do you have to be pro-choice to be feminist?

mother and baby

One of the reasons why I write here is to attempt to convince people that feminism isn’t the movement a lot of people think that it is– we’re not a bunch of bitter, vengeful, ugly hags. Being a feminist doesn’t mean you have to hate men, or burn your bra, or you can’t shave your legs, or you’ll never be able to wear makeup again. There’s a lot of stereotypes out there, stereotypes intentionally created by those who fought (and fight) against gender equality, but hopefully if you’ve been here long enough you’ll realize that I definitely don’t fit those molds.

I read a lot of feminist writers who are trying to do the same thing– we consider ourselves advocates and educators, and we put ourselves into that position of being the person willing to explain the obvious over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over . . . and something that we end up saying, ad nauseum, is:

“The definition of feminism is ‘a) the belief that all genders should be politically, economically, and socially equal, and b) the organized movement to bring this about.'”

Some of us have argued that this is all you need to be a feminist, that there’s nothing more to it than that. If you believe that men and women should be equal, than wham bam thank you ma’am you’re a feminist.

I’m not one of those people. I think there’s a whole lot more to feminism than that, and I think it’s far too easy for someone to claim that they believe in gender equality on paper and then be a patriarchal misogynist in real life. And while I hope that someday we’ll live in a world where everyone believes in the ideals of feminism, that world is a long way away, and in the mean time, there are a lot of people walking around calling themselves a feminist who are not and they’re able to do it because they/we think the above definition is all there is to it.

And it’s not as though feminism is a monolithic movement and every feminist thinks and believes and wants the same thing. I identify as an intersectional feminist because it seems obvious to me that every person can be both oppressed and privileged based on different parts of our identity. But there’s also trans-exclusionary radical feminism (as much as I’d prefer that they’d stop calling themselves feminists, I’m not going to start shouting “No True Scotsman!”); there’s also the problem of white feminism (which is one of the reasons why I don’t push the feminist label on those who don’t want to claim it. Feminists have a history of being racist as fuck, people); and then there’s all sorts of other disagreements– can porn be feminist? Can you be a sex worker and be feminist? Is lipstick feminism a thing?

But, probably one of the more divisive issues is reproductive rights.

Do you have to be pro-choice to be a feminist? I’ve explained, at length, why I am pro-choice. However, becoming pro-choice took me years and I don’t think it’s a position that a lot of people can adopt. So, do I want to put an insurmountable roadblock in place for those who can’t accept the pro-choice position? Can you be a pro-life feminist?

Well, in my opinion… yes and no.

It all depends on how you define pro-life.

If you want to make all abortion illegal (like it is in Ireland and some Latin American nations), then no. Absolutely not. If you think that “partial-birth abortion” is a medical term and want to ban any abortion after 20 weeks, then no. If you want to make it impossible for international aid organizations to offer women in developing nations hormonal contraception, then no. If you think that a company has the right to dictate to their employees what medicine they are allowed to use, then no. If you think that legalizing rape by use of a medical instrument in the context of a doctor’s office is ok, then no. If you think that women who don’t want to keep their babies should just give them up for adoption but you aren’t ever going to adopt a baby, then no. If you think that women who have abortions are just lazy sluts who have been brainwashed by money-hungry doctors, then no.

However, if you have personal moral and/or spiritual reservations about the life of the unborn and you don’t think you’d ever get an abortion no matter how desperate you were, but you are aware that all making abortion illegal does is kill women, then yes. If you believe that life is a beautiful, sacred mystery and deserves to be valued, but you also acknowledge that woman are people, too, then yes. If you want to do all you can to reduce the abortion rate through education, through access to effective contraception, through pursuing policies that will help working mothers keep their jobs (like subsidized day care, either through employers or government-sponsored programs), if you believe that life outside of the womb is just as important as life inside of it, then hell yes.

In short, if you believe that abortion should be illegal: I’m sorry, but no. I don’t think you should consider yourself a feminist. Keep on fighting for gender equality in whatever circumstances your find yourself in, absolutely, but I don’t think that it’s possible to pursue policies that would endanger the lives of countless women and be a feminist.

But, if you don’t want to make abortion illegal, but you’d like to see it become scarce (through pursuing realistic and proven-to-be-effective methods) and you’d never have an abortion yourself, then yes. I think you could be a feminist.

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  • “In short, if you believe that abortion should be illegal: I’m sorry, but no. I don’t think you should consider yourself a feminist. Keep on fighting for gender equality in whatever circumstances your find yourself in, absolutely, but I don’t think that it’s possible to pursue policies that would endanger the lives of countless women and be a feminist.

    But, if you don’t want to make abortion illegal, but you’d like to see it become scarce (through pursuing realistic and proven-to-be-effective methods) and you’d never have an abortion yourself, then yes. I think you could be a feminist.”

    Really well-put.

    Reproductive freedom is a crucial underpinning of feminism. It always has been. I don’t want to turn this into a novel, so I’ll let Simone de Beauvoir explain:

    “The convergence of these two factors–participation in production and freedom from reproductive slavery–explains the evolution of woman’s condition. As Engels predicted, her social and political status necessarily had to change. The feminist movement begin in France by Condorcet and in England by Mary Wollstonecraft in A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, and followed at the beginning of the century by the Saint-Simonians, never succeeded for lack of a concrete base. But now women’s claims would have ample weight.”

    It’s from The Second Sex, and while “reproductive slavery” may come off a bit harsh, it’s true. WIthout reproductive freedom, women are at the mercy of a cycle of reproduction throughout their lives, a cycle that requires us to either repress our sexual natures or bear children over and over, until our bodies wear out.

    • I just bought The Second Sex this last week. I’m really excited to start digging into it.

