‘Pro-life feminism’ is a jarring oxymoron. Feminism is a movement that exists in opposition to oppressive forces that seek to control women and other marginalized groups. Pro-life ideology is a tool of these oppressive forces — a concerted effort to control the bodies, and therefore the freedoms of women, trans folk, people of color, and those with crosscutting identities. From clinic closers like the Susan B. Anthony List and Live Action, to groups that do PR for them like the Alice Paul Group, the pro-life movement is doing its best to appropriate the word feminist to slap a pro-woman label on their anti-woman politics. In doing so, they tell one lie after another:
1. “Women deserve better than abortion.” – Feminists for Life
Women don’t deserve better than abortion. Abortion is a safe medical procedure. Access to abortion affirms autonomy. Access to abortion puts women in control of their reproductive futures. Women don’t deserve better than choosing whether or not they want to have children. And women don’t deserve better than access to safe and legal abortion on demand.
Women do deserve better than 72-hour waiting periods. Women deserve better than parental notification. Women deserve better than driving hundreds of miles and spending thousands of dollars. Women deserve better than misogynist politicians trying to control their bodies. But women do not deserve better than abortion.
2. “These women — the original feminists — understood that the rights of women cannot be built on the broken backs of unborn children.” — Emily Buchanan, Susan B. Anthony List
When they advocate for restricting abortion rights, the pro-life movement is building up oppressive values on the broken backs of women, queer folks, people of color, and those who occupy multiple marginalized identities. The rights of women cannot be built on an agenda that strips them of autonomy and control. They certainly cannot be built by those who privilege the rights of a fetus above rights of the pregnant person.
Furthermore, it’s critical to understand that the “original feminists” referred to here (Susan B. Anthony, Alice Paul, and others) were not ‘pro-life’ abortion abolitionists. It is historically inaccurate to slap a contemporary label on activists, some of whom were truly radical, who did not advocate for an end to abortion.
3. “Abortion represents a failure to listen and respond to the unmet needs of women. Why perpetuate failure?” – Feminists for Life
The real failure is the crisis manufactured by the pro-life movement that blocks access to abortion across the U.S. The pro-life movement has failed women in endless ways — from forcing them to travel thousands of miles and spend hundreds of dollars to get to a clinic, to steering them toward illegitimate crisis pregnancy centers. Currently, one of the most significant “unmet needs” of women is the need to have their agency and bodies respected — something the pro-life movement actively restricts.
4. “The only true feminist is a pro-life feminist.” – Lila Rose, Live Action
How many times can one person be so wrong? There is nothing “true” about pro-life feminists — they consistently lie about abortion. Lila Rose herself has said that abortion is “never medically necessary” (wrong) and that abortion leads to “emotional and physical trauma” (wrong again). True feminists deplore restricting anyone’s access to public spaces, whether they be abortion clinics or public bathrooms. True feminists do not say that abortions should be “done in the public square.” Or that abortion “is not a pathway to healing” for rape survivors. True feminists recognize that abortion is an empowering act, that women are capable of making their own choices, and that actively stripping people of decision-making powers is violence.
5. “[O]nly a pro-life feminist believes in the most basic right for ALL women—the right to live.” – Kristi Burton Brown, Live Action
Pro-life feminists do not seem to believe in the right to live for women facing life-threatening pregnancies (see above). Do they believe in the right for Black trans women to live free of violence? Epidemic rates of homicide against trans women of color is not something the pro-life movement has ever bothered to address. Did the pro-life movement speak out against the death of Sandra Bland in police custody? Aside from co-opting the Black Lives Matter movement for their anti-abortion purposes, have they ever protested the murders of Renisha McBride, Aiyana Stanley-Jones, or Natasha McKenna?
The “right to live” only seems to matter for pro-life feminists when when they’re addressing (white) fetuses. Living, breathing women and their right to live are completely disregarded by the pro-life narrative.
6. “We are women for whom the idea of artificial birth control as “preventive care” is deeply insulting.” – Lila Rose, Live Action
This is only deeply insulting if you define a woman’s worth by whether or not she has had sex. If you view women as actors who have value beyond their sexuality, then this is a non-issue. Birth control is preventive care — it means women can have sex if and when they want and not worry about pregnancy. It means women can control medical issues, such as polycystic ovaries and endometriosis and manage the resultant pain. It means women are empowered to control their reproductive and sexual health and futures. How insulting.
7. “We don’t wish to take the country back in time; rather, we aspire to move it forward.” – Lila Rose, Live Action
It is difficult to believe that the pro-life movement is moving the country forward when they eliminate abortion rights, deny access to birth control, and eschew comprehensive and empowering sex education. The very core of the pro-life agenda reduces women to their reproductive abilities and attacks self-determination. Advocating against abortion keeps women out of public spaces and maintains their worth exclusively as sexual and reproductive objects, not actors in their own lives.
8. “America’s abortion laws are among the most permissive on the planet.” – Susan B. Anthony List
When you consider that 90% of counties in the U.S. don’t have abortion providers, this statement is absolutely absurd. More than half the states in the nation require women to wait between 24 and 72 hours before exercising their Constitutional right to abortion. Seventeen states require physicians to disseminate false information. And across the board, people accessing reproductive health care and those who provide it face harassment, stigma, and violence. Nothing about the barriers faced when accessing abortion care is remotely “permissive.”
9. “The pioneers of the left deserve credit for opening the way, but far too many of them abandoned the basic premises of Susan B. Anthony and her contemporaries, who wanted equality without shedding their feminine and maternal character.” – Marjorie Dannenfelser, Susan B. Anthony List
Following in the tradition of generations conservatives before her, Dannenfelser is leaning on the myth that ‘feminists are ugly man-haters’ which is insidious because it uses sexist slurs against women to dismiss the feminist movement that fights for women’s equality.
Feminism opens doors, works to build power for marginalized communities, and upholds varied models of individuality. The beauty of feminism is that while some feminists want to retain their “feminine and maternal character,” others never had one or otherwise don’t wish to. Some are mothers, some never want to be. Some identify with masculine identities, and others are proudly femme. A true, equality-centered feminism does not police gender performance on the basis of a person’s body.
10. “Those who claim to be concerned with women’s rights can no longer ignore the need to ban sex-selective abortion in order to protect girls from ‘gendercide.’” – Charlotte Lozier Institute
Pro-life ‘feminists’ only seem to care about the rights of women when they’re still in utero. They manipulate feminist ideas regarding equality by asserting that pro-choice activists support so-called ‘gendercide.’ In this vein, many pro-life feminists have supported legislation that would ban abortion on the basis of the fetus’s sex. The issues with this legislation, and this line of argument, are many. Doctors would be required to discriminate based on the cultural backgrounds of their patients. Cultural factors that beget sex-selective abortion, such as the devaluing of women in all societies, are ignored. Banning abortion under these circumstances is not the solution to the broader problem — misogyny. In fact, any restriction on abortion access, particularly one that would most impact women of color, is fundamentally anti-feminist and harmful.
In each lie they tell, pro-life feminists reveal truths about themselves and their movement. It becomes clear that feminism is just a mask they wear to obscure the fundamentally oppressive and anti-woman ideology of the movement. Feminism is not a movement that can co-exist with efforts to control women’s bodies, lives, and futures. Pro-life women who masquerade as feminists want to take away women’s agency just as much as the men in the pro-life movement do. Co-opting feminism to move forward a regressive and harmful agenda is simply insulting to those of us who advocate for true feminism.