What is the Whole Life Movement?

At its core, the whole life movement is dedicated to protecting the life and dignity of all people. It is rooted in a belief in the innate dignity and worth of every single human being. Each human being is a person with innate and equal value, and human life is sacred. From these premises comes the belief that it is never permissible to intentionally and directly take an innocent life. But the wanton disregard for life present in unjust social structures and the dehumanization of others in ways short of direct killing are also incompatible with the whole life commitment to human life and dignity. Indirect threats to life, such as the absence of access to healthcare or food, are also fundamentally incompatible with the vision of government and society the whole life movement aims to achieve: the common good. Protecting the life of all people is intimately connected to creating conditions that reflect the dignity of every single person, conditions that allow each person to reach their full potential.

The whole life movement is not a rival of the pro-life movement. Instead, it seeks to purify the pro-life movement of its inconsistencies. A pro-life movement that ignores infant mortality rates, starvation, or the degradation of the environment simply does not deserve the label ‘pro-life.’ It becomes a mere euphemism for supporting laws that restrict access to abortion. It becomes detached from the understanding of human dignity and worth that should animate the movement. Only a whole life approach can make the pro-life movement authentically pro-life. Read More


Pope Francis: Right to Work and Motherhood Must Both Be Protected

via CNS:

Businesses are called to promote harmony between work and family for their employees, especially for women with children or who are starting families, Pope Francis said.

The pope said that many times, women who announce their pregnancy are fired from their positions, when instead they “must be protected and helped in this dual task: the right to work and the right to motherhood.”

“The challenge is to protect their right to a job that is given full recognition while at the same time safeguarding their vocation to motherhood and their presence in the family,” the pope said Oct. 31 in an audience with the Christian Union of Italian Business Executives.

Catholic men and women in the world of business are called to live faithfully “the demands of the Gospel and the social doctrine of the church,” he said, and become “architects of development for the common good.”


Paid Leave Is Going to Matter in 2016

Millennial writer Elizabeth Stoker Bruenig has a new article at TNR. She writes:

Oliver pointed out that the United States is singular among developed nations in its complete failure to provide any paid leave to mothers whatsoever. Globally, we are joined only by Papua New Guinea in our lack of paid maternity leave policy, according to data collected by the International Labor Organization, a United Nations agency….

When women are well supported in terms of paid leave, families have a better shot at staying above the poverty line, which is good news for parents and babies. The Right may have a traditional claim to the politics of strong families, but unless they can stake out a position that will offer the kind of protections to mothers that Clinton has in mind, the pro-family rhetoric of the Right will remain nothing but talk.

The full article can be read here.


Pope Francis Calls For Equal Pay For Equal Work

via Crux:

Pope Francis on Wednesday backed equal pay for equal work for women, calling it a “Christian duty” to fight to make sure that women receive equivalent compensation for doing the same jobs as men.

The pontiff also called it “chauvinistic” to fault the women’s rights movement for a decrease in marriages in recent decades, calling that accusation a thinly disguised way to “control the woman.”

The pontiff said that “the Christian seed” of equality between men and women must generate new fruit, through a more persuasive witness to the social dignity of marriage.

“As Christians, we must become more demanding in this regard,” Francis said, citing support for the right to equal pay for equal work as an example.


AltFem: Reconciling Faith and Feminism

Last Wednesday, a new online magazine that seeks to reconcile religious faith with feminism had its launch party, featuring three eclectic panels of speakers who offered their own thoughts on the subject. The discussions were fascinating and showed the value of the periodical if it can live up to the potential displayed at the event.

The aim of the magazine, altFem, is to foster a more inclusive feminism that is open to the contributions of women of faith. The launch event featured co-founders Asma Uddin and Ashley McGuire, along with a diverse set of speakers. The discussions were too wide-ranging for me to touch upon everything that was covered. Instead, I will focus on some of the highlights and most interesting points from my own perspective, as a devout Catholic who identifies as a feminist and is deeply interested in the subject.

