When women first began marching and rallying in Washington, the vast majority of them opposed abortion. Victoria Clafin Woodhull, who in 1872 was America’s first female presidential candidate, viewed abortion as “equal to the killing of a person after birth.” This sentiment was shared by Elizabeth Cady Stanton, author of feminist newspaper The Revolution. On February 5, 1868, Stanton decried “the murder of children, either before or after birth,” and argued that “the remedy [is the] complete elevation and enfranchisement of woman.” Woodhull’s solution was nearly verbatim: “The remedy is in granting freedom and equality to woman.”
To the early feminists, abortion wasn’t part of the solution to women’s inequality. Instead, they argued, equality was the solution to abortion.
The 2017 Women’s March on Washington was supposed to unite women of all stripes in our ongoing battles for social, political, and financial equality. But when The Atlantic published an article about pro-life involvement in the march, feelings of unity over common ground quickly dissipated. March co-chair Bob Bland had enthused about the diversity of the event, its emphasis on “intersectional feminism,” and its inclusion of “voices that have previously been either marginalized or silenced.” But within hours of the article’s publication, pro-life group New Wave Feminists was struck from the list of official march partners after a number of people complained. It seems some people prefer “diversity” that marches only to their own rhythm.
Never mind that Americans largely oppose abortion beyond the first trimester. A recent Marist poll found that as many as 80% of women and 6/10 of all who identify as pro-choice favor restrictions later in pregnancy. And according to a 2016 Pew Research study, 40% of American women believe abortion should be mostly illegal, while most Americans oppose tax-funding of abortion. But when NARAL and Planned Parenthood became the primary sponsors of the Women’s March, apparently they got to define feminism for all of us.
Pro-life women nonetheless participated in the Women’s March, despite our disappointment with the organizers’ treatment of NWF and with their recent addition of abortion support among their “unity principles.” The presence of pro-life groups at the march was for the most part well received. Joining NWF in the 500,000-strong crowd were members of Pro-Life Humanists, Life Matters Journal, Consistent Life, and Democrats for Life.
Pro-lifers attended the Women’s March because we agree with the mission on the march’s website: to “stand together, recognizing that defending the most marginalized among us is defending all of us.” We also stand with the principle of non-violence, and agree that “Women deserve to live full and healthy lives, free of all forms of violence against our bodies.” But we reject the violence of abortion, and include the very youngest in our list of marginalized humans worth defending.
Ironically, a Women’s March promo video appears at first glance to agree with us. “Because my life matters” says a line-up of women. “And so does hers,” replies a visibly pregnant woman as she points to her abdomen. Except pro-life feminists think the fetal girl’s value shouldn’t hinge on the abstract concept of “wantedness” nor on her age-based capacities, which have her temporarily dependent and vulnerable through no doing of her own.
It comes down to this: forty years of abortion hasn’t broken the glass ceiling. Women all too often “choose” abortion because they feel they have no other choice. We can ALL unite in fighting for non-violent solutions like paid parental leave, equal pay, a living wage, national daycare, job protection, better accommodations for pregnancy/nursing/parenting, better sex-ed and birth control, as well as for rights for LGBTQIA, immigrants, and the disabled.
When Alice Paul, author of the 1923 Equal Rights Amendment, declared abortion “the ultimate exploitation of women,” she voiced what countless women still feel today. When you hear a woman say “I’m having an abortion because I don’t have any other choice” that’s not a herald of freedom and liberation. It’s a sign that society needs to work harder to elevate women to a place where our fertility isn’t a handicap!
Pro-life feminists will continue to march and to fight for a society in which female bodies don’t have to be just like never-pregnant male bodies in order to succeed in life. The remedy is still “the elevation and equality of women”, and society owes women better than the violent destruction of their youngest dependents!
As the Pro-Life Alliance of Gays and Lesbians put it: “None of us are free until all of us are free, with all our rights intact and guaranteed, including the basic right to live without threat or violence.” Non-violence and equality — regardless of gender, age, or location — is something well worth marching for!