  • For years I would’ve claimed to be staunchly pro-life, claiming that abortion in any form is murder. While I may still fundamentally hold that view, the TRUTH of what is actually happening around the world to so many women is too big to ignore, too big and heart-breaking to tie up neatly with a bow of “abortion is murder.” Which is why I’m glad I read.

    I agree that I would never consider an abortion for myself, but I also acknowledge that I am a very privileged person with resources and health care and family support. I realize that not every woman is in that position. I read a book recently called My Notorious Life by Kate Manning, which follows the life and work of a midwife living in nineteenth-century New York. Even though it’s a work of fiction, it really opened my eyes to the complexities of these issues – contraception and abortion. I realized that while I may believe that ” life is a beautiful, sacred mystery and deserves to be valued,” I also have to acknowledge that for the majority of women seeking an abortion, the situation is hard and painful and confusing and desperate. (Not all women in all situations, but enough to consider.)

    At this point in my life I am finding myself in the uncomfortable middle of a lot of issues I would’ve once found myself staunchly on one side or the other of. In listening to people’s stories (and even reading made up people’s stories based on actual events and historical trends) I’m learning that most situations, issues, relationships, and HUMANS are much more complex than the Evangelical Christian Church I find myself in has made them out to be. It’s not enough to say, “Abortion is wrong. Don’t do it.” when women find themselves with no other choice. Like you said, if we believe abortion is wrong, what are we doing to give these women another option?

    This one really hit me – “If you think that women who don’t want to keep their babies should just give them up for adoption but you aren’t ever going to adopt a baby, then no.” How many people have I heard use this argument? “Well, there’s always adoption.” How many children are growing up in orphanages?

    Anyway (and in conclusion – it’s about time, right?), thanks for talking about this, for spelling it out a little bit for people like me who are still learning about the big, wide world that exists outside of their own. Thanks for allowing space for the uncomfortable middles and acknowledging the many moving parts that exist within the big picture.

    (For a while I contemplated just making this comment a blog post of its own, but I’m leaving it here, huge and long, grateful to be part of (or to kick off?) this conversation.)

  • I think the definition offered of feminism (“The definition of feminism is ‘a) the belief that all genders should be politically, economically, and socially equal, and b) the organized movement to bring this about.’”) is very useful–as a basic introduction to the concept. When I teach freshman composition, I often have to have a conversation with my students about what feminism is, and I use a definition like this because it’s important for them to realize what *doesn’t* fit into that definition. (I teach at a Christian college, where many students have obviously been told that feminism means a lot of things that it doesn’t.) For them, I often compare it to the word “American,” in the sense that both can have very concrete, simple definitions, but that the real world makes things more complicated than that.

    I think that the reason that basic definition doesn’t feel like it’s enough is that people SAY they believe in the equality of the sexes, but then they don’t live it. They don’t really believe the things that lead to equality. They don’t support policies that promote equality. They don’t believe in dismantling the kyriarchy/patriarchy.

    Ultimately, I choose to believe that’s a problem with them claiming the definition without really living up to it. It’s a problem with the person, not the term. I would like to reclaim the term (while of course making room for people to reject it if it has been used to exclude or hurt them).

    • karenh1234567890

      I don’t see the definition of an American citizen is complicated.

      An American citizen is:

      – Someone born in the United States
      – Someone born on US property overseas
      – Someone born on foreign soil to parents where at least one parent is a US citizen
      – Someone who was born in a foreign country who has become a naturalized citizen

      Anything else is a variation of the No True Scotsman fallacy.

      • Well, yes. And that’s what I discuss with my students. But even your definition is flawed because “American” can also apply to several other countries, right? And it is used for things, not just people. And it’s also a theoretical concept, not just a concrete one. So see what I mean? There is a basic definition that everyone can pretty much agree on. But that doesn’t make it simple.

      • Also, I use the word “American” in this exercise, not “American citizen,” which is different.

  • So glad you blogged about this. As a pro-life feminist I’m sick and tired of the accusations that I can’t *really* be feminist because I believe life begins at conception.

    It’s such a shame that “pro-life” has turned into “pro-birth” and nothing more. I hate those politicians who don’t give a damn about those babies and their families after they are born by limiting their access to food stamps, medical care, and other necessities. That’s not pro-life to me. Being pro-life means being open to adoption someday, since I have no desire to be pregnant (infertility runs in my family anyway). It means helping underprivileged women with more mouths to feed than they can afford. I wouldn’t drive a woman to an abortion clinic myself, but I will be there for her in any way that I can if she decides to follow through with the procedure.

    Your point about not wanting abortion to be illegal because it will actually harm more women is really important. For years I didn’t understand (or chose not to) why this is. Since that can’t (and won’t) happen, I’m the kind of pro-lifer who believes in contraceptives. What a concept.

    • That’s my beef, too. Being pro-birth and then doing everything possible to block the healthy development of the baby. Well stated.

  • I am giving you ALL THE HIGH FIVES for this post. It’s gotten me all teary because I have not been able to articulate this idea in quite this way. I am the second kind- I cannot see a time when I would have an abortion, but I recognize that I’m a married adult in a first world situation. And even that is a bit of a stretch, because I know several ladies who have had medically necessary abortions and I would hope against hope that I would be brave enough to make that choice in that situation. The only way to end abortion (or drastically reduce non-medically necessary abortions) is through information, healthcare availability, and teaching women to own their own bodies.

  • The idea that I’m Pro-Choice Christian has always gotten so much pushback from Christians I know. I believe abortion is an immoral act but it is crucial it stays legal and safe to protect the lives of the women. It seems like a no-brainer to me but that definitely isn’t the case. I’ve been literally compared to a Nazi for my views.

