THE ABOLITION OF WOMAN: HOW RADICAL FEMINISM IS BETRAYING WOMEN
(Ignatius Press, 2018, 240 pp., softcover, $17.95)
Reviewed by W. Ross Blackburn
The abortion movement is built upon a foundation of euphemism, half-truths, and outright lies, and relies heavily upon straw men. And perhaps the most common and effective of those straw men is that prolifers (despite being over 50 percent women) don’t care about women. “Pro-life, it’s a lie, you don’t care if women die!” is a clever slogan shouted in protest at pro-life rallies, often accompanied with posters of coat hangers. If you are a prolifer, you only care about unborn children (or, more cynically, about controlling women’s bodies). As for born children and their mothers—well, not so much. The abortion movement has been largely successful in pitting mother against child.
The rhetoric has sunk deeply into our consciousness. Years ago I was speaking with a woman about thirty years older than I am who was part of my church and an avid abortion supporter. She was insisting that women need abortion, and I suggested that abortion is not a zero-sum game, that what harms the baby can never be good for the mother. After all, don’t the Scriptures tell us that God can bring good from evil, that He works all things together for good for those who love Him? She looked at me somewhat condescendingly and said, “but we know that isn’t true.” I knew it was in fact true, but didn’t really know what to say to her.
How I wish I’d had Fiorella Nash’s book.
The Abolition of Woman: How Radical Feminism is Betraying Women isn’t about abortion per se, although Nash hits abortion hard. It’s about women, and particularly the ways in which our world, aided by radical feminism, is seeking to do away with womanhood.
The Abolition of Woman is, of course, an allusion to C.S. Lewis’s The Abolition of Man. In a nutshell, Lewis argued prophetically that as man left traditional morality aside, we would forget who we are and ultimately seek to recreate ourselves. Or, more precisely, some men would seek to recreate other men according to their own desires and vision of who man should be. In this, Lewis was particularly concerned with the role of science: “The final stage is come when man by eugenics, by pre-natal conditioning, and by an education and propaganda based on a perfect applied psychology, has obtained full control over himself. Human nature will be the last part of nature to surrender to man.”
Ultimately it is the story of oppression.
While Nash goes about it in a different way (Lewis wrote as an academic philosopher/theologian, Nash is a philosopher/theologian who writes more like an investigative journalist), her argument is quite similar. For all the laudable goals of feminism, modern feminism has forgotten who woman is, and seeks to mold her into something she isn’t, thereby oppressing the women it claims to empower. Nash’s book is a collection of essays that give practical examples of this. Three aspects of Nash’s approach are particularly praiseworthy: Her exposition of ways in which modern feminism oppresses women, her logic and use of analogy, and her treatment of women as women.
First, Nash exposes ways in which feminism oppresses women, some of which many of her readers (like myself) may not have thought of. For example, Nash speaks of how the abortion movement, despite all the rhetoric of choice, drives women to abortion by robbing them of the information they need to make informed choices. In reflecting on the violent nature of the abortion procedure, she writes of the ubiquitous use of terms like “gentle suction” or “gently opening the cervix” used by abortionists to describe an abortion: “I have never seen the word “gentle” used so frequently and so pointedly in medical literature except in the apparently factual, no-nonsense materials put out by abortion facilities.” Not only is this deceptive language directed toward women who are under great pressure, but it treats them like children. Nash goes on: “It is difficult to see how women can be expected to feel empowered if they are treated like panicky infants in need of constant reassurance that it will all be very gentle, rather than grown women capable of hearing the facts” (pp. 46-47). Perhaps the most illuminating example of feminist oppression of women is her discussion of Assisted Reproductive Technologies (ART). Because ART is generally meant to bring forth life, not to end it, and because infertility is a real and painful reality for many, one can easily overlook the way these technologies oppress women. For example, by severing procreation from sexual union, ART (like abortion) promises to free women from their own biology, allowing them to have children beyond their natural childbearing years. However, aside from the difficulties of raising children at an older age, the process is anything but straightforward, and the risks fall solely on women. Women take certain drugs to stop menstruation and others to stimulate ovulation, and then undergo surgery to remove the eggs—all potentially dangerous (both short term and long term) to a woman’s physical and mental/emotional health. Eggs and sperm become commercialized as raw material, without regard to the donors becoming parents.
