Pro-life and… Feminist?

by Rebecca Richmond

I have a confession to make: I am a flawed human being. The flurry of activity that constituted my Easter weekend flowed into the craziness of paper-writing and, failing to check the blog schedule, I realized only today that I was supposed to have submitted my blog entry last night.

As such, my offering is short and sweet.

I grew up rather angry at feminists. I blamed them (not suffragettes but the feminists of the sexual revolution era) for damaging society. Oddly enough, I now consider myself a feminist, although with an understanding of gender that conflicts with most other feminists out there (I believe in integral complementarity, in case you’re wondering).

There are, as I’m sure you’re aware, pro-life feminists out there. Check out Feminists for Life  and some of their articles: “Women Deserve Better than Abortion” and “The Bitter Price of Choice”. Feminists for Life continues in the tradition of early feminists like Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton who were pro-life.

I’m writing a paper (due tomorrow) for my feminist theories class on maternal feminism (think of the Famous Five and the Persons Case) and new feminism/integral complementarity (think of John Paul II and Edith Stein). It’s interesting stuff, let me assure you. One of the authors I’m reading wrote something I thought I would share with you:

“May will see a betrayal of justice – and assuredly of feminism – in any suggestion that women may bear a special responsibility to nurture the culture of life, which alone can protect our future….No doubt the ideals of service and sacrifice run directly against the grain of our culture, but if we deny their claims we place ourselves at high risk. Until now, feminism in general – and we all know there are marginal exceptions – has waged a fierce battle to permit women to behave like men and, in the areas in which they cannot, to guarantee them the same results as if they had. A new feminism requires that we must the courage and the faith to reverse this paradigm. Women throughout the world are in desperate need of policies that respect and protect them as women – not policies that ensure their access to abortion so that they can become as “free” as men. A feminism grounded in the defense of a women’s right to “choose” to have an abortion is inescapably a feminism that promotes the culture of death. It is never easy to go against the grain, especially when doing so exposes one to social and economic risks. But without the will to defy prevailing ideas, we will condemn ourselves to more of the same….Who knows? If we succeed in defending a culture of life in which personhood is understood as mutual recognition rather than autonomy and no person is ever objectified as the means to an end, men – within the constraints of their differences from us – may follow.”

Excerpt taken from: Elizabeth Fox-Genovese, “Equality, Difference, and the Practical Problems of a New Feminism,” in Women in Christ: Toward a New Feminism, ed. Michele M. Schumacher (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdsman Publishing Co., 2004), 310-311.

Well, that’s my contribution for the day. Now, if you’ll pardon me, I must return to essay writing.

2 thoughts on “Pro-life and… Feminist?

  1. Vivian Li

    I found a lot of your points to be problematic.
    First off, the “feminist” movement strives to seek equality between women and men. It does NOT seek “special rights” for women at the expense of men (racists used to use this line of logic too).

    Secondly, the feminists of the Sexual Revolution era sought the right to not only abortion, but safe and effective contraception. Indeed, people realized that “free love” could not be had without access to safe and effective contraceptives and birth control. In addition, these feminists also sought for women the right to sexual pleasure and satisfaction. I honestly do not know why you would oppose any of these objectives.

    Thirdly, the dangerous notion of “binary thinking” is behind the concept of “complementarity”. What about those women and men who do not fit into sexist, rigid and narrow gender roles? Personality traits in themselves have no “gender” – we merely assign them a gender arbitrarily according to our sexist thinking. Hence, a woman who is assertive will be perceived as “acting like a man”, when in reality, she is just trying be herself. But since assertiveness is socially regarded as a “male” trait, she will be ostracized from societal gender expectations.

    Lastly, relating to the quote you posted, how does the right to choose abortion constitute a “culture of death”? There was a study (I forgot the name, but I can dig it up from my files) in the 1990’s that showed that women who gave up their unwanted children for adoption ended up in a worse psychological state (eg. feelings of guilt) than those who chose to abort their unintended pregnancies. Indeed, those women who underwent abortion later said they felt feelings of relief and happiness.

    The theoretical interests of the unborn should never outweigh the very real interests of the mother. Women are not incubators. As long as the fetus is inside the mother, it should not have a status more significant than, say, her liver. Abortion is NOT a “moral” issue that should be left up to the Church, or philosophical ponderings of the “sanctity” of human life. It is a human rights issue.

    And I must say, it is quite frankly impossible to be pro-life and feminist. As long as you derail women’s reproductive rights, you cannot at the same time stand for women’s equality, since reproductive rights are one of the main tenets of the feminist movement.

