Feminism, the Pro-Life Movement, and Justice
by Oxford Students for Life
If I could guess the one thing that all women who are actively pro-life have in common, it’s probably that at one time or another, someone has asked us (in so many words); “How can you be a woman and be against abortion? That’s so anti-feminist!” The question can be asked with anything from timid confusion to outraged disbelief, but however it’s asked, it points to a very real issue.
The truth is, it’s not immediately clear how, in 2015, one could identify both as a feminist and as pro-life. The dominant feminist narrative of our age often emphasizes the right to abortion as one of its essential tenets. Many women agree with this, but many women don’t, and have found themselves bizarrely at odds with a movement that is supposed to work for their benefit. But as defenders of feminism have pointed out, being a feminist simply means believing that all people, regardless of gender, are of equal worth and deserve equal protection and rights under the law. And believe it or not, this also happens to be the fundamental principle of the pro-life movement. Those who are pro-life reject human rights violations such as abortion on the grounds of the essential equality in dignity of all human beings, born and pre-born. So while the pro-life position may clash with a few of the specific policy goals of modern feminism, it concords with the true spirit of feminism in a way that those policy goals blatantly do not.
A criticism hurled at many pro-life women is that, in opposing abortion, they are “judging” other women, while a true feminist would support whatever choices women make. This simply isn’t true. There’s a vast gulf between respecting another person and sanctioning any action they may take. Judging an action is not the same as judging a person. Being supportive of other people doesn’t mean approving of destructive choices; on the contrary, being supportive of others means wanting and working towards their good.
The major injustice that legal abortion supposedly resolves is sexual inequality between men and women. Men are literally able to walk away from unwanted parenthood in a way that women are not; hence the promotion of abortion as a way of levelling the playing field. The trouble is that abortion may achieve equality on a crude practical level, but it does so by perpetuating injustice on a much deeper one. Neither men nor women should be able to walk away from their children, whether or not those children are planned and wanted. Pro-life feminism takes the positive approach of insisting that both women and men take responsibility for their children, and seeks to build a culture in which women who are abandoned by their partners are supported in choosing justice even when their partner doesn’t.
Feminism is meant to empower women in societies in which men have historically been the wielders of power. The brand of feminism that defends abortion continues the institutional abuse of the weak by the strong, and in doing so, contradicts the fundamental principles of feminism itself. There’s some truth in the argument that one cannot be both pro-life and feminist in the modern world. But this is only true inasmuch as contemporary feminism has erred. In the interest of advancing women’s rights to create a just society – a worthy and incredibly important aim – we’ve forgotten that a just society is impossible if any person’s rights can be violated by another person at will. It’s deeply wrong that men’s interests should be realized at the expense of women’s rights, and it’s even more wrong that adults’ interests should be realized at the expense of children’s lives. Pro-life feminism demands higher standards for society’s treatment of all people. Women deserve better than abortion as a response to gender inequality; as feminists of all stripes have pointed out, no man will ever have to worry about needing to have an abortion. No woman should ever have to, either.