All posts tagged: Life and Dignity Writing Fellow

The Newest War on Women

Let me tell you a story—three stories, actually. Two myths and a difficult truth. The first myth is a sixth-century Sanskrit jataka, a story recounting a previous life of the Buddha. In this story, a bodhisattva named Rūpyāvatī cuts off her own breasts to feed a starving mother who is about to eat her newborn child out of desperation. Rūpyāvatī is praised for this radical act of self-sacrifice, and in recompense her breasts are divinely restored. Thus far, this story is viscerally beautiful and sharply affirming of the feminine: a woman saving another woman from death through the gift of her own life-giving flesh. Life and death edge close together here, almost blurring into one another—the new mother is on the brink of killing that to which she just gave life—until Rūpyāvatī intervenes, and the specter of death is driven away by a gesture of self-sacrificial love. But the story does not end there. After Rūpyāvatī’s female body is restored to wholeness, she makes a request to “the lord of the gods” to be freed …

Neo-Colonialism and Reproductive Health

A little over a century ago the continent of Africa was carved up and shared among the European powers. Every African nation—with the exception of Ethiopia and Liberia—was colonized for upwards of 70 years by these European powers. My country, Nigeria, was one of those countries. However, I have no intention of rummaging aimlessly through the ash-heap of history today. I know that colonialism is a thing of the past and my country, alongside other African countries, have been independent, sovereign, and self-governing since the 1960’s. I am truly grateful for this independence. However, in recent years, we are noticing the return of Western footprints all across the continent of Africa. I am not speaking of the mostly welcome footprints of those seeking business investments, trade deals, or scientific advancements. No, I am speaking about the footprints of cultural imperialists, social engineers, and ideological neo-colonial masters who have presented themselves as enthusiastic donors, friends, and partners in the much desired development in the different African countries. Wealthy Western nations, powerful institutions, NGO’s, and private foundations …

Ross Douthat’s Expanding Seamless Garment

Whatever one thinks of his views, it is clear Ross Douthat has an irreplaceable voice in American public discourse. As a New York Times columnist who is read disproportionately by those who would otherwise dismiss conservative ideas, he has the gift of somehow inviting this audience to take such ideas seriously. Sidebar: If you are not a regular listener to the Times’ podcast “The Argument”—in which Douthat spars and jokes with co-hosts Michelle Goldberg and David Leonhardt—you are missing out on a good weekly example of this kind of influence in action. He is also an acclaimed thought-leader when it comes to the religion he converted to as a teenager: Roman Catholicism. His recent book, To Change the Church, was widely debated in Catholic circles and sparked numerous important conversations. Though the book largely either angered or was cheered on by Catholic partisans, for moderates like CUA’s David Cloutier it offered a “fair assessment” of the Francis papacy, despite its flaws. In my experience of reading and listening to Douthat, he is at his best when …

Gestational Surrogacy Is Big Business

The recent spate of abortion laws pushed through state legislatures across the country has been much in the news. New York now permits even full-term babies to be aborted, and the new law has rightly sparked controversy. Forty-six years after Roe v. Wade, the abortion mindset has influenced the culture in insidious ways. I have been interested in the issue of surrogacy (and wrote about it in greater length here), and I found myself thinking of the parallels between the abortion mindset and that of surrogacy. Gestational Surrogacy Gestational surrogacy involves an agreement between commissioning parents and the woman who carries the baby in pregnancy, the birth or gestational mother (sometimes called the surrogate mother). The baby is conceived through in vitro fertilization (IVF) using the genetic material of the commissioning parents, a donor, or a combination thereof, and subsequently implanted in the birth mother’s womb. She then carries the baby to term, gives birth to the baby, and, under the surrogacy contract, hands over the baby to the commissioning parents, having no right or …

The Devastating Fallout from Prenatal Testing

As we get older, we often tend to situate our lives in and around historical events, which serve as place markers and give us some frame of reference, especially when the events are personally salient. Because of my field and my personal experience, I see my life as demarcated in part by events in the history of disability in this country. For example, my son Tommy (who has Down syndrome) was born in 2007, the watershed year in which prenatal testing for chromosomal disabilities was recommended for all pregnant women by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and which also heralded unprecedented technological advances in prenatal screening and diagnosis. I was born 42 years earlier, in July of 1965. In December of that same year, a professor of education named Burton Blatt, well respected in the field of disability, asked his friend Fred Kaplan to accompany him on a tour inside four institutions for persons with cognitive disabilities in four eastern states. Kaplan agreed and went along with a camera hidden in his clothes. …

