ashwednesday: (spilled milk)
[personal profile] ashwednesday
Grr. In the last couple of days the complete lack of maternity leave in the USA has come up a few times in conversations with American friends. And today one American friend said she has to go back to work on Monday. She gave birth just before the New Year. The leave she was given wasn't even mandated by the state, but instead was given by her employer. They could have given her nothing.

For comparison, in the UK by law women are entitled to 39 weeks of paid maternity leave - 6 weeks at 90% of full salary, and the rest at the statutory minimum of c.£130/week. (Many employers choose to give more generously.) Furthermore, women are entitled to unpaid leave, bringing their time off to a full year, with their job security guaranteed. Paternity leave is two weeks, which isn't a great deal but is better than many countries which offer none at all. Of course, compared to other parts of Europe the UK doesn't have particularly generous maternity leave provision.

One reason I get particularly appalled by the US's lack of maternity provision is the gross hypocrisy in a political community that is predominantly "pro-life". Unfortunately, in political discourse pro-life has come to be entirely concerned with abortion rights.

I would describe myself as pro-life. My views on abortion are given here - this entry is 2008 and I would adjust a few things now, but it is more or less reflective of my current views. I'll just quote a short bit that sums up my personal view about abortion:
In any biological definition, conception marks the beginning of a human existence. What people really argue about when they talk about life beginning is where meaningful life begins. B ... [A]lthough I philosophically place the value of each human soul as equal to another, I know that emotionally I would react differently to the loss of a child before it had recognisable human form to a still birth or to an infant death. But I also think that just because a human being is not yet in a state that it can live outside the womb, or because it does not yet resemble a human being, stops it being fully human in the most absolute sense - beyond questions of what the body or mind is or is not - and full of the grace that God has given it. Once a human being exists, it has the right to continue its existence, because each person’s life is only their own and God’s, regardless of their physical capacity, intellectual ability, moral worth or anything else.

I also note that despite this view on abortion, I would not mandate to ban abortion, as the human misery that results from abortion being illegal is too high a cost. And the reasons for abortion are extremely complex, and I do not feel as if I have the right to tell a woman that she should bear a pregnancy that is the result of rape, for example. So although my feeling about the act itself - termination - is one of moral revulsion, my feeling about the reasons for abortion are a lot more complex. And in a political community, one cannot govern by moral absolutes, any more than it is really possible to function as a humane member of a society and judge everyone by an absolute scale, either.

Anyway, I'm getting sidetracked. My position on the right to life extends far beyond the issue of abortion. To be pro-life, as far as I'm concerned, is this:
Respect for the human person entails respect for the rights that flow from his dignity as a creature. These rights are prior to society and must be recognized by it. They are the basis of the moral legitimacy of every authority: by flouting them, or refusing to recognize them in its positive legislation, a society undermines its own moral legitimacy. ... Respect for the human person proceeds by way of respect for the principle that "everyone should look upon his neighbor (without any exception) as 'another self,' above all bearing in mind his life and the means necessary for living it with dignity."

That's from the catechism of the Catholic Church, and it neatly encapsulates a whole range of important things. The right for human beings to live with dignity. Society as a whole's responsibility to protect and promote human rights. Our responsibility as individuals to work toward treating all human beings, without exception, with the same respect, regardless of what they have done.

This for me means, amongst many other things, that:

We treat our prisoners with respect - which does not mean we do not punish them, but that our punishments are proportionate to the crime, that they have a moral function based on justice rather than revenge, that where possible we seek to rehabilitate. That we do not under any circumstances allow the death penalty, that offers blood rather than justice.

That if we cannot avoid the possibility of war, that our conduct in war is just, and is merciful wherever possible, that we do not violate the dignity of the body and mind by performing torture.

That we protect the dignity of the most vulnerable in our society: the disabled, the very young, the old. That we treat our vulnerable members with compassion but also with respect: that we value them as individuals, not as problems, that we recognise that no physical or mental disability, no matter how profound, makes any person less perfectly human.

That we protect the family, by allowing parents to properly care for their children through provision of adequate parental leave and through economic and social assistance for families with complex problems. That we recognise that "family" is a broader concept than the nuclear family of 2.4 children for a husband and wife.

That rather than legislating against abortion, which seems to do little good, we turn to dealing withthe complex socio-economic circumstances that make unwanted pregnancy more common, for instance: that through education of our children we address head-on the problem of rape culture and of sexually dysfunctional behaviour, including issues of consent and "soft" coercion; that we develop foster care and adoption legislation so that children have better opportunities to be placed with loving families, and that we constantly review this legislation to ensure the needs of birth families, adoptive families and the children themselves are met; that we offer support to disadvantaged and struggling families.

That we protect human adults' rights to love and be loved by other consenting adults, including full equality of marital opportunity for adults of any sex over the age of eighteen.

There are lots more things, of course, but those are the things I mean when I talk about being pro-life. If being pro-life means you want to ban abortions and at the same time you sneer at poor people needing economic relief and say they should pull themselves up by their bootstraps, or you judge young girls who get pregnant out of wedlock and instead of offering them resources and assistance sneer at them for choosing what may seem like the only financially and emotionally viable option open to them, abortion, or you judge families for having more children than they can afford to raise, or you support businesses in not offering leave to mothers after the birth of their children: then as far as I am concerned, you have no respect for human dignity, and your right to the label pro-life is forfeit. And I don't blame pro-choice people a bit for thinking you are selfish and misogynistic, either. If, meanwhile, you want to ban abortions but you will work to promote human dignity in ways I have outlined, then while I'm not convinced that you are necessarily doing the best thing for society, because I still think illegal abortion poses a great threat, I will applaud you and support your moral standpoint.


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January 2013

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