Last Tuesday night at the Republican Convention, Ann Romney stood up to say, "I love you, women!" As reported on Fox News, Mrs. Romney went on to talk about how women are the ones who have to worry more about the economy, the price of things going up, things being harder than they used to:
We don't want easy. But the last few years have been harder than they needed to be. It is all the little things, the price of the pump you could not believe and the grocery bills that just get bigger, all those things that used to be free, like school sports are now one more bill to pay.
I believe this. I have lain awake at night worrying about money, but I know women have it hard.
And I too love you, women.
I am the son of a single mother who raised four boys and an adopted daughter, the grandson of two wondrous, strong, and opinionated ladies who are still going strong into their nineties.
I am in love with a single mother who stretches her paycheck to make ends meet month to month, and still saves for Christmas and those out-of-pocket health costs that crop up when we least expect them.
At Baylor University, I work for a woman who encourages people to grow into themselves, who recognizes her faculty's strengths, who has called me out when I have given less than my very best. And both of us work for a woman who has vision and drive, who makes us proud to go to work every day, who is the chief academic officer, the COO, if you will, of one of the nation's great faith-based universities.
Women rock. They should be wined, dined, protected, promoted.
And yet, when it comes to certain things like birth control and women's health care, it seems things for women are—yes—harder than they used to be. I was listening to NPR the other night, and heard a spokeswoman for Texas Governor Rick Perry call the fact that the State of Texas can "discontinue public funds to clinics that provide preventive health services to the poor" "a win for Texas women, first and foremost."
This caused me to question the meaning of language for a bit.
And although statistics suggest that tens of thousands of pregnancies result from rape each year and abortion remains constitutionally-protected in America, we are discussing laws attempting to ban abortion even in cases of "legitimate rape," while, as the LA Times reports, "this year's GOP platform contains no exceptions for rape or incest or to protect the health—or even the life—of a woman."
I have developed theological reservations about abortion as a casual method of birth control, and believe a Christian ethic of life should seek to make abortions less necessary and all children more valued and cared for, but this willingness to say abortion is always the greater of two evils appalls me. To order a child to bear the child of her abusive father, to force a woman to carry in her own body the product of a violent and degrading act of force seems neither loving nor just, and yet those who want to be right on this issue at all costs don't seem to care.
Augustine of Hippo reminds us that love of God and neighbor is always at the heart of Christian belief. In "The Instruction of Beginners," Augustine put it this way: "Set love as the criterion for all that you say, and whatever you teach, teach in such a way that the person to whom you speak by hearing may believe, by believing, hope, and by hoping, love."
Somehow it doesn't seem to me that these actions on women's health care and reproduction, morally driven as they certainly are, teach love, or inspire love, or demonstrate love. And often, sadly, they seem to be actions taken to gain political power or human acclaim, for the satisfaction of demonstrating a moral superiority, or because of a political platform or party philosophy (and I do hold both political parties guilty of elevating party dogma to a supreme value).
When I mentioned on Facebook that I was thinking about these women's issues while reading Augustine, it prompted what I'll call polite skepticism from some of my women friends, who don't exactly think of Augustine as a feminist icon. While Augustine's writings indicate that he thought of husband and wife as equal in mental and spiritual faculties, I get that throwing out your common-law wife in search of fame, fortune, or spiritual peace doesn't suggest a sensibility attuned to the hearts and heartbreaks of women.