The harmony of being pro-life and pro-woman

Recently, Notre Dame’s largest student organization, Right To Life, held its annual Respect Life Week. Among the many events held during it, a highlight was the lecture “Pro-Life is Pro-Woman” delivered by Mary Rice Hanson.

The Kate O’Beirne Fellow at the Ethics & Public Policy Center, Hasson is also the director of the Catholic Women’s Forum, “a network of Catholic professional women and scholars seeking to amplify the voice of Catholic women in support of human dignity, authentic freedom, and Catholic social teaching.” It is perhaps particularly fitting, then, that Hasson came to speak on the harmony between being pro-woman and being pro-life.

Hasson recalled being a young teenager in 1973 when the Supreme Court issued the decision legalizing abortion under Roe v. Wade. What made an even larger impression on her, she said, was the first time a friend told her that she had had an abortion. Her friend’s claim that that “it was just another day, like any other,” had a profound and lasting impact upon her.

But an abortion, Hasson said, does not make for “a day like any other.” A woman faced with that decision continues to encounter the guilt and consequences that follow for days, months, or even years. Perhaps one of the most significant ways we can truly be both pro-life and pro-woman is by demonstrating compassion for those women who are hurting post-abortion. “We have to have that compassion and that concern for any woman who has struggled and faced that decision, and ends up being alone,” Hasson said. “However wrong it is, she needs to know that we are walking with her.”

The justifications of abortion are no longer centered on what abortion is, but on what it means to be a woman, she explained. Is pregnancy a simply unfair burden on a woman’s autonomy, bodily integrity, and equality? The pro-choice argument no longer claims that it is merely a “clump of cells.” Instead, they say that even if it is a person, a woman’s autonomy means that she should decide “whether that child lives or dies.”

But the reality of autonomy is not without restraints. “None of us are truly autonomous,” Hasson says. Instead, it “needs to be limited, because we don’t live alone.” People will often claim that abortion is pro-woman because a woman should control her own body, but pregnancy is unique. It is a body within a body. In pregnancy, a woman is in relationship with her child. Whether chosen or not, motherhood brings with it “a duty of care and protection.”

Abortion hurts women, Hasson explains. It is an unnatural end to pregnancy that causes physical consequences, but it can also impart emotional ones. Our culture has long avoided the recognition of this suffering, and because of that, women have had to bear the heavier burden. So being pro-woman and pro-life also means expecting better for women. It means “being there for women” in love, genuine investment, and relationship.

Radical feminism often viewed motherhood as restrictive and oppressive and, in this light, limiting fertility and ending pregnancy becomes freeing for a woman. It allows women to become true equals with their male counterparts. But identicality is not equality. A woman should not have to be made to be more like a man. Instead of making women feel as if they must become like men in order to participate fully in society, we must make room for women as women, Hasson maintained.

Being pro-life and being pro-woman is the recognition that being a woman is a great thing. “Our fertility is not a defect,” Hasson says, “it’s part of who we are”. This brings with it a difference of priorities and rhythms in life, but that is not something to be discouraged. We should not insist on a trajectory for women that is built for men.

At its core, being pro-woman means an insistence of the inherent dignity of a woman as she was created. It means being pro-life and recognizing that women deserve better than abortion. This calls for a celebration of a woman’s fertility, priorities, and abilities, not to the degree that they mirror that of men, but as they are. Encouraging women to become more like men is not feminism. It is not equality. Women should not have to be afraid to be women, Hasson concluded.

“If we are going to celebrate women and be pro-life”, Ms. Rice Hasson reminds us, “we have to make room for women to be women, and to celebrate women with all of our gifts.”

Maggie Garnett is a freshman studying Theology and Constitutional Studies. You can contact her at