  • Thank you Samantha. As a man who considers himself to be a feminist I appreciate what you had to say. I like the description you give of feminism that is both clear and yet recognizes that all do not think a like. While conversations around issues of Feminism can be controversial I believe it is important for families, friends and communities to talk about in clear, passionate and respectful ways. Thank you for helping to nurture this conversation.

  • Thankyouthankyouthankyou. As a (kinda) older, white, male liberal Christian, I was so pleased at how you absolutely hit the nail on the head. I was raised in what I like to call a “practical feminist” home — where feminism (and other political issues) were rarely if ever spoken of, but where my mother had two kids and a career because she wanted it, and my dad supported her in each and every thing she did.

    I do believe in absolute reproductive freedom for women, and I believe that abortion can and should be reduced via education and improved circumstances. I dislike abortion, but I believe absolutely in making it available and accessible.

    I’m proud to consider myself a male feminist, and thank you for such a concise expression of what feminism can be.

  • This is beautiful. Really everything I’ve been trying to explain to my pro-life family. Even if I might choose not to get an abortion, I’ve no right to decide for any other person. Thank you!

  • You know, I am a pro-choice Christian and have been for a long time. It just kills me when I hear people say “I’m pro-life except ____” Then, when you talk to them, the basket of exceptions gets bigger and bigger. I want to slap them and tell them “Honey, you’re actually pro-choice. You want just want abortion to be rarer if possible. Why on earth are you electing people who want to make it completely unattainable?” For me, I want abortion to be safe, legal, easily attainable (just say no to TRAP laws), and if possible, rare. That makes me completely pro-choice.

  • swimr1

    I have such a difficult time with this issue. Can a “pro-life” person please explain to me the reason for caring so deeply that a fertilized egg matures into a birthed baby when they cannot guarantee that the life of that baby will be worth living? Wouldn’t the person who would potentially give birth to that baby be in a much better position to decide whether that baby’s life will be one full of love or neglect or starvation or abuse? If it’s not anyone’s place to deny a fetus the chance to be born, how is it any more anyone’s place to make sure that that fetus has to live a life that may or may not be unlivable? Seriously – unless you are out there actively taking care of the unwanted children in this world, your pro-life stance is meaningless and destructive, IMO.

    • Jeff

      Ok, I’ll bite. But I’m afraid I have to answer your question with a question: how do you quantify a “life that’s worth living”? And how can you predict in advance whether a life will turn out to have met those criteria? For example, over 90% of pregnancies in which the unborn child has been diagnosed with Down’s syndrome result in an abortion. Is a life with Down’s syndrome not worth living?

      • swimr1

        Not really wanting anyone to “bite” – just a decent answer to the question. I genuinely don’t understand being so very invested in making sure a fetus is born when you can’t guarantee the life following will be a positive experience. I have no idea if a life with Down’s Syndrome is worth living – hence, I would not force someone pregnant with a Down’s Syndrome fetus continue the pregnancy to birth. I would let the pregnant person make that decision based on what kind of life they think they might be able to offer said baby.

        • Jeff

          Well, currently, no one is forced to carry a child with Down’s Syndrome to term, which is why it’s possible for 90% of those that are conceived to be aborted. And if a parent’s sole reason for aborting their Down’s child was that they didn’t believe they could offer a non-miserable life, there are waiting lists of parents willing to adopt Down’s children.

          Sorry to again be difficult, but I have to ask another question. Would you oppose a government sponsored program to execute any and all persons over the age of 10 (adjust as you like) whose life is currently a miserable experience? If you would oppose such a program, why?

      • Thank you two for being civil to each other about something so charged.

        Jeff: I want to take a moment, though, and talk about that 90% statistic, since it’s a common … well, I’ll be nice and say “misconception.” The 90% number came from research that is almost three decades old now. The fact of the matter is that, today, we have absolutely no idea how many woman choose to terminate after receiving the Down’s diagnosis. All of the information we do have is based on studies performed in only three states and DC, and the numbers we get back are hugely divergent: it could possibly be anywhere from 60% to 93%.

        The most commonly cited information is a “best guess” put together by Dr. Brian Skotko, who thinks that since women are having babies later in their life, there should be a higher rate of children born with Down’s syndrome– but we don’t see “enough” babies born with Down’s syndrome, so Sktoko’s conclusion is that women must be aborting them; even if he’s guessing correctly, the rate based on the numbers he put together in 2006 is just 50%.

        I think you could still argue that 50% is a high rate, but it’s nowhere near the 90% number. It’s one of the many ways the pro-life movement (coughcoughliestocough) misleads people.

        • Jeff

          50% of all Down’s pregnancies or 50% of those receiving a diagnosis? AJB says the former, but the 90% figure goes with the latter (post-diagnosis), however, it looks like you are right that the figures have varied from study to study. So, fair enough as far as that point goes.

          But fixating on the number, while fine as a convenient stick to bang on pro-lifers with, misses the most important point — why are /any/ pregnancies with a Down’s diagnosis terminated? So this goes to challenge swimr1’s point, that the expectant parent is in the best position to know whether a child’s life will be worthless and miserable, and that children who will lead worthless and miserable lives should be aborted (or at least, no one should complain if they are). And yet, Skotko also found that persons with Down’s report high levels of happiness in their lives, suggesting that parents are perhaps NOT actually that good at predicting their children’s eventual level of misery.

          • I think asking “why are any pregnancies with Down’s syndrome terminated?” is a good question– but I think swimr1 has a point, because the only person who can answer that question is the person faced with the decision of terminating or not.

