May 09
Lorraine Berry lives in the Fingerlakes region of New York, although it's her transplanted home. On weekends, she can be heard throughout the area, cheering on her beloved Manchester City F.C. When not writing at Does This Make Sense? or Talking Writing, she can be found hiking with her two dogs, hanging out with her two daughters, eating what her beloved Rob has cooked for her, or teaching creative writing at a small college in the area.


MAY 20, 2010 4:21PM

What It Feels Like When You Know You Mean Nothing

Rate: 96 Flag

I heard this yesterday on the radio. As soon as I heard the story, I knew that I should blog about it. But the second thought that came into my head was, "and say what, exactly?" The same things I've said many, many times before?

The story is this: a woman, pregnant with her fifth child, was seen in the hospital during her 11th week of the pregnancy. She was told by her doctors that her health was poor, and that, if she continued the pregnancy, she and the baby would die. She was in a Catholic hospital, and, in an act of mercy, a nun gave the woman permission to have the abortion. It saved the woman's life.

The nun has been ex-communicated. 

This by a Church that has yet to excommunicate any of the mass child rapists that it is aware have been administering the Mass. 

As if to back up the story, I had read one of my student's essays the day before. She had made the painful decision to leave the church in which she had been raised. One reason was her church's "pro-natalist" position: it encouraged each and every woman in the church to bear as many children as they could. When a woman, who, like the woman above, had been told by her doctor that her pregnancy would kill her went to her pastor for counseling, he told her that if she were to take the doctor's advice, to do so would place the word of a doctor over the word of God. The pastor threatened to cast the woman out of her church if she had an abortion. The woman carried the baby to term, but, as she had been warned, the pregnancy did irreperable damage to her body. She now lives as an invalid in need of 24-hour care. 


I'm still hunting for the right words to say. Nearly 40 years after abortion was made legal in this country, 50 years since we've had the Pill, and women are still told, day-after-day, that the only thing that matters about them is their ability to bear children. And if bearing a child costs you your life, well, what greater sacrifice can you make? (And besides, there are plenty of women to replace you.)


To visit the local cemeteries is to see this philosophy carved in stone--acres of stones that tell the same story. One man will be buried with two, often three, wives. He died in his 80s. The first two wives died in their 20s or early 30s, but the third wife grew old with him. Frequently, there are newborns whose death dates approximate the death dates of their mothers. 

We tell ourselves that this was before modern medicine. That puerpural fever, or ruptured uterii, or hearts weakened by childhood diseases and then too weak to bear the strains of pregnancy, that these things are all things of the past. 

But, we maintain maternal mortality statistics because pregnancy is still potentially deadly. And lest any American think that we have the best healthcare system in the world, ask yourself why our rates of maternal death are among the highest in the industrialized world? 


I wonder if you can imagine what it feels like to be told, again and again, what it means to be a girl. You're not really a full human being: you're a sexualized baby-making organism who, once we are post-menopausal and no longer attractive, there really is no use for. 

Imagine the way this might tear at you. That you have two daughters, and that you love them with every fiber of your being, but you also know that there is so much more to you than your ability to ovulate, conceive, and deliver a child. 

Imagine watching others of your gender participate in their own oppression and call you all sorts of names because you question whether there shouldn't be more to life than this for women. Or imagine being in another country, where not following the status quo can get you killed. (Ask my daughter, who has recently returned from India, about the woman she met whose face had been burnt off by acid.)

Imagine sitting at your computer, sick unto death of a fight that will not go away--seemingly will never go away--and trying--again--to find the words to call attention to the obvious: that women should not be asked to sacrifice their lives to bring another child into this world. 

Imagine that you can anticipate some of the comments. 

Imagine that you have simply been stripped of language, because no matter how you try to parse it, analyze it, understand it, have compassion for it--what you know, is that for a huge portion of the world, including many who live in this country, women simply do not matter. 

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I have no words to add to this important message . . . just wanted you to know that I read this, in solidarity, with determination that we must continue to make change.
It feels like extinction.

I just read an article titled "Is feminism outdated?"

Not in my world.
And it begins so early, when we deny these children who will grow to be women the knowledge needed to protect themselves, to make informed decisions.
We are more than that.
Thank you.
this current pope seems to be an incredibly bad one. isn't he the one who excommunicated the mother of a six year old who had an abortion because a six year old body can't bear a child...but didn't excommunicate the man who raped the six year old....

