Like its view of the fetus, the "right-to-life" view of motherhood is a remarkably Victorian mixture of religious and biological-determinist elements. On the one hand, there is the Augustinian image of woman as ordained by God to procreate; the passive receptacle of the male seed, "selfish" and "sinful" if she evades that destiny and directs her sexuality to nonprocreative ends. Abortion, from this view, is a sin against God in defiance of woman’s nature, for which she is morally culpable. Hence the message communicated in "right-to-life" literature, demonstrations, and harassment of women at abortion clinics. Women who get abortions are "murdering their own children," putting their "selfish desires" before their "own children’s lives," and will suffer terrible guilt. But what if the woman does not feel agony or guilt but, like many women after an abortion, feels mainly relief that a difficult problem has been put behind her? One antihumanist, "prolife" writer insists that the woman’s feelings have nothing to do with whether or not she is guilty, which is determined by her objective relation to the "moral law" and not by "subjective experience." She "ought to feel guilty" because she has in fact committed "an evil of incomprehensible dimensions."42 The fundamentalist doctrine that "man’s nature is wholly corrupt" is opposed here to "the humanist tenet that man is basically good." The very idea of human progress and social or moral development or "enrichment" in history is anathema to this doctrine, which asserts "the wickedness of man" (and, assuredly, of woman) as the source of every human (i. e., social) problem. Hence, "why have mothers, in the name of the liberation of womanhood, demanded the death of their own children?" For the antihumanist "prolifer," the answer is quite simple: "human wickedness."43
The "right-to-life" doctrine of the fetus’ "personhood" and the aborting woman’s "selfishness" is akin to the antihumanist philosophy of the New Right. Antihumanism, as professed by the "right-to-life" and "pro – family" movements, pits itself squarely against every intellectual and philosophical tradition that grew out of the Enlightenment and secularism. Marxism and feminism are of course denounced by the right, but so are all philosophies, including radical Christian movements such as liberation theology, whose central focus is social change on this earth or even human, as opposed to divine or scriptural, ends. When Weyrich describes the Moral Majority as "a Christian democratic movement rooted in the authentic Gospel, not the social gospel," he is attacking and distinguishing his politics from those Christian movements in the United States and Latin America that ally with the poor to change oppressive social conditions.44 All social movements, including labor movements, peasant uprisings, anticolonial struggles, civil rights, and antinuclear protests, would thus be categorized by the New Right under "materialistic, atheistic humanism," charged with the sin of making human life and human pleasure on earth the measure of all value. But a particular condemnation is reserved for feminism and the movement for sexual liberation. The New Right associates this branch of humanism most closely with hedonism, equated with ”doing whatever feels good," with "moral perversity and total corruption."
By the end of the 1970s, some "right-to-lifers" began to promote the view that women who get abortions are themselves victims—of profiteering doctors or coercion by Planned Parenthood—and should be offered protection and Christian compassion.45 In this view, abortion is depicted as contrary to women’s true desires and interests as mothers, invariably a source of anguish and "ambivalence." Yet this profession of "compassion" and support for pregnant women is simply a more paternalistic version of the idea of an innate maternalism, which abortion violates. In a major "right-to-life" propaganda piece, Francis A. Schaeffer, a fundamentalist minister, and C. Everett Koop, U. S. surgeon general and head of the National Institutes of Health under Reagan, refer to women who have had abortions as "aborted mothers" and "bereft mothers" filled with bitterness and "sorrow":
With many of the women who have had abortions, their "motherliness" is very much present even though the child is gone. . . . One of the facts of being a human being is that in spite of the abnormality of human beings and the cruelty of their actions, there still exist the hopes and fears, the longings and aspirations, that can be bundled together in the word motherliness. To stamp out these feelings is to insure that many women will turn into the kind of hard people they may not want to be.46
Like the fundamentalist fire-and-brimstone view, the implication of the "Christian compassionate" view of abortion is the basic precept of all patriarchal ideology: Motherhood—and indeed "motherliness," a state of being and not just a social role or relationship—is the primary purpose of a woman’s life. Abortion is thus "abnormal," "unnatural"; a woman who undergoes an abortion is subverting her own nature and will surely suffer or become "hardened" (read, unmotherly, unwomanly). Whether the "prolife Christian" confronts her "suffering" with pity or hatred, the point is that suffer she must, for procreation and childrearing are woman’s "privileged position and purpose in human history" and to renounce them—whether once or for good—is to place herself outside female nature and "human history."
More ancient than the idea of the fetus as person, the primacy and necessity of woman as Mother has been a continuous ideological thread in antiabortion pronouncements since the nineteenth century. Callahan quotes the Catholic theologian Bernard Haring, writing in 1966 in terms that lay bare the deeper passions underlying "right-to-life" sentiments:
If it were to become an accepted principle of moral teaching on motherhood to permit a mother whose life was endangered simply to "sacrifice" the life of her child in order to save her own, motherhood would no longer mean absolute dedication to each and every child.47
Because the pregnant woman is Mother, she must be ready to die for the fetus. More than the survival of the individual fetus, what is ultimately at stake in the abortion struggle, in this view, is the "moral teaching" of motherhood as "absolute dedication." It is the idea of woman as Mother, and of the fetus as the tie that binds her to marital chastity and selflessness, that takes precedence over anything else. The woman who has an abortion makes a clear statement about her life and her understanding of her moral and social commitments relative to a potential maternal relationship; she renounces, defies the concept of motherhood as total self-sacrifice for the sake of others. On some level, perhaps, she even asserts her capacity to exercise control over life and death—and this makes her particularly, ineffably dangerous.48 Thus does antiabortion ideology reveal its association, not only with antifeminism, but with the most primitive traditions of misogyny.
Contemporary opponents of abortion reflect these elements of misogynist thinking in their perpetuation of the myth that women who get abortions do so mostly for reasons of "convenience" and to repudiate motherhood.49 We have seen that the social reality behind this perception is complex; motherhood has assumed a different place in many women’s lives during the past decade, interwoven with work and study, deferred but hardly abandoned. What is important here is the tremendous emotionalism and hostility toward women that the perception of change has apparently generated. The cry that women are "killing their children" (you too, it seems to say, might have been an abortion) signals a new wave of "momism" and "motherhood revivalism," a fundamental current of the New Right’s moral offensive. This cry touches deep nerves—fears of maternal abandonment, fears that women will no longer mother. The assumption behind it, that woman’s purpose is to exemplify "unselfishness" through motherhood, is not often challenged even by those who claim to favor "choice."50 Recently, a rash of disclaimers and apologies by liberals, leftists, and even some feminists in the popular media, confessing "ambivalence" about abortion,51 reveal the extent to which "right – to-life" ideology has penetrated the dominant culture and fostered guilt, even without a change in the law. More than ever, we need a feminist morality of abortion, one that addresses the issues that "right-to-lifers" raise in human, social terms and moves well beyond them.