Published in USA Today print and online version
Two women whose worldviews couldn't have been more divergent died just days apart, each leaving a dramatically different imprint on American society. Both sought to protect women's rights but were on opposite sides of a cultural battle that has shaped the past half-century. In the Civil War, the two sides were symbolized by "The Blue" and "The Gray." The sides in today's "civil war" could be symbolized by "The Brown" and "The Gray."
Helen Gurley Brown, writer of Sex and The Single Girl and for 32 years the editor of Cosmopolitan magazine, was in the vanguard of a movement that insisted women would only achieve equality through "reproductive rights." What that meant was that women should be free to sleep with whomever they desired with the inevitable consequence of aborting unplanned children conceived along the way.
Nellie Gray, a lawyer who walked away from a successful career to found the March for Life, had a starkly different view of women's rights. To Gray, human rights could not be broken down to their component parts. Everyone enjoyed the same right to life bestowed by the creator and guaranteed by the Constitution. Abortion both broker heart and steeled her resolve.
Both stood for human rights
The difference between "The Brown" and "The Gray," was not, however, what many would say it was, namely, that "The Brown" stands for the women and "The Gray" stands for the babies. The real difference is that "The Brown" thinks you can separate the two and "The Gray" says you can't. Both claimed they were serving women.
Brown, and the movement she represented, believed that women are served by more access to "services" such as abortion, which frees them from the burden of carrying and raising a child.
Gray, and the movement she represented, believed that you can stand both for women and for the children in their wombs, and that their destinies are intertwined: Loving and serving either means loving and serving both.
'This is my body'
Ironically, the same four words became a rallying cry for both women. The same simple words are spoken from opposite ends of the universe, with meanings directly contrary to each other.
"This is my body" describes the pro-choice, pro-abortion rights mentality in the most succinct way possible. I own this body and all its potential. I decide whether the child occupying space in my womb lives or dies. I answer to no one but myself.
"This is My Body" meant something entirely different to Gray, and to everyone involved in the anti-abortion work and advocacy. Those were the sacrificial words spoken by Jesus Christ.
But you don't have to be Christian to understand Jesus' message about love and selflessness. Christ teaches the meaning of love: I sacrifice myself for the good of the other person. Abortion teaches the opposite of love: I sacrifice the other person for the good of myself. Christ gives his body away so others might live; abortion-rights supporters cling to their own bodies so others might die.
Abortion divides Americans more profoundly than any other issue. Some say it is intractable. But maybe the reason is that we're looking at it only as a battle to be won or lost on the political front. This is a deeper spiritual battle, perhaps embodied best by the very women who gave their lives to these respective causes.
Father Frank Pavone is the national director of Priests for Life.