From a Christian perspective on pregnancy
Today Roman Catholics and others observe the solemn memorial of the Nativity or Birth of John the Baptist. Of what significance might the birth of a baby boy two millennia ago be for humanity today?
True, his pregnancy was a pleasant surprise, even considered miraculous, because his mother Elizabeth was "getting on in years"... in other words, she was old, even elderly, well beyond child-bearing years. God had to send the Archangel Gabriel with a message for Elizabeth's husband, the priest Zechariah, while he made the offering of incense in the Temple in Jerusalem. The message is that God was granting him and his wife a favorable answer to their lifelong prayers for a child.
Because they were both beyond child-bearing years, Zechariah reacted with scepticism to the angel's message; as a result Gabriel struck him dumb until the day God's promise would be fulfilled.
When Mary, the bride of Joseph of Nazareth (they had not yet come to live together to seal their union), visited her cousin Elizabeth, who was now 6 (lunar) months pregnant, the child in Elizabeth's womb "leaped for joy" and Elizabeth was "filled with the Holy Spirit" and she proclaimed Mary blessed, for she too was now pregnant with a child by God's direct intervention.
Fine, but those women wanted to get pregnant and have a baby
True. Elizabeth had long wanted a child but was found to be barren; while Mary (Myriam) was too young to have even thought much about having a child. Tradition is though that she very much wanted God to grant Israel the long-awaited and promised Messiah who would save his people.
Granted that "ordinary" women today may not necessarily have any interest in having a baby at any time soon or even ever. That is the situation in the developed West but not necessarily elsewhere or at any other time in history. Why is that?
Let's recap historically relations between women and men / between men and women
Throughout history, women have considered childbirth as coming to the fulness of their womanhood and that children were the "glory of woman" and having more children was simply adding to their wealth. It was a woman's joy, serenity, and satisfaction to have a man who respected her and prized her for all that she brought to their joint family.
To the extent that her man did not rise to the occasion, then to that extent did the woman suffer and was deprived of that satisfaction and blessing. If her man was not a good father, then the burden of parenting fell heavily on her shoulders alone, and the children were deprived of proper fathering.
Male adult human beings who rose to the occasion and became truly men manifested respect for all women and particular devotion and loving service to their own wife, whom they cherished for her own self and all the more for the children she bore to him to grow their family.
Such a man taught his children, both girls and boys, to respect their mother as he did his wife, and to show her nothing but love, obedience, and grateful attachment.
Saint Pope John Paul II on women (and by extension on men)
In 1995, in anticipation of the Fourth World Conference on Women to be held that September in Beijing, Pope John Paul II wrote his "Letter of Pope John Paul II to Women" addressed to all women in the world and to every woman. He acknowledged with regret all that has been done historically to deprive women of recognition of their own proper dignity and to exploit them in various ways and so to make their lives miserable and to hinder them from fully developing themselves and making their full contribution to human society. In particular, he wrote:
"9. Progress usually tends to be measured according to the criteria of science and technology. Nor from this point of view has the contribution of women been negligible. Even so, this is not the only measure of progress, nor in fact is it the principal one. Much more important is the social and ethical dimension, which deals with human relations and spiritual values. In this area, which often develops in an inconspicuous way beginning with the daily relationships between people, especially within the family, society certainly owes much to the "genius of women".
Here I would like to express particular appreciation to those women who are involved in the various areas of education extending well beyond the family: nurseries, schools, universities, social service agencies, parishes, associations and movements. Wherever the work of education is called for, we can note that women are ever ready and willing to give themselves generously to others, especially in serving the weakest and most defenceless. In this work they exhibit a kind of affective, cultural and spiritual motherhood which has inestimable value for the development of individuals and the future of society."Earlier in his text he recalled how it is related in the Book of Genesis that God created woman after he had created man; so that she could be a helper to him, and he to her. There is a profound truth told here that we human beings are created in God's image and likeness, and that we exist and live in God's image and likeness precisely in our complementarity as male and female, female and male.
It might be a startling deduction to say that whenever we act exclusively as male or exclusively as female - without the active complementarity of the other - then we can be expected to be and to act "less humanly" or "with less humanity". Men need to "make room" for women in order to develop, become, and act "more humanly"; just as women need to "make room" for men in order to develop, become, and act "more humanly".