After Failing the Covington Catholic Test

Like many others, I failed the Covington Catholic test. I let myself be manipulated (apparently at the hands of anonymous internet bots operating with precise coordination to unleash maximum mayhem) by the original video and castigated these boys without pausing to think about whether there might be more to the story. I was all ready to pitch an op-ed calling out the March for Life’s cozying up the “Make America Great Again” crowd—when, much to my surprise, more videos were released that caused me to revisit what I thought I had just seen. These boys, though not 100% innocent, were far from the villains in the affair. The rush to publicly ruin their lives, and even threaten their school with violence, was absolutely sickening. But even in the face of direct evidence to the contrary, many simply could not let go of the original narrative and went looking for more evidence in support of it. They were partially successful. In response to a Native American’s claim that whites stole their land, a boy who attended the March …

Confessions of a Feminist Heretic

During the advent of my first pregnancy, in 2012, I was comfortably settled into my own unique brand of postmodern feminist Christianity. I remember lounging on the couch amidst waves of debilitating nausea, watching news coverage of the controversial Contraceptive Mandate, rolling my eyes in anger and disgust at those regressive Catholic priests in their prim white collars, telling women what to do with their bodies. Yet almost exactly two years later, I would be standing before such a priest at the Easter Vigil Mass, publicly confessing my desire to be received into the largest, oldest male-helmed institution in the world, the Roman Catholic Church. My sudden swerve into Catholicism prompted a dramatic worldview inversion on a number of issues related to feminism and sexuality, including the central feminist tenet that abortion is good for women. I can trace my paradigm shift on abortion to two underlying recognitions that dawned slowly during those two short years: a recognition of unborn personhood, and a recognition that the feminist ideal of autonomy sets a woman at war …

When the State Kills

Going through old albums can really pull you into a remembrance of things past. For instance, when I came across my old Metallica album, Ride the Lightning, it took me back to a time when we unironically used Polaroid cameras, watched time-travel movies on VHS in which 2015 was considered the very distant future, and—as indicated in the album’s title—the state still killed people with electric chairs. Ancient history, right? Except that we killed a man in Tennessee via electric chair just last month. Tennessee only allows those convicted of a capital crime before 1999 to choose the electric chair, but Edmund Zagorski elected to be killed in this way because of what we are now learning about death by lethal injection—the strong possibility that it causes “immense pain and suffering.” Perhaps he had also heard about the lethal injection of Jack Jones who was “coughing, convulsing, lurching, [and] jerking” during his botched execution. Indeed, just weeks after Zagorski, a second Tennessee death row inmate requested the electric chair. These are remarkable choices, especially because some botched executions by electric chair have resulted in the …

Hildegard of Bingen’s Vital Contribution to the Concept of Woman

When I was an undergraduate at an Evangelical university and beginning to think more deeply about gender, there were two basic paradigms on offer: egalitarianism and so-called complementarity. In those days—the early 2000’s—the pop-Christian livre de jour was a book called Wild at Heart: Discovering the Secret of a Man’s Soul by Jon Eldredge. This bestseller, ubiquitous in evangelical circles, provided a dizzying mash-up of fairy tale tropes, pop culture references, and bible verses, in order to unlock the hidden mysteries of the masculine heart. The basic premise of Eldredge’s book is that God creates men to be chivalrous Beasts with a hunger for adventure, a need to fight battles and rescue a Beauty. And a woman’s telos, conversely, is to be that Beauty who is rescued and swept up in the man’s heroic adventure. Eldredge presents men and women as two partial reflections of God: “There is a masculine heart, and a feminine heart, which in their own ways reflect or portray to the world God’s heart.”[1] These two “hearts” are not so much …

The Crisis of Catholic Moral Theology

Screams and applause and “Hail to the Chief” greeted President Obama as he walked onstage to deliver the 2009 commencement address at Notre Dame, the weekend during which I formally received my doctorate in Catholic moral theology. On the other side of campus, protestors were rallying against the President’s legislative record on prenatal children—consistently the worst of any successful presidential candidate in history. I was present at the main commencement, because unlike the protestors I approved of Notre Dame’s decision to invite the president and confer on him an honorary doctorate. Obama was not the first president so honored with a record fundamentally at odds with Catholic moral teaching, and for me the opportunity to open a dialogue on abortion was simply too important. Still, given the scale of abortion’s injustice, I understood the protestors’ concerns. And I was distraught to see how, thanks in part to polarizing media coverage, U.S. Catholic culture was being riven by the debate. I went from Notre Dame to Fordham, where, as a young idealistic assistant professor, I was …