"If the male body is seen as the norm, pregnancy is seen as a disease condition. If the male body is seen as the norm, those of us with wombs will continue to be marginalized."
These understandings, she said, have further influenced other, more stereotypically feminist positions such as paid family leave and empowering nonviolent birth choices.
Cessilye Smith of Doulas for Life emphasized that there are different varieties of feminism and voiced concern that by making the "barbaric procedure" of abortion "a pillar of feminism," there is a risk of forgetting the core tenet of feminism: equality.
"As pro-life feminists, we simply extend that equality to the fetus which is just at a different stage of human development," Smith said.
She added that a feminist perspective can also bring greater focus to the pro-life movement. "In order to be pro-life we need to be consistent, and with that consistency comes a genuine interest in all of humanity," she said, arguing that cuts to programs that support women facing unplanned pregnancies call into question "how 'pro-life' we really are."
Pro-choice activist Robin Marty said that while she supports the ability to choose abortion, she also wants to help remove obstacles for women who want to parent.
Marty added that she is willing to work with anyone – regardless of their position on abortion – to help create solutions like day care programs, housing for parents on campus, and improved welfare support so that women don't feel forced into having abortions.
Not all panelists agreed, however, that it was possible to be both a feminist and against abortion. Abortion advocate Pamela Merritt charged that the pro-life movement "seeks to deny women access to abortion, birth control, fertility treatments, give employers the right to deny coverage for the full spectrum of reproductive health care, and defund reproductive health care providers."
To her, these pro-life actions are contrary to the goals of feminism. "Feminism is an action agenda to secure the social, economic and political equality of women," Merritt argued. "It is possible to support, find comfort, and feel empowered by parts of feminism without being feminist. It is not possible to support the pro-life movement and be a feminist."
But Merritt still acknowledged that pro-life activists and feminists can find common ground. "We can still work together," she said, noting that she works with the Franciscan Sisters of Mary in Missouri to help provide aid to women in need.
For other members of the panel, the question was not whether feminism can include pro-life voices, but whether abortion is distracting from the work women can do together.
(Story continues below)
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"We can allow abortion to be the issue that polarizes and divides women, or not," said Professor Megan Klein-Hattori. While she believes that abortion is "central to mainstream feminist politics," she also granted that "feminists have always come from amazingly different standpoints."
Klein-Hattori lamented how polarization over abortion has overshadowed the "common roots" of feminists in seeking to address "the problematic conditions faced by women living in a system in which wage labor and individual achievement are placed in conflict with reproduction, motherhood, and nurturance."
"There are many feminist politics that pro-choice and anti-abortion feminists share, ones that move us closer to having control over all elements of our lives, to being respected by loved ones and community, and to not being second-class citizens."
"Allowing abortion to polarize hurts these broader feminist politics," she stressed.
Destiny Herndon-De La Rosa of New Wave Feminists agreed. "Labels are killing us, labels are dividing us, labels are polarizing us," she said.
"It's not pro-choice when we feel we don't have a choice," she commented. "That a woman ever has to choose violence for her child is awful."