A History of Pro-Life Feminism

The American Catholic has a comprehensive post on the history and question of pro-life feminism.

In the contemporary American political scene, it is taken to be a truism that feminism is inseparable from support of abortion. This cultural assumption taken to be seemingly obvious ironically is regularly undermined. “Pro-life feminism” has resurfaced in the political mainstream and with it has come a piece of otherwise suppressed history of the women who fought for the 19th Amendment: the feminist movement historically opposed rather than advocated abortion.

They survey the early pioneers of feminism, which important questions such as the following:

Elizabeth Cady Stanton, another prominent feminist, called abortion a “crying evil” in Anthony’s weekly journal in March 1868. In a letter to Julia Ward Howe, Stanton wrote:

“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.”

The first female presidential candidate, Victoria Woodhull, was a supporter of women’s rights as well as the rights of the unborn. She once remarked:

“Every woman knows that if she were free, she would never bear an unwished-for child, nor think of murdering one before its birth.”

Even more shocking is the position of Planned Parenthood’s founder, Margaret Sanger (though, readers of our blog already know that!):

What ever the case, Sanger’s comments about abortion do not sing to the tune of the modern pro-abortion lobby. In her book Woman and the New Race, published in 1920, Sanger wrote:

“While there are cases where even the law recognizes an abortion as justifiable if recommended by a physician, I assert that the hundreds of thousands of abortions performed in America each year are a disgrace to civilization.”

In her 1938 autobiography, Sanger attempted to defend her promotion of eugenics through the use of contraception on the grounds that it did not require killing unborn children.

“To each group we explained what contraception was; that abortion was the wrong way—no matter how early it was performed it was taking life; that contraception was the better way, the safer way—it took a little time, a little trouble, but was well worth while in the long run, because life had not yet begun.”

This view, what ever its sincerity, was promulgated by Sanger and her organization Planned Parenthood. A 1963 Planned Parenthood marketing pamphlet entitled “Plan Your Children,” highlights the fact that the pro-abortion grip on feminism is a relatively new phenomenon:

“An abortion kills the life of a baby after it has begun. It is dangerous to your life and health. It may make you sterile so that when you want a child you cannot have it.”

It wasn’t until the late 60s or early 70s that feminism was really divorced from pro-life views.

The same year Sanger died, the National Organization for Women (NOW) added legalizing abortion to its list of goals.
In 1972, NOW purged theirs membership of all those who dissented from their organizational stance on abortion.
Since the early 70’s, the terms “pro-life” and “feminist” have been seen as virtually mutually exclusive. The creative efforts by the pro-abortion lobby to merge support of abortion with support of the legitimate rights of women have undoubtedly perpetuated this perception. But in recent years, the reemergence of pro-life feminism has posed a real challenge to the status quo.

The whole post is worth a read for anyone struggling to reconcile pro-life views with feminism.

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