Pro-Life Feminists' Broader Message Is Nonviolence
Of the thousands of pro-life advocates attending Friday’s 44th annual March for Life in Washington, D.C., many were young, self-identified feminists who hope to steer the movement away from its singular focus on abortion.
Distancing themselves from the old guard – a group seen as overwhelming white, male, and hardline conservative – the feminists hope to widen the pro-life tent to include nonviolence in all its forms. This isn’t a rejection of the feminist movement, their leaders argue, but rather a reclaiming of it.
The president of Feminists for Life, Serrin M. Foster, says America’s 19th century suffragists opposed abortion. Though some historical scholars dispute this claim, Foster argues that suffragists such as Susan B. Anthony would have been pro-life today. “The same women who fought for the rights of women to vote,” Foster says, “also fought for our right to life.”
The feminists who turned out for Friday’s march embrace the feminist label, but view it as an identity that has been highjacked by the left. They express a desire to identify why women seek abortion services in the first place – and address those issues head-on.
Foster believes many women choose abortions because they can’t afford to raise a child. The goal, she said, is to then “solve the problems of poverty through education, workplace accessibility through accommodations for parents, and support for birth parents.”
Kristen Day, executive director of Democrats for Life of America, echoed this sentiment. She believes increasing access to maternity leave – particularly for low-income women who work outside corporate settings where such benefits are more readily available – would likewise decrease abortions.
“Women shouldn’t be forced to choose between keeping their job and killing their child,” Day said.
The Guttmacher Institute has found that nearly half of women who have abortions are poor, and another 26 percent are low-income. The institute also concluded that lowering the cost of contraceptives is one of the best ways to decrease the abortion rate.
This pull toward a new type of messaging was not exclusive to the women who were both pro-life and feminist. A feeling of rebirth could be sensed throughout the entire march, with many women saying the Trump administration – and Trump counselor Kellyanne Conway in particular – signaled a new era for the movement.
“The fact that the administration had a presence at the march says a lot,” one woman gushed. “Hopeful -- that’s the exact word.”
Another marcher was more direct: “Kellyanne Conway – that is feminism.”
President Trump has already given the pro-life movement plenty to celebrate. During Trump’s first week in office, he reinstated a ban on U.S. grants to health providers abroad that discuss abortion as a family-planning option and signaled his intent to defund Planned Parenthood. Mike Pence, the first sitting vice president to attend the March for Life, said as much during his speech to the roaring crowd.
But many of the pro-life feminists rejected the idea that the new administration had anything to do with their shift to a more inclusive message.
The executive editor of the Life Matters Journal, C.J. Williams, said that Trump’s election “was nothing much more positive than the opposite,” adding, “Neither candidate had a consistent life message. Clinton was pro-abortion and pro-war. Trump is clearly sexist, anti-immigrant, and has no heart for the poor.”
She said this shift away from the mindset of previous generations is thanks to “the movement coming into its own, and acknowledging the length and breadth of what being pro-life really means. The goal is to end aggressive violence against human beings, period.”
Williams believes this stance does not have to come at the cost of their work around abortion. She elaborated: “The movement is becoming consistent in our valuing of human life, and we are realizing that it can be incredibly inclusive without losing ground on the issue of abortion.”
This shift is also being felt on the pro-choice side. A pro-choice activist who attended the march, David Elizondo, said he sees younger women in the pro-life movement, no longer saddled with traditionally conservative gender roles, beginning to “take ownership of the feminist movement as well.”
Still, Elizondo said there’s a divergence between pro-choice and pro-life feminists: “There’s this difference of body autonomy, and pro-life women don’t necessarily see that as part of a movement that involves their choices and what they can become.”
But the messaging of many young, pro-life feminists was clear: the movement has become bigger than abortion. “It is now a movement of my generation,” Williams said. “We are sick of the double standards and culture of death, regardless of whether it is big government throwing their weight around through corporations, or abortion. To be pro-life is to be consistent.”