Guest Columnist Pro-life Feminism: Grandma’s Revolution

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Every generation, feminists gather to recapitulate the state of women's progress. At a Human Life Review sponsored event in New York last week, Feminists for Life's president Serrin Foster made "The Feminist Case against Abortion," examining the plight of modern women, proposing solutions, and proving that revolutions aren't always brand new. This revolution – pro-life feminism – is well past the throes of teen rebellion. A century since pro-life feminist foremothers Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton secured the female vote, it now sports the wiser woman's gray-streaked hair and calm expression of "honey, I've seen it all."

The report card is in: 100 years later, abortion remains an inadequate, violent response to inequality in the workplace and educational sphere. But the mission and message of pro-life feminists remains unchanged, too: women deserve better. Feminists for Life has achieved immense success in their commitment to actualizing this belief. A decade after the organization began implementing their pregnancy resources on campuses, universities witnessed a 30 percent drop in abortions, in no small part due to Foster's realistic approach: "The most important thing young, pro-life women can be doing on campuses today is reaching out to pro-choice girls with love and kindness. They need to be creating choices and resources for pregnant and parenting students."

She's right: women need love and resources now more than ever. Far from the wide scale liberation the pro-choice movement promised, abortion has exacerbated the oppressive structures the first feminists sought to destroy. Workplace discrimination, inadequate support for pregnant and parenting students, and the cultural stigma that isolates pregnancy as "her problem" continue to determine the top two reasons women procure abortions: inability to afford a baby and interference with work or school. In her speech, Foster also pointed out the trouble with calling abortion an "empowered" choice when 75 percent of the women who make it are living in poverty.  

It is the most conspicuously privileged woman who says, "I would never get an abortion" but advocates its preservation nonetheless, relegating an option she deems undesirable to the poor and marginalized. Nobody wants an abortion; Frederica Mathewes-Green best describes the desperation that forces a woman to "[want] an abortion as an animal caught in a trap wants to gnaw off its own leg." Fully cognizant of this, pro-life feminists don't attempt to bedazzle the violent reality of abortion and refuse to accept that, well, this is just the way things are for some women. 

The pro-life feminist retains the great feminist hope, that indissoluble vision of a future world worth building. One where abortion isn't just illegal, but unthinkable due to the elimination of the structural oppression and inequality that drove women to abortion in the first place. After all, recognizing a wrong is only the first step; woe to women everywhere if after witnessing countless instances of domestic violence, Susan B. Anthony had said, "I would never want that for myself. But this is just the way things are, so we might as well make it as safe and legal as possible." Like their dear mother Anthony, pro-life feminists refuse to submit to a world that disenfranchises women.

Also like their early mother feminists who played an active role in the abolition of slavery, pro-life feminists today are well-versed in intersectionality – the way factors like income, education, race, and location disproportionately affect certain demographics and predispose them to abortion. Rosemary Geraghty, public relations director for consistent-life group Rehumanize International, says: "We recognize systemic barriers; no one here is ignoring that. We see the same major problems in society – poverty, racism, sexism, transphobia – that pro-choice people do. But we don't believe that the solution is more violence. We're looking for real solutions." Likewise, in her speech Serrin Foster demanded "nonviolence, nondiscrimination, and justice for all."

But the greatest remaining similarity between pro-life feminism then and now is how it unfolds. Despite a technology boon that vastly differentiates our world from that of the founding mothers, the path to female empowerment is still paved through real life, woman-to-woman encounters. The pro-life feminist movement, more than anything, is a community: one comprised of accepting, supportive individuals who have dedicated their lives to building a society that protects and empowers women. A diverse community of trim clerical collars and violet-haired atheists, Goldwater conservatives and Bernie babes, college kids and grandmas. A community that's been sustained by love and hope for over a century – with the grey streaks and unflinching arms of support to prove it. 

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