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Letters & Op-Eds - 2000

national catholic reporter

Moral Agents

Frances Kissling

19 May 2000

I am sure that Demetria Martinez is well intentioned when she calls on the pro-life movement to advocate against "various forms of violence perpetrated against the unborn" ("Violence against women -- a cause for pro-life activists," April 21). The desire to find common ground among those along the spectrum of views from pro-choice to pro-life is strong. We are all tired of the stale rhetoric of some on both sides.

But in the attempt to find common ground, the reality of a group's position cannot be glossed over. The Seamless Garment Network makes little, if any, distinction between what it considers the "violence" of war, abortion and capital punishment. In spite of its protestations that women should not be punished for having abortions, the Seamless Garment message is that fetuses are people, and women are killers. Women are not even considered sufficiently moral agents that they would be held responsible for their actions.

I do not want to put women's well-being in the hands of people who think this way. I am afraid that the eyes and minds of Seamless Garment advocates are fixed on fetuses, often to the exclusion of women. I am afraid that if they were to follow Demetria's advice, they would only further objectify and hurt women. The reason to be against violence against women is not because it causes harm to fetuses. It is because it causes harm to women.

For far too long, women's value was almost totally measured by their capacity to mother. Agencies advocated for women's access to health care not because women deserved to be healthy, but because their kids deserved to be born healthy. The church taught us to respect women because they were mothers, not because they were human beings. Now, Demetria wants us to work against violence against women because that violence hurts the unborn. Should we be more concerned about the woman who was punched in the stomach because she was pregnant? Is it not enough that she was punched in the stomach?

No, I say, let us work against violence against women and for women's rights because women are human beings. One cannot uphold the rights of women as moral agents and subjects of their own lives without respecting and affirming their right to decide when, whether and how to bring children into the world --including the right to have an abortion, which some may consider immoral.

Let's not romanticize the Seamless Garment Network. It is not an idea whose time has come; it is an ideology that reinforces a negative view of women by comparing their decisions about abortion with the decisions presidents, generals, soldiers and jailers make to take the life of persons in war and capital punishment. No abused woman needs help from people who think that way.

Frances Kissling
Washington

This letter appeared in the 19 May 2000 edition of the National Catholic Reporter.