March 8th was designated International Women’s Day by the United Nations. It was a day for all of us to reflect on the achievements made by women and the work still to be done in fully realizing equality around the world. When basic human rights are denied to one group in a society, that violation affects society as a whole. For this reason, both men and women should take the time to contemplate on the status of women.
In the United States, women’s rights have come a long way. In just the last century women went from being second class citizens without even the right to vote, to leading major corporations and being elected to public office. However, in the midst of that progress, a grave ideology took hold among many in the women’s movement. Many feminists asserted abortion-on-demand was a critical tenant of women’s equality. Nothing could have been further from the truth and women have suffered as a result. But all that is changing.
Pro-abortion feminists viewed children as an obstacle to women’s success in the professional world. In advocating for abortion-on-demand, they pitted mother against child. They forced women to decide between an education or a career and their unborn child. This was a seismic shift from the origins of the women’s movement, which rose up out of opposition to women being treated as property. The women’s push for civil rights was not intended to be one, which elevated the rights of some while labeling others, namely unborn children, as a mere commodity. Elizabeth Cady Stanton wrote, “When we consider that women are treated as property, it is degrading to women that we should treat our children as property to be disposed of as we see fit.” (Letter to Julia Ward Howe, October 16, 1873)
Other early women leaders like Susan B. Anthony, Mary Wollstonecraft and Louisa May Alcott also vocalized what they viewed as an incompatibility between abortion and women’s rights. Abortion in their minds was a reflection that society had failed women. Victoria Woodhull, the first female presidential candidate, said, “Every woman knows that if she were free, she would never bear an unwished-for child, nor think of murdering one before its birth.”(Wheeling, West Virginia Evening Standard, November 17, 1875)
While the early women leaders likened abortion to infanticide (Susan B. Anthony in Revolution, 1869), attitudes began to change after the infusion of eugenics ideology into the women’s movement. While the suffragettes were working tirelessly to secure the right to vote, eugenicist Margaret Sanger was working to spread the notion that children were a root cause of women’s poor economic conditions. Sanger’s eugenics ideology held that by reducing the number of children born to poor families, society could eliminate poverty itself. In 1920, women were finally granted the right to vote. Sanger was not involved in that struggle. In 1921, she was preoccupied with the foundation of the American Birth Control League, which would later be renamed the Planned Parenthood Federation of America.
The year the Nineteenth Amendment was ratified, Sanger published Women and the New Race in which she noted, “The most merciful thing that a large family does to one of its infant members is to kill it.” This is a far cry from Susan B. Anthony, who wrote in 1869, “…No matter what the motive, love of ease, or a desire to save from suffering the unborn innocent, the woman is awfully guilty who commits the deed. It will burden her conscience in life and burden her soul in death; but oh, thrice guilty is he who drove her to the desperation that impelled her to the crime.”
The eugenics ideology to which Sanger ascribed made its way into later feminist thinking and even provided a philosophical foundation for the Roe vs. Wade Supreme Court decision, which legalized abortion on demand. Reflecting back on the 1973 case, Justice Ruth Bader-Ginsburg told the New York Times Magazine in 2009, “Frankly I had thought that at the time Roe was decided, there was concern about population growth and particularly growth in populations that we don’t want to have too many of.”
Sanger’s eugenics ideology played a pivotal role in shaping pro-abortion feminist doctrine that children are an impediment to economic prosperity and women’s professional success. However, these notions have been thoroughly disproven by the experience of women since the legalization of abortion. Roe vs. Wade did not eliminate poverty. Roe vs. Wade did not even the playing field for women in the workplace. These are problems that persist. But now the problem of abortion also persists.
Millions of women have been adversely affected by abortion. In addition to physical repercussions, many women are tragically left to suffer unimaginable pain and regret. When a woman opts to get an abortion she is not doing so under the banner of women’s liberation. Far too often, she is driven to the abortion facility because it appears to be her only way out. In such cases, it is clear society is not meeting women’s needs.
Legalized abortion has provided society an excuse not to provide the full range of resources to pregnant women. Society would much rather offer abortion than confront the very real issues faced by mothers trying simultaneously to advance themselves and care for their children. The pregnant college student, for instance, is often forced to decide between the life within her and her education. The availability of abortion on demand removes the pressure for universities to provide resources on campus for pregnant students or those already raising children. The women’s movement has not fully succeeded if society continues to tell pregnant mothers that they must decide between their children and their occupational aspirations.
