Pro-Life Feminists Can Play a Vital Role in the Feminist Movement

Photo by Maria Oswalt on Unsplash

At the NY Times,

The history of pro-life feminism is long and complex. Pro-life feminists assert that “without known exception,” the feminist foremothers, including Susan B. Anthony, opposed abortion, though critics say this claim is overly speculative. Fissures between pro-life and pro-choice feminists formed shortly after Roe v. Wade was decided in 1973. Still, pro-life groups (like Feminists for Life) and pro-choice groups (like the National Organization for Women) banded together to support legislation like the Equal Rights Amendment.

The late 1970s and ’80s brought the decline of pro-life feminism. Both conservatives like Phyllis Schlafly and Beverly LaHaye and pro-choice organizations like NARAL and Planned Parenthood declared that one could not oppose abortion and be a feminist….

We need to broaden the tent of feminism….

“The pro-life movement is changing. Many young activists identify as feminists,” wrote Emma Green in The Atlantic in 2017, “and reject a uniform alignment with the Republican Party, unlike their Phyllis Schlafly-style predecessors.” According to recent polls, a large minority (43 percent) of women identify as pro-life. This does not mean that these women reject vital causes of feminism, yet they are often excluded from and alienated by the current feminist movement.

Pro-life women need to be included within the feminist movement precisely because there is still much that needs to be improved for women. The United States is the only wealthy country in the world (and only one of six in total) that does not have some form of national paid leave for new parents. The gender pay gap has not improved in the last 15 years. Globally, women are far more likely to experience poverty and hunger, as well as domestic violence and homicide, and one in three women in the world experience physical or sexual abuse. The vast majority of human trafficking victims are women and girls. Around 140 million girls are “missing” as a result of sex-selective abortion. Women have less access to education than men and make up two-thirds of the world’s illiterate population.

The inequality of women is not an abstract idea. Real women face the fallout of continued sexism day in and day out. This is wrong, and we need to form a broad and diverse coalition to advocate for women. If the feminist movement ousts the millions of American women who oppose abortion, we will fail to address these other grave issues affecting women….

But moving forward, feminists who are pro-life and pro-choice can and must find common cause to improve the lives of women. Pro-life groups need to intentionally support women, not only babies in utero, and push for policies that make it easier to birth and raise children. (There is a growing “whole life” movement to address this need.) Pro-choice feminists need to prioritize the many other important issues affecting women besides abortion….

We need to recover the art of building coalitions across deep difference if we are going to ameliorate the complex problems women across the globe face.