Feminists for Life
|Motto||Women Deserve Better
Refuse to Choose
|Legal status||501(c)(3) not-for-profit|
|Serrin M. Foster|
Feminists for Life of America (FFL) is a non-profit, pro-life feminist, non-governmental organization (NGO). Established in 1972 and now based in Alexandria, Virginia, the organization describes itself as "shaped by the core feminist values of justice, nondiscrimination, and nonviolence". FFL is dedicated to "systematically eliminating the root causes that drive women to abortion—primarily lack of practical resources and support—through holistic, woman-centered solutions". FFL publishes a quarterly magazine, The American Feminist, and aims to reach young women, college students in particular.
Feminists for Life professes to "stand on more than two hundred years of pro-life feminist history", continuing a tradition of nineteenth-century American feminists such as Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. This position has been challenged by critics who question comparisons between 19th and 20th century views on abortion, as well as the attribution of certain quotations to Anthony.
- 1 Origins
- 2 Mission and purpose
- 3 The American Feminist
- 4 College Outreach program
- 5 "Women Deserve Better" campaign
- 6 References to 19th century feminists
- 7 Prominent members
- 8 History
- 9 Structure and chapters
- 10 See also
- 11 References
- 12 External links
Feminists for Life was founded by Pat Goltz and Cathy Callaghan in Ohio in 1972. Goltz and Callaghan met in a judo club on the campus of Ohio State University, where Callaghan was a tenured professor of linguistics. In 1974, Goltz was expelled from the Columbus, Ohio chapter of the National Organization for Women (NOW) for arguing that abortion violated feminist principles, although she and Callaghan were not expelled from national NOW membership.
Mission and purpose
FFL describes itself as a non-sectarian, nonpartisan, grassroots organization, and its members as believing in "the strength of women and the potential of every human life", refusing "to choose between women and children", believing that "no woman should be forced to choose between sacrificing her education and career plans and sacrificing her child", and as rejecting violence and exploitation.
FFL describes its broader vision as opposing all forms of violence, which it considers "inconsistent with the core feminist principles of justice, nonviolence and nondiscrimination", including the death penalty, assisted suicide, euthanasia, infanticide and child abuse. FFL strives for the traditional feminist goal of equality for women in the workplace. FFL maintains that its pro-life positions are not merely compatible with feminism, but are the natural conclusion of feminist values.
With respect to abortions allegedly required to save the life of the mother, FFL states that it "refuse[s] to choose between women and children". FFL contends that doctors sometimes advise abortion because "they are unaware of other options or because they are pressured by fear of malpractice suits". FFL argues that physicians "should treat both patients and do what they can to save both lives [because] [t]his is what was done before the Roe decision was handed down". With respect to ectopic pregnancies (which are not medically classified as abortion), FFL states that, "since the child has no chance of survival, and the mother can survive if the pregnancy is ended, we must do what we can to save her. To let both die would not be pro-life."
FFL's pro-life positions have been criticized by some traditional feminists. Katha Pollitt, columnist for The Nation claims that FFL seeks to make abortion illegal in all cases, including those of rape, incest, health, major fetal defects and "even some abortions most doctors would say were necessary to save the woman's life". Former FFL board member Sharon Long responded that "FFL opposes the criminalization of women (as almost everyone in the pro-life movement does) and focuses our efforts on freeing women from abortion by addressing the issues reported by the Guttmacher Institute—and working along with prochoice advocates to check off our task list". Pollitt also claims that FFL president Serrin Foster "professed ignorance" about rates of death and injury in countries where abortion has been made illegal.
Feminists for Life is inclusive of anyone supporting its mission regardless of personal opinions about contraception or preconception issues, stating, "Preconception issues are outside FFL’s mission". FFL also states that its members and supporters "hold a broad spectrum of opinions regarding preconception issues, and FFL welcomes anyone committed to working alongside us in our shared mission". FFL and its representatives have repeatedly reiterated that the group takes no position on contraception. Prominent FFL member Sarah Palin stated in 2006, "I'm pro-contraception, and I think kids who may not hear about it at home should hear about it in other avenues".
Some commentators have criticized FFL for not promoting contraception. Katha Pollitt says that she asked Serrin Foster about it and that Foster replied in part that the Pill did not work for teenagers, which Pollitt said was a belief she knew to be false. Foster has said that FFL members hold a wide range of beliefs about contraception. Feminist scholar Laury Oaks pointed out that FFL's silence on the subjects of contraception and safer sex "fails to address some of the most critical sexual and reproductive issues for women and presents views on pregnancy that cannot encompass the reality of many women's experiences".
