3. The Blame Game
The woman caught in adultery highlights another curse of women’s lives – being blamed for sexual transgressions. Women have been unable to shake off the image of ‘Eve, the temptress’. When a marriage breaks down because the husband has found another love interest, the “other woman” is held responsible for seducing him. Alternately the wife is blamed, especially if he fulfills his patriarchal duties as a good provider, and she resists the patriarchal mould or control, and seeks to be treated as a person with dignity and rights. Frequently she is denounced as a misguided “feminist”.
In India, thanks to gender stereotypes, rape victims too are blamed – for wearing the “wrong” clothes, for being out at the “wrong” time, for being in the company of the “wrong” people, for “wrong” behavior. The masculinities of the rapists that give rise to such aggression, are tacitly condoned. As a result, women’s movement is restricted to stipulated areas, or by curfews, or the insistence of chaperones; their clothes are prescribed, and their autonomy is denied, leading to fewer life options and imprisonment and slavery in the home.
The blame game is played out even in the Church when priests manipulate and sexually abuse women. Inevitably it is the woman who is blamed by the faith community who looks on her with suspicion and accuses her of seducing him. His persona as a “man who stands in place of God” is so strong, that few fingers are pointed at him. This is particularly true in countries like India where clericalism and religiosity are so strongly entrenched, that priests are practically worshipped and so can be seen to do no wrong.
When it comes to abortion once again it is usually the woman who is put in the dock. The Pope’s directive giving all priests the power to lift the penalty of “latae sententiae excommunication” (Can. 1398) that accompanies the canonical crime, so that “those who have committed the sin of procured abortion” can receive the sacrament of reconciliation (MM 12), is frequently interpreted as a boon for women, not for men who father the child. Given the widespread prevalence of child marriage in India, the societal pressure to produce a son, and the low status of women in the hierarchical power structures of the joint family, most Indian women have little say in their pregnancies or abortions. How then can they be held responsible?
Even couples who do have the freedom to make choices however, cannot always make decisions in freedom. They may choose to have an abortion in the best interests of their families, but the burden of guilt remains, like in the case of the grandmother who confessed to me that she prays everyday for the baby she aborted because natural family planning (NFP) failed, and she had neither the physical nor material resources to care for a third child when she was still breastfeeding her second. Large families may be “a joy for the Church” (AL 167), but are they for women? Social and demographic realities, as well as specific situations and “legitimate desires” are recognized as deciding factors for “responsible parenthood” (AL 167), but what about the toll that pregnancies take on women’s bodies and lives? Should this not be the primary deciding factor?
 Can. 1398: A person who procures a completed abortion incurs a latae sententiae excommunication (1983 Code of canon Law). While the sin can be absolved in the sacrament of reconciliation, penitents are denied access to the confessional because of the excommunication which bars them from the sacraments. Thus the penalty for the canonical crime has first to be lifted (usually by the local bishop or his delegate), for the sacramental absolution of the sin to be effective.