A perspective on humanity - man and woman - uniquely shared by Jews and Christians
Even from an aesthetic, literary, and anthropological point of view, it is significant to note that the creation account relates how it was that during the 6 days of creation, God at each stage looked upon all that He had made "and God saw that it was good". It was only after the Creator had "created humankind in his image", creating them "male and female", and after having commissioned them to have dominion over all of creation - that is to assure order and proper development among all living and inanimate creation - and after having shown them all that they had to eat; that
"God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good."It can be said that woman - especially in light of chapter two of Genesis - was God's final creation, and from a certain point of view, his masterpiece. Pope John Paul II appreciates woman from this very point of view in coining the phrase "genius of women" to portray women's unique and irreplacable capacity and determination to give life and nurture life, especially with those who are the most vulnerable and needy.
There is an expectation, then, which is not specifically spelled out but which follows of necessity and logically, which is an expectation that men would rise to the occasion and acknowledge, first of all, this "genius of women" and, secondly, in deep gratitude show women the utmost respect and support with all affection of heart, respect of intellect, and generosity of soul. After all, only a fool would neglect or discard his most valuable treasure, only a brute would treat his treasure with contempt, and only a pirate would treat his treasure as a commodity to be sold, bought, or traded.
Sadly, men have all too often behaved towards women precisely as fools, brutes, and pirates; hence all the sad human history of the abuse and mistreatment of women and the inevitable consequences of impoverishment of the whole society. To the extent that male and female infants are abused with such harsh treatment; to that extent they are deprived of their full right and possibilities to become fully man, fully woman, and fully human.
How does this "truth" about humanity revealed by God shed light on our current situation?
It is logical and honest to derive from human history the conclusion that, left to her own devices, a woman would want to experience the fullness of her femininity, of her womanhood, and bear one or more children to a loving man, her husband, and in this way to make her unique contribution to build their family and help to develop society.
I would submit, then, that whenever a girl or a woman is inclined to reject this dimension of her being; it is very likely that this is primarily because she has been deprived of sufficient or even of any fully developed men in her family of origin. She has not known any man strong enough, developed enough, loving enough to assure her that as his daughter she is fully wanted, loved, appreciated, safe, and free to breathe, move, live, develop, rejoice, and have her being as woman. She has probably not known any brother with similar dispositions towards her. She may even have been abused in any number of ways, overtly or in hidden but equally damaging ways.
Why would such a woman, cut off from anything beneficial in her society, want to have children, only to have them share in the miserable conditions which she has known and in the despair of ever finding anything better?
Human society's criminal neglect of respect for the proper dignity of women
On the basis of this study, then, I would like to submit that the current trend of abortions worldwide is a true plague, a worldwide pandemic, far more serious than Covid-19. The various agencies that keep track of abortions publish a conservative estimate that there are some 40-50 million induced abortions (separate from miscarriages) worldwide each year, which translates to 125,000 to 137,000 daily.
Why would so many woman, who by their very nature would want to bear their children into the world and see them live and prosper; why would they submit themselves to the extremely violent procedure of having their baby poisoned by chemicals, or sucked out and shredded live by vacuum, or killed by means of any other equally violent procedure?
The facts speak for themselves. Rarely does the man who impregnated that woman accompany her to the abortion clinic. He may not even accept to take responsibility for his part in the conception of the infant. Even if he does take his responsibility and does accompany her, he still does not understand or refuses to acknowledge the violence of the abortion procedure, and failing to do so, he also fails in his role and responsibility to protect his woman from experiencing any harm to herself or her baby.
A further fact, which is undeniable due to the sheer volume of documentation and social tracking, is the growing absence of men in families and households: men are increasingly conspicuous by their absence as husbands and by their absence as fathers. The result is that the girls they have conceived are much more likely to experience lifelong abuse and misery, and the boys they have conceived are far more likely to die young by a violent death or sink into a miserable life of crime and violence. It is a vicious circle that begins and ends with men's failure to respect their women, from their mothers and sisters to those with whom they engage in irresponsible sexual relations.
This situation is "the human condition" and not just the crime of one generation
In God's self-revelation to the people of Israel, the Creator manifested his sympathy with all human suffering, and in particular, with this failure to connect in love and respect between the generations.
