Women's Coalition for Life, an association of 14 organizations of pro-life women (including Feminists for Life) with a combined membership of 1.3 million. It is, in fact, the largest women's group in the nation. Jeannie French, founder of NWCL, proposed that we ask women who had had abortions, "Why did you decide to abort? What might have changed your mind?" So we sent extensive questionnaires to nearly 2,000 pregnancy-care centers, asking those who actually dealt with women facing crisis pregnancies about the problems their clients found so daunting. The response rate was over 10%. I also went to seven cities around the country to hear the stories of women who had had abortions.
Did you get any input from pro-abortion people?
I asked several abortion providers if they had clients who might like to participate in the study, and I wrote to seven major pro-choice organizations requesting their input. I'm sorry to say that my invitations were ignored, probably because of a wariness, a lack of trust on their part.
What did you learn from your surveys and "listening sessions?"
In the beginning, I assumed that women felt driven to abort because of material needs - housing, medical care, job security, child care, that sort of thing. I was surprised that these problems were relatively minor factors in the decision-making process. Far more significant were problems with relationships - particularly with the father of the child and with the woman's parents. I discovered that in almost every case, a woman chooses abortion to accomodate the wishes of others who do not welcome her child.
I recall that the women interviewed in Carol Gilligan's pro-abortion book Different Voices reported very similar reasons for aborting.
Yes. Isn't it ironic that pro-choice rhetoric emphasizes a woman's power, independence and autonomy in choicemaking, while the women actually making the choices talk most often about loneliness, betrayal and abandonment by those they love?
Well, I think that problems of relationships would be more difficult to solve. What do you suggest?
The single most important factor in how a woman feels about an unplanned pregnancy is the attitude of the baby's father. If he says, "I love you; I love our baby; I'll do anything to make this work," she is far less likely to choose abortion than if he declares, "I do not want this baby! You must have an abortion!"
How can the former response be encouraged?
We can affirm and value the male instinct to protect his family. We can respect the man who exhibits character, strength and fidelity by accepting responsibility for the well-being of his mate and his children.
Uh-oh. Some feminists aren't going to like hearing talk about male and female instincts, or the need of women to be protected by men.
Feminist theory sometimes fails to describe reality. Biology has its own logic. Women have a primal bond with their children; were it not so, the human race could not survive. The fact is, human children are born very immature, and they require a great deal of care for a very long time before they are able to survive on their own. Most women want to provide this care, but they need the assistance of their mates, because it is an arduous task.
So you think we need to be nicer to the guys?
Yes. Male-bashing was a lot of fun, but it's gotten out of hand. Our expectations of men with respect to relationships and responsibilities has plummeted to zero. Men have begun to believe it themselves. They feel powerless, useless and unwelcome. They are denied the pride and self-worth of being a good husband and father, of being noble!
Are you suggesting that women marry the fathers of their children?
Yes! Children almost always fare better in a two-parent home. If we offer men a parental role that is urgently needed and respected, they may be moved to accept it.
Well, what if the father of the child really is unwilling or incapable of fulfilling his responsibilities?
The next best thing is adoption. One of the most helpful things society could do to help alleviate the problems of crisis pregnancies is to promote and facilitate adoption, and to recognize and praise it for being an act of courage and responsibility.
I was surprised that your research listed adoption as the most difficult problem facing women with unplanned pregnancies. It seems like the perfect solution in many cases. Why is it so difficult?
It's the uncertainty, I think. Women report that they couldn't bear to give up their child and then forever wonder what happened to her. Abortion seems more final; at least they know where the baby is. Giving up a child for adoption can indeed be a wrenching experience, accompanied by grief and loss, but unlike abortion, it can have an aura of sacrifice, grace and nobility as well. Currently, only about 1% of crisis pregnancies are resolved through adoption. I think that this number could be greatly increased if adoption were presented as a way a woman can love her baby as well as take care of herself and follow her life plan. Sometimes all you have to do is ask.
Nevertheless, some mothers will still be left at some point without the support of a faithful mate, because of the ever-present problems of abandonment and abuse.
The third-best thing is an "artificial husband." This could be a stalwart friend or family member, or empathetic stranger. The point is, mothers need support. We are social animals, and our survival depends upon cooperation. Pro-lifers who want to stem the tide of 1.5 million abortions a year can do so one at a time, by volunteering to befriend women facing pregnancy and child-rearing alone.
Are you optimistic about the future of women and children (and men)?
Yes, I am. Our social structure has developed some very serious problems, but I see signs that we want to return to a state of health. Many people have realized that human beings thrive best when they are part of a family. We are certainly in for a difficult time as we sort things out. But in general I am optimistic, if for no other reason than it makes it easier to get up in the morning!Reprinted from The American Feminist, Winter 1994/1995