“The Feminist Case Against Abortion.”
Before I begin, I wish to thank the pro-life students for courageously standing up for those who cannot speak for themselves, and prochoice students for being willing to listen to someone with a different point of view. I know, from FFL’s work on Capitol Hill, that we are capable of working together. I also want to speak to women who have had an abortion and others who have participated in abortion. What I am about to say is not to condemn you. Hopefully we will come to a better understanding of what drives women to abortion, and what we can do to better help women in need.
THE EARLY FEMINISTS
You know by the fact that I am here today that all feminists do not support abortion. Properly defined, feminism is a philosophy that embraces basic rights for all human beings without exception—without regard to one’s race, religion, sex, size, age or location, disability or parentage. Feminism rejects the use of force to dominate, control, or destroy one another. Feminists for Life continues a 200-year-old tradition begun by Mary Wollstonecraft in 1792. After decrying the sexual exploitation of women—in scathing 18th-century terms in A Vindication of the Rights of Woman—she condemned those who would “either destroy the embryo in the womb or cast it off when born,” saying, “Nature in everything deserves respect, and those who violate her laws seldom violate them with impunity.” She died giving birth to her second baby girl. The girl was named Mary, after her mother. And, like her mother, she became a great writer. Using her mother’s philosophy, she wrote what has become the greatest novel about what happens when the laws of nature are violated. The book is entitled Frankenstein by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley.
Fifty years after Mary Wollstonecraft began the feminist movement, Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton went to England to fight for the abolition of slavery. At that time, women could not vote, hold property, inherit if they were married, control their own money, sit on a jury, testify on their own behalf, assemble or speak freely, keep their children if divorced—sometimes even when widowed. There was no such thing as marital rape, and no woman had ever graduated from college.
The early feminists—facing conditions similar to those faced by women in developing countries today—were strongly opposed to abortion, because of their belief in the value of all humans.
The same women who fought for the rights of slaves to be free and women to vote also fought for our right to life. Abortion was common in the 1800s. Sarah Norton, the first woman
to successfully argue admission to Cornell University, wrote in 1870, “Child murderers practice their profession without let or hindrance, and open infant butcheries unquestioned.... Is there no
remedy for this ante-natal murder? ...Perhaps there will come a day when... an unmarried mother will not be despised because of her motherhood... and when the right of the unborn to be born will not be denied or interfered with.”
In 1868, Eleanor Kirk linked the need for women’s rights to the safety of their unborn children.
When a woman told Kirk that suffrage was unnecessary, because she and her husband were one, Kirk responded by asking her—what would become of her babies if her husband weren’t around to provide for her and her children?
Kirk went on to say, “Why doesn’t somebody ask, what has become of the babies? Ask thousands of physicians, male and female, who have been engaged in their work of destruction for years. Physicians who have graduated from our first medical colleges, physicians with high sounding diplomas, whose elegant equipage stand in front of Fifth Avenue mansions, who pocket a big fee and a little bundle of flesh at the same time, and nobody’s the wiser! Not
even the husband in the host of instances.”
“What will become of the babies—did you ask—and you? Can you not see that the idea is to educate women that they may be self-reliant, self-sustaining, self-respected?...The first Revolution must be female suffrage.... God speed the time for the sake of the babies. Little ones will then be welcome.”
Without known exception, the early feminists condemned abortion in the strongest terms. Susan B. Anthony’s and Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s radical feminist newspaper, The Revolution, called abortion “child murder.” Elizabeth Cady Stanton, who in 1848 organized the first women’s convention in Seneca Falls, New York, classified abortion as a form of “infanticide” and said, “When we consider that women have treated as property, it is degrading to women that we should treat our children as property to be disposed of as we see fit.”
Since there were no American laws to protect women and children from abortion, the early feminists worked to outlaw abortion. (This is the dirty little secret of women’s studies departments across the United States.) Feminists, doctors, and the media worked together in an uneasy alliance for anti-abortion laws. The feminists agreed with doctors and the media about providing legal protection for the unborn, but they disagreed sharply on the reasons that women had abortions—and on their proposed remedies.