Is it also he who wanted to reinstate a holocaust denier and it seemed for a short time like he was blaming the church's refusal to effectively deal with child molesters on the media, and then on gay people...wasn't he was one of the hitler's youth movement too?....

it's not a good thing for catholicism that they picked him, as far as I can tell....maybe its time for a Jewish lesbian pope who could modernize the church post vatican II. It would be fun to see that happen.
I heard this yesterday too on NPR. The Catholic Church and their ilk are beneath contempt. There are places in this country where they are more powerful than others, and you can see the provincial attitudes toward women in these places. You make a great point here about the punishment of church child molesters. Where is the moral center, the sense of right and wrong for these religions that preach to people about very personal reproductive choices? It's bizarre and insane.
I have read the accounts of this horrific story and the brave sister who helped the woman. It's something out of the dark ages
And that's another reason why I'm an ex-Catholic. They care more about the child before it's born than after.
You are amazing. Thanks for your eloquence on every aspect of this situation, discussion, argument.
personal, poliical, religious - there is something bad in the water.
I, personally, will not be reduced to my ability to conceive.
I'm on the hotline this week, and can't even describe what is happening every day. Women are fighting for their lives.
I might have to post about it.
educate a girl, educate the world
We have the numbers, now we just need to know how powerful we are. Thoughtful post Lorraine
Sending this off to Facebook as well.
Well well well, someone finally said it loud and clear.

The Catholic Church is destroying women for no goddamn reason!

It needs to end. All of it.

We're pushing 6 BILLION people on a planet that can handle about 2 Billion comfortably. The population has more than DOUBLED since the assasination of JFK.
We're using resources at an ever increasing rate.

Something is going to have to give.

If we don't increase the number of abortions, increase the use of birth control and increase awareness about reality versus Catholic fairy tales, we're all going to die.

All of us.

Besides, this Taliban bullshit of 'what better sacrifice' can a woman make by dying in childbirth is just that. Bullshit.

It's time to throw of the chains, ladies.

Bless you for saying this, dear.
in a society so civilized as this, that there continue to exist organized religions (the catholic church is only one) that hold women as valueless except as baby machines or servants to the men in their households is astonishing. there is no arguing this issue; there *is* no other side, no valid point to be made by a church official who takes such a position. none.
I was so mad when I read about this- not just for the mother, but also for the nun. To give yourself completely and have that community turn on you. I dunno, perhaps her saving this one woman will be enough for her to feel joy in the excommunication and not soul wrenching. I wish her peace, she did the right thing, I hope she knows that enough to shelter her.
and women, yes, we have always meant nothing other than what our sex organs can buy us :p not always, but generally speaking.
and we are the first world lucky ones :/
Julie, the nun can be accepted back into church if she confesses her "sin" (saving this woman's life) and repents. Talk about twisted and you're talking the church.
:( i hope she tells them where to stick it
The one bright spot in this. The nun is now free to find for herself another community that respects her choices.
Quoting Jacob Bronowski, " When people believe that they have absolute certainty with no test in reality, this is how they behave. This is what men do when they aspire to the knowledge of Gods."
He was talking about the holocaust but it's the same thing at work here.
Thank you for a wonderfully insightful and compassionately poignant article. I for one am grateful you continue to speak as clearly and passionately.

In the realm of religion it is too often true that women do not matter. Their rights, their lives, and their actual impact are fairly buried beneath the patriarchal view of society they embrace.

The impact of religion on society can not be overstated. So much of what is tolerated or passed over comes as a direct result of this patriarchal religious influence.

I for one believe things can and will change. But it will happen as a result of brave voices such as yours compelling willing volunteers to do all we can to effect those changes.

Rated and appreciated.
Yes. This is the most fundamental evidence, the most fundamental message "...for a huge portion of the world, including many who live in this country, women simply do not matter". We have a long way to go.
Lorraine, you have eloquently stated how idiotic the Church is on this issue. It's a double standard based on gender, period.

That being said, I wonder if you've overstated your premise in this: Women simply do not matter. I don't feel that way. I just don't. (I understand you are not positing a lack of value for women but rather are describing what seems to be a societal truth. It's that truth I don't agree with.) I appreciate that I live a privileged life compared to many women everywhere, most especially the regions of Africa about which Nicholas Kristoff writes. But because you've personalized your essay in a way that suggests you yourself feel like you don't matter, like you have been reduced to your fecundity, I just thought it was important to add that I myself don't feel that way. I never have. And I've wondered before about this. Why have I always felt like I could do anything I wanted? As I age I find myself limited in opportunity, but I've attributed those limitations to aging and previous life choices rather than gender. I find this difference between us interesting.
Authority, methinks, is what the church cares most about. And I don't mean the "moral" authority I'm sure its hierarchy would claim.
I can't comment much for fear that I will be inexcusably rude to readers that share this faith.

