Feminism

Gatekeeping vs. Coalition Building

The second I first heard about a possible march happening in DC the day after the inauguration, my reaction was where do I sign up. Marching will not be the only way I resist the incoming regimeadministration, but I will stand in the streets tomorrow and scream my rage and sorrow with my sisters. I know many of you can’t– having fibromyalgia means I will be paying for this all next week, so I understand not being able to make marching work for you. I also know not everyone feels that the Women’s March tomorrow either represents you well or is something you want to give your energy to, and I respect that.

However, since Wednesday, a large part of the conversation of can I, should I march on Saturday has revolved around abortion, and I feel that the conversation has been plagued with misrepresentations. We are talking about abortion after all so the fact that everything is being flagrantly misunderstood is unsurprising. Since I’m in seminary primarily to advocate for reproductive justice in my Christian context, this conversation is critical to me, and I want to try to push it in an honest and fact-based direction.

The discussion we’re having was sparked when the Women’s March leadership decided to partner with an organization called New Wave Feminists. I am frustrated with the people who made that decision because it’s clear that New Wave Feminists was not vetted at all. If they’d looked into this organization, they would have found out that the founder testified in favor of HB2 in Texas (the bill Wendy Davis filibustered)– the bill that would have removed abortion access from most women in Texas. New Wave Feminists also lie about hormonal contraception and their founder said that women shouldn’t be “full-service sluts.” The goal of this organization is to restrict abortion access, restrict access to birth control, and control women’s sexuality. It is not an organization that the Women’s March should support, and they were right to remove them as partners.

However, after removing them as partners, they faced some criticism. I heard about it because Rachel Held Evans– as y’all know, one of my heroes– tweeted “Progressives have a chance to build a broader coalition here, and they are blowing it” … which was incredibly disappointing because of the narrative that weaves. Over the past two days I’ve seen a ridiculous number of people claim that the Women’s March is forbidding any pro-life woman from participating, which is just ridiculous. Removing an anti-woman organization from partnership and being unwilling to partner with those who want to make abortion illegal does not mean that pro-life women can’t march, if they want to. They couldn’t have made that clearer.

Rachel’s tweet– and the widespread sentiment her tweet represents– was also incredibly frustrating on top of being disappointing because this situation is the result of a terrible amount of confusion. The New Wave Feminists are an organization pro-lifers like Karen Swallow Prior, Sarah Bessey, and Rachel Held Evans want to defend? People who lie to women, who lie about medicine, who shame us and demean us? Who call us “sluts” for having sex, who misrepresent themselves and their goals?

I have saidrepeatedly— that I want to work with the sort of pro-life women Rachel represents. I value their work, I value them, and I understand where they’re coming from. In the past I’ve respected their position because I saw it as realistic, loving, and consistent. I welcome their particular articulation of pro-life ethics into my feminist work with open arms. I may think that abortion is ethical, but I understand having reservations. This isn’t an easy issue– and, regardless of why any particular person may be having an abortion, it represents a failure somewhere. People who will fight with me to overcome those failures– who want to make birth control accessible, who want accurate and thorough sex education, who want to remove the cultural oppression that force women into these situations– I want you at my side.

After all, I’m pro-choice. If someone is having an abortion because they have no other option, I do not consider that acceptable. We should be able to choose whether or not we want to remain pregnant, and not have circumstances limit us or force us. We should be able to feed our babies, we should be able to get our children to the doctor, we should be able to keep our jobs, we should be able to recover after giving birth … and it’s wrong that those are the considerations pregnant people face.

So I’m all in favor of coalition building. I think feminism is a big tent and a lot of us should be able to squeeze together under here– even if we don’t always agree.

However.

There has to be a line somewhere.

If you’ve read me for a bit, you know I’m not a fan of shibboleths. I don’t like setting up a bunch of fences and boundaries to movements and I don’t, in general, like people who say “you’re in, you’re in, you’re not.” I like big, broad, encompassing tents. I like it when we don’t always get along, don’t always agree. I want serious discussions, not a bunch of people who preach to the choir all of the time.

But I think it is appropriate and good for feminists to say “being a feminist means you don’t support policies that lead to the suffering and death of women,” and unfortunately, that’s what being “pro-life” means for a not-insignificant part of the pro-life movement. If there’s going to be a line that keeps some people out of the feminist tent, the “you want women to die for no god-forsaken reason” is a damn good line. It’s the only line really worth enforcing. If Feminism weren’t The We Want Women to Not Die tent, it wouldn’t be good for anything.

