Family Rights, Women’s Rights and the Right to Life

Mar 11, 2020

We have just commemorated International Women’s Day.  It is hard to imagine that the movement for women’s rights that led to the annual day is only just over 100 years old and began with (more or less peaceful) demonstrations about women’s right to the vote.   Before that time only men owned that right.

Over those 100 years the movement has achieved much for the good of women.  It has gone through many changes, associated to with the growing secularism and individualism of the time.  It also differed in different cultures and religious groups, sometimes strongly influenced by conservative and right-wing views and at others liberal, left-wing ideologies.  Politics has featured strongly too.  It continues to be a battleground for a variety of rights, to equality with men, to work, to education, the right over one’s own body, to choose a marriage partner, own property and much more, with the dignity and interests of women being paramount.

Secularism and individualism are now inherent in all social structures.  However God, religious and moral values still play an important role in a woman’s place in the many societies as a whole and in families, a microcosm of society.   If the common good, the wellbeing of family units and their members across the generations is a social purpose where should priorities lie?

This is a highly complex issue with deep-seated psychological roots too.  As long as sex has been around men and women have been in the fray, been oppressors or oppressed, have negotiated, fought over and defended gender roles and behaviour.   Gender equality is a current objective, but maybe gender balance is a better concept.  Is the high level of gender-based violence not in part a consequence of unresolved power struggles?

Even amongst women themselves there are conflicting views and different aspects.  This is born out quite clearly in the film UNPLANNED currently being shown in cinemas and also privately with abortion being the basis and focus of the story.  The film shows the position of the pro-choice organisation Planned Parenthood and the Coalition for Life, a movement which stands for the rights of unborn babies.  The horror of abortion is graphically displayed.  One could ask is a radical and graphic approach the way to gain converts to the cause or is there a way to promote a much deeper, God-centred sense of reverence for life, all life, in all its stages from conception to natural death?

When one sees the love and attention lavished on so many babies, planned and even unplanned, one cannot but praise God.  However why is it that millions of unplanned and unwanted babies put mothers, and fathers as well as other family members too, under such tremendous strain?

Almost everywhere across the world today abortion is legalised in spite of constitutions honouring the right to life, in particular as a family right.  For their own reasons or possibly because abortion is legal there are people appear to be desensitised to the act.  However Rachel’s Vineyard is a programme, now offered in South Africa,  that recognises its lasting trauma and offers healing to those who have experienced abortion.

The film UNPLANNED has a story that gives insight and provides much food for thought on a life and death issue. On the occasion that I went to see it at a Johannesburg cinema the audience was minimal, most likely  reflecting the reluctance of people to engage with the subject. I can imagine it must be particularly harrowing for those who have experience of abortion but I believe it is worth while taking the trouble to see it.  Go, reflect, young and old, those who are sexually active, go to grow in understanding that love gives life.  A gift, from God.

I would like to stress the fact that, even though significant advances have been made in the recognition of women’s rights and their participation in public life, in some countries much remains to be done.  If certain forms of feminism have arisen which we must consider inadequate we must nonetheless see in the women’s movement the working of the Spirit for a clearer recognition of the dignity and rights of women. Pope Francis. Amoris Laetitia 54.


The film UNPLANNED has a brief season in Johannesburg this week, but is widely available too for private viewing.

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