Less than a month ago, on Jan. 20, millions of people attended the Women’s March, which was held in hundreds of cities across the country. On Jan. 19, one day earlier, hundreds of thousands of people participated in the March for Life in Washington, D.C. Some people marched in both. To many, the idea of participating in both marches may seem oxymoronic. The Women’s March is a movement dedicated to promoting the rights of women of every race, religion, sexual orientation, age, income level and status. Among the many rights it promotes are reproductive rights, including abortion. The March for Life, on the other hand, is a march dedicated to protecting life at all stages, and is staunchly anti-abortion. How, then, can a person reconcile participation in both marches?
The short answer to this question: pro-life feminism. Like the feminist movement, it advocates advancing and protecting the human rights of all women; however, it views abortion not as a human right, but rather as a reflection of how society is failing women. Regardless of whether an individual identifies with the pro-choice or the pro-life movement, pro-life feminism challenges one to consider what abortion rates really mean in regards to our society.
According to the Guttmacher Institute, a research institute devoted to advancing reproductive health rights, U.S. women’s main reasons for choosing abortion are because keeping their baby could interfere with their career, education, ability to care for others, or could result in increased financial difficulty. Indeed, it says that three-fourths of abortion clients are individuals with low income. Additionally, the institute says women who have abortions generally feel as though they have no other choice.
On the surface, this information seems to suggest that abortion is an essential resource for women—one that allows them to continue pursuing their education, their career, or saves them from financial distress. Pro-life feminists, however, ask people to look past seeing abortion as a solution, in order to question the issues that lead women to choose abortion. Why, for example, do women in our society feel like they’ll need to put their career or education on hold if they have a baby? Why do the majority of women who have abortions have low incomes? Such questions point to shortcomings in the way women are viewed in our educational system and in the workplace, and to the lack of resources available to women. Beyond examining the root causes of why women choose abortion, pro-life feminism questions abortion’s role in the context of feminism. If women choose to abort because they feel there are no other options, is abortion truly a marker of how far women’s rights have come in the past fifty years? Or is it a sign of how much our society has failed women?
Furthermore, pro-life feminism challenges the way we respond to planned versus unplanned pregnancies. When a couple wants to conceive and eventually does, relatives and friends might congratulate them, host a baby shower, and ask them what names they’re considering for their child. When a woman faces an unplanned pregnancy — particularly when she is single — she is often met with a drastically different response. Instead of celebrating the life of the mother and the child, many people focus on the future burdens that a child will bring. Even as feminists who believe in helping women overcome any obstacle they may face, it’s easy to find ourselves reinforcing the doubts a woman already feels. As people who applaud single mothers, why do we tell a woman that it will be too difficult for her to raise a child on her own? As a movement that encourages women to seek promotion in the workplace, why do we tell her she’ll have to put her career on hold in order to care for a child? By feeding these doubts, we are only reinforcing the age-old patriarchal beliefs that women aren’t strong enough or independent enough to raise a child on their own — that women can’t choose motherhood and success at the same time. While it’s important to listen to a woman expressing legitimate doubts and concerns, maybe our role should be to affirm her strengths, and find the resources that are available to her. We aren’t here to confirm her doubts and insecurities; we are here to support her.
Regardless of whether we identify as feminist, pro-life, or pro-life feminist, Jan. 19-20 serve as good reminders that the United States isn’t meeting the needs of women. As individuals, let’s not make the same mistake. Let’s stop telling women that they aren’t competent or independent enough to carry a pregnancy to full-term — or raise a child on their own– or experience success in any endeavor. Let’s instead remind them that they’re intelligent, they’re capable, and they’re strong.