          • Jeff

            Rather than go full Godwin on your thread, I will simply suggest that you Google-translate “Lebensunwertes Leben”, and then re-read swimr’s first post….

          • swimr1

            lol – not sure how you can go “partial Godwin” with that one. You do see the difference between government sponsored elimination of people they find inconvenient and government staying completely out of the decision of individual women/families as to whether or not they can properly raise a child, right? You seem to think that being pro-choice is being pro-kill any children at will whenever you like for whatever reason. It’s removing third parties from a complicated decision that can be best made by the parties involved.

          • Jeff

            “You seem to think that being pro-choice is being pro-kill any children at will whenever you like for whatever reason. ”

            Nope. I was just noting that the words “[a life] not worth living,” has been used before.

          • swimr1

            I have a feeling you were trying to say more than that or you wouldn’t have brought it up, but ok. Can you answer the question as to why you think you are a better judge as to whether or not a pregnancy should be carried to term than the woman who would be carrying the child?

            It would be great if even half of the energy that was put into trying to restrict abortion was put into social services for kids and people all over the word who live in dire circumstances. Seems to me that we should take care of them before we get so concerned with the unborn.

          • I have a slightly different thought about this discussion, regarding the Downs’-predicted pregnancies. A decision to abort at that point isn’t only about whether the mother thinks the child’s life would be fulfilling to it–who could know? But if she’s terrified of trying to raise a child she may not be able to converse with and thinks bringing the pregnancy to fruition could devastate her own life, that to me is sufficient reason for her to end it.

            I’m a little emotional on this point because having a child I couldn’t connect with no matter how much I loved it has been one of my nightmares since I was a child. Nobody should have to live with that kind of fear; and it certainly wouldn’t help the child be happy if its mother were scared of it.

            I realize in my hypothetical situation adoption would be an option, but that’s never been something that my heart felt okay with either. If I’m going to carry a baby, I’m going to care for it; I’m not going to leave it with someone else I don’t know.

            Everyone is unique; that’s the heart of my point. No woman is going to be in exactly the same place as another when it comes to this issue, and I think each one needs to get to decide for herself what to do with her body and her life.

          • Human beings in general are not good at predicting future happiness or misery – it’s one of our cognitive biases.

            That said – do remember that Down’s is associated with a whole bunch of medical issues aside from the cognitive issues. Someone perfectly willing to raise an otherwise healthy Down’s child may well balk at raising any child with a devastatingly shortened life expectancy. We have no statistics, but it would be interesting to see if the mothers who chose to continue their pregnancies are the ones whose fetuses don’t show signs of (for example) Down’s associated heart conditions and such.

    • Teresa

      I can only offer you my personal experience. I disagree slightly with Samantha’s conclusions, but appreciate very much her efforts. I do consider myself “pro-life” and also a feminist. I fully support the definition of feminism as ” ‘a) the belief that all genders should be politically, economically, and socially equal, and b) the organized movement to bring this about.’” Where I diverge is the qualifiers added later that I think are matters of personal opinion. I have struggled my whole Christian life to find words for how I feel about being a woman, following Jesus fervently, and trying to live that out with as much honesty and integrity that I can. I have only recently begun to call myself “feminist” because I believe in the basic definition described above. I hesitated for years based on the pro-choice/pro-life issue. If I said I was feminist to pro-choicers, it seemed dishonest because I do not agree with all of these stances. If I said I am feminist to pro-lifers, it also seemed dishonest because I do believe in the inherent value of women just for who they are, not because of their reproductive roles. But I am comfortable with my own use of the term feminist, even though we many not agree in all areas, because I believe that is who I am, and I indeed bear the imago dei.

      With respect, it seems that there are many of us who are born into less than ideal circumstances. Many of us suffer greatly. Many of us do not. Many of us have been fortunate to be born into wealth and prosperity. Many of us are born into deep poverty with little hope of escaping. Yet in my view, it is nearly impossible for anyone’s parents to really and truly discern the “value” of their children’s lives based on circumstances. There are many who come through deplorable life conditions beautifully and live amazingly joyful lives. So many of us do not do what is expected of us by our parents, we even do things they could never have dreamed. So I think that sometimes, especially when parents themselves are in dire straights, it is hard to have any kind of hope, yet denying hope to your children, is a different thing all together.

      Before you think that I am all unicorns and rainbows, I want to make sure that I explain that I do act deliberately and intentionally to bring love, hope, dignity, and a family to children who have been abused or neglected. I am a foster and adoptive parent. I see first hand lives that seem “unworthy” that are riddled by addiction, poverty, and systematic oppression. And disproportionately those affected are women. However, it is because I see the image of God in each and every person, that I can see their inherent worth. I understand that is not a concept you embrace, but it is what motivates my life’s work. There are truly many many of us who work hard to make life better for others. I do not know if you participate in any of these efforts, but I hope that you do because it is life-changing. What I have witnessed in my very own home is an incredible rise of my children out of abuse and neglect into health and family. I am extremely grateful that my children were given the chance for life. In my opinion, it is the responsibility of the people of God to put up or shut up. I am doing what I can, and I preach incessantly about those who sit back and watch. That really angers me. But I feel just as angry when I see people place value on what they consider “worth living”, even if that person is a birth parent.

      I hope according to your definition, my pro-life stance has some credibility, because I am indeed taking care of “unwanted children”.

      • swimr1

        Sincere kudos to you for your work with unwanted kids. At least you are sincerely putting your money where your mouth is. I only take issue with the words “value” and “unworthy” in your post above. I don’t question the “value” or “worth” of a child or that child’s life. What I question is the morality of outsiders with limited information feeling entitled to legislate that pregnancies be carried to term when they have no way of knowing if the resulting child’s life will be full of mostly suffering and pain. I’m not just talking about poverty. I’m talking about the stories we hear (and many we don’t ever hear) about kids who live for years in horribly sexually, physically, mentally abusive situations. Kids who are tortured and murdered by their parents. Kids who grow up with horrible mental illness. Kids with malnutrition and AIDS in third world countries.