I’m not apologizing for that being my price of admission. If you support policies and laws that lead to nothing else but suffering and death, I don’t want you in my tent and I don’t understand why you’d want to be in it. Banning abortion, criminalizing abortion, “making it illegal except in cases of life-threatening emergencies” leads to death and suffering. Those actions do not change the abortion rate— they result in the same number of abortions, but more life-threatening medical problems, more death, more abuse, more violence, more tragedies, and yes, women being sent to prison because they miscarried.

On this one issue– whether or not our nation’s laws result in women dying– I will be a gatekeeper. Kate Shellnutt and Hannah Anderson at Christianity Today want to tell me that “ā€œIf Dem[ocrats] could have entertained possibility of a pro-life women’s vote, they’d have won,” and it makes me scream inside because that “pro-life women’s vote” was a vote to overturn Roe v. Wade and make abortion illegal. It wasn’t a vote against rape or sexual assault. It wasn’t a vote to protect our jobs, our wages, our children, our healthcare, our autonomy, or our bodies in any way. It was one vote: to criminalize abortion. To condemn women to needless suffering, unnecessary physical torment, and death for many of us. No, I will not “entertain” that idea, and I don’t think feminism should.

These “pro-life women voters” like the New Wave Feminists have spent a massive amount of time telling us that our actions have consequences– and surprisingly, this is where I agree. Pro-life people who want to ban abortion apparently live in a land without consequences. They want to enforce their religious interpretation of when life begins onto everyone and pretend that nothing bad could ever come of that. That their actions, their choices, would not be the reason why more women would be thrown in prison or killed. They want to ban abortion– even though it would not even accomplish what they want. They want to prevent us from accessing birth control– even though that actively opposes what they want. They want to punish us for even daring to take control of our lives.

If that doesn’t describe you, welcome inside my big feminist tent.

If it does, stay out in the cold and shiver.

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  • Yes. This. Thank you.
    Maybe I’ll see you in DC tomorrow.

  • Elizabeth Hunter

    Having recently discovered your work, and emerging from a cult-like culture, I find your thoughts on feminism insightful. I’m pro-life, but I see both sides of the aisle. I’m frustrated with the Irish system where women die in order to uphold Catholic nonsense, and yet I believe in the inherent value of human life and that life starts with a fetal heartbeat. I don’t think we should ban contraceptive, and as a free-marketer, I oppose forcing companies to provide contraceptives. (I really oppose forcing companies to provide any sort of healthcare) I have argued for rape, incest and life of the mother exceptions, and in the toxic climate of TX politics been labeled anti-life.
    I wish there was more dialogue on this subject, but from experience, I’ve found people to be incredibly close-minded.

    • One of the key points I’ve picked up over the years is that *everyone* wants there to be fewer abortions. Pro-choice people tend to believe we should prevent the circumstances that require a woman to get an abortion in the first place, while pro-life people tend to believe we should prevent women who need an abortion from getting one. So if you’re pro-life, but willing to work toward pro-choice goals like greater access to contraceptives, better maternity leave policies, and better support for infants born into poverty, then I for one would be happy to work alongside you despite being pro-choice myself. It’s the people who lie and bully women that I can’t work with.

      • Maan Di

        This is precisely why I left the Pro Life movement. I realized that the policies backed by that movement result in more abortions than those backed by the Pro Choice movement. I now believe that the Pro Life movement’s true goals are to control, subjugate & punish women. Full Stop. & boy, are they ever working hard to achieve those goals!
        They’re clearly willing to sacrifice the well-being & even lives of countless children in order to hurt the mothers.
        Now, that’s the leaders of the movement. What hurts is seeing how many well-meaning people are trapped within the Pro Life movement by church lies & guilt campaigns. That’s really painful to see. I’m still religious & I pray a lot for those people to find their courage & open their eyes. This boat doesn’t just need to be rocked, it needs to capsize. I believe that those Pro Life persons who truly care about human life have to learn to swim for themselves if they ever want to no longer be complicit in human suffering.

    • When I was young, the Bible was quoted as saying that life began “from breath to breath” and abortion was not a dogma issue among Protestants. In fact, it was something which distinguished us from the Catholics.

      • This is unfortunately little-known history, which just seems odd to me since it’s well within the living memories of tons of people who were adults at the time. How did we forget so quickly?