One of the most interesting points of discussion centered on the idea of empowerment. Author and blogger Eve Tushnet argued that worldly power is problematic for Christians and called for positive conceptions of submission and obedience. She argued that the problem might be not that women lack power but that men lack humility.

Many men do lack humility, but many women are also powerless to use the gifts God has given them to reach their potentials as persons—something that is both unjust and that undermines efforts to promote the common good. This is particularly true of women in countries where girls and women lack access to education and basic legal rights. Feminism necessarily must be about giving these girls and women greater power—in the sense of more control over their lives and their societies, greater economic opportunity and access to education, and, overall, greater support for their basic rights as persons.

In advanced liberal democracies like the United States, there are reasons to be skeptical of an approach to feminism that focuses excessively on power rather than human flourishing, for instance. The first panel was asked if the feminist focus on empowerment is buying into a patriarchal norm. If patriarchy has fostered the radical individualism that prioritizes autonomy, control, consumeristic desires, momentary pleasure, and superficial standards of success over virtue, solidarity, joy, and the common good, then feminists whose views are shaped by radical individualism are perpetuating negative aspects of patriarchy. As someone who sees these bourgeois values as ultimately leading to a vapid, meaningless existence that cannot possibly satisfy the deepest aspirations of men or women, I see far greater value in an alternative or radical feminist approach rather than a liberal one of this nature.

But it seems clear that many women in the United States still would benefit from what we can legitimately call empowerment. This is particularly true of poor and working class women, but it doesn’t end with them. There are still glass ceilings. Women are still underrepresented in positions of power. Too many women are still underpaid for the work they do. From sexual violence to the objectification of women to countless other issues, conditions exist that do not reflect the inherent dignity of women and the fundamental equality of men and women. Part of the solution is certainly to find ways to make men more virtuous and just in their actions. But empowerment remains essential, as it is necessary for greater justice, not simply to satisfy the bourgeois desires of radical individualists.

I must say that I was left deeply uncomfortable with the idea of seeing “submission and obedience” to one’s spouse in a positive light, particularly when talking about wives submitting to their husbands. In some sense, I can understand talk about mutual submission if it is about mutual sacrifice and the sharing of responsibilities (with one spouse deferring to the other on certain matters), but overall I believe the term is too interconnected to unjust gender relations to justify its rehabilitation. If it doesn’t rely on hierarchical notions that (I believe) are incompatible with the fundamental equality of men and women, it can be conveyed using terminology that offers greater clarity. I agreed with Christy Vines and Salma Abugideiri, who described marriage as a partnership. Abugideiri explained that marriage is a mutually loving relationship, with our primary submission being to God.

An important point of discussion was the reality that men and women are delaying marriage. There can be material benefits connected to this, but it also creates challenges for people of faith. One of these challenges is the matter of premarital sex, given the growing distance between puberty and marriage in our society. On this question, Salma Abugideiri, columnist and founding board member of the Peaceful Families Project, framed her response by noting that as people of faith, we teach beliefs that contradict mainstream culture, where instant gratification and self-indulgence are viewed differently. For Muslims, she noted, sex is just one part of the equation, along with other things like praying 5 times a day and avoiding alcohol. She noted that these are challenging norms to pass on, but stressed that it is essential to find ways to navigate these challenges. One thing that helps is to have friends who share those values.

An interesting topic that came up in the second panel, which was moderated by Crystal Corman of World Faiths Development Dialogue, was the inadequacies of faith communities when it comes to speaking to single women. This is a concern that I have seen expressed on a number of occasions by young Catholic women on social media and blogs. Author Susan Katz Miller argued that marriage is neither necessary nor inevitable. Mollie Ziegler Hemingway, senior editor at the Federalist, argued that there is a tendency to denigrate the work of single people. Salma Abugideiri spoke about the need for values that show respect for people whether they are married or not and to ensure that people are not alienated either way.

