March 8th is International Women’s Day: a time to celebrate women’s dignity and their contributions to the world. In that vein, many people take this day as an opportunity to frame abortion as a woman’s right. From their perspective, without abortion, many women wouldn’t do well at home, at school, or in the workplace. But not all women feel that way about this topic. So here is a list of female pro-life activists, past and present, who everyone should know about.
Susan B. Anthony (1820-1906): The cast members of Saturday Night Live shocked everyone in 2017 when they admitted that Susan B. Anthony was against abortion, but they weren’t wrong. In addition to advocating for women’s suffrage, she also wanted to bring about a more equitable society for mothers and their children. Records of her writings and conversations point to this. “Sweeter even than to have had the joy of caring for children of my own has it been to me to help bring about a better state of things for mothers generally, so that their unborn little ones could not be willed away from them,” she once said. Arguing for the need to address the root causes of abortion, she also wrote, “Guilty? Yes, no matter what the motive, love of ease, or a desire to save from suffering the unborn innocent, the woman is awfully guilty who commits the deed. It will burden her conscience in life, it will burden her soul in death; but oh! thrice guilty is he who, for selfish gratification, drove her to the desperation which impelled her to the crime.”
Graciela Olivárez (1928-1987): Born in Arizona to a Mexican-American immigrant family, Graciela Olivárez eventually became the first Latina to graduate from Notre Dame Law School. She was also a cofounder of the National Organization for Women (before they became abortion rights activists) and was the highest-ranking Latina in Jimmy Carter’s administration. As a woman and as a child of immigrants, she believed that civil rights belonged to all human beings, including the unborn. "To talk about the ‘wanted’ and the ‘unwanted’ child smacks too much of bigotry and prejudice. Many of us have experienced the sting of being ‘unwanted’ by certain segments of our society,” she said. "I am not impressed or persuaded by those who express concern for the low-income woman who may find herself carrying an unplanned pregnancy and for the future of the unplanned child...because the fact remains that in this affluent nation of ours, pregnant cattle and horses receive better health care than pregnant poor women. The poor cry out for justice and we respond with legalized abortion.”
Dr. Mildred Jefferson, M.D. (1927-2010): The first black woman to graduate from Harvard Medical School, Jefferson was also the first black woman to become a surgical intern at Boston City Hospital and the first woman to become a member of the Boston Surgical Society. She is best known for her opposition to abortion. She served three terms as President of the National Right to Life Committee and was a founding member of Massachusetts Citizens for Life. In her most famous quote, she stated, “I am at once a physician, a citizen and a woman, and I am not willing to stand aside and allow this concept of expendable human lives to turn this great land of ours into just another exclusive reservation where only the perfect, the privileged and the planned have the right to live.”
Serrin Foster: In 1994, Foster became the President of Feminists for Life of America. Her advocacy stems from the belief that abortion is driven by a failure to meet women’s needs. Her organization has supported many groundbreaking national efforts to protect and care for women and children in the US, including the protection of WIC and SNAP benefits, stiffer penalties for child support evasion, the Violence Against Women Act, and State Child Health Insurance Program reform. In 1997, they hosted Georgetown University’s first-ever Pregnancy Resource Forum, an event to bolster support for pregnant and parenting college students and their families. They also proudly highlight female pro-life voices, some of whom are included on this list.
Destiny Herndon De La Rosa: Born to a mother who dropped out of college, and eventually becoming a teenage mom herself at 16, De La Rosa doesn’t think that children necessarily should pose a threat to women’s well-being and success. Inspired by her mother’s and her own experiences, she founded the organization New Wave Feminists in 2004 in Dallas, Texas. Speaking of her own background and upbringing, she said, “My mom believed in bodily autonomy. She respected mine ever since I was conceived, and I’m so incredibly thankful for that.” And of her own experiences as a teen mom: “I’m also incredibly thankful that I had such a great support system in caring for my oldest child. But I know that not all women and young girls have what I had back then. I want to make it easier for them to choose life.” Operating in a similar manner as Feminists for Life, New Wave Feminists advocates against the systemic problems that pressure women to get abortions, such as poverty, lack of access to health care, and lack of support in school and in the workplace. The organization’s most recent project, the Stellar Shelter, recently opened along the Texas/Mexico border, giving migrant women and their children a place to stay as their asylum cases are being sorted out in Mexico’s court system.
Cessilye R. Smith: Formerly a board member of New Wave Feminists, Smith stepped down from the organization in 2017 to start her own non-profit, Abide Women’s Health Services. In her own training as a doula, she was exposed to maternal and infant health disparities between women and babies of color and their white counterparts. In the United States, black women are 3–4 times more likely to die in pregnancy and childbirth. Black babies are 2–3 times more likely to die before their first birthdays. Smith, who is black, was horrified by these numbers and wanted to do something about it. Abide’s staff members and volunteers are predominately women of color, and their clients are low-income women of color who lack access to maternal and postpartum health care. They provide pregnancy testing, prenatal care, childbirth education, lactation consultants, ultrasounds, and much more. They also support women of color who want to become doulas, midwives, nurses, and OB/Gyns through their scholarship program. They opened their first easy-access clinic in Dallas in 2020, and they hope to eventually build a birthing center for their patients.
Senator Katrina Jackson: “Jackson’s anti-abortion beliefs, fused with her support of traditional liberal causes, makes her an oddball in today’s Democratic party,” Vice News once said of the Louisiana legislator. A black pro-life Democrat, Katrina Jackson proudly doesn’t fit into any political party’s stereotypical mold. She describes herself as being pro-life for the whole life, from the womb to the tomb. “I will continue to support access to healthcare and education and legislation that gives indigent citizens a hand up out of poverty. I will stand and advocate for legislation that ensures a seat at the table for businesses to experience economic prosperity and a piece of what many call ‘the American Dream.’ However, I do not believe that supporting abortion — which significantly impacts our population, our voting power, and the possibility of many great young minds advocating for this great state — will ever benefit anyone,” she says.
Patricia Heaton: A popular sitcom actress best known for starring in Everybody Loves Raymond and The Middle, Heaton is also a rare consistent life activist in Hollywood. Politically independent, she regularly speaks out against abortion, the death penalty, and euthanasia. She is also a longtime supporter of Feminists for Life and New Wave Feminists.
So, ladies, if you’re against abortion, don’t be afraid to say so! If you believe that women and their children have equal dignity at every stage of life, you’re not alone. You’re actually in good company.