As a millennial with a mother raised in the 70s, it was almost inevitable that my opinion on abortion be that of the mainstream feminist movement – pro-choice. I never thought of abortion as something to be glorified, but I did take the view of Joy Behar – anyone that was anti-abortion was inherently “anti-choice” and more so “anti-women”. I once even tweeted that “God wouldn’t want women to die in backstreet abortions” as a way of reconciling my faith with this controversial issue (Though that sentiment does remain true, I will discuss the irony in this tweet further on).
It all changed when egalitarian theologian and feminist activist Jory Micah of Breaking The Glass Steeple sent me a follow request. As I scrolled through her feed, I noticed a post titled “I Am A Pro-Life Feminist!“ and was instantly intrigued by this seemingly apparent oxymoron. The blog post art appeared to be a bumper sticker with the words “Women Deserve Better Than Abortion” written in bold, with the alchemical symbol for Venus to the right – a symbol that has become synonymous with the feminine.
In curiosity I googled the organisation that this catchphrase was trademarked to, Feminists For Life, and found that their president Serrin Foster had delivered a speech titled “The Feminist Case Against Abortion” to a UC Santa Barbara audience in 2001, and better yet – it was available to view on Youtube.
An anthology titled “Women’s Rights” labelled the speech one of “the great speeches of history” and it’s obvious why.
I had never encountered a pro-lifer like Foster before. She was kind-hearted, open-minded and even started her speech by thanking “those (in the audience)…who support abortion rights, for being willing to listen to me” and “those..who don’t particularly like the word “feminist” (for being willing to listen to me)”. Her arguments weren’t ones of exclusivity and judgement – she never mentioned theology, she never shamed post-abortive women or put the lives of their offspring above their own, and she certainly didn’t offer unrealistic solutions.
She quoted pioneering feminists, namely suffragettes*, who were unapologetically pro-life and turned the arguments of modern feminists on their head.
She educated and taught that the legalisation of abortion was never a focus in the western Women’s Liberation Movement…not even at it’s reawakening in 1963.
Alice Paul, a key figure in the pushing of the 19th Amendment to the US Constitution – prohibiting sex-based discrimination in the right to vote, once said that “abortion is the ultimate exploitation of women” – and 1st edition copies of Betty Friedan’s landmark book The Feminine Mystique, which is widely credited with beginning the second-wave feminist movement, never even mentioned abortion.
In a twist of depressing irony, the well worn line of “no uterus, no opinion” didn’t appear to apply to the first feminist pro-choicers, as it was really 2 men – Lawrence (Larry) Lader and Dr. Bernard Nathanson, 2 of the founders of The National Association to Repeal Abortion Laws (NARAL) – that nudged women’s rights activists to take note of the abortion issue, and they only nudged them for to push a personal agenda.
Lader was motivated to repeal abortion restrictions because of concerns regarding consumption vs population; Whereas Nathanson was motivated by the libertarian approach of “making abortion legal, makes abortion safe”.
Lader and Nathanson toured the US attempting to find senators to support their organisation, but they quickly realised that they would fail, unless they recruited activists who wouldn’t back down until they had been heard. As the Women’s Movement was just beginning to rekindle it’s fire, it seemed obvious to approach it’s precursor, Betty Friedan.
Friedan was not convinced with the men’s arguments and didn’t understand how this issue would resonate with young feminists, but Lader pushed her over the edge when he suggested that “100,000 women had died in botched illegal abortions” and that this was a civil rights issue that was sabotaging the lives of women. Whilst abortions certainly did occur during their prohibition, these statistics were imagined – it isn’t known how many died, and we only have record of 83 fatalities (not including the fetus) in the entirety of the USA’s history. In fact, most illegal abortions were performed by trained midwives or even physicians.
Inspired by Friedan and their own personal experiences, lawyers Sarah Wellington and Linda Coffee recruited Norma McCorvey, a young woman with an unwanted pregnancy, as a plaintiff in their 1973 Supreme Court case against the Dallas County attorney Henry Wade (aka the one enforcing the anti-abortion criminal statutes in Texas) – She is better known under the legal pseudonym of “Jane Roe”.
That same year, an undignified and provocative 1964 crime-scene photograph of deceased 29 year old Gerri Santoro began circulating as a pro-choice symbol thanks to Ms. (magazine). The photo was Santoro’s corpse, collapsed in a kneeling position on a motel floor, with a blood-soaked towel stuffed between her legs. Santoro had died from a hemorrhage caused by a botched illegal abortion.
It wasn’t revealed until the 1995 documentary Leona’s Sister Gerri however, that Santoro sought an abortion because she feared that her life would be in danger when her abusive estranged husband found she was pregnant with another man’s child.
Whilst she identifies as pro-choice, Santoro’s daughter Joanne was quoted in 1995 as saying “How dare they flaunt this? How dare they take my beautiful mom and put this in front of the public eye?”
Until discovering organisations such as Feminists For Life, Secular Pro-Life and New Wave Feminists – I had never considered that women’s rights activists had their attention fixed in the wrong place. Why were we so concerned that women like Gerri Santoro have access to safe abortions that they don’t even want, but allow them to return to their abusive and unhappy marriages, whilst we just turn a blind eye? I believe that this is a true example of women’s oppression, and it seems as though our feminist foremothers would agree.
Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B Anthony, and most notably, the first female candidate for US President Victoria Woodhull, were all pro-life. Woodhull was once quoted as saying “every woman knows if she were truly free, she would never bear an un-wished for child nor think of murdering one before it’s birth”.
This is why I find articles such as Teen Vogue‘s 11 Thoughtful Gifts Your Friend Who Just Had an Abortion Will Appreciate so disturbing. The article claims to want to end the shame and fear that women, particularly teenagers, feel when they have had an abortion; but instead the article glorifies the procedure as a bold statement of female empowerment and makes it out as a sort of fun bonding activity between friends.
Post Traumatic Stress specialist Susanne Babbel Ph.D MFT writes, “No matter your philosophical, religious, or political views on abortion, the fact of the matter is, the actual experience can affect women not only on a personal level but can potentially have psychological repercussions.” Yet the article mentions nothing of this; Instead it provides it’s target audience of 12 to 18 year olds with advertisements of arbitrary gift ideas such as “angry uterus heating pads”.
Worst of all, it’s author Whitney Bell, a self-proclaimed “intersectional feminist bitch & dick pic artist” attempts to make a profit from the disconcerting piece by advertising her own brand among the rest of the items.
This article, like so many others, is just a cheap attempt to vilify and generalise all pro-lifers as inherently aggressive and anti-freedom; With Bell writing “Soo which one of you angry anti-choicers wants to call me a “murderous baby-killing c*nt” first?!” in the description of her personal Facebook post on the gift-guide.
Our feminist foremothers dreamed of an ideal world for women, and a business that is fuelled by our oppression would most certainly not be in that vision. Women deserve better than what abortion provides, a temporary fix to a deep-rooted problem.
Teen Vogue has a duty to provide it’s young readers with real stories, not misinformed political propaganda passed off as “advice”.
“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.”
– Mattie Brinkerhoff, The Revolution (1869)
Source listing coming soon