One of my favorite parts of the event was hearing the speakers highlight the importance of women in their respective faith traditions. Christy Vines talked about how important it was for her to hear about the profoundly powerful women at the formation of the Church. Shahed Amanullah, CEO and co-founder of LaunchPosse and former state department senior advisor, talked about Mohammed’s first wife, noting that he worked for her and didn’t have a problem with it. Neylan McBaine, Founder of the Women Project, cited the witness of Mary Magdalene to the resurrection, seeing it as an example of Jesus’ trust in women. Eve Tushnet, meanwhile, cited the Magnificat.

The speakers also highlighted numerous scriptural references that show the compatibility of faith and feminism. Aisha Rahman, executive director of Karamah: Muslim Women Lawyers for Human Rights, noted the Koranic passage that says that God has given dignity to all the children of Adam. Christy Vines, Executive Director of the Center for Women, Faith, and Leadership with the Institute for Global Engagement, cited St. Paul calling women co-heirs and co-laborers, noting that we all share equally in the rights and benefits of this. She also cited the important passage from St. Paul that defines the universalism at the heart of Christianity: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free person, there is not male and female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).

The final panel, which was moderated by Sarah Pulliam Bailey of Religion News Service, focused on motherhood. Scholar Jamillah Karim stated that in our society, motherhood is not given the respect it should be, while in her faith it is. Writer Melissa Langsam Braunstein also noted that Judaism makes motherhood central, citing the commandment to be fruitful and multiply. Carrie Severino, chief counsel and policy director of the Judicial Crisis Network, rightly noted that feminism should not be framed in terms of man vs. woman or woman vs. child. There was also a critique of consumerism and similar mentalities that can cause parents to value work outside the home and career advancement over parenting.

While I share those concerns about consumerism, the truth is that choosing to place motherhood ahead of career goals is often a luxury that belongs to the wealthy or upper middle class, an angle that I thought merited greater attention (and was raised by a question from the audience). If you are highly intelligent and well-educated, it is easier to “lean in” and “lean out” at different stages than it is for working class parents who want to spend more time with their kids but can’t. Seriously addressing this means supporting government policies that will strengthen families and give parents more flexibility and time with their kids. This means fighting for a living wage; access to quality, affordable childcare; paid leave; and other pro-family policies. Faithful feminists, who are particularly concerned about family life, should be the ones most forcefully pushing for such changes.

The questions from the audience were truly outstanding throughout the event, which I think shows how interested people are in talking about this subject. One of the best asked about feeling a sense of tension between being a good mom and pursuing career goals. The demands and pressures on working mothers are intense and many feel pulled in too many directions. The blurring of lines between the office and home with the internet and smart phones can make working from home easier, but also can create guilt, as working parents often feel like they should be focusing on their children when they are working and vice versa. Some of these dilemmas may be inevitable given the modern economy and contemporary technology, but greater support for parents can help. And men stepping up as real partners in the home would also make a big difference. My impression is that more men are thinking about how to reconcile career goals with the desire to be good dads. This is good and necessary. Millennials seem to have a healthier, less materialistic understanding of work. Perhaps this will translate into marriages that are real partnerships, with dads playing a bigger role as caretakers, something that would advance the feminist cause and strengthen the common good.


Ending Discrimination Against Pregnant Women: An Interview with Thomas Berg

Numerous pro-life organizations recently filed a friend of the court brief in the Supreme Court for an important case on the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978, Young v. United Parcel Service. Among those organizations filing the brief was Democrats For Life of America (DFLA). Millennial editor Robert Christian, a senior fellow at DFLA, interviewed University of St. Thomas (MN) law professor Thomas Berg, who worked on the brief on behalf of DFLA.

What’s at stake in Young v. United Parcel Service?