Sanger, Freidan and the other pro-abortion feminists could never have expected it, but their notion of feminism would fall by the wayside with the rise of the pro-life feminist. Despite being persecuted by the mainstream media, disregarded by the intellectual elite and openly mocked by abortion advocates, pro-life women leaders are changing the narrative. They have ushered in a new wave of feminism, tossing out the radicalism of the 1970’s, reclaiming the feminism of the suffragettes and balancing both career and family.
The foremother of modern pro-life feminism is unmistakably Phyllis Schlafly, the great crusader who nearly single-handedly brought down the so-called Equal Rights Amendment, which would have expanded abortion on demand. Schlafly paved the way for the pro-life women leaders of today by taking feminism back to the drawing board.
Sarah Palin, as a wife, mother, governor, vice presidential candidate, media commentator and pro-life advocate, challenges the very foundation of radical feminism. Her down-to-earth charm and traditional American values have thrown the mainstream media and the pro-abortion feminist bourgeoisie into frenzy. She connects with the everyday American woman in a way that radical feminists espousing abortion on demand and politically correct terms like “womyn” and “herstory” never could.
According to Gallup polling, the majority of American women oppose abortion in most circumstances and they overwhelmingly object to tax dollars funding abortion. American women are also keenly aware that mainstream media attacks on Sarah Palin and her family are not merely personal attacks but a greater assault on all women like her. Pro-life women face a media double standard that should appall any true feminist. From Newsweek printing an unflattering picture of Congresswoman Michele Bachmann (MN) and labeling her “The Queen of Rage” to pro-abortion Democrats circulating false affair rumors about then-candidate, now-Governor Nikki Haley (SC), these women face not only attacks on their political stances but their very character.
But, whether the pro-abortion feminists like it or not, pro-life women leaders are here to stay and even more wait in the wings. The 2010 was labeled by the Susan B. Anthony List, a pro-life women’s organization, as the “Year of the Pro-Life Woman” after record numbers of pro-life women were elected to office that year. 2012 looks poised to build on that trend. Pro-life women like Sarah Steelman (MO-Senate), Mia Love (UT), Beth Anne Rankin (AR), Barbara Cegavske (NV), Ann Wagner (MO), Jackie Walorski (IN), Martha Zoller (GA) and Bette Grande (ND) are creating significant buzz in the 2012 elections. In addition, pro-life women like Gov. Susana Martinez (NM) and Congresswoman Cathy McMorris-Rodgers (WA) are also being considered by many to be possible vice presidential candidates in 2012.
Despite the wave of pro-life feminism, remnants of the 1970’s radicalism remain. Across the nation, purported “pro-woman” groups like Planned Parenthood and NARAL are fighting hard against common sense reforms on abortion. These groups went as far as to describe pro-life legislation as a “war on women,” despite the fact such reforms are supported by the majority of American women. In opposing a ban on federal funding of abortion under healthcare reform, abortion advocates accused lawmakers of wanting women to “die on the floor.” In opposing informed consent bills, like Virginia’s ultrasound bill, abortion advocates likened an ultrasound to “governmental rape.”
Currently in Pennsylvania, pro-life women leaders are also taking a stand. State Representative Kathy Rapp (R-Warren) is the chief sponsor of House Bill 1077, entitled the Women’s Right to Know Act. The bill offers a woman the chance to view an ultrasound and observe the heartbeat of her unborn child prior to an abortion. Women deserve all the facts before making a grave and irrevocable decision like abortion. Withholding medical information from a woman is never in her best interest. On International Women’s Day in 2012, Pennsylvania is debating whether women should be fully informed before an abortion. The self-described pro-woman forces, like Planned Parenthood and NARAL, vehemently oppose this legislation. If this isn’t evidence that the radical feminist movement has gone astray, I don’t know what is.
Women’s rights and pro-life issues must be of concern to every member of our society, whether male or female, young or old. Martin Luther King Jr. noted, “Injustice somewhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” We are all called to protect equal rights for ourselves and for others. It was not only African Americans who were called to condemn slavery. It was not only women who were called to reject gender discrimination. Our laws must respect the lives of all people, including both women and their unborn children. Only when every member of the human family, including the unborn child, is respected will our nation and our world experience true freedom and equality.