There Is No Such Thing as a 'Pro-Life Feminist'


Despite the mission statements of pro-life, conservative political action groups like Feminists for Life and the Susan B. Anthony List and Sarah Palin’s repeated use of the F-word, there is actually no such thing as a “pro-life feminist.” Sure, you can be a feminist and make a personal decision to never get an abortion. But who the fuck are you to actively work at taking away other women’s right to make their own personal decisions about their uteruses?

You are not a feminist, that’s for sure.

This week’s cover story of Time magazine is a summation of all the little battles that abortion-rights activists have lost since winning the war with Roe v. Wade 40 years ago. That “92 abortion-regulating provisions—a record number—passed in 24 states after Republicans gained new and larger majorities in 2010 in many legislatures across the country,” isn’t surprising to us, as we grapple with that depressing news regularly. So perhaps what was more intriguing—for feminists who are up-to-date on the endless fight for reproductive rights—about the the Time story was the publication’s inclusion of a companion piece titled “Pro-Life and Feminism Aren’t Mutually Exclusive,” written by Emily Buchanan, the executive director of the Susan B. Anthony List, “an organization that works to elect pro-life candidates to office.” Because although people like Buchanan insist that “pro-life feminism” actually exists, the logic behind it remains fuzzy at best.

So here was Buchanan’s chance, with her bold headline, to explain in the “lame-stream” media just how legislating the female reproductive system, hindering her bodily autonomy, and restricting her access to affordable contraception and gynecological healthcare, could ever be considered pro-woman. And she couldn’t. Not convincingly, anyway.

The biggest card that groups like the Susan B. Anthony list play is invoking the names and quotes of 19th and 20th century suffragists to prove their point. Buchanan writes:

From its early beginnings, feminism was a young women’s movement. Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Alice Paul, Charlotte Lozier and so many others began their suffragist work in their 20s. These women – the original feminists – understood that the rights of women cannot be built on the broken backs of unborn children. Anthony called abortion “child murder.” Paul, author of the original 1923 Equal Rights Amendment, said that “abortion is the ultimate exploitation of women.”

While “the original feminists” were certainly admirable and courageous women, it is absolutely idiotic to consider their views on abortion as part and parcel to feminism. Could you imagine if we just blindly adopted all of the beliefs and actions of great thinkers who lived in the 1800s? Thomas Jefferson—the man who literally defined American liberty and said “all men are created equal”—not only owned a large number of slaves and participated in domestic slave trade, but he enslaved his own children, born of the slave that he took as a lover, who just so happened to be the half-sister of his wife. That’s some twisted shit and should never be held as a standard of equality.

Still, the entire rationale behind “pro-life feminism” is that “history is worth repeating.” Isn’t the whole point of studying history is so that we don’t “repeat the mistakes of the past”?

Beyond that, though, for all their vocalization of defining themselves as feminists, “pro-life feminists” don’t really seem to focus on feminism at all, like closing the wage gap or fighting double standards. Instead, they pour all of their energy into getting pro-life politicians elected, and mask their attempts to take away a woman’s choices with some convoluted bullshit (that women should “refuse to choose” between “having a future and having a baby”) that they call feminism.

Look, women have been debating feminism’s correct meaning since its inception. We all have different ideas about what works and what doesn’t and what’s important and what’s not and the movement is certainly not monolithic. But feminism is a movement. And the nature of a progressive movement is to keep moving forward, to evolve. You can’t do that by going backwards, by getting stuck in the past.

So, yeah, “pro-life feminism” isn’t fooling anyone—particularly feminists.

Viewpoint: Pro-Life and Feminism Aren’t Mutually Exclusive [Time]

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