Thank you for this. I am visibly angry.
There is nothing like a clueless man. Fortunately.
I recently went to a film festival viewing of the film, "12th & Delaware" which focuses mainly on a crisis pregnancy center run by the Catholic church.

I was appalled by the lies and persecution innocent women, most seeking an abortion, were told about their bodies and their "babies." They still seed the printed material with outdated studies correlating breast cancer to abortion and so forth. As I sat in the darkened theater, two people sat down behind me. The girlfriend I was with nudged me to tell me it was the priest and clinic manager from the film.

They got up after the film and the angry priest laid into the filmmakers because near the end of their filming, they had decided to include the side of the abortion clinic across the street to balance out their reporting. I got into a fight with him during this discussion.

Women are more than walking incubators. And we shouldn't have to pay with our lives if we wish to live otherwise.
In case it makes anyone feel better, Catholic women in the United States are as likely to use birth control and have abortions as anyone else. I say this to remind people that American women don't much mind that funny little man in the pointy hat.

I don't know much about his influence among the women around the world, though. I suppose the answer is "too much" in the developing countries, where the Church is focusing its sights.
Ferocious and necessary post. I know this close- up and can't say why.

But go, fingerlakeswanderer, go. You are, L, a beautiful and fierce writer. A Contributor.
I never know whether to respond to comments or just allow people to say what they need to say. It's not that I'm not reading the comments and don't care what people are thinking, I just find myself wondering which is the proper approach to this whole thing. Cat used to talk about this.
Anyway. As it turns out, I don't feel as if I don't matter. I have created a world for myself where I do matter, whether it's as mother to my children, partner to Rob, daughter, professor, writer, friend, owner of a dog, etc. I mean, if someone were to It's a Wonderful Life me, I know that I have made a difference in at least one person's life, and therefore, I matter.
But, I think of how my life would be different had I been born in India, or into a fundamentalist religious home of any stripe, or to crack-addicted parents, or five hundred years ago. What would my life mean then? What if I had been one of the Jews crammed into cattle cars and taken to a concentration camp? What if I had been a Croatian woman in a Serb rape camp? What if I were a Congolese woman?
Do you see where I'm going with this?
I matter. Every woman I know matters. And you better believe that my daughters really matter.
But I live in a culture that treats the vast majority of women (and, let's face it, men, too) as if we are simply parts of the machine. If my circumstances were different, I'd expect I might still have toddlers underfoot.
Sometimes, I find myself unable to not place myself in someone else's shoes, to try to imagine what their life is like. Perhaps it's because I've been through the medical system, where, to my insurance company, I really do not matter--I have the paperwork to prove it. What matters is their bottom line, and they feel no hesitation in denying me potentially healing therapies for my headaches.
So, I totally get what you're talking about. I really don't walk around thinking I'm Eeyore. It's just that sometimes, I go to the grocery store, and I see a woman with no life in her eyes and I wonder what is it that prevented me from being her.
But hell yeah. I matter. You matter. We all fucking matter. But there are institutions and people all over the world who think that the choice between the life of a woman and the life of a fetus is clear. Ironically, the fetus will matter until it is born.
So tired of the endless flim flam of authoritarian institutions, and the harm they do. I don't know the cure, except for girls and women to rise up angry and stay that way.
I do have responses to several comments.
As to the Catholic Church: I know that the church, in some places, really is a force for good. Liberation theology earned my admiration, but the church's stance toward women--from the motherhood issue to the denial of women's ability to be priests, etc, is just so fundamentally wrong, I don't know where to start. I have never understood, can't understand, how one can simply decide that 1/2 the population can't do something by virtue of what set of genitals they were born with. It sounds so primitive.
And clearly, even in my blog post, I'm talking about more than Catholics. The church my student belonged to is Protestant, and the woman my daughter tended in Mother Teresa's hospice was Hindu.

I'm sure there are women out there who believe that dying in order to give birth to a child is a noble sacrifice. But it seems to me that sacrifices need to be voluntary or they're sacrifices, they're coerced activities. How can you coerce a woman into having a child?

