Feminism and the Consistent Life Ethic
Feminists have long held a commitment to women's rights. Since the historic movement towards women's suffrage in the 19th Century, feminism has constantly challenged the social, cultural, and political norms that place women in an inferior position to men. As the movement that supported voting rights, equal pay and opportunity, safety, and respect; as the movement fueled by strong and brave women breaking glass ceilings and demanding fair treatment, we stand for human rights, justice, and equality. In the same way, the Consistent Life Ethic is a philosophy based on the intrinsic value of every individual human being. Those who uphold the CLE agree, and believe that it's time to acknowledge the rights of all human beings and protect their rights. In this way, the CLE is truly an answer to the feminist call for equality and an important tool for the continued push towards human equity.
The CLE opposes all forms of aggressive violence, including but not limited to war, capital punishment, torture, abortion, embryonic stem cell research, assisted suicide, and euthanasia.
Why should feminists oppose abortion?
Perhaps the phrase "opposes abortion" in the statement above came as a surprise to many. After all, modern day mainstream feminism asserts a woman's right to have full sovereignty over her body. Considering how central this tenet is to the current idea of feminism, how could one ever be feminist AND pro-life? We will begin with the history of the feminist movement and the feminist philosophy in order to explain that not only can you be both, but you should be both.
On July 19th, 1848, approximately 100 passionate men and women converged on Seneca Falls, New York, prompting the first official convention dedicated to women's rights in the United States. Among them were convention organizers, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott. Stanton drafted a "Declaration of Sentiments, Grievances, and Resolutions." It added only two words to the first sentence of the Declaration of Independence: "we hold these truths to be self evident: that all men and women are created equal." This one sentence embodied and fueled the subsequent women's rights movements for the next 150 years.
A little known fact surrounding this popular moment in history: many early suffragists such as Stanton, were in fact pro-life. Stanton referred to abortion as "infanticide" and criticized the practice with this statement: "when we consider that women are treated as property, it is degrading to women that we should treat our children as property to be disposed of as we see fit." The time period of such statements might convince us to interpret them as outdated or antiquated. But not only were these women anything but submissive to the cultural norms of their time, they also lived after the discovery of the mammalian ovum and the discovery of the mechanics of conception. They were informed. They pushed back against a male dominated social structure. These women simply rejected the notion that the fight for women's rights requires women to also be at odds with their children.
Now, as modern human rights activists, we return to the roots of this strain of feminist thought and the central principles of equality, nondiscrimination, and nonviolence. But, assuming that our feminist founders and icons would not agree with the current mainstream feminist message...
Where exactly have mainstream feminists gone wrong?
Mainstream feminists have accepted the idea that we need abortion to be empowered.
Perhaps you have heard the comment chant, "Without our basic rights, women can't be free: abortion on demand and without apology!" This line betrays the faulty underlying philosophy that is perpetuated in our modern society: that women must have the legal right to kill their children through abortion in order to be "free" and equal. This idea has been central in the legal argumentation for Roe v. Wade, PP v. Casey, and even Whole Women's Health v. Hellerstedt. However, implying that a woman cannot be successful if she carries her baby to term is fundamentally misogynistic. It doesn't address the true needs of women, but acts as an insufficient band-aid on societal ills surrounding reproduction, pregnancy, and parenthood.
Mainstream feminists have accepted the wombless cisgender male body as normative.
This idea that we need abortion to be free lies in the patriarchal structures which insist that the wombless body is the default. Think about it: if cisgender men's bodies are the norm, then anyone who seeks a career would seem to need the ability to be free from the reality of pregnancy, child-bearing, and nursing. If men's bodies are the norm, then pregnancy can be viewed as a disease. With this understanding, society is telling women that they must be just like men in order to be successful. To say that women must be "just like men" is not respecting the unique characteristics of those of us with wombs. We must not submit to the structures of the patriarchy that perpetuate the idea that mothers are inherently disempowered and cannot achieve their goals without the right to kill their children.
Mainstream feminists have accepted the dehumanization of our children.
In order to justify the violence of abortion to ourselves and to our society, many have perpetuated the cycle of oppression and dehumanization. When we participate in abortion, we functionally tell a child, "you are an inconvenience to me, you are an inconvenience to my future, and therefore I am going to kill you." Or, conversely, it completely dehumanizes the child when we convince ourselves that the preborn human being is anything less than human (e.g. a "blob of cells," "parasite," or "clump of tissue"). Imagine if we treated the adults in our lives in such a way. Our children, as members of our human family, deserve the same respect due their inherent rights and dignity. We believe in bodily autonomy from the very moment a human's body begins to exist. Indeed, when we embrace true human equality, when we respect the rights and dignity of each and every human being, regardless of circumstance, we see that violence is not a solution to the inconvenience of any human being's life.
Abortion coercion is pervasive in society, community, and interpersonally.
Women are often coerced into abortion by family, friends, or significant others. Abortion becomes "society's issue" as it continually pushes abortion onto women, oftentimes subtly insisting that it is her only option-- her pathway to liberation. This is often a foundational, subtle layer of coercion, when many pregnant people are also coerced or forced into abortion by threats of violence from family members or significant others, threats of withdrawal of financial support or housing from family or community support, and more. Don't we deserve better than this? Don't we deserve resources, help, and compassionate, life-affirming aid instead of the often physically and emotionally painful process of abortion?
As pro-life feminists, we demand better than abortion, we demand better than dehumanization, we demand better than a society that accepts violence. And we are working to create that culture of peace.
Any society that accepts legal violence is comfortable with legal, lethal discrimination.
We stand for a future and a world where every human being is respected, valued, and protected. We work to change the culture, to destroy the patriarchal structures that oppress women and other marginalized populations, to promote equity and non-discrimination and the dignity of pregnancy and birth and parenting. We work to create a culture in which abortion will be unthinkable. So, in accordance to human equality, we understand that being comfortable with the legality of any form of violence is comfort with legalized discrimination. As such, we know that we must stand for the full legal enfranchisement, we must stand for the foundational right to live without violence, for all of the preborn members of our human family. We know that we must work to make abortion illegal. Discrimination is contrary to feminism, and because abortion, as a form of violence, discriminates against the weakest, most vulnerable members of our human family, we work to create a world where abortion is both unthinkable and illegal.
So, who are we?
We are pro-life feminists.
We believe that being pro-life means that we respect, value, and protect the inherent dignity in the life of every single human being -- from conception to natural death.
We believe that feminism means the moral, economic, and social equality of all human beings, achieved through nondiscrimination and nonviolence.
As pro-lifers, we work for the protection of the life and dignity of all human beings, regardless of age, size, ability, dependence, sex, race, sexuality, religion, or any other circumstance.
As feminists, we especially uphold the dignity and value of women and girls in a culture that has historically devalued the contributions of women and degraded their dignity.
We don't fall into one stereotype or fit into solely one sociopolitical box.
We believe that being pro-life is for everyone.
We believe that feminism is for everyone.
We believe that the future of the pro-life movement is feminist...
And that the future of the feminist movement is pro-life.
This is where the future starts.