Thursday, 10 May 2012


The idea that feminism equals the right to an abortion has become so ingrained that it is ludicrous to think otherwise. "Prolife feminism" appears to be an inherent contradiction in terms. Yet more than 20 founding mothers of the feminist movement — who helped secure women's rights to vote, to own property, to use contraception, to divorce abusive husbands — were adamantly opposed to abortion.
The most famous nineteenth-century feminist — Susan B. Anthony, she of the ill-fated dollar coin — referred to abortion as "the horrible crime of child-murder." And that's just for starters. She also called it "infanticide," "this most monstrous crime," "evil," and a "dreadful deed." Surprisingly, given that unsparing language, she didn't believe that it should be made illegal. Responding to an article in which a man called for the outlawing of abortion, Anthony writes: "Much as I deplore the horrible crime of child-murder, earnestly as I desire its suppression, I cannot believe with the writer of the above-mentioned article, that such a law would have the desired effect. It seems to be only mowing off the top of the noxious weed, while the root remains."
The root, she believed, was the horrible way in which women (and children) were treated. As summed up in the book Prolife Feminism, these pioneering women felt that "abortion was the product of a social system that compelled women to remain ignorant about their bodies, that enabled men to dominate them sexually without taking responsibility for the consequences, that denied women support during and after the resulting pregnancies, and that placed far more value on a child's 'legitimacy' than on his or her life and well-being."
Indeed, while Anthony gave women a lot of grief for ending a pregnancy, she reserved the most vitriol for the men who knocked them up:
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, heedless of her prayers, indifferent to her fate, drove her to the desperation which impelled her to her crime.
Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Anthony's best friend for life, resented society's dictate that all women must become mothers. Yet she also thought that "maternity is grand," but it must be on the woman's own terms. Despite this, she railed against abortion. Like her pal, she referred to abortions as "murder," "a crying evil," "abominations," and "revolting outrages against the laws of nature and our common humanity." Also like Anthony, Stanton laid the blame for abortion at the feet of men.
Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell, lionized as the first US woman to become a medical doctor (in 1849), wrote in her diary:
The gross perversion and destruction of motherhood by the abortionist filled me with indignation, and awakened active antagonism. That the honorable term "female physician" should be exclusively applied to those women who carried on this shocking trade seemed to me a horror. It was an utter degradation of what might and should become a noble position for women.
Another prolife feminist was Victoria Woodhull, best known for being the first female candidate .for US President (way back in 1870). Radical even by early feminist standards, she and her sister, Tennnessee Claflin, declared that children had rights which began at conception. Their essay "The slaughter of the Innocents" first discusses the abominable death rate of children under five, then turns its sights on abortion:
We are aware that many women attempt to excuse themselves for procuring abortions, upon the ground that it is not murder. But the fact of resort to so weak an argument only shows the more palpably that they fully realize the enormity of the crime. Is it not equally destroying the would-be future oak, to crush the sprout before it pushes its head above the sod, as it is to cut down the sapling, or cut down the tree? Is it not equally to destroy life, to crush it in its very germ, and to take it when the germ has evolved to any given point in its line of development? Let those who can see any difference regarding the time when life, once begun, is taken, console themselves that they are not murderers having been abortionists.