Such a Thing as a Pro-Life Feminist? Not!

According to the San Francisco Chronicle, Senate candidate Carly Fiorina, the former CEO of Hewlett Packard, is being “heralded as …the vanguard of a new breed of ‘pro-women, pro-life’ feminists” in the mold of Sarah Palin’s conservative pro-life agenda.

And she’s not the only one in this so called new breed–in the recent primaries, Sharron Angle from Nevada won the nomination for the U.S. Senate. Susana Martinez was nominated for governor in New Mexico. Nikki Haley will run for governor in South Carolina. If Jane Norton wins in August, she will be a pro-life Senate candidate from Colorado. If Kelly Ayotte wins in September, she’ll be a pro-life Senate candidate from New Hampshire.

Are these pro-life women truly feminists? I think not.

A recent letter to the editor in the San Francisco Chronicle by Annabelle Ison of San Francisco says it best: “How can one be a feminist if one is in favor of limiting or denying a women control over her own body and, by extension, own life?” How can women have a position that takes away their rights—in this case, their reproductive rights? The fact that women themselves can condone this position continues to amaze me.

Ruth Mandel, of the Eagleton Institute of Politics at Rutgers University sees it another way. She thinks that pro-life women candidates may “illustrate how the feminist movement has matured to the point that it can accommodate many competing voices…many points of view.”

More accurately, I bet it’s all about strategic points of view. The messaging of “pro-woman, pro-life feminism” has likely been tested and shown to influence moderate pro-lifers to go their way. What they are doing is what the right still does better than the left – uses the power of words to frame positions, issues and debates to influence people and votes. This framing on feminism can easily put left–leaning women on the defensive, right where they want us. We need the famous cognitive linguist George Lakoff to help the left come up with a “feminist” frame that is not only more persuasive, but makes it easy for more people to see that the pro-life feminist frame is indeed hypocrisy.

But there are lots of pro-lifers out there. Ramesh Ponnuru, senior editor at the National Review, in a recent Wall Street Journal essay points to a recent Gallop finding that 48% of American women consider themselves pro-life, and 45% consider themselves pro-choice. In California it looks different. A March 2010 poll by the Public Policy Institute of California showed that more then 2/3rds of all voters oppose more restrictive laws on abortion. Independents make up 1 in 5 voters in this state, and 75% are in opposition.

Ponnuru thinks that if more pro-life women win their elections, it will “change the tenor of the national conversation about abortion” because conservative and liberal women politicians will be discussing abortion, not men with men, or men with women pro-choice politicians respectively.

Feminists fought for women’s right to vote (and thus make it possible for women to run for office). Feminists fought for the right to  use contraception.  They fight for equal rights in the workplace.  A pro-life stance is about taking rights away, in this case taking away rights that have to do with women’s bodies. Any woman who thinks it is right to deny other women’s ability to make what are personal reproductive decisions and their constitutional rights (in this case the right to privacy) is no feminist. She is not “pro-woman.” She is ironically anti-woman while being a woman!

I am all for more women in higher levels of government—we need that. But when it’s about taking away my rights, that trumps gender.

What do you think about pro-life feminism?

8 thoughts on “Such a Thing as a Pro-Life Feminist? Not!

  1. I am probably going to be in the minority on this site, but I am a pro-life feminist, even though you seem to believe that this is an oxymoron. I believe that woman do have the right to choose what they do with their bodies: have sex and accept the potential consequences or don’t. When a woman uses abortion as birth control, it isn’t responsible in the least and it isn’t about feminism or choice: It’s about lack of personal responsibility. I find it abhorrent that a man has to “accept the consequences” of having sex if the woman decides to have the child, but the man has no say in this after the act is completed. People look askance at a man who chooses to not support a child he never wanted (even though he participated in the sexual act as well) just because a woman chose not to have an abortion, but he also has absolutely no say if she chooses to have the abortion and he would like to raise the child.

    I realize and fully support that we should have control of our bodies, but we also should have control of our sexual appetites. I didn’t want children before I was married but I couldn’t very well ask every man I desired to have a vasectomy just to have sex with me (and I was not willing at a young age to undergo surgery just for a few hours here and there of sex), so I chose to not have sex, knowing that pregnancy was a natural consequence of sex, protected or not (accidents happen). Would I have liked to have consequence-less sex? Of course, but I didn’t have the money or inclination to have a child. I am childfree by choice, as is my husband, and we have taken the appropriate and permanent steps to ensure we remain that way.

    Why is it an oxymoron to want complete equality of rights between men and women but still think that men and women should also have to deal with the natural consequences of their own choices? I think both parties should have to “pony up,” as it were, if they are choosing to participate in an action that is known to have a particular consequence.

    I am not anti-woman. I am not anti-man. I am for people realizing the biological consequences of having sex anytime and anywhere with anyone and dealing with those consequences in a mature way. If you want to ensure that you will not have children, either take the appropriate steps to ensure you won’t ever or wait until you are sure you do want them and can support them to participate in the only activity that leads to that end.