        While readily available contraception would actually be the very best option, I’m uncomfortable with legislation that prevents a woman who KNOWS she can’t properly care for a child from making an informed decision about whether to carry her child to term. Not because that child wouldn’t be valuable. But because it would be cruel to bring a valuable child into a horrific life-situation. That mother may not be able to perfectly predict the potential life situation (good or bad) for her fetus. She does, however, have much more first-hand information available about her particular situation than do you or I (or a government entity)…

        • Teresa

          I appreciate your feedback. The word Value is mine. You used the term “life worth living” which is where I got the word “unworthy”. If I misquoted you, I do apologize.
          I am well aware that we are talking about more than poverty. These children that you talk about who are horribly sexually, physically, and emotionally abused are the children who come into my home and homes like mine. If a child actually comes into foster care, then the abuse they have suffered is so noticeable that someone has reported probably just one incident and then child protective services has exhausted all in home supports for the family. So these kids have endured more than I want to think about. All of the things you mentioned are truly awful and tragic.
          If I understand you correctly, your main concern is that abortion remains legal. I get that. I just don’t completely agree. One thing I think we can agree upon is that I do believe that contraception should be the primary remedy for this situation. I guess my hope would be that I could make a difference for some. I realize that I am only one person, but I believe if we all make a difference for those around us, then we can affect everyone. I would literally want to work through those deplorable circumstances to hopefully allow the mother to actually parent her child. In the end, wouldn’t that be better? That way the mother has dignity and the child has life.

          • swimr1

            Thanks so much for your thoughtful reply, Teresa. I think we agree on a lot, if not everything. I so rarely hear from someone on the “pro-life” side who is even pro-contraception, much less involved with caring for unwanted children. Perhaps there are many more out there, but I fear there are many that haven’t thought their convictions through or tried to see the issue from any other angle than the one their church teaches. That so often leads to a simplistic, black and white answer to what is an incredibly complex issue.

            I do care deeply that abortion stay legal. When considering the rights of a woman to bodily autonomy AND the potential harm facing unwanted children, I come down on the side of giving each woman the choice and responsibility for the consequences of that choice. I have never really understood the fervor from many over this issue – I would think there’d be more active outrage over child sex slavery, oppression of women, disease, starvation, etc. Those cause infinitely more actual suffering.

            Happy Friday 🙂

          • Teresa

            I always like it when I can come to an agreement with someone. Thank you for that. There are indeed many who do what I do, and believe what I believe, yet there are many who do not. I think that it is imperative that we address all of those issue you mentioned with ferocity. Oppression is not part of what God intends for any of his people, and I believe that it is my responsibility to act where I can to address it. Thanks so much for your conversation on this.

  • swimr1

    I appreciate the dialog but you haven’t answered my question – just given me more questions. What makes you so very invested in this topic? Enough that you (presumably) feel the need/right to have a say in someone else’s pregnancy/life? Are you currently adopting Down’s Syndrome babies and giving them meaningful lives?

    Your question to me doesn’t even make sense. No, I would not be in favor of that plan. What I am in favor of is letting each pregnant person make the best call they can as to whether or not they can offer their potential child a good life. It’s absolutely audacious of someone else to think they are in a better position to make that decision.

    • Jeff

      The reference to Down’s was simply an illustration of a group of people that generally appear to lead happy, non-worthless lives, but who, as unborn children, are aborted at an alarmingly high rate. It suggests that your confidence in the parents of unborn children to be able to judge the eventual worth of their unborn child’s life may be misplaced.

      So, assuming I’m not putting words in your mouth, the reason you’d oppose a plan to terminate the lives of children or adults who are miserable or living worthless lives is likely (whether you know it or not) the same reason that animates the pro-life desire not to terminate unborn lives that /may someday, perhaps/ turn out to be miserable. Pro-lifers believe that human life is intrinsically valuable, because (for those pro-lifers who are Judeo-Christian) it bears the imprint of a divine creator. And, pro-lifers believe that unborn children are innocent human lives that should be preserved and protected, because they have intrinsic worth that isn’t dependent on the future happiness of their life, and isn’t superceded (except in certain cases) by their parent’s desire for them to not continue to live.

      • swimr1

        No, the difference in your scenario is that I don’t think the government should be involved in offering suicides any more than I think they should be involved in making sure a pregnant woman stays pregnant. Just because I think the pregnant woman has the right/responsibility to make the decision as to whether she will bring a new person into the world doesn’t mean I don’t value life. This is where I have the problem. I am not qualified to make the decision for someone else and I know it. What makes you think you are qualified to make that decision for someone else?

        One place you and I are not going to agree is the idea that “intrinsic worth…isn’t dependent on the future happiness of their life.” As an agnostic, I find no reason to believe that there is a god secretly blessing unwanted kids who are abused, starving, or neglected. I find the idea untenable that the a fetus’ “intrinsic worth” is something that should subject it to an unlivable life. I don’t have any reason to believe that the unwanted child will one day be in paradise with god – a life of neglect or abuse may be it for them. That may very well be all there is (it is all we have evidence for at this point). I certainly don’t want some starving child somewhere to be subjected to pain because I advocated for policy that insisted they be born. I’d rather that child’s parent be responsible for that decision. I can’t make that call. And neither should you, IMO…

        • swimr1

          You said, “The reference to Down’s was simply an illustration of a group of people that generally appear to lead happy, non-worthless lives, but who, as unborn children, are aborted at an alarmingly high rate. It suggests that your confidence in the parents of unborn children to be able to judge the eventual worth of their unborn child’s life may be misplaced.”

