The Pro-life Feminist: A contradiction in terms?
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The Pro-life Feminist: A contradiction in terms?

Stories/281 , Issues/Women , Issues/Healthcare
16th May 2017
The Pro-life Feminist: A contradiction in terms?
Divya explains why she considers a pro-life stance incompatible with modern feminism.

To be a feminist in this modern age is to be occasionally confused and even contradicted by the values wrapped up in this cosmic nebula of a term. How many of us have wondered whether we are being “good feminists”? Whether our desire to dress up for a date, or ask a male friend to kill a spider, or blow money on makeup makes us a traitor to our sex?

But there are many ways of being a feminist, as many ways as there are of putting subtle, significant obstacles between a woman and the respect and liberty she deserves. There are liberal feminists, race feminists, postcolonial feminists, Marxist feminists… all these powerful ladies identify as viewing their world through the lens of gender, while further honing in on the another marginality within their paradigms. More power to ‘em. There is a type of feminist however, which seems to me a fundamental contradiction: that ubiquitous “pro-life feminist”.

At the phenomenal Women’s March on Washington on January 21st, this issue came to the forefront of the feminist arena. A group known as the New Wave Feminists applied to become a formal partner of the March, and were met with civilised but virulent opposition. They were dropped as an official partner for the March the Monday before it was to take place. The Women’s March organisers apologised for the almost-partnership and released an official statement saying that their “platform is pro-choice”.

The New Wave Feminists spokesperson, Destiny Herndon-De La Rosa, responded to this in an interview in which she criticised what was in her opinion, the facade of diversity within the March, saying that the organisers only wanted to include “an array of women who think exactly like them”.

Now, at first sight, it’s tempting to feel a certain sympathy towards Ms. Herdnon-De La Rosa. It seems like a hypocritical move. To ban a group of women who think differently to other women is surely not what feminism is about. After all, pro-life feminism is just like one of the “isms” we listed before, right?

Pro-life women’s organisations have huge followings. Many identify as feminists first, and pro-choice second. Many also have logical, persuasive reasoning behind their stances which focuses on eliminating the social factors (such as the gender pay gap, stigmatisation of motherhood, lack of affordable childcare), which can prevent women from being able to be mothers. One of the largest, Feminists for Life, has a page in which they ask this same question: whether women can be pro-life and feminists. They answer it, in part, with this quote:

“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, 4(9):138-9 September 2, 1869

This, however, fundamentally excises any discussion of choice from the equation. It implies little to no agency on the part of the woman choosing to having an abortion, and suggests that a woman also has no control over her “education or circumstances”. This is not modern feminism, and this is where the difference is clear.

To campaign to make motherhood a more financially viable circumstance and to make society more receptive to a woman’s choice to have a child is a noble aim. Feminists at all ends of the spectrum see eye-to-eye on this. The issue surfaces when “pro-life feminists” decide that tackling these inequalities will lead to a world where all women will want to have children if they get pregnant; where all women will want to have them at all. It takes away the element of choice within abortion, and thus represents a direct conflict with the liberty of women to make their own choices and keep hold of the bodily autonomy we have fought so long for.

The Women’s March on Washington did not stop “pro-life feminists” from marching, and they went on to do so in full force. However, they were not willing to bolster an organisation whose ideology presents a restriction to the rights of women in need— be it mentally, physically, emotionally, be it just because they want to— of access to abortion. It was not a rejection of a diversity of opinion among feminists, but a protection of their freedom. Because in the end, there is no inherent contradiction in thinking that abortion is bad, or immoral, or never wanting to ever have one yourself. The dilemma only arises when you decide to push for legislative or other measures which impede other women from having access to an abortion, or harass them in front of family planning centres, or undermine their choices in any way because they are not yours. Vulva la résistance, indeed.

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