Furthermore, commercial surrogacy makes it possible to rent the womb of a woman. The inevitable questions arise: Who, then, is the mother? The egg donor, the surrogate, or the mother who adopts? Is the father the sperm donor or the man who adopts? A child can potentially have five people with a claim to be a parent—a quagmire for the adults, and an injustice to the child. In addition, a surrogate mother loses rights over her own body. For example, India’s surrogacy laws allow for up to three embryos to be implanted into the woman serving as a surrogate, which not only poses potential danger to her health, but may mean that she must later undergo an abortion if she gestates more children than the contract allows. And what happens when the surrogate mother bonds with the child she is carrying as her own? Having no legal rights over the child, she must surrender him. If she experiences any physical or mental/emotional fallout post-partum, she is on her own; the services of a surrogacy clinic end when the baby is born and given over. And, unsurprisingly, commercial surrogacy targets poor women. Nash’s language is pointed—she speaks of “fertility tourism” as “the colonisation of the female body through the purchase and control of women’s fertility” (p. 91). Aware of the heartache infertility brings to women and men, she argues, “A truly pro-woman approach to infertility does not exploit or endanger a woman’s body or create and destroy human life at will, but nor does it abandon a woman to deal with childlessness alone” (p. 108).
A second strength of Nash’s work is her logic, particularly demonstrated in her use of analogies. A large part of what she is doing is knocking down strawman arguments that have been used for years in the pro-abortion movement. Particularly powerful is the so-called “back-alley” argument that women’s lives depend upon legal abortion. While the “rare” has been dropped from the political slogan “safe, legal, and rare” in the United States, abortion supporters depend upon a perceived connection between safe and legal.
What is meant by safe and legal, Nash asks, when it comes to abortion? According to the World Health Organization, unsafe abortions are “abortions done in countries with highly restrictive abortion laws, and those that do not meet legal requirements, in countries with less restrictive laws. Safe abortions were defined as those that meet legal requirements, in countries with liberal laws, or where the laws are liberally interpreted such that safe abortions are generally available.” Here we see circular reasoning at its finest: Abortion is safe when it is legal, and when it is legal, abortion must be safe. Elsewhere, the WHO describes unsafe abortion as “a procedure for terminating an unwanted pregnancy either by persons lacking the necessary skills or in an environment lacking the minimal medical standards or both.” That gets closer to a real definition, but, as Nash notes, does not rule out legal abortion, as the exposure of the infamous Kermit Gosnell made widely plain.
The abortion movement insists that abortion saves women’s lives. Does it? Putting aside for the moment the lethal violence visited upon the child, when legal abortion is equated with safe abortion, abortion supporters create the illusion of supporting women. Interestingly enough, it has been the pro-life movement that has insisted on stricter medical regulation over the abortion industry, while abortion supporters complain that such regulations will restrict abortion access. For pro-choicers, availability is evidently more important than safety. Nash’s exasperation is plain as she points to the “Alice in Wonderland logic” of abortionists who get away with wounding women by claiming that they are defending women’s rights and freedoms (p. 49).
Nash’s use of analogies is particularly persuasive. Commenting on the way abortion supporters deny the trauma that abortion visits upon many women by accusing them of being weak, emotionally troubled, or attention-seeking, Nash observes that abusers treat their victims in exactly the same way: “. . . every tactic used by abortion supporters to silence post-abortive women mirrors precisely the tactics used by abusers to shame their victims into silence, down to forcing victims to question their own sanity.” Painting pro-abortion choicers as akin to domestic abusers is a damning observation given the pro-choicers’ claim that they are looking out for the well-being of women.
