Fordham Law

Leading New Feminist Legal Scholar Brings Law and the Gospel of Life to Fordham Law

June 13, 2013

On Friday May 31, Fordham Law’s Institute on Religion, Law & Lawyer’s Work hosted Law and the Gospel of Life II, the second event in a series that explores tensions and challenges in the implication of Gospel values to law, social policy, and bioethics. In particular, this lecture focuses on feminist debates in law and politics, and the particular role that religion plays in such debates. The event was held in the James B.M. McNally Amphitheatre from 6–8 p.m.

At the event, guest speaker Erika Bachiochi, a legal scholar on American Constitutional Law and new feminist legal theory, explored the polarizing issues of abortion law and the sexual economics of contraception in contemporary society and discussed ways that secular and Catholic feminists might find opportunities to collaborate and reach common goals in these debates.

“To be taken seriously in the modern world, the Church has to be in serious conversation with modern feminists,” said Bachiochi.

She argued her case for a new, authentic feminism that springs forth from Catholic teaching and acknowledges the biological difference between men and women, a fact that she says has been consistently denied by secular feminists in an effort to promote the notion that women are sexually equal to men.

According to Bachiochi, cultural denial of reproductive asymmetry, i.e. the fact that women get pregnant and men don’t, and the increased acceptance of contraception and abortion in the contemporary world, have actually burdened women, particularly those of lower socioeconomic standing, rather than liberated them. Offering economic and sociological statistical data, Bachiochi discussed how the rise in contraception use has simultaneously given rise to unplanned pregnancies and abortions and has reinforced a family structure lacking stability and paternal commitment, especially in underprivileged groups where single motherhood is prevalent.

“One might say that in practice the sexual insurance policy [of abortion and contraception] that was putatively taken out to insure both sexes against unwanted pregnancy, in reality insures only men, leaving women in many cases worse off,” she said.

Bachiochi also explained how secular and non-secular feminists should be in conversation rather than dispute with one another. She said that, whether pro-life or pro-choice, all women can and should convene and discuss institutional changes that tackle those societal injustices which make abortion a viable option in the first place, such as the disproportionate burden that motherhood places on women, the way the public undervalues the need for parenting, and the inhospitable social conditions available for parents to raise their children in. Additionally, Bachiochi called for a restructuring of the workplace to more equally acknowledge the burdens of parenting for both parents, saying, “we must culturally, politically, and legally examine how to more appropriately value the care work in family that is disproportionately performed by women, still.”

Kathleen M. Scanlon of the Law Offices of Kathleen M Scanlon and adjunct law professor in ethics and ADR at Fordham, delivered the response to Bachiochi. Scanlon expanded on Bachiochi’s critique surrounding the contemporary failure to recognize biological differences between men and women by sharing her own experience working as lead counsel in a lawsuit against the 2007 Stem Cell Act in New York State court, in which she challenged that the Act’s funding program to purchase donated eggs was unconstitutional use of taxpayer money. Scanlon explained that the funding program’s largest problems—including its disingenuous explanation of the risk exposure of egg donation for women and insulation of State from liability in direct violation of public health law on human research subjects—exemplified a cultural unwillingness to acknowledge the drastic difference in risk and procedure between female egg retrieval and male sperm donation, a much less burdensome practice.

Robert Crotty, Partner at Kelley Drye and President of the Guild of Catholic Lawyers, moderated the event and provided his own remarks concerning the dangers of what he called the “sexual equality narrative.”

Following their remarks, the speakers answered questions asked by audience members.