Abortion and feminism often appear to go hand-in-hand in modern America
But when people examine the history of feminism in America, many are surprised to learn that the first wave feminists were vocal opponents of abortion.
Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the pro-life Susan B. Anthony List, recently penned a column for Time Magazine about the early suffragettes’ opposition to abortion. In it, she referenced the new film “Suffragette,” which explores the struggle for women’s rights in England.
But would those early pioneers recognize the movement that claims to speak for the rights of women today?
On the issue of abortion, they would not. Many of today’s feminists see abortion as one of the touchstones of their movement. Yet many of the early leaders of the women’s suffrage movement in the U.S. believed that the rights of mother and child are inextricably linked and that the right to life and the right to vote are rooted in the inherent dignity of each human person.
Elizabeth Cady Stanton, a leader in the early feminist movement, linked women’s rights to the rights of unborn children. She wrote that “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.”
Dannenfelser’s column also mentioned Victoria Woodhull, the first female candidate for president – who ran before she even had the right to vote. Woodhull wrote, “Every woman knows that if she were free, she would never bear an unwished-for child, nor think of murdering one before its birth.”
Susan B. Anthony, who managed the early feminist newspaper “The Revolution,” referred to abortion as an exploitation of women, Dannenfelser wrote.
According to research by Feminists for Life, Anthony also refused to make money off abortion advertising in her newspaper. She approved a policy for “The Revolution” that rejected ads for “quack medicines” because “Restellism has long found in these broths of Beelzebub, its securest hiding place.” Restellism was a period term for abortion.
These early feminists (and many more) had the wisdom to realize that killing an unborn child never should be an answer to women’s problems. They recognized the truth that being pro-life is pro-woman. And it’s encouraging to see a national publication recognize that on its pages, too.