War on Women? The Undeniable Roots of Pro-Life Feminism

Opinion   |   Mallory Quigley   |   Apr 27, 2012   |   5:56PM   |   Washington, DC

In light of the alleged “War on Women,” Arizona State Rep. Terri Proud wrote a press release confidently expressing her pro-life, pro-woman position. Rep. Proud explained that as a woman in office defending the dignity of human life, she herself has faced numerous name-calling attacks – everything from “ignorant” to “anti-woman” from the very same people now crying foul about the so-called “war.”

In reflecting on women’s rights, Rep. Proud asked a critical question: There was a time in our history that women didn’t have many rights, and many women fought for them. But what did these women say about the rights of the unborn?

Rep. Proud poses the right question — what did the Founding Mothers and early crusaders for women’s rights have to say about abortion? Much more than some in the media and feminist academia are willing to admit.

Turning directly to our country’s early women leaders, Proud quotes famous suffragists including Susan B. Anthony, namesake of the pro-life organization where I work. In one editorial (signed “A”) of her newspaper, The Revolution, Anthony wrote:

 “Guilty? Yes. 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, it will burden her soul in death; but oh, thrice guilty is he who… drove her to the desperation which impelled her to the crime!” [The Revolution, 4(1):4 July 8, 1869]

 Rep. Proud goes on to include quotes from other notable suffragists:

 “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.” — Elizabeth Cady Stanton [Letter to Julia Ward Howe, October 16, 1873]

“Every woman knows that if she were free, she would never bear an unwished-for child, nor think of murdering one before its birth.” — Victoria Woodhull [Wheeling, West Virginia Evening Standard, November 17, 1875]

With the abundance of notable pro-life quotes from these women, Rep. Proud mistakenly attributes a line from Mattie Brinkerhoff, also a women’s rights advocate of the time, to Susan B. Anthony.



This mistake made Rep. Proud the subject of a “Fact Check” report in The Arizona Republic, which gave her a 100% “False” rating. No room for nuance, the condemnation of a 100% “False” rating unfairly taints Proud’s entire press release and misrepresents, to the casual reader, not only her point, but the historical facts of the early feminist’s views on abortion. Beyond pointing out the misattribution of the quote, history professors interviewed by The Arizona Republic cast doubt on the pro-life stand of Susan B. Anthony and her fellow suffragettes. A look at the quote reveals it was written in the same spirit and expresses the same ideals that were dear to Anthony and her pro-life compatriots:

“When a woman destroys the life of her unborn child, it is a sign that, by education or circumstances, she has been greatly wronged.”– Mattie H. Brinkerhoff [The Revolution, Sept. 2, 1869]

Seeming to spare no excess to try and muddy Rep. Proud’s reputation as well as promote misinformation about the early feminist pro-life views, this week The Arizona Republic came out with another fact check report. This time the piece states that Susan B. Anthony’s pro-life views are 100% “Unsupported.”

Unsupported by whom? Unsupported by select historians who refuse to acknowledge that the early feminists, including Susan B. Anthony, believed women’s rights could never be built upon the broken rights of others.

This group of academics insist that because abortion was not a prevailing political issue at the time, these women’s statements should not be included in public record, that they should not serve as a reminder of the true roots of pro-life feminism. It is shameful that our founding mothers are being silenced in this way.

If there is a so-called “war” being waged on women, the refusal to acknowledge those women who support the sanctity of Life – both contemporary and historical – sure seems to be a part of it.

Fortunately, women like Arizona State Representative Terri Proud refuse to be silenced. I hope she will continue to stand up for unborn children and their mothers in the spirit of life-affirming authentic feminism. She is not alone.