    Again, I realize I’m am probably greatly in the minority here, but you can’t take away all the times I’ve spoken out for myself and other women in the face of inequality and tell me that I’m not a feminist because I also speak out for personal responsibility for both sexes. I do appreciate your view, and I thank you for opening the comments for discussion.

    1. Thanks for the thoughts and opening the discussion~I don’t think you are in the minority when it comes to matters of personal responsibility. I agree that both men and women need to take responsibilty for their sexual life, and be willing to take the consequences for their “unprotected” and “protected” choices. Both parties should be responsible to ensure that contracepion is being used if they are not engaging in the sexual act for the purposes of having a child. If an “accident” does happen ideally they would make the decision together whether they want to have this child.

      But making abortion illegal will not solve matters of sexual irresponsibility. Better comprehensive sex education will–it’s been shown that comprehensive sex ed (including abstinence as one option but not the only contraceptive option) leads to much more responsible sexual behavior. When people have the knowledge and access to contraceptive options, even young adults act much more responsibly, and are much more likely to never face an abortion decision. I have also seen stats that show married women who already have children are the more likely people to have abortions. This implies a decision more likely to be made by both husband and wife.

      The pro-life position is more than just about abortion. It is a position that takes away my legal right to decide whether to have a child. No matter how I get to the decisions I need to make about becoming a mother or not, no one else or law should take that fundamental personal right away.

      I respect pro-life views, but do not believe they reflect a feminist position because they try to dictate an area of my reproductive life. Pro-choice (although I do think we need another word for it) reflects feminist values in that it takes the stance –you do what you feel is best for you and I will do the same. I can have my view and you can have yours about one of the most important choices we make in life, and one does not force the other to adopt or live by their position. ~L

  2. Regarding Sarah Palin, it’s been a big question whether she’s “pro-life” in the sense of wanting to make abortion illegal or opposing the procedure in principle but not intending to force that view on other women. I suspect the second is more true than the first. So would that still make her pro-life?

    1. Well if it is true she would not force her view on other women then if ever in office she would not promote or endorse any legislation that would limit, make it very difficult or impossible for a woman to choose this option for herself. It would mean she endorses a woman making her own decision on this, whether she agrees with it or not. ..which means she would be in fact, pro-choice…plenty of pro-choice women who are very against abortion, would never get an abortion themselves but in the end feel they do not have the right to make this kind of decision for anyone else.. Have you seen anything out there that speaks to Palin not wanting to force her views on other women? I’d be interested to read…~L

  3. I am, apparently, a pro-life feminist, although, until I read this article, never thought of myself as anything but a femenist. I am against objectification of women, rape-culture, and will willingly join in combatting the patriarchal culture of Western society at any moment. I am also 16, and an ardent hater of Sarah Palin.

    But, I believe that a baby, a fetus, a joining of sperm and egg, is a person and deserves rights too. Does that make me a bad person? I guess so. I, although I only found out relatively recently, would have been aborted if it wasn’t for a very nice christian woman who lived down the street from my mother. My mom, and I love her to death, was 25, in a horrible relationship, and just got promoted to manager at the restaraunt she worked at and didn’t want a baby. She didn’t want me.

    My father told me this 2 years ago as I was visiting him over one break from school. He told this to a 14 year old daughter as a reason to not have sex (if he had been paying attention, he would have known I was a virgin). Not hard to figure out why my mom didn’t want his child

    Now, I understand. I’m not angry. I love my mom, love my dad, and love my little brother. My mom says keeping me was the best choice she ever made.

    I want more children like me in the world. I believe that a fetus should have rights because they are, or will become, a person. But, I am also a fememnist, and believe that women should have the final say about sex and their own sexuality. But, the thing I think that many people miss, is that it is a personal choice. I would never have an abortion, as long as circumstances do not endanger my health to the point of death. It’s my decision, and I would rather not be told that I’m a bad person for feeling that way.

    1. Rachel–Thanks for writing. I sure don’t think that it makes you a bad person because you believe the joining of a sperm and egg is a person. I just don’t think it is “feminist” to put one’s beliefs on others on this issue–to make another person wrong for what she feels is best for her. Each person should be able to have their beliefs and act on those beliefs on this issue. ~L

  4. I am vehemently pro-choice. Can you think of any other area of medical or technological advancement wherein its very continued existence is being debated? Of course not. Where women’s bodies are concerned, it’s everybody’s business, right? Pro-lifers are fundamentally taking the “women as chattle” stance. This from a woman who has never had an abortion.

  5. I think the word “feminist” is being stretched in the case of conservative women politicians. There have been very vocal anti-abortion/pro-life/anti-choice powerful women like Phyllis Schlafly around since before 1973. They usually HATE the word “feminist,” so it’s amazing that some of them are adopting it now.

    I do have to point out two ironies here:

    1.) Conservative generally means against change, but the conservatives are embracing a new identity, and pro-choice feminists are standing on the traditional definition of the word “feminist.”

    2.) In China, and there is some evidence this happens among Asian immigrants to the U.S. as well, women are using abortion for sex-selection of their children. If the embryo/fetus is male, keep it, if female, terminate and try again. That’s using abortion as a misogynist tool. I’m not saying that means abortion should be banned for that, just that some reproductive choices are anti-women.

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