What is true in the groves of academe is even more powerfully true in our modern, technologized world. Western society is built on the myth that individuals are in charge of their identities. And when we are reminded that that is not the case, we tend to become rather angry.
The sheer rage that has greeted the Dobbs decision demands reflection. The rhetoric regarding victims of incest and rape is powerful but hardly explains the anger, given that such cases are comparatively rare and exceptional. They make good material for emotional appeal to the populace, but are neither foundational to the philosophy of the pro-abortion cause nor the real source of the outrage we are witnessing. Nor do they explain the violence and vindictiveness now being directed at Catholic churches and crisis pregnancy centers, still less the weirdly passionate response of people in other countries whose laws are often no more liberal than the Mississippi legislation that drove the Dobbs case.
That abortion became the hallmark doctrine of modern feminism is itself fascinating, given that it requires a fundamental denial or repudiation of that which makes a woman a woman: a body formed around the potential for conceiving, gestating, and then bearing a child. Not all women can or do bear children, of course, but that does not mean they are not women in accordance with this biological definition. As Abigail Favale argues in The Genesis of Gender, to reject this definition on such grounds is to confuse act and potency. Therefore, a feminism that makes the destruction of the child a point of non-negotiable dogma is a feminism that rejects the very essence of what it means to be a woman. It is a perversion of what true feminism should be. This, incidentally, lies behind the current ironic and incoherent inability of those who are so passionate about women’s rights to define what “women” actually are.
And this gives us a clue to the outrage. The repeal of the right to abortion has two obvious consequences. First, it reasserts the importance of the physical body to female identity. Second, it strikes deep and hard at the idea that human beings are defined by their freedom and autonomy rather than by their dependency and obligation. In short, it contradicts two of the guiding myths of our contemporary culture, at least as understood by the elites. And when a culture’s guiding myths are challenged, one can expect those committed to them to be very angry and to hit back with force.