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Pro-life feminism is the opposition to abortion by a group of feminists who believe that the principles which inform their support of women's rights also call them to support the right to life of prenatal humans. Pro-life feminists believe abortion has served to hurt women more than it has benefited them.
The pro-life feminist movement began to take shape in the early to mid-1970s with the founding of Feminists for Life (FFL) in the United States and Women for Life in Great Britain amid legal changes in those nations which widely permitted abortion. FFL and the Susan B. Anthony List (SBA List) are the most prominent pro-life feminist organizations in the United States.
Views and goals
Pro-life feminists believe that the legal option of abortion "supports anti-motherhood social attitudes and policies and limits respect for women's citizenship". Laury Oaks, Associate Professor of Feminist Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara, writes that when abortion is legal, pro-life feminists believe, "women come to see pregnancy and parenting as obstacles to full participation in education and the workplace," and describes pro-life feminist activism in Ireland as more "pro-mother" than "pro-woman". Oaks notes that while Irish abortion opponents valorize child-bearing and are critical of the notion that women have "a 'right' to an identity beyond motherhood", some, such as Breda O'Brien, founder of Feminists for Life Ireland, also offer feminist-inspired arguments that women's contributions to society are not limited to such functions.
Pro-life feminist organizations generally do not distinguish between views on abortion as a legal issue, abortion as a moral issue, and abortion as a medical procedure. Such distinctions are made by many women, for example, women who would not abort their own pregnancies but would prefer that abortion remain legal.
Prominent American pro-life feminist organizations seek to end abortion in the U.S. The SBA List states this as their "ultimate goal", and FFL founder Serrin Foster said that FFL "opposes abortion in all cases because violence is a violation of basic feminist principles".
Relationship to other movements
Pro-life feminists form a part of the anti-abortion movement rather than the mainstream feminist movement. During the second-wave era of the late 1960s and 1970s the tenets of the emerging group of pro-life feminists were rejected by mainstream feminists who held that for full participation in society, a woman's "moral and legal right to control her fertility" needed to be a fundamental principle. From their minority position, pro-life feminists said that mainstream feminists did not speak for all women.
Having failed to gain a respected position within mainstream feminism, pro-life feminists aligned themselves with other anti-abortion and right to life groups. This placement, according to Oaks, has eroded a feminist sense of identity separate from other pro-life groups, despite "pro-woman" arguments that are distinct from the "fetal rights" arguments put forward by other anti-abortion advocates.
Feminist pro-life groups say they are continuing the tradition of 19th century women's rights activists such as Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Matilda Joslyn Gage, Victoria Woodhull, Elizabeth Blackwell, and Alice Paul who considered abortion to be an evil forced upon women by men. In their newspaper, The Revolution, they published letters, essays and editorials debating many issues of the day, including articles decrying "child murder" and "infanticide."
A dispute about Anthony's abortion views arose in the late 20th century: pro-life feminists in the U.S. began using Anthony's words and image to promote their pro-life cause. Scholars of 19th-century American feminism, as well as pro-choice activists, countered what they considered a co-opting of Anthony's legacy as America's most dedicated suffragist, saying that the pro-life activists are falsely attributing opinions to Anthony and also that applying words from the 19th century to the modern abortion debate is misleading.
- Oaks, Laury (2000). "'Pro-Woman, Pro-Life'? The Emergence of Pro-Life Feminism in Irish Anti-Abortion Discourses and Practices". Irish Journal of Feminist Studies 4 (1): 73–90.
- Oaks, Laury (Spring 2009). "What Are Pro-Life Feminists Doing on Campus?". NWSA Journal 21 (1): 178–203. ISSN 1040-0656.
- "SBA List Mission: Advancing, Mobilizing and Representing Pro-Life Women". Susan B. Anthony List. 2008. Retrieved October 18, 2010. "To accomplish our ultimate goal of ending abortion in this country..."
- The Nation. August 11, 2005. Katha Pollitt. Reproductive Rights. Feminists for (Fetal) Life: subject to debate. Retrieved on May 11, 2009.
- Kate O'Beirne, excerpt from 'Women Who Make the World Worse: and How Their Radical Feminist Assault Is Ruining Our Schools, Families, Military, and Sports' National Review January 23, 2006. Archived from the original on February 3, 2006. Retrieved on March 30, 2012
- SBA List – Early Suffragists
- "Abortion and the early feminists". BBC. Retrieved March 31, 2012.
- Stevens, Allison (2006-10-06). "Susan B. Anthony's Abortion Position Spurs Scuffle". Women's eNews. Retrieved 2009-11-21.
- The Cost of 'Choice': Women Evaluate the Impact of Abortion edited by Erika Bachiochi (2004, ISBN 1-59403-051-0)
- Prolife Feminism Yesterday & Today. Second & greatly expanded edition. Edited by Derr, Naranjo-Huebl, & MacNair (2005, ISBN 1-4134-9576-1)
- Prolife Feminism Yesterday & Today. edited by Derr, Naranjo-Huebl, and MacNair (1995, ISBN 0-945819-62-5)
- Pro-Life Feminism: Different Voices edited by Gail Grenier-Sweet (1985, ISBN 0-919225-22-5)
- Swimming Against the Tide: Feminist Dissent on the Issue of Abortion edited by Angela Kennedy (1997, ISBN 1-85182-267-4)