There are other analogies. Nash takes umbrage at the claim that the abortion pill is like having a miscarriage. This is like justifying the killing of some people because others die of disease. In response to the pragmatic-sounding argument that abortion should be legal because it will happen anyway, Nash asks whether rape or domestic violence should be legalized because they too will persist. To bring in another analogy, if we would not trust the research of a fast-food chain to shape health policy, why do we allow abortion policy to be formed by research outfits owned by those who profit from it (p. 148)? Nash also wonders why many refer to the brutally oppressive and discriminatory “one-child policy” of China in neutral terms when we readily call out the evils of apartheid or segregation (p. 80). And why are Western feminists, so concerned with the equality and welfare of women, strangely silent about the atrocities committed against women in China? These kinds of analogies go a long way toward exposing what is at stake, and asking us if we are really consistent in what we say we believe.
Seeing Women as Women
Much modern feminism wants to recognize women as persons, but not as women. Of course, both women and men are human beings made in the image of God. But, contrary to the insistence of our confused culture, there is no such thing as a sexless person. We are either male or female. And in order to live well as male and female, we need to learn to honor one another for who we are, not who we might wish one another to be.
Nash argues that, in the name of empowerment, modern feminism belittles women. On one level, as alluded to above, modern feminism treats women in precisely the ways feminism sought to remedy. Concerning pro-abortion rhetoric, she pulls no punches:
[I]f women are to be treated as fully emancipated, empowered adults, it is hardly unreasonable to ask women to face the full consequences of their actions. Short of turning the planet into one vast safe space replete with Playdoh and films of gamboling ponies, it is difficult to see how or—more importantly—why women should be protected from the reality of their own choices in the name of empowerment (p. 208).
In effect, Nash asks feminists, indeed all of us, “Do we believe women fully capable of standing on their own feet and making sound and mature decisions, or do we need to sugarcoat reality and not trouble them too much?” Underneath her arguments, I hear her asking feminists if they believe that women are equal to men, and if so, why don’t they act like it?
But on a more fundamental level, modern feminism belittles women by denying their unique character. With particular poignancy Nash demonstrates that China’s one-child policy is inherently oppressive to women. For Nash, forced abortion joins two particularly female terrors, the violent loss of a child and rape; in fact, she terms forced abortion surgical rape. But at a deeper level, to claim control over a matter as intimate as sex and childbearing is inherently oppressive. To separate the being of a woman from the possibility of motherhood, or to regulate it, is an injustice to who she is. Nash quotes a woman coming to terms with infertility:
My life is a poor place for not having children, and while I’m sure lots of women in my situation don’t share my sentiments, I feel I am less of a woman—emotionally and physically—for not being a mother. There is a vast realm of experience and growth I will never know, and a love that will be forever unexpressed. I know that what any mother describes as the most profound love she has ever known is, to me, a locked door—that there is so much love I will never be able to give, wisdom and understanding I cannot share, shelter and solace I cannot provide (p.107).
Nash also deals with the gendercide of women (particularly but not limited to China) and the objectification of women as sex objects, and she shows the degree to which maternal mortality is connected to the promotion of abortion. In other words, there is a lot here that most of us don’t know or haven’t thought through carefully enough. Honestly, there is much here that we probably don’t want to know. Which is all the more reason to read this book.
The Abolition of Woman is among a handful of the most important “pro-life” books I have ever read, precisely because it is focused upon women. It is also a hard book to refute—Nash has done an enormous amount of research. My hunch is that it will reach two groups of people in particular. First, those who are unreflectively pro-abortion. Nash exposes the deception that abortion-minded feminism has the best interests of women in view. It does not. Second, the church and the pro-life movement. Nash’s book challenges us, for it asks if we “love them both” (mother and unborn child) as we say we do. For my part, I think this is largely true of the pro-life movement. But we have our blind spots, and Nash serves us all by exposing them. In today’s cancel culture, where we see the accelerating abolition of both women and men, Nash offers a bracing dose of sanity. Of one thing I am sure, and it is probably the best thing I can say about this book—Planned Parenthood will not want you to read it.
Rev. Dr. W. Ross Blackburn, who created the feature A Pastor’s Reflections for the Review’s website, has been Rector of Christ the King, an Anglican Church in Boone, North Carolina, since 2004.