Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Is is possible to be a pro-life feminist?


Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images

Abortion has been on my mind a lot recently, as I’m sure it has with the tens of thousands of other women who marched on Washington, London, Toronto, Delhi and all over the world last weekend, demanding for the rights of women, including the right to safe abortion, to be protected. The news that a ‘pro-life’ feminist group New Wave Feminists were removed from the list of official partners of the march raised an interesting question. Can you be a feminist and be against abortion?

New Wave Feminists argue that women wouldn’t need to turn to abortion if we had a culture that was more supportive of motherhood generally. In some ways, their vision of the world is far more ambitious because what they are striving for is essentially a matriarchal society where motherhood receives the respect it deserves and fertility is treated as a “superpower”. They don’t want to deny women abortions, they want to create a world where women don’t feel like they need to have them. It’s almost a Herland level of utopia, and I admire them for it.

But in this world, the real world, access to safe and legal abortion is central to women’s equal rights - there’s just no getting around it. And here’s why.

A few days after the march the world was informed that as his first act as President, Donald Trump was reinstating a gagging order on NGOs, preventing them for discussing abortion with women without losing their right to US foreign aid. The effects of this could be devastating, especially to teenage girls in developing countries, and it’s predicted that thousands of women across the world could die as a result.

I believe that the fact that a man like Trump was charged with making a decision like this highlights just how integral pro-choice is to the feminist agenda. Because regardless of whether you as a woman feel personally comfortable with it or not, restricting abortion has been, and will continue to be a means to exert control over women’s behaviour and lives.

I tweeted New Wave Feminists to ask what they think about the gagging order and here’s the reply I received:


The link is to a blog post on abortions in the developing world. It essentially argues that abortions are simply a band-aid for a society blighted by patriarchy, and the solution to these problems is not to offer abortion, but tackle the root causes of poverty, rape and injustice.

In this respect, they may be right. To use their example, offering a “poor Brazilian woman, sitting outside a hut, no running water, no electricity, only the food she can grow or kill, with seven children playing around her in the dirt” an abortion doesn’t really get to the root of her problems, but no one is forcing her to get an abortion if she finds herself pregnant again, the hope is just that if she does decide to terminate a pregnancy that she will be able to do it safely without risking her life.

In Latin American countries like El Salvador and Guatemala, restriction to abortion comes coupled with some of the highest levels of violence against women and femicide in the world. Denying women access to safe abortion is a weapon of patriarchy. It oppresses women, belittles their ability to make an informed decision for themselves and it assumes that lawmakers know better about her situation than she does.

Until women all over the world have access to safe and legal abortion, we will not have global gender equality.

N.b I asked New Wave Feminists what they are doing to fight the root causes of female oppression in Brazil, and I haven’t received a response yet.

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