Male physicians blamed the woman, saying that if she just did what men said, she wouldn’t have gotten herself into “trouble.” Feminists argued that women who had abortions were responsible for their actions, but women resorted to abortion primarily because of their lack of autonomy within the family and society and their lack of financial resources and emotional support.
A passage in Susan B. Anthony’s and Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s newspaper, The Revolution, states: Guilty? Yes, no matter what the motive, love of ease, or a desire to save from suffering the unborn innocent, the woman is awfully guilty who commits the deed. It will burden her conscience in life, it will burden her soul in death; but oh, thrice guilty is he who drove her to the desperation which impelled her to the crime!
The first woman to run for president, Victoria Woodhull, said: “Every woman knows that if she were free, she would never bear an unwished-for child, or think of murdering one before its birth.” Some—who begrudgingly admit the early American feminists were anti-abortion—have suggested that the reason was the Victorian attitude about sex. That’s not true either. Elizabeth Cady Stanton shocked Victorian society by parading around in public visibly pregnant. She raised a flag to celebratethe birth of a child in a time when children were not seen in society until the age of two. She celebrated womanhood. She was “in your face” about her ability to have children.
Yet like today’s pro-life feminists, early feminists recognized that women do not have to bear children to share in this celebration of womanhood. Susan B. Anthony was once complimented by a friend who thought that she would have made a wonderful mother. Anthony responded, “Sweeter even than to have had the joy of caring for children of my own has it been to me to help bring about a better state of things for mothers generally, so their unborn little ones could not be willed away from them.”
THE ‘70s WOMEN'S MOVEMENT
Ironically, when the U.S. Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision destroyed the consumer protection laws established 100 years before through the advocacy of early feminists, the National Organization for Women cheered the Roe decision as the “emancipation of women.” What Elizabeth Cady Stanton called a “disgusting and degrading crime” was translated into what Eleanor Smeal called the “most fundamental right.”
By this time the birth rate was down. That happened long before legal abortion or even the Pill. It happened when women went to work.There was no outcry from women to have abortions. Even when Betty Friedan reawakened feminism in 1963 with her landmark book, The Feminine Mystique, the first edition did not even mention abortion.
It was the two men who founded NARAL—then the National Association to Repeal the Abortion Laws—who advocated the repeal of feminist anti-abortion laws. One of these men, Larry Lader, wanted to repeal abortion laws because of population concerns. He thought there were too many people in this world. The other man, Dr. Bernard Nathanson, had seen a botched abortion in Chicago. He reasoned—like some who promote legalizing prostitution—that legal would mean safer. These two men traveled around the country advocating the repeal of what they believed to be antiquated abortion laws. Nathanson later told FFL’s immediate past president, Rosemary Bottcher, how, after failng to convince legislators that anti-abortion laws were archaic, Larry Lader saw another opportunity. Lader approached the leaders of the women’s movement. He offered women the keys to the executive washroom. If women wanted to be educated like men, hired like men, and promoted like men, then women couldn’t expect the poor little employer to accommodate women! Why should it be the boss’ problem? Why should it be his responsibility to give women maternity benefits and leave, a living wage? Why should it be his problem when a woman wants time off to have the kid, when the child has the mumps, parent/teacher meetings? Children are a disruption to the workplace! If women want to be treated like men, Lader argued, then women shouldn’t bother employers with women’s fertility problems. If women could only control their fertility and fit into a man’s world on men’s terms, then women might be successful. Betty Friedan was not convinced. After all, she had felt her children in her womb. She knew they weren’t aliens or parasites. So Lader went back to the drawing board and came up with a big—and effective—lie. According to Nathanson, Lader simply made up the number of women who died from illegal abortions. Nathanson went along with it, and these NARAL founders told the horrible story that 10,000 women a year were dying.
