Last year, Amanda Marcotte said that she doesn’t consider “Feminists For Life” and similar groups to be feminists. Cathy Young (who is pro-choice), disagreeing with Amanda, wrote:
But that doesn’t mean there should be no place at the feminist table for women who genuinely believe that abortion is the taking of a human life, no dialogue or search for compromise. Yes, even the biggest tent must have some boundaries: to expand “feminism” to include advocacy of male superiority or female submission would strip the concept of all meaning. But, last time I checked, women who held such views were in no rush to appropriate the term.
I have no problem accepting that women (or men) “who genuinely believe that abortion is the taking of a human life” can also be feminist. But at the same time, to be a feminist, one should consistently oppose policies that damage women’s well-being, autonomy, and equality.1 Otherwise, being “feminist” would be meaningless.
So, can a pro-lifer be feminist? I think so, if “pro-lifer” is defined as “one who believes that preserving fetal life is essential.”2 Let’s look at a Venn diagram:
The diagram shows two areas, labeled “Feminists believe that preserving women’s autonomy is essential” and “Pro-lifers believe that preserving fetal life is essential.” Where the two areas overlap is labeled “Feminist and pro-life.”
So a feminist pro-lifer is someone who considers both women’s autonomy and fetal life essential to preserve. So this person would be dedicated to lowering the abortion rate — but would want to do it through means that value women’s autonomy, by using non-coercive means of reducing the demand for abortion.
This doesn’t mean that they’d have to accept high abortion rates. In the real world, countries that practice such policies — Belgium and Switzerland, for instance — have incredibly low abortion rates. There is no conflict between wanting freedom for women, and preserving fetal life.
In contrast, a “feminist” pro-lifer who favors banning abortion — with all the enormous harms an abortion ban has on women’s autonomy, freedom, and equality, and despite the fact that bans don’t preserve fetal life any better than other policies do — is treating women’s autonomy as if it’s not essential at all. In my view, that person isn’t being a very good feminist.
(Similarly, someone who is entirely dedicated to preserving women’s equality, but is indifferent to preserving fetal life, isn’t being a very good pro-lifer. Not even if they say they’re pro-life.)
If people who throw women’s autonomy and equality out the window as soon as another priority comes up are feminists, that would, as Cathy says, strip the term of all meaning.
- This is not the definition of “feminist” I’d use generally, but it’s functional for the purposes of this post. [↩]
- I’m not sure I’d use that definition generally, but it’s the one I’ll use for purposes of this post. I’m very skeptical about the motivations of the major pro-life groups and leaders, but I’m sure some individual pro-lifers are genuinely motivated by a desire to preserve fetal life. [↩]