I've read that Rand Paul thinks the Civil Rights Act shouldn't apply to private business owners, which again, feels primitive to me. You decide you don't like someone because of the pigmentation in their skin? Can someone please explain that to me?

Damn straight that feminism still matters. Just as we still need unions. Ask the men who died in the mining disaster last month; the UMW used to be able to fight for safer working conditions. Now that they've all but been dismantled, workers are on their own.

And clinics that lie to their patients? How is that ethical? Or medicine? How is it legal to run a clinic where you dispense lies and hide it under the guise of authority attached to being a medical professional?

Okay. As to my own question of why we're still having to have this discussion, perhaps it's the other side's strategy. A battle of attrition. A battle of having to say "AYFKM?" so many times that you finally throw up your hands and walk away from the matter. But if we walk away, they win. And they can't win.

Anyway. Ramble ramble ramble. Grumble. harrumph. But damn, it feels good to read these comments to share in the collective indignation of once again reading about yet another woman being told that she doesn't matter.
The situation is heartbreaking and infuriating . . . and, dear wanderer, the writing here is fucking gorgeous.
Your point about no priests being excommunicated is well taken. All of your points are well said and well taken.
*sigh* it continues to stun me that humans are so certain they've got everything all figured out as to right and wrong and there is no need to reconsider, reexamine or, for god's sake, show a little mercy...
Lorraine, your writing is incandescent. _r
There are no words for the contempt I feel for the church that tried its damnedest to brainwash me. The God that allegedly gave us free will and superior intelligency couldn't possibly condone what's happened to that woman and that nun. I escaped on the same day as I left my parents home to head to college and never looked back.
Thanks!!!!! It isn't even the pope--it's politicians at all levels who act terrified of the anti-abortion activists. A lot of them are activists--which means that they get heard or seen. The vast majority who believe in women's choice don't go out and parade or write or call or have the stupid license plates we have in Louisiana. There will be little catholic babies whether the church likes or not. Hmm, but maybe not so many. I have heard this argument over the years--reproduce to keep your group in power or dominant or represented.
Man, I'm tired. Intelligence, not intelligency.
Thank you.

Thank you.

Thank you.

. * .
This in a nutshell, is why I will never be a Catholic.

It is also why I hate the thought of women being told by any OTHER person that they "have" to have children, and/or having their access to contraception limited in any way.

Thank you Lorraine.
A - as you say, the church has yet to excommunicate their pedophiles, and B - why does anyone let some *authority* speak to them for God? (Or why, looking at things like fatal pregnancies and a lot of other things, even believe in a God?)

Thanks for fighting the good fight. I tend to turn away and try not to think of all the terrible things I can't do anything sbout (tho, of course, keeping up with the good fight does do something...)
Religion: My favorite topic of conversation.

I am so with you and not with you on this one. I am a converted Catholic and a woman that believes the decision regarding whether to have a child or not belongs with the woman-- Not a man, not the church, not society, not Rush Limbaugh. However, I can't go off on a rant on this one only because I know that with this *privilege* (owning this decision) has come so much abuse. And I think that this abuse has fed the anti-abortion side of the fence, which makes me very angry at some women, who have misused the privilege we have given to women who need it.

You know, free speech is the same. Someone starts a facebook page asking people to draw Mohammad, to prove the point that no one can dictate what the rest of us can draw or think, and then you have people that post racist, anti-Islamic crap. The price of free speech.

I'm not going to change my stance on this one, probably ever. However, the cost of my opinion sickens me.
no words need be added to your powerful post.
This pretty much says it all. Every single thing.
The truth of your message rips me apart - many of us here remember when it was business as usual for women to be primarily bearers of children, whether we wanted to be or not. We were defined first for our potential as mothers, and only after that were other aspects of who we are taken into consideration.

Thank you for a poignant post!
Thanks for your response, Lorraine. I do totally get what you're saying. It's a big picture thing. It's a "Here but for the grace of God go I" sort of thing. It's fucking imagination is what it is. I love that you brought up imagination. Did you ever hear JK Rowling's commencement speech at Harvard last year? She talks about the importance of imagination, but not the kind that inspired her books. She meant the kind that you have--the kind that has humans empathizing with other humans, never making the assumption that our own experiences are the same as others, always looking at life through the eyes of the other. I love that speech and I truly love you. You are an inspiration.
i doubt i can add anything without being redundant. those above me have said it.

just cosigning.
I was already a young adult when the Pill first became available to the public. And I was one of the first to ask my gynecologist for a prescription. He refused me--because I wasn't married (I was 20, in nursing school and engaged to be married the following autumn). When I told him of my marriage plans he told me--with a condescending smile--to come back about a month before the wedding and he'd see about letting me have it then.