    1. Rebecca

      Hiya. Rebecca here. I’m so glad that you brought up all these interesting points and I’m excited to have the opportunity to respond. First, though, I ought to include a few disclaimers: 1) these views are my own and do not reflect those of the club and 2) I’m young and I’m learning; I don’t claim to be an expert but this is something I am passionate about and I hope that my response can be helpful or at least thought provoking.

      I must admit that I consider your points a bit out of place. I quoted an author, I didn’t develop an argument. But, I will do my best to respond regardless!

      In regards to your first point, I’m not sure what your point is. But, to delve into the term ‘feminism’, I’d like to point out that it’s much more nuanced than you make it out to be. There are many different schools of feminist thought. It, like any other field of study, is very diverse both currently and throughout its history. The ‘movement’ to which you refer is not the broad academic field to which I refer. Although the movement is deeply indebted to academic work and scholars, I don’t think that you can simply state such ‘principles’ without contextualizing them.

      Your second point asked me if I would oppose the right of women to sexual pleasure and satisfaction. My answer is, no, of course not. Personally, I would question the real capacity to enjoy that unless it was found in a relationship of security, mutual-respect and free, total and fruitful love (i.e. marriage). As a pro-lifer, a “right” to sexual pleasure doesn’t trump the right to life of an innocent child. Choices always have consequences and we, as women, have no right to dump the consequences of our choices onto an innocent bystander (the unborn child). In the case of rape, the women obviously did not make a choice and yes, it is deeply unfair that she should have to bear the consequences of another man’s decision. However, the baby ought not to bear the consequences and the women ought not to undergo another victimization (the abortion).

      Third, I’m SOOOO excited that you brought up binary thinking because that is exactly what integral complementarity avoids! I should elaborate:
      Feminists have, throughout history, struggled between the polarities of difference and homogenizing unity. On the one hand, we have feminists who conceived of men and women as of two separate natures, or at least something along those lines. On the other hand, we have many modern feminists (though not all) who eliminate gender differences and homogenize all difference. Both are problems. I believe that integral complementarity holds the key to this quandry. Integral complementarity differs from fractional complementarity. Fractional complementarity sees men and women are two halves of a whole, so to speak. As such, we’re all halves wandering around the world searching for our other halves. This is problematic. Integral complementarity is quite different. It sees men and women as different, yes, but not as different natures. Instead, there is one human nature but two modes or expressions of being human: a masculine and a feminine. It does not lock men and women into traits or ‘societal gender expectations’ but sees men and women as complete and whole persons who, together, generate a synergy. The mathematical equation for a fractional complementarity would be ½ + ½ = 1 whereas the equation for integral complementarity would be 1 + 1 = 3.

      In fact, it is an equality approach that takes no account of difference that is dangerous.
      Regarding adoption and psychological states, I found your point quite interesting. I don’t doubt that there is a psychological fallout from adoption. It is difficult to give up your child. That doesn’t mean that it is somehow right or better to undergo an abortion. It was very difficult for my Grandmother to give up my father for adoption. Back then, the process for adoption was very very insensitive and she never forgot her little baby. But she was able to, decades later when he was grown up, married and the new father of an absolutely adorable baby girl (me!), see that boy and hug him and be a part of his family. She thought it was worth it. It is always worth it when there is a life on the line, and with pregnancy, there always is.

      The “theoretical interests of the unborn” aren’t theoretical. They are flesh and blood and life and death interests. Women are not “incubators” but their bodies naturally nourish and bring forth lives. Abortion is a human rights issue, which is why we need to deal with the issues. To claim that a fetus is no more significant that a liver is to deny the biological reality. Please, go read a science textbook. Or please try walking up to a pregnant women and tell her that her fetus is no more significant than her liver. But I bet you won’t. Why? Because you know that pregnant women who want their babies are incredible: they’re eating special diets, doing special pregnant exercises and foregoing caffeine and alcohol. Why does a baby’s status change when it is unwanted? The answer is that there is a problem with the human rights discourse in this country and in much of the western world in general.

      It isn’t impossible to be pro-life and feminist. Reproductive ‘rights’ are not a timeless mantra of the feminist movement. Actually, in the beginning, it was suffrage. Feminism is a theoretical lens with which to analyze the world and its realities, and to do so with attention to the workings of gender.

      In fact, a feminist is blind to real women’s struggles and realities unless she is pro-life.


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