Pro-life feminism

Pro-life feminism is the opposition to abortion by a group of feminists who believe that the principles which inform their support of women's rights also call them to support the right to life of prenatal humans. Pro-life feminists believe abortion has served to hurt women more than it has benefited them.

The pro-life feminist movement began to take shape in the early to mid-1970s with the founding of Feminists for Life (FFL) in the United States and Women for Life in Great Britain amid legal changes in those nations which widely permitted abortion.[1] FFL and the Susan B. Anthony List (SBA List) are the most prominent pro-life feminist organizations in the United States.

Views and goals

Pro-life feminists believe that the legal option of abortion "supports anti-motherhood social attitudes and policies and limits respect for women's citizenship".[2] Pro-life feminists believe that abortion is an action dictated by society and legal abortion "perpetuates an uncaring, male-dominated society."[3] Laury Oaks, Associate Professor of Feminist Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara, writes that when abortion is legal, pro-life feminists believe, "women come to see pregnancy and parenting as obstacles to full participation in education and the workplace,"[2] and describes pro-life feminist activism in Ireland as more "pro-mother" than "pro-woman".[1] Oaks has written that while Irish abortion opponents valorize child-bearing and are critical of the notion that women have "a right to an identity beyond motherhood", some, such as Breda O'Brien, founder of Feminists for Life Ireland, also offer feminist-inspired arguments that women's contributions to society are not limited to such functions.[1]

Pro-life feminist organizations generally do not distinguish between views on abortion as a legal issue, abortion as a moral issue, and abortion as a medical procedure.[2] Such distinctions are made by many women, for example, women who would not abort their own pregnancies but would prefer that abortion remain legal.[2]

Pro-life feminist organizations seek to personalize abortion by using women who "survived" abortions to attempt to convince others of their argument.[4]

Prominent American pro-life feminist organizations seek to end abortion in the U.S. The SBA List states this as their "ultimate goal",[5] and FFL President Serrin Foster said that FFL "opposes abortion in all cases because violence is a violation of basic feminist principles".[2][6]

Relationship to other movements

Pro-life feminists form a part of the anti-abortion movement rather than the mainstream feminist movement.[2] During the second-wave era of the late 1960s and 1970s the tenets of the emerging group of pro-life feminists were rejected by mainstream feminists who held that for full participation in society, a woman's "moral and legal right to control her fertility" needed to be a fundamental principle.[2] From their minority position, pro-life feminists said that mainstream feminists did not speak for all women.[2]

Having failed to gain a respected position within mainstream feminism,[2] pro-life feminists aligned themselves with other anti-abortion and right to life groups. This placement, according to Oaks, has eroded a feminist sense of identity separate from other pro-life groups, despite pro-woman arguments that are distinct from the fetal rights arguments put forward by other anti-abortion advocates.[2]


The abortion debate has primarily been centered around the question of whether or not the fetus is a person.[7] Pro-life feminist organizations do distinguish themselves as "pro-woman" organizations as opposed to "fetal rights" organizations. This sets them apart from other from other anti-abortion groups.[2]

The "pro-woman" argument frames abortion as harmful to women. Pro-life feminists argue that women do not truly want to have abortions,[8] but rather are forced into abortions by third parties, partners or medical practitioners.[8] These unwanted abortions, they say, cause physical and emotional damage to women.[9] The "Pro woman" argument can help sway men and women to be anti abortion because it does not focus on fetal rights, but instead it focuses on the health and safety of the women.[10] Pro-life feminists argue that by removing the choice of abortion, they are actually helping women.