I've been angry and frustrated about the treatment I've received, simply because I was born female, since I was old enough to understand what my dad meant when he spoke contemptuously about having "only split-tails." He told my mother that they were going to keep on having kids until he got a boy--to carry on the family name. When he finally got that boy he immediately set about trying to emasculate him.

I grew up as an active member of an evangelical Christian denomination. And I was told that I couldn't ever be a deacon, couldn't serve on certain committees, and couldn't teach a Bible study class if there were men in the class. This ain't the Dark Ages I'm talking about--this is the decades of the 1970's through the turn of the century. When my husband died 10 years ago, I was suddenly invisible. Apparently my only worth was measured by whom I was married to. Will you believe I'm no longer a member of any church?

This strikes such a strong chord with me, Lorraine. And you say it so well, so clearly, so empathetically, so powerfully. I hope you never stop writing about the things you feel so strongly about. We need your voice. Rated. D
Powerful piece. Goes well with this op-ed I read today in the NYTimes about birth control and third world countries:
I think you stated it very well and sadly all too true! Yes, there have been strides made yet as you say we are still treating women as baby machines especially in our churches. We must keep finding the words and speaking out in order for future generations of women to not know a world where they are not valued by society as a whole person.
Excellent post, Lorraine. I am so weary of this battle, but we must continue to fight.
I'm with hatchetface, Bronowski made so much clear in that statement made so long ago.

But as a woman, and as a minister, I feel quite strongly that the Pope and his hoard of unquestioning minions can go straight to the hell they have earned.

To fail, and then continue again to fail, to protect the life of a woman whose life is threatened by a pregnancy, to fail to protect children, and to cover up the travesty of pedophilia says all that needs to be said about the modern church: it's all about power and has little to do with any expression of Spirit or encouragement in the personal spirituality of the church's millions of congregants. The message of the New Testament is that God is Love. If they pretend to believe that they have gone far afield in expressing that in the lives they are given. The God of the New Testament would have come to the aid of anyone who suffers. What makes them any different than the Taliban in their treatment of women, particularly when they have done nothing to punish those who harmed women and children?

I know that there really are good Catholics. I have volunteered with them in helping the homeless and destitute. I appreciate what they do, but it's time for a change.
I left out a comma up there, I hope you can see where it went...
Perhaps your post should make clearer that the young woman from the "pro-natalist" faith was not Catholic?

The Catholic Church is the only branch of Christianity I am aware of that considers lifelong celibacy acceptable and singleness a vocation. Having worked for both Evangelical and Catholic organizations as a single adult, I can tell you that it is the Catholic Church that wholly accepts single people as capable of contributing to the good of the community and of having a full and functioning faith.

Many Protestant sects, on the other hand, value marriage above all else. I have often even heard it taught that people who do not marry (and marry very young) do not have full human dignity. And couples who make any attempt (including periodic abstinence/natural family planning) to plan, prevent or space pregnancies are sinful.

The Catholic Church is barely making an impact on the oppression of women compared to these sects. For more info, read Kathryn Joyce's Quiverful or Vyckie Garrison's excellent blog at
Amen. I cannot add to the strength of your logical and passionate column of outrage. Thanks for your wonderful piece on the outrageous treatment of women in the name of God...
The worship of the madonna regardless of what it is called by different religions seems to lead to disdain for the woman. Thanks for this.
I heard that story on the radio as well. I knew you would write about it. You had no choice.
This is a great post. You say what may have been said before but you say it with real passion and coherence. It reinvigorates the argument.
In the US, women live longer than men, make most of the spending decisions, and outvote men.

Italy is being depopulated due to its low birth rate.

Today, the must competitive colleges that want close to equal numbers of males and females have to lower standards for males who, as a population, have lower grades and test scores. This is, in part, because public education in the US is a female dominated industry. One that is highly unionized, resists change, and refuses to reform itself.

I suppose I really don't have a dog in this fight, since it is a woman thing. That is, they either can't count or are oppressing themselves.