The issue is how effective the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 (PDA) will be in protecting pregnant working women from discrimination–in this case, discrimination about who will be allowed temporary reassignment to light-duty work because of temporary physical limitations. The lower courts here essentially said that an employer doesn’t discriminate against pregnant employees unless it singles pregnancy out as a condition it won’t accommodate–even when it gives accommodation to several other conditions but denies accommodation to pregnancy. This issue matters a lot for the effectiveness of this law, because many employers accommodate some employees but not others: are employers allowed to treat pregnant employees as badly as the worst-treated other employees? And it matters a lot whether pregnant working women are vulnerable to losing their jobs or benefits. Almost 2/3 of women who’ve given birth in the previous 12 months are in the labor force, and 40 percent of working women with children under 18 are the sole or primary bread-winner for their families.

What are the facts of the case?

Peggy Young, a driver for UPS, became pregnant; after several months her doctor recommended that she not lift more than 20 pounds. Young requested a temporary reassignment to light-duty work, which UPS did for three major categories of employees with analogous limits on their ability to work: disabled workers, those with on-the-job injuries, and those with various medical conditions who’d lost their commercial drivers’ licenses. But UPS denied Young’s request; she had to take unpaid leave for several months, during which she was without employer-provided health insurance. She sued under the PDA, which states that pregnant employees must be treated “the same … as other [employees] who are similar in their ability or inability to work.” But the lower courts said that even though Young had been treated worse than the large categories of accommodated employees with similar limiting conditions, she not been discriminated against because UPS had not specifically named pregnancy as a non-accommodated condition and had denied accommodation to other workers as well, e.g. those with off-the-job injuries. In effect, the lower court said that “non-discrimination” here means the employer can treat pregnant workers as badly as the worst-treated employees, even when it treats a lot of other employees better.

How would you respond to those who say that your position relies on an overly broad reading of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act?

The language of the statute is clear: employers must provide pregnant women with the same accommodations that they provide to other employees who “are similar in their ability or inability to work.” The lower courts essentially said that pregnancy could be treated differently because it’s an off-the-job injury, whereas UPS accommodated, e.g., on the job injuries. The statutory test, however, is not about the source of the condition but rather the employees’ ability to work. And allowing employers to treat pregnant women as poorly as they treat their least-accommodated workers is not consistent with the statutory purpose of giving real protection to pregnant women. Congress viewed pregnancy as an important condition, not an unimportant one that can be treated just as badly as the least-accommodated condition. The record contains many recognitions that the right to bear and raise children is fundamental and should be protected from economic pressure caused by the threat of losing a job or benefits. When large categories of workers are already accommodated, giving similar accommodations to pregnant women is only fair and is not likely to impose major additional costs on employers.

What do you think it means that so many pro-life groups have joined together on this? Is there a growing sense that a Whole Life agenda is necessary to be genuinely pro-life?

First and foremost, it was important to remind the Court that one of the clear purposes of the PDA was to protect women from economic pressure to terminate their pregnancies in order to keep their jobs or benefits–as then-Senator Biden put it, to protect women, especially low-income women, from being “encouraged to choose abortion as a means of surviving economically.” Back in 1978, pro-life groups joined pro-choice groups in supporting the PDA; the current case is important enough to the PDA’s effectiveness that many pro-life groups thought it important to speak again to support the statute’s purposes and effectiveness. It shows the importance of the issue here that 23 pro-life groups, with differing approaches and differing views on many other matters, issues, joined this brief. It’s a strong statement: pro-life groups believe that supporting pregnant women (including through effectively enforcing non-discrimination laws) is fundamentally pro-life.

Is this also a good area where people across the abortion divide can find common ground?

I think that’s true now, as it was in 1978 when the PDA was enacted. Pro-life and pro-abortion-rights groups come at this from different underlying views, but there’s an overlapping agreement that women shouldn’t be pressured by economic vulnerability into having abortions. The purpose of the brief is to argue for the proper interpretation of this case. But the filing of briefs across the abortion divide could have secondary effects. Beyond this case, there are other social and policy issues about how the workplace can become more equal and fair for women (and men) who are raising families. The attention given to the filing of these briefs could be an encouraging indicator that bipartisan, overlapping support is possible on these issues.