Pro-life feminists also argue that suffragists saw abortion as exploitative of women. Elizabeth Cady Stanton claimed that the problem of abortion demonstrates "women's victimization by laws made without their consent."[11]

19th-century feminists

Feminist pro-life groups say they are continuing the tradition of 19th-century women's rights activists such as Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Matilda Joslyn Gage, Victoria Woodhull, Elizabeth Blackwell, and Alice Paul who considered abortion to be an evil forced upon women by men.[12][13][14] Antifeminists and pro-life feminists say that the newspaper, The Revolution, owned by Susan B. Anthony but edited by Stanton and Parker Pillsbury, carried letters, essays and editorials debating many issues of the day, including articles decrying "child murder" and "infanticide."[12] According to these activists, Alice Paul felt that abortion was the "ultimate exploitation of women[15]" and worried about female babies being aborted[16] They also claim that Elizabeth Blackwell, the first female doctor in the United States,[15] became a doctor because of her passionate hatred for abortion.[17] It has been said that one of the reasons the 19th century feminists were pro life was due to the "conditions of of male domination that caused women to seek abortions.".[17]

A dispute about Anthony's abortion views arose in 1989: pro-life feminists in the U.S. began using Anthony's words and image to promote their anti-abortion cause. Scholars of 19th-century American feminism, as well as pro-choice activists, countered what they considered a co-opting of Anthony's legacy as America's most dedicated suffragist, saying that the anti-abortion activists are falsely attributing opinions to Anthony, and that it is misleading to apply 19th century arguments to the modern abortion debate.[18]

See also


  1. 1 2 3 Oaks, Laury (2000). "'Pro-Woman, Pro-Life'? The Emergence of Pro-Life Feminism in Irish Anti-Abortion Discourses and Practices". Irish Journal of Feminist Studies. 4 (1): 73–90.
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 Oaks, Laury (Spring 2009). "What Are Pro-Life Feminists Doing on Campus?" (PDF). NWSA Journal. 21 (1): 178–203. ISSN 1040-0656.
  3. Oaks, Laury (2009). "What are Pro-Life Feminists doing on Campus?". NWSA. 21: 178–203 via Gender Studies Database.
  4. Kintz, Linda (1997). Between Jesus and the Market: The Emotions that Matter in Right-Wing America. Durham: Duke University Press. p. 269 via Gender Studies Database.
  5. "SBA List Mission: Advancing, Mobilizing and Representing Pro-Life Women". Susan B. Anthony List. 2008. Retrieved October 18, 2010. To accomplish our ultimate goal of ending abortion in this country...
  6. The Nation. August 11, 2005. Katha Pollitt. Reproductive Rights. Feminists for (Fetal) Life: subject to debate. Retrieved on May 11, 2009.
  7. Markowitz, S. (1990). Abortion and Feminism. Social Theory and Practice,16(1), 1-17. Retrieved from
  8. 1 2 Alexa J. Trumpy (2014) Woman vs. Fetus: Frame Transformation and Intramovement Dynamics in the Pro-Life Movement, Sociological Spectrum, 34:2, 163-184, DOI: 10.1080/02732173.2014.878624
  9. Melody Rose (2011) Pro-Life, Pro-Woman? Frame Extension in the American Antiabortion Movement, Journal of Women, Politics & Policy, 32:1, 1-27, DOI: 10.1080/1554477X.2011.537565
  10. Schreiber, Ronnee (2008). Righting Feminism. New York: Oxford University Press. pp. 99–101. ISBN 978-0-19-533181-3.
  11. Gordon, L. (1973). Voluntary Motherhood; The Beginnings of Feminist Birth Control Ideas in the United States. Feminist Studies, 1(3/4), 5-22. Retrieved from
  12. 1 2 Kate O'Beirne, excerpt from 'Women Who Make the World Worse: and How Their Radical Feminist Assault Is Ruining Our Schools, Families, Military, and Sports' National Review January 23, 2006. Archived from the original on February 3, 2006. Retrieved on March 30, 2012
  13. SBA List – Early Suffragists
  14. "Abortion and the early feminists". BBC. Retrieved March 31, 2012.
  15. 1 2 Kennedy, A., & Mary, K. D. (1999). Feminism and abortion. History Today, 49(8), 34-35. Retrieved from
  16. Kennedy, A., & Mary, K. D. (1999). Feminism and abortion. History Today, 49(8), 34-35. Retrieved from
  17. 1 2 Kennedy, A., & Mary, K. D. (1999). Feminism and abortion. History Today, 49(8), 34-35. Retrieved from
  18. Stevens, Allison (2006-10-06). "Susan B. Anthony's Abortion Position Spurs Scuffle". Women's eNews. Retrieved 2009-11-21.

Further reading

External links

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