Elizabeth Cady Stanton celebrated—flaunted—her motherhood. She did not capitulate to societal expectations, but pressured society to accept her as she was. We should have told Lader and Nathanson, “Women have children. Get over it!” Instead, NOW made legalized abortion their #1 priority. They say that access to abortion is “the most fundamental right of women, without which all other rights are meaningless.” Really? Will our property be seized? Will women be tossed out of college? Sarah Weddington thought so. She argued in Roe v. Wade that a woman couldn’t possibly complete her education if she were pregnant. Why not? Is she suddenly stupid? Will our votes not count? Will our right to free speech suddenly disappear? It is time to challenge these assumptions made about women’s capacity. Even more important, it’s time to reconsider the many promises made to women by abortion advocates. The abortion proponents of the 1970s promised women a world of equality and reduced poverty—a world where every child would be “a wanted child.”
Instead, child abuse has escalated in every developed country where abortion has been legalized. And rather than shared responsibility for children, even more of the burden has shifted to women. To some extent, women must accept responsibility for this. When women marched up and down Pennsylvania Avenue and chanted, “It’s our body! It’s our choice!” men agreed, “Yeah, it’s your problem.” Fatherhood has been diminished. More than $90 billion is owed women in child support. Even worse, children are disconnected from their fathers. Fatherless teens are at highest risk for becoming parents too soon.
More than three decades after Roe, we mourn the loss of more than 40 million American children that we will never meet. We will never know what they might have contributed to this world. We also remember the women and teens who have lost their lives to legal but lethal abortion. Every 38 seconds a woman lays her body down, driven to abortion because of a lack of resources and support.
These losses are unacceptable.
Abortion is a reflection that we have not met the needs of women—and women have settled for less.
Today we stand in solidarity with women who are coerced into abortion because they felt they had no choice.
With women who were vulnerable because they were young or poor or in college or in workplaces that would not accommodate them as mothers. With women who have been betrayed by those they count on the most. With women who were scared and underestimated their own strength. With women who have experienced abortion and are silent no more. With young men and women who mourn their missing siblings. We remember those who have died from legal but lethal abortion.
Who mourns for them?
As I traveled the country I noticed that I rarely saw pregnant or parenting students. Those rare creatures—visibly pregnant women— are stared at like exotic animals as they cross the campus! Most students have never known a day with legal protection from abortion. One in five abortions is performed on a woman in college. And we ask, “Is this the best we can do?” Women deserve better than abortion. We refuse to choose between women and children. No woman should be forced to choose between sacrificing her education and career plans and sacrificing her child.
For too long we have screamed at one another. “What about the women?” “What about the baby?” That gets us nowhere. We need progressive solutions that challenge the status quo. We need to listen to the needs of women. Where are the family housing, the childcare, and the maternity coverage? Why can’t a woman telecommute to school or work? Why can’t she job share? Why doesn’t she make a living wage?
The Alan Guttmacher Institute, Planned Parenthood’s own research arm, has given us our task list—the long list of reasons that women have abortions. These can be divided into two basic categories: lack of financial resources and lack of emotional support. We can redirect the abortion debate and work together addressing the root causes of abortion with women-centered solutions.
Since 1996, Feminists for Life has been focused on serving pregnant and parenting collegians. Pro-lifers and pro-choicers come together and work to address the unmet needs of women through Pregnancy Resource Forums.
At a Pregnancy Resource Forum, students (especially pregnant and parenting students), administrators, health services staff, residence life and student affairs representatives, financial aid staff, counselors, and community service representatives come together in a nonconfrontational panel discussion to identify existing and needed services and create a blueprint for progress.
You, too, can be a catalyst for change.