        This has always stood out to me: after the Roe v. Wade decision, the SBC was fully in favor of it– they even praised it in their paper, running the title “Religious liberty, human equality and justice are advanced by the Supreme Court abortion decision.” The SBC went on to issue a statement that abortion was ethical– even in cases where it would protect the “emotional health” of the mother.

        A lot has changed in 30 years.

        • Morrow

          Wow, I had no idea!

      • Elizabeth Hunter

        Right now, I’m the liberal at my church for believing it starts at a heartbeat instead of conception. I take that belief from Genesis 9, where it says life is in the blood.

        • Curious: why that passage, which is talking about how to slaughter animals, and not at first breath, the breath of life, based on Genesis 2?

          • Elizabeth Hunter

            I’ve never considered Genesis 2 over 9.
            After talking about animals, God continues in verse 5&6 ‘whose sheds man’s blood, I will require it at the hand of animals and man’

          • Considering the near-universal Jewish interpretation of the Tanakh (Old Testament) is that life begins with the first breath and ends with the last breath, Genesis 2 might be worth serious consideration to you.

    • Maan Di

      I’m curious about why you don’t think that employers should provide health care. Doesn’t it behoove employers to ensure that their employees are healthy? Doesn’t it benefit the company?
      Should anyone provide health care? Do people deserve health care, or not?

      • I want to step in here because the original statement and the questions here are based on a misunderstanding of what it means for “employers to provide healthcare.”

        The US government encourages companies through a set of tax incentives to “collectively bargain” with insurance companies. This bargaining that a company does with an insurance company helps lower rates for their employees.

        Companies are not “providing” medical insurance. Medical insurance is paid for by the employee– but it is considered a pre-tax benefit. In the end, there is no difference between handing my credit card or my insurance card to the pharmacist or doctor’s office. I am paying for that insurance, and I was promised that pre-tax collectively bargained rate as part of my salary. In order to make all this possible, some of the worker’s salary is pooled together in order to make medical insurance available to everyone in the company at reasonable rates.

        A worker is exchanging their time and labor in order to receive salary and benefits. That is not the company “providing healthcare.” It’s the company paying their employees a fair wage. This is why it is ridiculous and unethical for a company to attempt to control what their employees spend their money on (say, for example, birth control).

      • Elizabeth Hunter

        Believe me, this is sticky. I am a firm free-marketer. Employers provide, consumers choose. Yes, employers rip off workers. But then Unions develop to protect employees, not gov’t. When the gov’t steps in, it strips workers of their ability to fight corruption and turns unions into political bargaining tools instead of middle-men between companies and their workers.
        As a free-marketer, I believe the gov’t should empower consumers. We can choose to invest in companies that provide healthcare. When the gov’t imposes on companies, they shut down small business and enrich large corporate America at the expense of small-town America.
        So, I want to work for a company that provides healthcare. But I don’t want to gov’t to mandate that my employer does.

        • Maan Di

          Thanks for your reply. I should have been a bit more specific with my questions. I didn’t go into all the details that Samantha provides above, since I thought that was known, but I think that the main concern here is that there are companies who are actively working to deny their employees access to birth control.
          It seems to me that such action on the part of employers should not be legal, & should be challenged by government agencies, since it is obviously discriminatory.

  • Til

    Thank you.

  • Love this.

  • I am IN.

  • Ysolde

    https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/nov/21/home-abortions-emails-secret-world
    This is the future of America. The “Home Remedy” isn’t going to disappear and more of our sisters will end up using it and possibly dying because they used it wrong.

  • What do you think of the viewpoint known as the Consistent Life Ethic? I actually first heard of it in Jim Willis’s book God’s Politics: How The Right Gets It Wrong And The Left Doesn’t Get It. (The book is a product of the Bush era.) Willis observed that pro-lifers tend to favor the death penalty and pro-choicers tend to oppose the death penalty. The Consistent Life Ethic opposes capital punishment and is anti-war (though open to Just War Theory) in addition to opposing abortion. At least from what I deduced, the Protestant version is more accepting of birth control, and the movement is in favor of aid and other things the pro-birthers oppose. (It seems that Evans, Bessey, Jory Micah and other pro-life feminists I follow on Twitter basically support this viewpoint.)

    • I’ve referenced it here a few times when talking about my transition from being a dyed-in-the-wool pro-lifer to being pro-choice.