The American Feminist
FFL publishes a quarterly magazine called The American Feminist that is included with membership in the organization. Each issue is centrally focused on a theme like Remarkable Pro-Life Women—Part III, Pro-Woman Answers to Pro-Choice Questions and Our Pro-Woman, Pro-Life Legacy. Using original and reprinted articles The American Feminist shows a "reliance on factual data, experiential testimony, and well-phrased analysis of abortion-related issues that can't be dismissed as expressions of inherited, unexamined religious beliefs". Regular features include Herstory—a profile of an abortion opponent, news items, and legislative updates.
College Outreach program
In 1994, Foster began to visit college campuses to deliver her speech "The Feminist Case Against Abortion". Given that data from sources such as the Guttmacher Institute have identified college women as most likely to have abortions, FFL established a college outreach program in 1996. The program provides information, excluding contraception but including the coercive factors that drive college women to choose between their education and bearing children.
For a college audience, FFL designed a promotional campaign that challenged abortion rights advocacy and provided information for pregnant women, not including how to obtain an abortion. FFL members created several kits for student activists, a kit for residential advisers and psychological counselors, a feminist history kit for libraries, and challenging ads for college audiences, in addition to the resources available through FFL's website. Two of the eight "Question Abortion" posters offered in 2000 touched upon political issues, one of these saying "No law can make the wrong choice right". One poster used an image of Susan B. Anthony and an out-of-context quote of hers determined two years earlier by FFL historian Mary Krane Derr to be about estate law, not abortion. Other posters recast choice as the "imperative to have an abortion", or implied that life was better before abortion rights, back when abortion was illegal. FFL reports that its College Outreach Program has reached more than 5 million students since 1994 and that the rate of abortion among college-educated women has dropped by 30%.
In 1997 Planned Parenthood Federation of America's INsider called FFL's growing College Outreach Program the "newest and most challenging concept in anti-choice organizing" and predicted it could "have a profound impact" on college campuses.
"Women Deserve Better" campaign
Feminists for Life's "Women Deserve Better" campaign was launched in 2003 on the 30th anniversary of Roe v. Wade. FFL described it as "a long-term public education effort examining the failure of abortion. The campaign aims to refocus the nation on the reasons women feel pressured into abortion and to promote women-centered solutions". The basic message of the campaign, featured on billboards, posters, and placards, was "Abortion is a reflection that we have not met the needs of women. Women deserve better than abortion."
"Abortion is not a measure of society's success in meeting the needs of women", explained Foster, "it's a measure of its failure. Why celebrate failure? Abortion is a symptom of—never a solution to—the problems faced by women... abortion has completely failed as a social policy designed to aid women...women have had to settle for far less than they need and deserve".
The "Women Deserve Better" and the "Refuse to Choose" slogans reflected what FFL saw as integrated aspects of their philosophy. Foster explained: "We refuse to choose between women and children. We refuse to choose between sacrificing our education and career plans or sacrificing our children".
The major legislative goal of FFL's "Women Deserve Better" campaign was the passage of the Elizabeth Cady Stanton Pregnant and Parenting Students Act by Congress. The Elizabeth Cady Stanton Act was first introduced into the United States Senate by Elizabeth Dole on November 8, 2005, and into the House of Representatives by Melissa Hart the next day. The first Capitol Hill briefing on the legislation took place on February 15, 2006. The bill was criticized by writer Emily Bazelon in Mother Jones as a "largely hollow 'message bill'". Bazelon opined that the 10 million dollars provided by the bill would be "paltry" when spread nationwide. Bazelon quoted Frances Kissling, leader of the pro-choice organization Catholics for a Free Choice, as calling the bill "not serious", and adding that "if we support these message bills that don't really give women much help, then the real message we send is that we're not strongly committed to women".
On July 12, 2010, Feminists for Life announced that the Elizabeth Cady Stanton Pregnant and Parenting Student Services Act had been incorporated as the basis of one of three components in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act's Pregnancy Assistance Fund. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced that "The Act appropriates $25 million for each of fiscal years 2010 through 2019 for the purpose of awarding competitive grants to States and Indian tribes or reservations. It is anticipated that up to 25 grants in the amounts of $500,000 - $2,000,000 per year will be awarded". FFL President Serrin M. Foster said, "This is what we have been working towards. Pregnancy and parenting should never terminate an education".
