By Mary McClusky
Many will offer reflections as we approach the 45th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion throughout pregnancy. It's a good time to consider past efforts and how to continue to build a culture of life.
Early on, we focused on the child destroyed by abortion. Then we learned how best to encourage and support the mothers experiencing an unexpected pregnancy. As we look to the future, we need to also consider another person who needs more attention and assistance: the father.
Fathers of unborn children have no recognized legal rights. In some cases, a father doesn't know of his child's existence or is not given an opportunity to weigh in when a mother is considering abortion. As it is for all those touched by an abortion experience, healing after abortion is complicated for fathers as well. The U.S. bishops' "9 Days for Life" novena intention on January 22nd asks that "each person suffering from the loss of a child through abortion find hope and healing in Christ." (To participate, visit www.9daysforlife.com.) This prayer effort recognizes that when a child dies because of an abortion, many feel the loss and pain, including the father.
Contraception, pornography, no-fault divorce, sexual abuse, domestic violence, and many other societal evils also contribute to the fatherhood crisis in society and have a connection to abortion. Our society often conditions men to view women as objects and to think that sex is little more than a pleasure-seeking adventure. When a child is conceived from this mindset, rather than within an exclusive, permanent relationship between husband and wife, both the mother and her child often suffer. In many cases, the mother is abandoned and the child destroyed.
By recognizing the unique role of fathers, we more effectively highlight the humanity of the unborn child. We also affirm marriage--what St. John Paul II called the "sanctuary of life"--that more effectively welcomes children into the world. And we bear witness to the crucial role of a father in raising children. Consideration of the father's role is important to pro-life efforts.
Some might argue that encouraging masculinity and fatherhood harms women's empowerment and personal autonomy; however, these false dichotomies can distract us from the truth that men and women were designed to "cling" to each other (Genesis 2:24) in marriage and depend upon each other for support in family life. Authentic masculinity and fatherhood are pro-woman and pro-family.
As we consider future pro-life efforts, collaboration on fatherhood initiatives between chastity, family life, and social justice efforts is key. Programs that develop authentic masculinity and support men's growth in holiness are popular in many dioceses. The Knights of Columbus offers the "Fathers for Good" initiative for men, a key part of their larger "Building the Domestic Church" program.
Consider St. Joseph's example. He embraced the role of husband and father in very difficult and challenging circumstances. Let us pray for his intercession in our efforts to advance fatherhood and promote a culture of life, both during "9 Days for Life" and throughout the year.
Mary McClusky is Assistant Director for Project Rachel Ministry Development at the Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. For confidential help after abortion, visit www.hopeafterabortion.org or www.esperanzaposaborto.org.