23 "Lo, I will send you the prophet Elijah before the great and terrible day of the Lord comes. 24 He will turn the hearts of parents to their children and the hearts of children to their parents, so that I will not come and strike the land with a curse." Malachi 3It is clear, then, from this prophetic word given by the prophet Malachi in the 5th century B.C. that God renders the diagnosis that human society will remain "cursed" until and only until the hearts of parents turn to their children and the heart of children turn to their parents. The only effective remedy and prescription for this "dis-ease" can only come from God when He sends Elijah again to his people. Jesus acknowledged that John the Baptist was indeed Elijah come again to turn human hearts back to God and, consequently, back to each other.
So where to we go from here?
Since we are given to understand that, left to herself with true men in her life, any woman would want to bear to term and to life any child she would conceive, rather than destroy it; it remains, then, for us men to rise to the occasion and become those men God intended us to be and for our society to manifest in all that we say and do the utmost respect for women, all women, regardless of their state or condition in this life.
Every woman is God's masterpiece, the one most likely to make visible the Creator's generous giving and sustaining of life; for this reason alone she deserves every support to fully realize the fullness of her womanhood, whether or not she elects to have children of her own. It is only with the full support of the men in her life that, even in the face of an unwanted pregnancy, any woman would follow her own feminine nature and bring that life to term in order to allow it to live and have its opportunity to develop and have a life. It is then the responsibility of society to assure that any unwanted child find a home where it will be wanted, cared for, and loved for its own sake and not for exploitation.
There are many, many woman now on record who, having once been staunch defenders of women's rights to abort unwanted pregnancies, now have come to reverse their views with the conviction that the abortions they had were truly violent procedures that had lasting negative impacts on them, not to mention the deadly impact on the infant of ending its life. It is through faith in God that many of these women have experienced forgiveness and peace and were then able to forgive themselves and all those who failed to support them. Only with forgiveness were they able to experience deep healing in their own person and in their womanhood.
It is our place to acknowledge these women and be grateful for their courageous testimony in the face of aggressive opposition from those still committed to the defence of what they call women's right to choice. They don't realize the incongruity of their stance in denying the equal value and right to the choice to refuse abortion and instead choose to nurture life to birth and beyond.
As men fail to fully develop their manhood, they simultaneously hinder womanhood to develop
It is ironic but understandable that there is such opposition in our human society and culture and such aggressive resistance and even violent action against the Judeo-Christian Scriptures and convictions about the "culture of life". The "Ten Commandments" and all ethical thought related to them are said to put unfair limits on human beings' rights to choose and enjoy life. The evidence is in by now that the rejection of this "religious anthropology" results in the most dire consequences and misery. There is no such thing as "free sex" or "free enjoyment" of anything, because to every action there are all the inescapable consequences.
Human ingenuity and industry created "the pill" in 1961 to help regulate irregular cycles experienced by some women, but then it was found that it also acted as an abortifacient. It interrupted conception or the process of conception. Humanity embraced it with reckless abandon.
In 1968 Saint Pope Paul VI published for his encyclical "Humane Vitae" to everyone in the Church and to all people of good will, which was an eloquent reflection on the beauty of human love and family, he warned that to try to exert control over the human process of conception with artificial means of birth control would have dire consequences. He was ridiculed, as most true prophets usually are. Sadly, subsequent events demonstrated only too truly how right he had been.
When people claimed to have mastery over their fertility and "their own body", they simultaneously rejected God's authority and mastery over their mortal lives. The results have been catastrophic and uncontrolled separations and divorces, all time low respect for women by men, the reduction almost exclusively of woman to sexual objects, astronomical numbers of abortions, abandoned children, absent husbands and absent fathers, unfathered generations of children, increased crime rates among those unfathered children, increased rates of homelessness among children and youth as well as of prostitution and other crimes, increased rates of human trafficking and of the slave trade, especially for the purpose of sexual exploitation, increased rates of self-mutilation and suicide, increased desire for euthanasia or medical assistance in dying... and the list of woes goes on and on.
What if a woman really does want to be free to enjoy sex without consequences?