Feminists for Life has been a participant in the annual March for Life in Washington, D.C. and a sponsor of the Walk for Life West Coast in San Francisco, both of which mark the anniversary of the United States Supreme Court decision of Roe v. Wade.
References to 19th century feminists
Feminists for Life professes to "stand on more than two hundred years of pro-life feminist history", continuing the tradition of early feminists such as Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Mary Wollstonecraft, and Alice Paul, as well as others whose remarks they contend indicated opposition to abortion. FFL's president has asserted that, "Without known exception, the early feminists condemned abortion in the strongest possible terms". FFL's website features quotes from Anthony and Wollstonecraft, but the context and meaning of such quotes has been disputed by Anthony and Wollstonecraft scholars, One quote is taken from an anonymous essay called "Marriage and Maternity", published in Anthony's newspaper and signed "A", which Ann Dexter Gordon claims was not how Anthony signed her writings and contains views that conflict with her "known beliefs".
A quote by suffragist and lecturer Mattie Brinkerhoff, from an 1869 letter to the editor of The Revolution, appears on the inside front cover of almost every issue of FFL's magazine, The American Feminist:
When a man steals to satisfy hunger, we may safely conclude that there is something wrong in society—so when a woman destroys the life of her unborn child, it is an evidence that either by education or circumstances she has been greatly wronged".
FFL cites the writings of Stanton, a likely practitioner of contraception to enable family planning and an opponent of the Comstock laws restricting education about contraception and abortion, who began her fight for women's rights about 12 years earlier than Anthony. Known for her radical stance on many divisive issues of the day, Stanton helped organize the Seneca Falls Convention, the first women's rights convention, in Seneca Falls, New York. Stanton wrote,
"Let woman assert herself in all her native purity, dignity, and strength, and end this wholesale suffering and murder of helpless children."
In 2007, Foster noted that FFL had reached 26,000 members, including the families of women who joined. A number of the members are well known in the arts and politics.
Jane Sullivan Roberts, wife of U.S. Chief Justice John Roberts, served as pro bono legal counsel to FFL for twelve years and is a former executive vice president of FFL's board of directors. During the confirmation hearings for John Roberts, his position on abortion was questioned in light of his wife's FFL membership, leading to intensified focus by the media on the group.
Sarah Palin, the first woman to be nominated by the Republican Party for Vice President of the United States and the first female governor of Alaska, has been a FFL member since 2006.
In the 1970s, FFL founders Pat Goltz and Cathy Callaghan met many other pro-life feminists who similarly were or felt excluded from women's organizations during the Women's Liberation Movement's second wave. In protest, Goltz and dozens of other pro-life feminists picketed the National NOW convention, hoping to draw attention to the controversy. The plan backfired when most media sources failed to pick up the story, and the few that did only mentioned that the pickets were by a pro-life group, failing to convey the full meaning of the protest.
Goltz later drew attention to what she saw as the growing trend of pro-life feminism and hostility against it from the feminist establishment. While testifying before a Congressional panel in 1975, Goltz stated "The National Organization for Women suppresses any woman who is pro-life. It does not matter how sincere her feminism on the basic issues." (Senate Testimony, 1975)
The newsletter, Sisterlife, was first published during Goltz's tenure as national president. Originally the Feminists for Life Journal, the newsletter got its unique name from a letter to Goltz by a member of the Canadian chapter of FFL, who instead of closing her letter with the customary "In Sisterhood", wrote "In Sisterlife". Editors conferred the title on the newsletter, feeling that it reflected what they saw as a dedication to life from conception to natural death.
FFL was active in the ten-year battle to ratify the ill-fated Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). The organization's commitment to the ERA formed with the organization, during Goltz's presidency. Unlike Goltz, Callaghan was not immediately convinced of the need for the amendment, having achieved success as a professor at Ohio State University. Callaghan soon changed her mind, however, and began to support the amendment. In 1973, Goltz published an article (included in the anthology, Pro-Life Feminism: Yesterday and Today) disparaging the fact that the widespread fear of abortion on-demand had blocked the ratification of ERA in Ohio at the time, and that it would eventually kill the amendment's ratification.
Like many other feminist groups of the women's liberation movement, the personal experiences of members of FFL were what informed their drive for equality and social justice. Many pro-life feminists had experiences with pregnancy discrimination, abortion, rape, child molestation. Their stories were published in various journals, newsletters, and other publications. Many of these stories were included in the anthology, Pro-Life Feminism: Different Voices.