However, they have figured out how to at least outlive men by almost 10%.

As to your major point, the woman shoulda had the abortion.
Abortion rights are human rights. Trust Women (Dr. Tiller). It's pro-choice or no choice. I stand in the bastion of crazies and shout these things, thrusting myself into the universe and accepting the consequences. I have muttered them lately as I am still paying for when I was shouting them. Waiting until my last child is out of school, I might return to shouting. It is not easy to stand in the pool of sh-t and ask people to take a swim with you, but we have done that here. Someday I will tell you all about it. R.
I must run in different circles, but the women I know aren't really big on BEING TOLD anything. If someone told them to suck it up and die for the unborn, they most likely would simply say, "Fuck you."

They seem like 100% real people that make their own decisions and do what they want.

And they are able to articulate the things they don't like and have the power to change them.

Go for it!

And sorry for the overly rhetorical approach, but I feel very unsympathetic to the notion that women are victims any more than humans are victims.
Well, you gotta admit it's a good business model, rolling babies off the assembly line like so many Model T's. Grows the church exponentially and that's what it's all about. Tax the churches.
America is exportating its millennial ideals. With a female majority of voters and of college students, women’s issues will be the deciding agenda in the years to come.

Male, or patriarchal, entitlement is under attack. Women and children moved from being property to having individual rights and votes only in the last century. At the cultural root of all organized religions is patriarchy. We view other countries and their laws and attitudes regarding women as lax and backward (12 virgins in heaven for Muslim extremists?) and we seek to promote our ideals to the rest of the developed and undeveloped world.

The laws and more importantly the attitudes surrounding U.S. law have changed. Congress currently endorses promoting our sex laws, no-fault divorce and property division, paternal obligation to non-biological children, domestic violence laws and family court values internationally.

The majority of victims of violence are male on male but, by zeroing in on women and children victims, we seek to eradicate violence itself. It is a fight for the greater good, but it won’t be an easy one.In the cemeteries are the bones of many, many young males who die before marriage ... certainly before age 80.
This is why I feel so much weight when I think about how to raise my two girls, the messages I want to send them and how I want them to view the world. Thank you for continuing to be a voice for women everywhere.
{{Standing applause}}
When our monsignor who had been molesting children for decades finally was arrested and sent to another parish, my uncle, whose two daughters were molested by him was saddened.

"Bottom line, he brought a lot of money into the church." He felt that should have exonerated him.
The fact is, the children mean nothing to them, too. Who in their right minds would think it would be just fine for these children to have dead or invalid mothers??

And what help do they give these children once they're actually born? None, is my guess.
It's become very apparent to me that the fight to protect my own body and sexual and reproductive health is far from over. Now, states are trying to use Health Care legislation as a means of limiting or preventing women from having abortions by restricting insurance companies from covering them. When I read this story on NPR yesterday, I wondered what does it all matter? And, you are absolutely correct, Lorraine, in saying that women don't matter. It doesn't matter if we die from illegal and unsafe abortions, it doesn't matter if we die from pregnancy, it doesn't matter if we die from being ourselves and making decisions that are right for us. It only matters that we have sex with proprietary men and do their bidding. Thank you for your post. I wish I were as eloquent as you.
What boggles me most out of this story is that the woman in question had FOUR children already at home. Not only is the church saying that the unborn baby is more important than an adult woman, it is also more important than four existing children who, one might assume, need their mother.

If I were the father, I might have a word or two to say to the church, if I were suddenly the single widowed father of FOUR young children and a newborn, whose wife had died a preventable death.

But as so many posters here have so eloquently pointed out, it's not about the living children. Or the living adults. Those don't matter nearly so much. It's all about the babies, and as many as possible of those.
I just heard from the student whose essay I referred to. She told me another horror story, about another woman in her church, who aborted a second-trimester fetus that had all of its organs outside its body and was missing many of its parts. Seems the good, kind people of her church have opted to label this woman "baby murderer" even though, clearly, if there is blame to go around, it seems that God killed that fetus by not providing it with an anus or many necessary organs for life outside the womb.
Again. It's not about the mother. It's so much easier to build a non-thinking movement around the "little babies" who are not even babies yet.
And yes. I have made it clear in a comment but I'll say it again. This student belonged to a pro-natalist church that was not Catholic. It's one of those fundamentalist Xtian sects that believes it needs to repopulate the earth with good Xtian souls.
really, is there anything more vile? i wonder what goes on in the minds and "hearts" of these men of God.
Hey, Lorraine:

This is a wonderful piece, but the thing that impressed me the most was the fact that you begin by admitting you'd originally had no idea what to write. Pundits aren't allowed to cop to weakness. If they do, other pundits will fall on them like a pride of lions. Semper Swagger is our motto, and living up to it means mortgaging a portion of your sanity.

