January 23, 2006,
EDITOR'S NOTE: This piece is reprinted from Women Who Make the World Worse: and How Their Radical Feminist Assault Is Ruining Our Schools, Families, Military, and Sports, by Kate O 'Beirne, with the permission of its publisher, Sentinel.
Today's feminists attempt to ennoble their demands by wrapping themselves in the suffragettes' principled campaign for the right to vote. They argue that you can't be pro-women without being pro-choice. But the radical abortion views of today's feminists like Kate Michelman, Faye Wattleton, Gloria Steinem, Gloria Feldt and Eleanor Smeal betray the staunchly pro-life views of America's earliest feminists. In fact, those pioneering activists were uniformly opposed to abortion.
Alice Paul founded the National Women's Party in 1915 and authored the Equal Rights Amendment. Her fight for the franchise was depicted in the HBO movie Iron Jawed Angels, with Hilary Swank portraying her defiance after being arrested at a protest outside the White House in 1917. Paul believed, "Abortion is the ultimate exploitation of women." There was no disagreement among her fellow suffragettes.
The Revolution, a women's paper published by Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, referred to abortion as "child murder" and "infanticide." In 1869, the weekly declared, "No matter what the motive, love of ease, or a desire to save from suffering the unborn innocent, the woman is awfully guilty who commits the deed. It will burden her conscience in life, it will burden her soul in death; But oh, thrice guilty is he who drove her to the desperation which impelled her to the crime." In a letter to Julia Ward Howe in 1873, Stanton wrote, "When we consider that women are treated as property, it is degrading to women that we should treat our children as property to be disposed of as we see fit." These committed women put their money where their pens were by refusing ads for abortifacients.
The modern-day successors to Anthony and Stanton are Feminists for Life, an organization determined to reclaim the legacy of America's earliest women's-rights activists, but "Debunking the myth that 19th century women's rights supported abortion is a constant challenge, especially for historians faced with prejudice and political correctness."
These pro-life women celebrate the early feminists' delight in motherhood.
"Against society's norms, [Stanton] went out visibly pregnant and raised a flag to commemorate the birth of each of her [seven] children. She saw the beauty in women's awesome life-giving abilities and celebrated each new life publicly. . . . Stanton's views on the individuality of every human life . . . underscore for me the need to help women appreciate their unique abilities and fight against being molded into the wombless model of success society has foisted upon us," writes one feminist for life.
Sarah Norton argued successfully for the admission of women to Cornell University. Norton wrote in 1870, "Child murderers practice their profession without hindrance, and open infant butcheries unquestioned. . . . Is there no remedy for all this antenatal child murder? . . . Perhaps there will come a time when the right of the unborn will not be denied or interfered with." The feminists who claim Norton's legacy work feverishly to see that the time she longed for is never realized.
The childless Susan B. Anthony responded to a man who told her he thought she would make a wonderful mother by explaining, "I thank you, sir, for what I take to be the highest compliment, but sweeter even than to have had the joy of caring for children of my own has it been to me to help bring about a better state of things for mothers generally, so that their unborn little ones could not be willed away from them." Today, a man who ventured such a compliment to one of Anthony's purported successors would be pilloried as a patriarchal supremacist, while Alice Paul, Anthony, and Stanton would see modern feminists as betraying women in the service of irresponsible men.
Mary Ann Glendon, the Learned Hand Professor of Law at Harvard University, explains that early feminists fighting for women's rights saw that "the ready availability of abortion would facilitate the sexual exploitation of women." They "regarded free love, abortion and easy divorce as disastrous for women and children." What made the feminism of the 1970s so different, according to Glendon, was "a puzzling combination of two things that do not ordinarily go together: anger against men and promiscuity; man-hating and man-chasing."
It is Serrin Foster, the dynamic president of Feminists for Life since 1994, who is faithful to the legacy of America's earlier women's movement. She asks, "If women were fighting for the right not to be considered property, what gives them the right to consider their baby property?" Recognizing that 20 percent of all abortions are performed on college students, Foster launched Feminists for Life's College Outreach Program to provide practical resources for pregnant and parenting students and keeps up a grueling schedule traveling to campuses, where she's remarkably successful in changing students' minds about abortion. Planned Parenthood called Feminists for Life's "Question Abortion" campaign "the newest and most challenging concept in anti-choice student organizing."
Foster sharply criticizes colleges for providing abortions but no other services for pregnant students. "What kind of a choice is that?" she asks. She challenges abortion supporters and pro-lifers to work together to provide real alternatives to women facing crisis pregnancies.
Patricia Heaton, who played Raymond's wife on the hit series Everybody Loves Raymond, is a Feminists for Life celebrity spokesman who loves Foster. She explains that "opponents think [our] group is strong and powerful, because Serrin is strong and powerful. She's the embodiment of what we feel about women. To think that the only thing a woman can do with a child is abort is demeaning to women and undermines everything that the women's movement has been working on since the suffragettes."
Under the banner "Women Deserve Better," Heaton appears in one of Feminists for Life's print ad campaigns that reads: "Every 38 seconds in America a woman lays her body down, feeling forced to choose abortion out of a lack of practical resources and emotional support. Abortion is a reflection that society has failed women. There is a better way."
Kate O'Beirne is the author of Women Who Make the World Worse: and How Their Radical Feminist Assault Is Ruining Our Schools, Families, Military, and Sports.