Where Are All the Women and Men?

Over the past two months, four articles have appeared in the Record that discuss the morality, science, philosophy, and social implications of abortion (starting with Josh Craddock’s The Least Safe Space). Although this is a challenging issue, Law Students for Life is pleased that the initial article and the thoughtful responses have sparked a constructive dialogue. In the spirit of continuing that dialogue, we would like to reply to Sarah Gitlin’s recent op-ed, which asserted that there was a “stark gender disparity” at HLS, with more women appearing to be pro-choice and more men appearing to be pro-life.

It would be easy to confine our response simply to refuting the factual basis of Gitlin’s claim. We could point out that our event last week, which had approximately 115 people in attendance, had more women in absolute numbers than did the Reproductive Justice event. Or that 48 percent of our Facebook fans are women, that our page’s largest audience in the past week has been women ages 18-24, and that 43 percent of those on our email list are women.

But we think Gitlin raised an important issue with which both pro-life and pro-choice advocates alike should wrestle. Gitlin is right to observe that becoming a parent can have a disparate impact on men and women. Women are often faced with an unfair share of the responsibility of child rearing. We applaud the Women’s Law Association’s “Shatter the Ceiling Committee,” and we agree with its findings. We think our society can and must do a better job of supporting pregnant women and mothers through generous maternity/paternity leave policies, pregnancy-related medical care, and financial support for low-income families. We should think deeply as a society about what we can do to further gender equality and to help women achieve their full potential professionally.

However, we do not think abortion is the answer to this problem. In fact, to say that it is begins with the wrong premise – that professional opportunity itself is a sufficient justification for abortion. Yet no one is free to do as they please to succeed professionally, untethered from countervailing moral restraints. Which leads to the foundational question that Dr. George addressed at our event: is the human embryo a human person? The answer to that question must weigh in our thinking about proper means to advance professionally. If the answer is yes, professional achievement cannot justify the taking of another’s life. That an embryo is a human person unequivocally answers the question of whether abortion is a proper means for women to advance their careers, but this does not mean that women are barred from success.

There are numerous ways for women to advance professionally through less morally problematic alternatives to abortion, such as adoption. We are also encouraged by a growing number of employment-related support programs for parents, such as Caren Stacy’s OnRamp Fellowship. OnRamp is a platform that connects large law firms with women returning to the workforce after a hiatus. (Participants include many large law firms such as Covington, Cooley, and Sidley Austin.) There is also a growing trend of day care centers in law firms – supporting parents in the workforce.[1]

There are also many examples of successful lawyers who are also mothers. Amy Coney Barret, a law professor at Notre Dame, is a mother of 7 children. In fact, one of the authors of this article is pregnant; she is not only thriving at Harvard Law School, but will also be clerking with a federal appellate court post-graduation.

The pursuit of equality for women does not have to, and should not, come at the expense of the lives of the unborn. Abortion is not merely a women’s rights issue: it is a human rights issue. Since Roe v. Wade (1973), there have been over 58,000,000 abortions in the United States.[2] The children who lost their lives were both male and female.[3]

We conclude with one question: where are all the women and men? Sadly, since 1980, it is estimated that over 1.4 billion female and male unborn persons have been killed worldwide by abortion.[4]

Anne Stark is a 1L at Harvard Law School and the Vice President of Communications for Law Students for Life. Kayla Ferguson is a 2L at Harvard Law School and member of Law Students for Life. Chase Giacomo is a 2L at Harvard Law School and the President of Law Students for Life. All authors can be reached at hlawstudentsforlife@gmail.com.

[1] See Albert Gilbert, The Economic Benefits of On-Site Day Care in Law Firms, Lexis Nexis (July 15, 2011), https://www.lexisnexis.com/legalnewsroom/lexis-hub/b/diversity/archive/2011/07/15/the-economic-benefits-of-on-site-day-care-in-law-firms.aspx?Redirected=true

[2] Abortion Statistics: United States Data & Trends, National Right to Life Educational Foundation (accessed Apr. 9, 2016), http://www.nrlc.org/uploads/factsheets/FS01AbortionintheUS.pdf

[3] Although, another reason to be “pro-life” is the chilling frequency of “sex selective abortions” that occur around the world in countries like China, India, and Pakistan – in which females babies are targeted for abortion because of their sex. See Sex-Selective Abortion Around the World, Population Research Institute (accessed Apr. 9, 2016), https://www.pop.org/content/sex-selective-abortion.

[4] Abortion Worldwide: A Decade of Uneven Progress, GUTTMACHER INSTITUTE, Appendix Table 2, (Accessed Apr. 11, 2016). https://www.guttmacher.org/sites/default/files/pdfs/pubs/Abortion-Worldwide.pdf. The Guttmacher Institute estimates that there were 41.6 million abortions worldwide in 2003, and 45.5 million abortions worldwide in 1995. Our projection assumes this rate has been relatively steady since 1980.