Last year, I wrote a piece for National Catholic Reporter, defending the practice of Eucharistic Adoration. (A Notre Dame professor had called it "backward.") One reader asked pointedly who I thought I was, arguing with an expert, and recommended I "learn humility." Translated from Catholic-speak, this means, "Fuck yourself, forthwith, in the ear, with no Vaseline." It hit a nerve; for months, I was unable to finish a thing, fearing my deficiencies -- which obviously glowed in the dark like year-old cheese -- would bring me more scorn than my fragile ego could handle.

Keep up the good work of keeping it real.

This is just another example of a reason to bash religion. Maybe that's okay because organized religion needs a few nasty thrusts in order to evolve.

I just want to say there are a lot of us that believe as I do and that are a member of some religion.

I'm thinking about not responding anymore, regardless of whether or not I feel like I'm the only "out there" expounding on my "point of view."

Nothing's easy. Nothing's clean. Particularly for those of us that have a spiritual core.
I felt about Catholic hypocrisy as you do, for decades. Then a few years ago, I spent a winter in N. California, a few minutes from San Quentin. Candlelight vigils were held at SQ whenever someone was scheduled for execution, and you know who else was there holding candles alongside the Buddhists and Quakers and left leaning? There is no hypocrisy on the Catholic stance that killing life is wrong, and that includes murderers and rapers, as well as the embryonic unborn. It felt odd, sharing common ground with them about the death penalty, but not about abortion. It did not feel as B & W as I wanted it to be.
Acts of mercy do not apply when it involves any matter of a woman's well being...after all its just a woman.

I have had my fill of disgusting, denegrating comments and attitudes against women. They do matter beyond the child -bearing years..far beyond it. I was fortunate to have a mother who remained the absolute hub of our family well into her 70's. She is still highly regarded in her 90's, and has never accepted the role of a discarded human being.
@greenheron: It's funny that you mention that because I just yesterday heard this segment on NPR about a Jesuit priest who has spent his entire career rehabilitating gang members. What so impressed me was not the content of his work so much as the depth of insight in his answers to Terri Gross's questions. He was just spot on when it came to both pragmatism re his role and genuine compassion for the lives of these gang members. I hope you and others here will listen to this beautiful interview for an example of a Catholic living his faith. Frankly, it doesn't matter what his religion is--it's just a lovely man telling about his harrowing and important work.
I listened to the same interview, have purchased his book, and am looking at how I can donate to his organization. I am not bashing religion. I mentioned in another blog post about my admiration for the Archbishop Hunthausen of Seattle, who lost his job for his stand on war. He, too, believed that the death penalty and abortion were wrong, and I could respect his views.
But, the people who serve religions-- i.e, priests, nuns, ministers, lay clergy, etc., are just that--people. With all the human foibles and weaknesses. To take the position that you can condemn a woman to death for a pregnancy, it seems to me, is more playing God than we humans are allowed to take (if, of course, you do believe in God). If you don't, then it's a human decision to be settled among humans. At which point the question becomes: is it moral/ethical to condemn a woman to death in order to carry a pregnancy, or is it moral/ethical to save her life by performing an abortion on an 11-week fetus? In this case, the answer is clear for me.
if it's any comfort to you, i think women are the human race, men are just auxiliary labor.

but evolution created men stronger than women, a consequence of striving to be stronger than other men. just an accident of biology, see the chimp vs. bonobo situation.

but things really are looking up. keyboard skills are more important now than strong sword strokes, even for 'warriors.' more women than men in tertiary education, that will inevitably lead to female equality, even dominance.

it is true that the usa is lagging in social evolution. if young women get tired of stone age attitudes, laws and customs, they should leave, and emigrate to europe, or australia. may as well get some good out of globalization.
I have a problem with anyone who feels the need to ask permission from clergy to do something that will save their lives. As for judging women by their ability to have children, well there may still be a small percentage of people who belive that way, but I do not believe that is a majority-held belief. My own dear wife is past child-bearing and in fact was only capable of having one child, but she is a valued member of her community and our family. Her ability or lack of ability to have children never defined her because she would not let it and I think there is the key.
This is an amazing piece of writing with an incredible message.
This is amazing. Thank you. Keep it up. We all must keep this up. r
this is so powerful and so engagingly true.
does it mean that men must lose the right to run the world? seems so.
I am no longer a practicing Catholic and this is one of the reasons. (I excommunicated myself.) It takes no talent or ability to give birth. Cows do it. To parent, that's where we need everything we can muster and, as you stated, we have more than enough darling babies to parent.

