The Logic of "Pro-life Feminism"

By Jim Kirk

Twenty-five years ago, on Jan. 22, 1973, the United States Supreme Court passed a ruling that would radically change the American moral landscape. It would set the stage for a conflict that would divide the American people for decades to come.

That ruling was, of course, Roe vs. Wade, and the abortion battle has been, and still is, one of the most divisive moral issues our country has ever seen. The issue is as divisive today as it was 25 years ago. The tensions of the abortion conflict have grown so bad, the division so deep, that it seems forbidden even to talk about it. Abortion is the ultimate conversation killer.

For many, it has become only a political battle between two opposing groups. Others have stopped caring—they just know they're "pro-life" or "pro-choice." In some ways the issue seems to have transcended abortion. To be "pro-life," at least in our public consciousness, seems to entail much more than to believe that the fetus is a real person; likewise, to be "pro-choice" is to associate oneself with an alternate plethora of ideas and beliefs. Apart from the group identity of "pro-something," probably most people would be unable to defend their position.

If we are to end this divide in our country, honest discussion, not political discussion, must take place between real people. But what is needed first is a resolution to the conflict within each of us—a real resolution to the moral dilemma of abortion. I believe such a resolution is possible and attainable within this generation. Not a forced resolution of law, but a real end to the moral confusion and struggle that the last 25 years have borne witness to, and the young people of our age have inherited.

We may find this resolution in the growing "Pro-Woman, Pro-Life" movement, headed by the organization Feminists for Life. Begun in 1972 by a woman forced out of the National Organization for Women because of her pro-life beliefs, Feminists for Life seeks to carry on the tradition of pro-life feminism.

Pro-life feminism? This may sound like an oxymoron to many, but, in fact, Feminists for Life finds its inspiration in a strand of feminism that is often ignored by the feminist mainstream. Early feminists, such as Mary Wollstonecraft, Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and many more, understood abortion to be morally wrong in-itself, but within the context of a society that made it possible and prevalent. They believed that abortion was a symptom of deeper social problems, and that it often only freed men from the responsibilities of fatherhood.

They called it "child-murder" (Susan B. Anthony), "degrading to women," and "infanticide" (Elizabeth Cady Stanton). Victoria Woodhull, the first female presidential candidate, said, "The rights of children as individuals begin while yet they remain the fetus." Elizabeth Cady Stanton connected the issue of abortion directly to women's struggle for freedom: "When we consider that women are treated as property, it is degrading to women that we should treat our children as property to be disposed of as we see fit."

These women recognized the humanity of the fetus in a time before ultrasound, before color in-the-womb snapshots, before our in-depth knowledge of fetal development. They recognized that whatever the baby looks like in the womb, which is remarkably like a baby outside the womb, that is simply what human beings look like at that age. They recognized that the fetus is a living organism. They affirmed that that living organism was a real person and to end its life was a violent act.

In 1911, Emma Goldman, the radical anarchist, made a sad observation: "The custom of procuring abortions has reached such appalling proportions in America as to be beyond belief... so great is the misery of the working classes that seventeen abortions are committed in every one hundred pregnancies." How appalled would she be today, when in our country 25 to 30 percent of all pregnancies are ended by abortion?

Twenty-five years have passed since our country legalized abortion. In that time, we, as a country, have managed to split into two large factions. One side believes we are murdering our children at a rate of over 3,000 a day. The other side ignores those people, often by writing them off as extremists, and says women must have access to abortion for a variety of reasons.

I wish there was a compromise position. However, the sad fact of the matter is, either that growing organism in the womb of a woman is a baby, a real human being, or it is not. From a "Pro-Woman, Pro-Life" perspective, we can affirm both the sanctity of human life and the very real conflicts a woman with a crisis pregnancy faces in our culture. This, obviously, will not please everyone, but it calls the pro-life movement to do more than protest and the pro-choice movement to see that there is something wrong.

In our culture, abortion has become an accepted solution to crisis pregnancy. Once it is seen, not as a solution or a right, but as a painful symptom, those who call themselves "pro-life" and "pro-choice" may come together to help women in need.

Hopefully, one day soon we can dispense with the labels entirely and say with Mattie Brinkerhoff, another early feminist: "When a man steals to satisfy hunger, we may safely conclude 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."

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