“Women’s liberation.” “Women’s rights movement.” “War on women.”
For many, the buzzwords surrounding the intersection of feminism and the pro-life movement call to mind a conflict between the two campaigns. However, for many of those involved in the pro-life movement, pro-life and feminist goals are aligned, not opposed.
In popular society many people are “hearing a lot of messaging that that’s false in the order of ‘in order to be pro-woman, you have to be pro- choice',” said Jeannie Mancini, president of the March for Life, to CNA.
“That’s not true, and it’s even damaging.”
To help break down that message, March for Life organizers chose the theme of “Pro-Life and Pro-Woman Go Hand-in-Hand” for the 2016 March for Life. Mancini explained: “We wanted to educate that being pro-life and pro-woman really do fit together like hand and glove.”
“To be pro-woman and pro-life is empowering,” she asserted.
For Aimee Murphy, the defense of all human life — including the unborn — is a natural outgrowth of the beliefs she holds not only as a Catholic, but as a feminist as well.
“Abortion as an act of violence against preborn human beings is contrary to equality, non-discrimination and non-violence, which are the core foundational tenets of feminism,” she explained to CNA. “As such, we believe abortion is in fact antithetical to the core tenet of feminism, and as a result authentic feminism really does line up with pro-life beliefs.”
Murphy, who is executive director of the “Life Matters Journal”, helped host “Empowering Women Through Life,” a gathering held before the March for Life to discuss both women’s empowerment and the defense of all life. The women who attended the feminist rally, Murphy said, continue the feminist traditions and beliefs started by early suffragists like Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, who themselves opposed abortion. “So many of our attendees are standing up and reclaiming this title of ‘feminist',” she said.
Outside the pro-life movement, however, these non-violent and egalitarian ideals of feminism have been confused with abortion, a practice that directly opposes women’s empowerment, Murphy noted.
“Women really were sold this lie, especially during the 60s and 70s, that in order to be successful, in order to be career-oriented, in order to get a good education, that they needed to have the right to abortion. Honestly, it is an idea rooted in a system of patriarchy.”
Abortion is a product of patriarchy in that it arises from a culture “in which men’s bodies are seen in the default,” she explained. “Our society is built around the idea that the ideal, the perfect worker, the default worker, can’t have children.”
When this is this case, Murphy continued, “you then start to view pregnancy as a disease, as a problem needed to be fixed.”
“It really is a disempowering idea that women need to be free of children in order to be empowered and to be successful.”
Pro-life feminism and non-violence, Murphy responded, challenges this narrative. “We’re unwilling to take our liberation as part and parcel of the patriarchal idea that we need to kill our children. We, as women, know that we are strong enough and can seek our empowerment without killing our own offspring.”
Murphy sees this pro-life message of empowerment and non-violence “ is not only the future of the pro-life movement but also the future of feminism.”
“Any time that any class of human beings is being oppressed for the sake of another we cannot truly say that we are making progress.” A women’s empowerment that respects life can help make further strides for women, children, and society at large, she said. “We can’t continue to sacrifice our children on the altar of success, whether we are men or women.”
There are also practical means for pro-life activists to help empower and support women to make choices for their future, Kristan Hawkins, president of Students for Life of America, told CNA. “In order to end abortion in our country, it’s not going to be done with just rhetoric, it’s going to be done with actions.”
“What better way to show women facing unplanned pregnancy,” she said, “than to actually be there and be another option for her?” One of the practical projects SFLA undertakes is its Pregnant on Campus initiative, which helps to link students facing unplanned pregnancies with resources on campus and in their communities.
The initiative started, Hawkins recalled, after a pro-life student at Fordham lost her housing scholarship “because they wouldn’t allow pregnant students in their dorms.” The pro-life group on campus, she retold, banded together to help the student find housing and financial support options, and “went to bat” with the administration over some of their policies. “She chose life and it was a painful process.”
The experiences at Fordham illuminated a need for work on other campuses around the country, Hawkins said. “We know that there are resources out there: it’s about getting them promoted and getting them out on the campuses.” Students on campus work not only to help fellow students have access to these resources and offer community support such as baby showers and supply drives, but also to work “with the campuses to make changes to policies they currently have that could be discriminating.”
For students facing unplanned pregnancies, Hawkins explained, “not only are we promoting alternatives in the community, but we’re that voice saying ‘we’re going to be your cheerleader.’”
These programs, along with other initiatives to support women both attain their goals and keep their children, are a key part of women’s empowerment, she said.
“Abortion is the opposite of empowerment,” Hawkins stated. “To me, it’s crazy that abortion is considered ‘a feminist issue’ when it’s actually the opposite of feminism. Abortion is telling her ‘you can’t do it all.’”
“Really it’s the pro-life movement that’s saying, ‘we can help you through this.’”