Feminists for Life hosted the first-ever Pregnancy Resource Forum at Georgetown University in 1997. Within two years the school set aside endowed housing for parenting students. Hoya Kids childcare was established. Georgetown asked a part-time employee, who worked on sexual assault and domestic violence,to go full time and take on pregnancy services as well. Then they expanded to a Health Education Services department. Students can call a number for help 24 hours a day. And Georgetown hosts a Pregnancy Resource Forum every year to check progress
and make further improvements.
At my alma mater, Old Dominion University, telecommuting began for older, non-traditional students. They were soon joined by the physically challenged and later by the “pregnantly-abled.”
An elaborate telecommuting program is not necessary. Simple solutions, like those sought by student parents at Loyola in Baltimore, are also worthwhile. A student there asked someone to record classes on tape for her and asked the school for a nearby parking space when she was eight months pregnant.
Some colleges, like Georgetown, create childcare centers.
University of Virginia students started a babysitting service.
Fathers at the University of Chicago decided to organize a childcare co-op to fight the high cost of daycare. Pro-choice students there recognized the lack of choices and resources in the orientation kit. There were four pages dedicated to obtaining abortion, but not one page on the needs of pregnant and parenting students—whether married or single, nor any about adoption options.
Mothers want a private, comfortable place to breastfeed—not a toilet in the women’s room. A chair in a women’s lounge will do. And parents do not want to change their child’s diapers on the floor of a bathroom. Berkeley Students for Life provided baby changing stations in women’s and men’s rooms. FFL went to pro-choice clinic staff, students, healing therapists, and an abortion doctor for their advice and input. Pro-choice legal organizations helped write our information on child support for those being coerced or abandoned.
An FFL intern from Howard chose grandparenting to complete her education. She went to her parents’ home every weekend to see her two little ones and afterwards landed a job at a Boston ad agency.
Some colleges find that many services already exist. What is needed are ways to inform students about the resources and support— bookmarks, web sites, orientation materials, student handbooks, brochures, articles in the paper, etc.
Feminists for Life has worked for enhanced child support legislation.
We also distribute brochures that include information about child support—both the responsibilities and rights of the father. If he is unwilling to parent, our “You Have Choices” brochure (http://www.feministsforlife.org/cop/kits/yhc.pdf) contains basic information that women should know to establish paternity. We need to systematically eliminate the root
causes of abortion, because women deserve better than abortion.
FFL’s Honorary Chair and two-time Emmy-winning actor Patricia Heaton has said, “Women who experience an unplanned pregnancy also have a right to experience unplanned joy.”
Honorary Co-Chair Margaret Colin asked that we “remember the woman.”
More than a century ago, the same women who fought for women’s rights and for the rights of
slaves to be free also fought for our right to life.
Mattie Brinkerhoff wrote in an 1869 edition of the radical feminist paper, The Revolution: “When a man steals to satisfy hunger, we can safely assume that there is something wrong in society—so when a woman destroys the life of her unborn child, it is an evidence that either by education or circumstances she has been greatly wronged.”
Feminists for Life was founded in 1972 by Cathy Callahan and Pat Goltz—two women who thought that abortion advocates were hijacking the women’s movement. Pat Goltz was later ejected from a NOW meeting in Ohio for distributing pro-life literature.
FFL proudly carries on the 200-year legacy of feminism, whose core principles rightly include nonviolence, nondiscrimination and justice for all.
Since Sarah Weddington argued in Roe v. Wade that a woman could not complete her college education if she were pregnant, and Larry Lader and Dr. Bernard Nathanson told NOW leadership that women need to control their fertility to achieve equality in the workplace, women have spent 31 years proving that we can make it in a man’s world. Now it is time for women to concentrate on the right to be ourselves.
I challenge those on both sides of the abortion debate to come together and address the root causes that drive women to abortion.
Those who refuse to choose between women and children, and work to systematically eliminate the root causes that drive women to abortion, already walk in the shoes of Susan B. Anthony and the other feminist foremothers.
I invite you to join and support Feminists for Life,
because women deserve better, and every
child deserves a chance at life.
Thank you. ❍