          You are dealing in pure hypotheticals here. You have no idea whether these people (whose mothers DID choose to have them – presumably because they were going to try to give them good lives) are happy or whether the aborted Down’s fetuses would have been happy people. As a married mother of 3 (who is very privileged to have had a terrific life) I can tell you the reality is much more complicated than you make it. My last child was born when I was 38. If I had found out it was a Down’s baby I would have had a host of things to consider as far as whether or not I would carry that pregnancy to term. Could I afford a child with so many needs? Could I properly handle a child with so many needs while still caring for my two other kids? I probably could have handled it financially and with family help. However, as a white, college-educated woman with a great husband and family, I live a really easy life compared to many. Not everyone has that.

  • Aureliano Buendia

    I almost feel like the issue here is not “Can you be pro-life and a feminist,” but “what is the definition of pro-life?” Because the pro-life label is, so far as I have seen by almost everyone who calls themselves pro-life, a political label and not a personal one. Or a political label AND a personal one.

    Being pro-life does not normally seem to mean “I would never have an abortion myself,” but “I oppose legal abortion for some/all women.” The extent to how “pro-life” a person’s politics go may be limited: perhaps they support rape exceptions, perhaps they support incest exceptions, perhaps they support life-threatening exceptions. But it extends outside the person and into political action. It is the difference between, say, being part of the religious right and just being religious.

    So generally when someone says they are pro-life my gut reaction is that they are not feminists, because they wish to legally control other women’s reproductive options. If someone has a common term for the stance “I am personally against abortion, but support it being legal,” I’d love to know it. Because that view seems to be pro-choice: “I am making the choice to carry my own pregnancy, and believe all women should have that same choice.”

    • In some ways, you’re right.

      However, in my experience, a lot of the the Christians I know are extremely hesitant to identify as “pro-choice” because of how it has been painted for them, and not everything about what they’ve been told about the pro-choice movement is a lie. For example, I am personally uncomfortable with the stance I occasionally see that an embryo/fetus is a “parasite” or no different than “cancerous cells.” I do not believe that assertion is hugely widespread, but I’ve run into it, and it bothers me.

      This “I’m pro-life but I don’t want to make abortion illegal” stance, I think, is a reaction to that belief. They do believe that life is a sacred mystery, and even as much as they don’t want to force other women to give birth, they don’t want to align themselves with the pro-choice movement, which they see as devaluing life.

      • swimr1

        Sorry I am so verbose today but this an issue that really gets me. I do think (as above) there is a simplistic notion that

        pro-choice = life doesn’t matter

        when, in reality for most people, pro-choice just means not trying to put oneself in the middle of a very complicated decision. Let women choose to determine the outcome their pregnancies. Offer concrete help with a child should she choose to have the baby in order to influence her decision, even. But do not restrict her rights to make that decision. Will she always do what you or I think she should do? No. But we are not omniscient and can’t guarantee that what we think should happen will result in a better outcome.

        I enjoy your blog, Samantha. Thanks for all of you interesting insights.

  • wbgl0

    Basically, the abortion thing is the only thing that keeps me from calling myself a feminist. I was politically pro-life in high school and early college. I’ be been reading a bunch a pro-choice stuff and have considered “converting”, but since I still consider fetuses to be lives worth protecting, I’m not sure I can advocate for increased access to abortion (though I do support contraception.) It’s a hard place to be emotionally. But I do appreciate hearing the other side, so that I can make informed decisions.

  • wbg, one line of what you wrote stood out to me particularly: your reason for hesitating over advocation access to abortions, namely that you “still consider fetuses to be lives worth protecting.”

    I hear that a lot, and I feel that whether you mean it this way or not, what you’re saying puts the potential lives of fetuses above the lives of women who are already breathing and facing the consequences of pregnancy. Even if a fetus is a human, how can the mother justly be required to sacrifice her well-being for it unless she chooses to?

    I do advocate sex education and contraception foremost. Samantha discussed how learning about sex and taking preventative measures would help avoid the need for abortions in the first place, and that seems the responsible way to approach an adult life. But our society still has a lot of resistance to open sex education, and even if it didn’t, there are always going to be at least occasional accidents. Or hell, the woman’s financial stability could get thrown for a loop or her relationship wildly change while she’s pregnant in a way that would make it devastating for her to bring it full circle. There are so many unpredictable possibilities that no one but the woman involved can understand completely.

    I don’t see a way for a woman to live her life fully if abortion isn’t there for her at need. Pregnancy changes everything, and a having child in your life changes it even more. I intend to take every preventative measure I can, but if something happened in spite of my best efforts, right now, I would seek an abortion. I’m terrified of pregnancy; I’m terrified of childbirth; I’m even more terrified of needing to be there for a child; and I am absolutely not financially prepared for any of it. Legal abortion is the failsafe for my life.

    • wbgl0

      Thanks so much for engaging me respectfully. Your points and your story are why I will no longer blindly vote for anti-abortion politicians. I’m terrified by the idea of bringing a child into the world too! My personal choice for myself is to abstain from sex until marriage. If I get married, I plan to use contraception. But I believe that if I get pregnant, it’s my responsibility to bring that life into world no matter what the cost to myself and find a good home for it. Do I have the right to make every woman live by that philosophy? I used to think that I did. Now, after reading a lot of stories like yours, I’m not so sure.