For the brave nun, I hope her excommunication does not catapult her into having to fend for herself financially in these economic times. The endurance of injustices and bravery of the nuns is long-standing. Thanks for this post.
This is a difficult post for me to respond to for wrenchingly personal reasons, but all I can say is thank you for putting this story in such a lucid form. You are a strong-hearted woman for writing this.
I thank you for writing your post. Says what my cross-eyed fingers can't seem to.
When will the male gender learn they are not in control on this one, sorry. Our BODY.
The nun did the right thing. Catholicism has some growing up to do--it can't continue living in the dark ages. I respect what you're doing here. Very finely done. ~R~
I don't have to imagine it, I've had the opportunity to live it up close and personal for over 50 years. It won't change in my lifetime, it is what it is.
Such a smart, sharp set-up and powerful delivery.
Powerful writing. There's a traditionalist segment of humanity that will not give up its role and power.
The message that is told and retold through the ages. Very sad that common sense and common decency lose out. Well written.
Americans value individual rights very highly. Many other cultures value community above individuals. If you read the Catholic Church's pastoral letter on marriage, you see this value clearly: "Marriage is not merely a private institution. . . Marriage is important for the upbringing of the next generation, and therefore it is important for society. " Marriage can't be justified solely on being good for the married couple; it has to be good for society, too.

So, I don't think the pope is deliberating discriminating against women, he just can't see any one individual as being more important than the community or the values of the community. This is the same reason he responded so badly to the sex abuse scandal -- he thought preserving the church community was more important than the needs of the victims.

I do not want to be construed as defending community values. When you value the community over the individuals that make it up, it's easy to write a few individuals off as collateral damage.

However, a focus on the individual has its flaws, too. I think there's a clear connection between America's focus on the individual and our lower levels social services than found in other advanced Western countries.

Ultimately, we need to find the right balance.
So much has been said here that I have little to add... except one thing -- the Catholic church in the US is doing the most amazing job of destroying itself that I can imagine ... which is a pity because the Catholic church as an institution has done a lot of good ... Catholic schools notably.

The Catholic Church is not the only religious sect or denomination which holds such very unbending views about abortion.
I am humbled by your post on this topic and I thank you for it.
I really liked your article and you are exactly right. It is difficult to come to terms with but it is definetly true- women in general are considered second class citizens. It's a fact. And the way women are treated in other parts of the world? Exactly how you put it.
That's pretty idiotic. If she has the child they both die, if she has an abortion only the baby dies. Maybe the church figures only God can make those decisions, but then they shold also ban people from going to hospitals or doctors by that reasoning. Why play god by giving people heat operations or medicine?
Well, obviously I came to this late, but man, what a great post. You are spot on here, and I couldn't agree more with you. (Don't even get me started on the Catholic church.)

I think there's another phenomena that is the next step in a life-cycle of a woman, and that is how much we are devalued after out child-bearing years. I did the stay-at-home mom thing. My husband and I divorced 3 years ago. Getting back into the mainstream workforce has been impossible. Of course, the recession has had a lot to do with it, but there have been plenty of times when it's come down to the final two of us for a position, and each time, it has been awarded to a woman in her 20's. (I am late 40's, post-menopause....body did it early for some reason.) It was a colossal battle to get the minimum of spousal support from my ex, so I settled for a pretty lopsided deal and now hang on by a tiny thread, fiscally speaking. I'm still job-hunting and still working my tail off freelancing. I'm barely getting by. I feel like I did all of the things that that I was suppose to do, but the minute I stepped outside of the mold, my value to our society plummeted.
I find this view of things so frustrating. Most people who are against abortion care about the mother. They just also care about the child. As for "how it feels to know you don't count", how would it feel for unborn children to know they could be legally killed at any time? I do support the option of abortion when the mother's life is at risk... but that's just about it. And talking about how our culture views women as birthing machines or the like is just ridiculous.