Human nature being what it is, I don't deny that a woman might indeed want to taste what appears to be the freedom from consequences with which some or even many men seem to enjoy their sexual pleasure. However, in such a case, I don't think it would be defensible to claim that such a stance may be an advancement, progress, or elevation for the woman; rather, it would be a step back, a descent into depravity, the kind that tragically far too many men for far too long have perpetrated, dragging down with them their unfortunate spouses and families.
The only men who can in any way enjoy sex without consequences would be those who ignore or silence their consciences, or who have so often trampled on them as to render them inert and unable to rouse them to better motives and higher goals. The killer may feel badly after the first murder, but with each successive one he will feel less and less badly about it and may end up justifying himself with the thought that their victims "deserved what they got". So too the thief may feel justified to take from the rich in order to alleviate his own poverty or that of others.
The impulse to "enjoy sex without consequences or responsibility" can only cause a person to change and become depraved, one who is more and more inclined to objectify others and use them as objects for their own pleasure, separating those others in their mind from any reality of being persons in their own right with a unique life, personal feelings, permanent value, and a proper destiny of their own.
Whichever of us, woman or man, still has a sense of what is right and what is wrong before God, then that one has a responsibility to care for oneself but also care for the other by resisting the other's plea to do what is wrong - however attractive that thing may appear to be or may be represented to be, or however frightening the right thing may appear to be. If one doesn't stand for what is right, then one becomes responsible not only for one's own downfall, but also for the downfall of the other. Like it or not, we're literally all in this together, and we either navigate or sink together.
South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem is defending women from pressure to abort
Elected in 2019 as the first woman Governor of South Dakota, Kristi Noem has signed several pieces of legislation to come to the defence of pregnant mothers and of unborn children, not least of which is a piece to criminalize pressure put on pregnant women / mothers to abort their child. Her personal and political priority is to defend and promote the family as the most important unit of society. This is a kind of socially responsible leadership that our world needs but has sadly been lacking far too long.
Governor Noem deplores the lack of serious commitment in her country overall to value the family, and worse, the apathy that allows any and all other considerations and motives to undermine and erode the family, in particular by failing to support the parents as well as the children. Governor Noem is certainly taking the lead among U.S. politicians and is truly setting an example for all of us, not just politicians, to emulate and to follow.
In light of the tragic reality of the unequal and unjust burden of responsibility left to be carried alone by women - especially when there is an unexpected pregnancy - it's high time for all of us to stop the accusatory and aggressively divisive rhetoric and for each of us take our responsibilities seriously, roll up our sleeves, and support and accompany pregnant women rather than dump the entire burden of responsibility for them to carry alone. It's time for men to "man up" and for women to "circle the wagons" and for men and women together to "bite the bullet". We'll all be better for it.
God's offer of forgiveness and life is still valid and on the table. It is up to each of us to accept.
From a strictly human point of view - in light of the inherent weaknesses in us due to the human condition - there at first appear to be no solutions in sight for any of these social ills, which are rapidly disintegrating the fabric of our society. The only truly effective solution ever devised is the one offered by God and clearly revealed for all of humanity to discover, consider, and welcome.
He sent his divine Son into this world with the indispensable help of a woman - his mother Myriam - to take on a human existence by which He came to be known as Jesus of Nazareth, son of Myriam of Nazareth and of Joseph the carpenter of Nazareth. By the manner of his life, ministry, signs and miracles, then by his passion, death, and resurrection, Jesus revealed and demonstrated the quality of God's stable and unrelenting love as that of the Father's unconditional love for us.
It is a love that desires to enter into a mutually loving relationship and therefore asks for a true return of love, and we can only return God's love in a true, honest, and transparent way. This requires that we admit the ways in which we have failed women, failed men, failed our children, failed our society, failed each other, and failed ourselves. We need to repent and seek forgiveness, but it is a wondrous forgiveness that has already been given to the last drop of Jesus' human blood.
God the Father's forgiveness and his offer of a relationship of love through his Son Jesus Christ, is a wondrous transformation that can only happen within us by the intervention and power of the Holy Spirit, and it is a gift ever awaiting our wanting it, our consent, our confession. Authentic love that seeks the good of the other is like true friendship - it cannot be forced or demanded - and like true friendship, it can only be freely given as a gift without strings attached. So it truly is up to each of us.