      Here’s why, at this point in my life, I feel like I can’t be an advocate for abortion rights:

      1. If the pro-life movement puts potential lives above the real lives of women, the pro-choice movement does the opposite. It regards these potential babies as being completely worthless, and that’s wrong in my opinion. I was worth something before I was born. You were worth something before you were born. My boyfriend (who could have been aborted because his mom was encouraged to make that choice by doctors) was worth something before he was born. The world would be diminished if we’d never been born. Abortion may be necessary, but it’s still tragic. The pro-choice movement doesn’t even acknowledge that tragedy.

      2. I believe that the government’s job is to protect children, and other the well-being of other people’s children is my business. I would guess that you feel the same way too (if someone was beating his child, you wouldn’t call it “choice,” you would report it). The question is-does that principle include children in the womb? In your mind, no, because the woman’s body and future outweigh the fetus’s. But I feel that I would be a total hypocrite if I didn’t extend the principle to children in the womb.

      None of this means that I don’t care about women’s well-being. I just don’t know how to balance two of my core convictions: “Children should be protected by the government” v.s. “No woman should ever be forced to do something she doesn’t want to do.” But I’ll continue to keep your story in mind. I think if I do become pro-choice, it will be on the grounds that women need abortion, not that they have a right to it.

      • Jackalope

        “If the pro-life movement puts potential lives above the real lives of women, the pro-choice movement does the opposite. It regards these potential babies as being completely worthless, and that’s wrong in my opinion.”

        Here is where we’ve had different experiences. I freely acknowledge that these are MY experiences and not universal. What I have seen, however, is that many who call themselves “pro-life” have absolutely no regard for the lives of women in general and pregnant women in particular (underlining: my personal experience. I’ve met a few pro-lifers who aren’t like this, so I know it’s not always the case, but this is what I’ve seen), while those who call themselves “pro-choice” do not consider babies in utero to be worthless, but rather believe that the pregnant woman is the one who should be able to make the choice. Many of them dislike abortion but merely feel that this should be up to the woman rather than the govt.

  • Samantha, I love how you summed everything up at the end, and your detailed description of what is at stake in the abortion debate. I have evolved as you have, and share your views. And, my views have been partly shaped by your writing. I love substance in debates, and you certainly supply that. I applaud your efforts. I am one former anti-feminist pro-life woman whose mind you have changed. I bet there are more like me out there.

  • Jackalope

    I’ve long called myself BOTH pro-life and pro-choice. I am pro-life because I support life. I am a doula and think babies can be pretty awesome. I love supporting women who are pregnant and hearing their stories, or walking alongside them through and after their journey to motherhood. I support women, both those who are pregnant and those who are not. If they are going to have a baby, I want them to have all of the support they need both during and after their pregnancy, preferably all the way through the next 18 years (and beyond!). I am anti-death penalty. While I understand the rage that many people feel about terrible crimes (having seen the results myself), I believe there are other ways to respond to them besides letting the State become our hangman. I am a pacifist. I recognize that war at times may be necessary, but whenever possible we should pursue peace (although not at the expense of innocents that may be suffering). I am pro-children. In my own small way I do what I can to help children (both those that I know and those that I don’t) have food, clean water, shelter, education, and a safe, loving place to live. I am pro-teens. I fight for teen girls not to be used and exploited for their bodies, but also consider it important to fight for teen boys not to be killed in gang wars. I am pro-men. In many parts of the world men’s lives are thrown away as soldiers, and while it can be an amazingly powerful sacrifice to give one’s life up willingly, it is not right to throw someone else’s life away without giving them a true choice. And because I am a good little environmentalist, I do not believe that other lives, even though they are non-human, are ours to throw away. I believe that God loves the plants and animals and other creatures on this earth just as God loves humans, even if in a different way, and while I wouldn’t say that we should never kill a plant or an animal, I believe we shouldn’t kill them just because they are inconvenient or in our way, and I believe that we should treat them with respect (and not, say, like the animals in many feedlots). All of this doubtless sounds horribly cheesy (and perhaps too gender-specific; I know that girls and women die in gang fights and battle, and that boys and men are abused and exploited), but what I am aiming at clumsily is that to me pro-life means honoring and respecting LIFE, not just human fetuses/babies during their first 9 months.

    And to be much briefer, I am pro-choice because I believe abortions should be safe, legal, and rare, and I believe that the way to reduce the number is to provide support for women and their partners, and to look at the causes of abortions and try to address THOSE instead (including things like contraception, support for pregnant teens, etc). And on a deeper level, just as I believe that all of the above people/creatures should have life, I also believe that they should have meaningful choices (as much as it is relevant; this becomes less appropriate for, say, plants) over their lives.

  • It is a travesty that so many babies are aborted because of the simple fact that they are female. Now that’s a war on women. And they have absolutely no way to defend themselves. The unborn are the most vulnerable members of our society, and they and their mothers deserve our undying support.

  • Also, what about the phrase ‘potential for life’? The scientific basis for the beginning of life is when the sperm joins the egg. So in an unborn child – at any stage of growth – there is not potential for life. There is life.
    I am prolife not because of God, but because of science.

    • Trees are alive. Chickens are alive.

      I don’t intend to be callous, but “potential for life” and “fully endowed human being” are not the same thing. I believe that each pregnancy has potential, but it doesn’t necessarily follow that something with the potential to become a human being has all the same rights and privileges as a fully grown human adult. After all, eggs and sperm also have “potential.”

      I think that many cultures over the expanse of history have readily acknowledged this reality, that we all tend to view pregnancies as a process that moves steadily from potential to reality. Exactly where that line is, I don’t know. All I know is that as long as we’re only dealing with potential life, that can be weighed in relation to other factors, such as the parent being able to afford food for their existing children or losing the job that is the only way they have of supporting their family. Every individual circumstance is different, and I don’t believe I have the right to dictate to someone whose life I do not live and whose situation I do not understand what their only choices are.

