Feminism, Abortion, and International Women’s Day
Yesterday was International Women’s Day. It’s “a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women” according to the official International Women’s Day website. It’s a day for highlighting what women have achieved so far and looking forward to what we may achieve in the future.
Twitter has been awash with #InternationalWomensDay messages and this year’s hashtag #BalanceforBetter.
The International Women’s Day website goes on to quote Gloria Steinem: “The story of women’s struggle for equality belongs to no single feminist nor to any one organization but to the collective efforts of all who care about human rights.” In this instance, she’s one hundred percent correct.
The history of Women’s Suffrage, Women’s Movements and Feminists traces a long and proud tradition of multi-issue, multi-viewpoint activism. But what is feminism?
Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary defines Feminism as “the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes.”
Notice that the definition applies to theory, not people. So, if feminism is a theory, what is a feminist?
Merriam-Webster redirects searches for “feminist” to the “feminism” definition, so we look instead to dictionary.com, which assists.
The definition as an adjective: “advocating social, political, legal, and economic rights for women.” And then as a noun: “an advocate of such rights.”
Beautiful. Feminism is the political theory and a feminist advocates for the “political, economic, and social equality of the sexes.”
The definitions leave it to the rest of us to determine the pathway to this equality. No political party is prescribed. No set issue is required. So long as an individual sincerely believes she or he is “advocating social, political, legal, and economic rights for women,” that person is a feminist. Simple.
But it’s never simple.
Feminism has been co-opted by organizations and individuals who would tell women what they must believe and who they must support.
We saw it at the 2019 State of the Union when female members of Congress wore white. We saw it when Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York ordered the Freedom Tower and other state landmarks to be lit up pink after he signed into law the “Reproductive Health Act,” a statute that allows abortions until the moment of birth.
Why white? The premise is that these women are modern-day Suffragists standing up against the #Patriarchy for their rights. Why pink? Because Planned Parenthood and its supporters want to continue the false narrative that abortion is essential to feminism and that those who oppose abortion cannot be and are not feminists.
But, if the definitions are to be believed (and Emma Watson says that’s what feminism is), then being a feminist does not require one to support one approved political party or issue, not even abortion.
That being the case, there can be no one organization that claims the sole mantle of feminism. Planned Parenthood is not THE feminist organization, no matter what falsehoods the politicians who take their campaign money push on the public. They may believe, sincerely even, that theirs is the best pathway to equality.
But should a feminist really tell a woman that she must choose between killing either her plans for the future or her unborn child? Should a feminist tell a woman that there is only one pathway to equality, and that anyone who disagrees is not a feminist?
Contrary to what Steinem, Planned Parenthood, and its supporters would have the public believe, abortion and feminism have not always been thought to be synonymous. In fact, abortion only became officially part of the Women’s Movement in 1967, and then only after an especially contentious debate during the National Organization for Women (NOW) meeting that year. According to Sue Ellen Browder’s book, Subverted, not only did that meeting in 1967 result in the incorporation of legal abortion into the movement, it also led to a serious and enduring division among feminists that lasts to this day.
The division on the “abortion issue” can be traced back even further. Researchers of the Suffragists can point to several public denunciations of abortion by prominent leaders of the movement that succeeded in getting women the right to vote.
Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell is known to have been frustrated that female abortion providers were considered physicians when she said “[t]he gross perversion and destruction of motherhood filled me with indignation…That the honorable term ‘female physician’ should be exclusively applied to those women who carried on this shocking trade seemed to me a horror.”
Another example comes from Mary Wollstonecraft, often credited as the genesis of the feminist tradition. She condemned individuals who “either destroy the embryo in the womb or cast it off when born.”
But this pro-life feminism is not limited to the distant past. Today’s pro-life movement boasts many female leaders of pro-life organizations – more evidence that not all women are on one side of the issue.
A slightly more recent organization, Susan B. Anthony List, was founded by and is still led by two women, Marjorie Dannenfelser and Jane Abraham. There has been an influx of new female-led and driven organizations including Live Action, Feminists for Nonviolent Choices, Students for Life of America, and New Wave Feminists.
One of the earliest women’s organizations upholding the rights of both women and their unborn children, Feminists for Life of America, was formed in 1972 by two women, Pat Goltz and Catherine Callaghan, both former NOW members. Feminists for Life of America is still led by a woman today.
Listen to any number of politicians today and you would think that men entirely run the pro-life movement, desperately seeking to reinstate the #Patriarchy.
Twitter cries out with the #WarOnWomen every time abortion is mentioned publicly.
Look past the end-of-the-world, dystopian-alarmist language coming out of the Democratic Party, Planned Parenthood, and their supporters. What comes through is fear. Fear that Americans will continue to wake up to the inherent humanity of the countless unborn girls and boys that the abortion industry “terminates” on a regular basis.
Surely feminists are people who do not discriminate against women who choose to carry their babies to term. A real feminist would support pregnant employees.
Planned Parenthood, it seems, doesn’t see it that way.
According to The New York Times, various Planned Parenthoods have been credibly accused of discriminating against pregnant or recently postnatal employees. The accusations range from pregnancy-based hiring decisions to requests that employees cut their unpaid leave short. Other allegations include employees being fired after returning from unpaid leave, refusing medically-necessary breaks for pregnant employees, and even retaliation for taking parental leave.
Everyone from Sheryl Sandberg to Hillary Clinton to Ivanka Trump supports paid parental leave, but Planned Parenthood, which is supposedly so-feminist-it-owns-the-color-pink, would be unduly burdened by providing even the minimum of unpaid leave required by law.
Planned Parenthood and its supporters would very much like the public to believe that all women think the same way and support abortion, this ignores the diversity of thought and opinion among women and assumes us incapable of having such diversity.
Don’t look behind the curtain, they tell us.
Planned Parenthood would rather we gaze in awe and rapture at the pink buildings and the women in white and hail them as feminist saviors. They would rather we unquestioningly accept the talking points of Governors Cuomo and Northam as Gospel truth.
In short, they would rather that we didn’t think for ourselves. International Women’s Day is a perfect occasion to politely decline that invitation.
— Amanda Stirone, J.D., is an associate scholar with the Charlotte Lozier Institute.