After five years as president of FFL, Goltz retired. In 1977, organizational management was moved to Wisconsin. The group's activities focused on being a presence at both pro-life and feminist events, distributing literature, and writing letters to various publications. A national workshop that became an annual conference for pro-life feminists was launched during this time. Many members supported both the Equal Rights Amendment and a Human Life Amendment as "complementary in their concern for human life".
FFL's work for the Equal Rights Amendment was met with a great deal of resistance, including strong resistance at pro-E.R.A. demonstrations, when FFL members attempted to distribute Pro-Life/Pro-E.R.A. tracts. In the late 1970s, Goltz spoke with the legendary suffragist Alice Paul, who authored the original Equal Rights Amendment. Paul conveyed to Goltz her belief that abortion was inconsistent with feminism, and that many of the founding mothers of feminism disapproved. She also related her fear that the increased attempts to link abortion to E.R.A. would prevent the amendment's ratification, and eventually end feminism as well.
In June 1984 at the annual FFL meeting in Omaha, Nebraska, peace activist Rachel MacNair was elected president of FFL. Out of her office at a crisis pregnancy center in Kansas City, Missouri, she ran FFL for ten years. Under MacNair, FFL began to receive more national exposure through media interviews, involvement in a broad spectrum of pro-life issues, and invitations to speak at pro-life events. By 1989 FFL was quoting 19th-century feminists who were described as opposed to abortion. During 1992, MacNair also worked toward founding the Susan B. Anthony List as a political action committee working against abortion through electing pro-life candidates.
In June 1994, the organization relocated its national office to Washington, D.C., where FFL reorganized its structure, and updated its image: the Sisterlife newsletter was renamed as The American Feminist magazine, a website was created, and new outreach programs were developed, including the College Outreach Program. FFL also became more involved in political advocacy, working to ensure the passage of the Violence Against Women Act, the Family and Medical Leave Act, and enhanced enforcement for child support. Child exclusion provisions in the Welfare Reform Act were opposed by FFL.
At the 2002 March for Life, which observes the anniversary of the Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision, several members of the Pro-Life Alliance of Gays and Lesbians (PLAGAL) were arrested for attempting to march under the PLAGAL banner, on the orders of Nellie Gray, holder of the permit for the march. Foster came out publicly in support of PLAGAL, saying she also had had similar run-ins with Gray in the past.
In mid-2005, the Woodward Building, which housed the offices of Feminists for Life, the National Organization for Women, and The Hill newspaper, among others, closed to be converted into apartments. FFL moved their headquarters to Alexandria, Virginia. FFL's recent work has involved advocating laws protecting pregnant women from being coerced into an abortion, laws that provide pregnant and parenting students with services, and monitoring cases of pregnancy discrimination.
On February 15, 2006, Susan B. Anthony's birthday, the first major Congressional discussions on the Elizabeth Cady Stanton Pregnant and Parenting Students Act began. On October 2, 2006 Foster announced the launch of a national web campaign to promote their message. The campaign included a pro-life feminist response to the traditional pro-choice arguments for abortion.
Structure and chapters
FFL of New York
FFL's New York chapter was dissolved in 2007 and replaced by a new organization, Feminists Choosing Life of New York.
Carol Crossed, founder of the New York chapter of Democrats for Life of America and former board member of FFL's New York chapter, purchased the Adams, Massachusetts birthplace of Susan B. Anthony on August 5, 2006. FFL did not own the Susan B. Anthony birthplace, which was opened as the Susan B. Anthony Birthplace Museum on February 14, 2010. Its mission states, "the Museum will highlight the familial and regional influences which shaped Ms. Anthony’s early life, by displaying the textiles and furnishings of that period, as well as the literature and other memorabilia associated with her later career". The birthplace is managed by The Susan B. Anthony Birthplace Museum, a non-profit corporation.