      • Jeff

        This is quite wrong; the human fetus is not a “potential human life”, it is a distinct human organism from the moment of conception. It’s not “proto-life”, it’s not “the raw material from which life may someday arise”, it is a complete human life, albeit in an early developmental stage. This is not a subjective question, like “when does a human life acquire a soul?” or “when does a human life become a ‘person’?”

        You’d be on more level ground saying (as I’ve heard elsewhere), “sure, it’s a human life, but I don’t value life at that developmental stage more highly than I value the mother’s bodily autonomy” (that basically seems to be what you’re saying as well). But not “it’s just a potential human life, not an actual human life.”

        • The idea I’m talking about has more to do with sentience.

  • If that’s the case, then does it also follow that a 3 year old child has fewer ‘right and privileges’ than a healthy 30 year old man? It is a terrible thing to afford someone human dignity and a right to live only if they are capable of taking are of themselves. It is one of our privileges and responsibilities to take care of the less capable and vulnerable among us. Actually, this is one of the problems I have with Fundamentalism. They, too, believe that only some humans should be given respect and dignity – that is, predominantly the male sex.

    I believe that EVERY human person has the right to live. This is a fundamental part of what makes humans different from animals. Chickens and trees are alive, yes. But they are not human.

    • I don’t think an egg or sperm or zygote is human. At some point during the pregnancy– and I have thoughts about when this occurs– it *becomes* human. However, there is no hard-and-fast line, as the biological reality is that every pregnancy is different and no two pregnancies progress the same. That’s why it should be left to the people actually involved in the decision, and certainly not to the government.

  • I would also like to restate that the scientific basis for life is when the sperm joins the egg. If this is not a fact, then indeed a person in the womb only has potential for life, not life itself. In that case I have no qualms with abortion. But a reproductive biologist will tell you that the moment of the sperm joining the egg is the moment life begins. It is what a human being looks like at that particular stage of development.
    You may be interested in this website. The first feminists In America were prolife without exception.
    I am against all forms of violence against women and children. If we say that one group of people is less worthy of life than another, then we are repeating the very patterns from which we have fled in Fundamentalism – that some groups are less worthy than others.

    • Incorrect. The beginning of the life was many millennia ago and it hasn’t stopped since. The sperm and the egg are both already alive, and in joining together they modify the form of that life – but life was already there.

      We, as human beings, do routinely give different value to different stages of life. Three year olds can’t drive, vote, or drink. For that matter, neither can my fourteen year old. The question then becomes – what level of rights accorded to human beings who are out of the womb and walking around, should also be accorded to human beings who haven’t yet achieved a functional central nervous system?

      Actually, full-on pro-life gives a fetus in my womb more rights than my born, walking around children. I can’t be legally required to donate an organ, or even blood to my children. Would I be an awful person if I refused? Probably – but nobody is seriously arguing that I should be legally required. Yet there are lots of people arguing that if I get pregnant again, I should be required to risk my life, almost certainly have major surgery (again), and likely donate an organ (losing my uterus is a real possibility) for the sake of a fetus that isn’t even aware of its own existence yet.

      Personally, I’m not fond of abortion and really hope I never have to have one. I’m fanatically careful with my birth control. But if that decision comes, it is mine and nobody else’s.

  • Samantha – in reply to your 11 pm comment –
    Perhaps it should be left to the people who have actually made a scientific study of the matter. Not every one of us is an expert on biology and the human body.


    • Thank you for sharing the links, but I’ve already read everything on both of those websites and found their arguments lacking. I can find just as many scientists and reproductive biologists and doctors who oppose their conclusions.

      However, this is going far afield of the original topic of the post.

  • If possible, could you post a link that explains these opposing views? Preferably by an actual reproductive biologist. I would be really interested in reading them. I’m sure other readers of your blog would be also. We are all on the post fundamentalist journey of discovering what is true and good. Thank you!

    • I’m currently on my phone, and an trying to go to sleep. Tomorrow is going to be busy, so I’ll try putting together some of the resources I’ve found this week.

      In the mean time, if you’re curious, most of what I’ve found started with a Google search.

  • Helen Anderson

    Just to add the the bananas comments, I, too would appreciate references for your claims. “Go google it” doesn’t cut as much scientific ice.

    • No, but the constant badgering I get for me to educate people when Google is RIGHT THERE is a little tiresome.

      Not saying Bananas was “badgering,” but this sort of thing happens to me (and other feminists) a lot.

  • If you want to say, ‘This is so’ then you should have the resources to back it up. Otherwise it’s just like writing an essay without any references. Particularly when the issue is as important as the one above.
    Forgive me, but I only believe things which are backed up by research and facts. I do not believe things just because they are someone’s opinion. Must be the rebellious ex Fundamentalist in me 🙂
    Once again, I would be very interested in reading any scientific research you have found. If you prefer not to post it here, then my email is themoonisanakedbanana@gmail.com .

    • That amuses me a little, because most of what is at those two websites you offered are nothing more than a select group of people’s informed opinion based on their interpretation of the medical facts.

      Others have drawn completely different conclusions based on the same information.

      Also, I’m not really interested in persuading you, or getting sucked into an endless argument like this. Must be the ex-fundamentalist in me.

      If you’re genuinely curious, you can find what other professionals have to say.

  • And yet I am the only who has pulled up actual links to these facts which I site.

    • Links to a bunch of opinions and interpretations of facts.

  • anonymous

    The definition of feminism is not what you said. The definition of feminism is the advocacy of women’s rights on the grounds of political, social, and economic equality to men.