Feminists for Life International
International outreach program
In 2004, FFL launched an International Outreach Program, reflecting that abortion is a global issue. According to FFL's "Global Vision":
- Feminists for Life advocates for
- increased education standards and opportunities for the poor, especially for girls
- increased employment opportunities for all women, especially poor women and others who have been excluded
- micro-loans and other business assistance for low-income women to start businesses and purchase land
- health care for mother and child, before and after birth, including prenatal care, assisted delivery, postpartum care, emergency services, immunizations, disease prevention and treatment, especially for the HIV/AIDS pandemic
- sustainable development that provides clean water, sanitation, housing, and food
- child care for the working poor and regulations to protect vulnerable women and children from forced labor
- protection for women and children from violence, including sex trafficking
- measures to rescue women trapped in domestic violence
- (The American Feminist vol. 12 no. 1, p. 20)
- Feminists for Life advocates for
"Abortion doesn't put food on the table, or provide clean water. After an abortion, a woman returns to the same situation that drove her there. One abortion is too many. It means we have failed women", argued FFL's international outreach director Marie Smith. "What women want and need is full participation as citizens, equal access to resources and opportunities, and enforced legal protection against discrimination, violence, and oppression...Education is the most empowering choice for any woman's future". FFL refers to early American feminist Elizabeth Cady Stanton, who said, "There must be a remedy for such a crying evil as [abortion]. But where shall it be found, at least where begin, if not the complete enfranchisement and elevation of women?"
Feminists for Life International is the international organization beyond its national groups Feminists for Life of America, and Feminists for Life of Ireland, which focuses on global violations of women's rights, particularly poverty, sex trafficking, domestic violence, and abortion.
The Spring–Summer Edition 2002 of "The American Feminist" was devoted to monitoring crimes against women around the world including abortion, sex trafficking, bride burning, female genital mutilation, forced illiteracy, and sweatshop labor. Three other editions of the organization's newsletter were specifically devoted to monitoring sex trafficking.
Feminists for Life International also supported the United Nations' Millennium Development Goals by publishing a statement saying, "Feminists for Life believes that the Millennium Development Goals are life-affirming targets that if achieved will greatly improve billions of lives around the globe. Women and children will be freed from lives of poverty, hunger, death, disease, and despair. We support the promotion of these goals and work to ensure that all members of society, including the unborn, benefit from their promotion and achievement". FFL's international director and UN representative Marie Smith cautioned, however, that "[w]omen's advocates must unite and direct our full attention to addressing the unmet needs of women—life-saving health care and nutrition, eliminating poverty through education and work opportunities, protecting women and children from violence and exploitation. Abortion is a sign that women's needs have not been met, and women deserve better". "While Feminists for Life was gratified that the concluding document of the Summit was not compromised by the insertion of 'sexual or reproductive rights' (code for abortion), we believe caution must be taken with language that was adopted into the document. The inclusion, 'Ensuring equal access to reproductive health' is problematic. While 'reproductive health' has never been defined by the members of the United Nations to include abortion, proponents of abortion often use a broad definition of this term that includes abortion as a part of fertility regulation." "Political word games do not serve women. Word games distract us and delay our efforts to help those in greatest need".
Additionally, Smith published an editorial in 2005 in the Washington Times on the growing problem of sex trafficking of young Americans in the United States as a result of homelessness, child abuse, and poverty.
FFL of Ireland
Feminists for Life also has an international branch in Ireland, known as Feminists for Life of Ireland. The group was once headed by Breda O'Brien, who was profiled by The American Feminist's project "Herstory Worth Repeating".
Feminists for Life of Ireland is one of many pro-life feminist organizations in the area, and works with other groups such as Feminists Against Eugenics.
FFL New Zealand (1978–1983)
Originally founded in response to correspondence with American founder Goltz, Feminists for Life New Zealand (1978–1983) was founded by Connie Purdue (who also founded the New Zealand National Organization for Women) and romance writer Daphne Clair de Jong, who, like their American counterparts Goltz and Callaghan, found themselves at odds with the feminist establishment's endorsement of abortion.
During this period, de Jong authored "Abortion and Feminism; the Great Inconsistency" and "The Feminist Sell-Out" for the New Zealand Listener. The articles attacked pro-choice ideology as inconsistent with feminist principles and as a pandering to a male system devised by men, for men. However, de Jong soon drifted away from the organization, disheartened at the increasingly social conservative membership and wholesale anti-feminist agenda of the organization.
Feminists for Life of New Zealand no longer exists. After 1984, it was known as "Women for Life". Although it began as a pro-life feminist organization, the organization gradually changed from a secular liberal organization to a Christian conservative pressure group, which reflected the increasingly socially conservative views of its late founder Connie Purdue. It then changed its name to the "Family Education Network", which published "Off the Fence" until it ceased publication in 2003.
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Rachel MacNair ...is the founder of the Susan B. Anthony List...
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