      In the end, it’s not really all that “consistent”– Just War theory being a good example of that, in my opinion. There’s room in this argument for terminating persons. They think some killing could be justified, given such-and-such requirements are met. Men can decide when it’s ok to kill other men, but a woman deciding she doesn’t want to be pregnant is abominable. Killing a fully grown human adult that everyone recognizes is an autonomous person with legal rights? Justifiable. Terminating a pregnancy, which most people in this country doesn’t think of in terms of “autonomous person”– of course that’s not allowed. God forbid. Literally.

      When I’ve encountered it, it’s been in Catholic contexts– and I tend to fundamentally disagree with their entire theological and philosophical basis for this ethic, even if I tend to agree with the end results (being against the death penalty, against “unjust” war).

  • Can you give more details or provide more information/links about women being arrested for miscarriage? This is extremely concerning and I want to know more.

    • spacegal2003

      I don’t have a link, but it basically boils down to being able to prove that it was a miscarriage, and not an abortion. Not all abortions are surgical, there are drugs you can take, for example, that will make a miscarriage more likely. So if abortion is illegal, how do you show that you didn’t take one of those drugs but instead miscarried naturally? It’s impossible to prove a negative.

  • damn this is a good post

    One of the biggest problems, I think, is how the “pro-life” movement does a lot to confuse language. They’ve made good Christians so terrified of the term “pro-choice” that even people whose views ACTUALLY ARE pro-choice (“I would never get an abortion, but other people need to be able to have access and make their own choice”) won’t even use that word. And now we have the situation that, among people who call themselves “pro-life”, there are really two types- the ones who are like “we shouldn’t try to ban abortion, we should help people access birth control, maternity leave, etc” (the feminist ones), and the ones who repeat the same misogynistic lies and “well you shouldn’t have had sex then.”

  • sandy rome

    sandy rome ā€¢ 2 minutes ago

    Hi, Samantha, currently posting on my husband’s account. I did post this over at NLQ, but wanted to hear your input. Do you feel there is any room for compromise on this topic of reproductive rights?

    I have a huge issue with elective abortion, particularly in the second trimester of pregnancy. In the years since Roe vs. Wade, significant advances have been made in the medical field. Ultra sound technology has grown. We have a window into the womb, so to speak. Infants are surviving at earlier and earlier ages outside the womb. Life saving surgeries are being performed while babies are still in utero.

    No one wants to see any woman lose her life. I certainly don’t. But, what about the concern for the lives of our unborn children as well? Why should it be considered an anti-feminist position to want to see balance in this area? Is it time for some revision and tightening of our laws ?

    Also, I would be very interested to hear what led to such a radical change of your views going from picketing outside of abortion clinics to now attending seminary to advocate for reproductive rights.

    (Would have posted this directly under your post, but could not figure out how to do it. šŸ™‚ )

    Appreciate your sharing?

    PS. I was able to post after all. Some glitch with the computer.

    God bless!
    Rebecca.

    • First, I wrote a six-part series on how I became pro-choice, which you can find here:

      http://samanthapfield.com/2013/10/19/ordeal-of-the-bitter-waters/

      I’m going to be blunt, but please don’t take this as dismissive or mean-spirited. You seem lovely, and I’m going to answer your question honestly. No, I do not think this is an area that can be compromised on— when I said “stay out in the cold and shiver,” I was being hyperbolic, not dishonest.

      If you want to make abortion illegal, you want women to die. That is the inescapable reality, and by this point is beyond proven. Banning abortion does not result in a decrease in abortions– women travel to other states, other countries, or they attempt self-abortion. The only thing that changes is how many women are harmed or killed. That’s it. Illegal abortion = death, and it really is that simple.

      The “compromise” I do believe in is this: if you don’t care about whether or not abortion is banned, you just want to see fewer abortions: I’m with you. We can get actual, medically-accurate sex education to our kids. We can make effective and long-acting birth control options available to the people that need it (vasectomies, tubal litigations, IUDs, implants …). We can remove the societal barriers to pregnancy, childbirth, and parenthood. We can make sure parents can get their children food and healthcare and housing.

      The other thing I think a typical pro-life person really needs to get into their head is to stop being so distrustful of women. If a woman is having an abortion, trust her. She knows her life, she knows what she’s doing, and she doesn’t need all of society second-guessing her ability to make her own decisions. She doesn’t need any hand-wringing over “unborn children.” She doesn’t need you at all. Your concerns are not her concerns, your life is not her life, and no one has the right to poke their noses in other people’s business where it doesn’t belong.

      It’s fine to care about “unborn children” when they’re your “unborn child.” Whether or not a zygote, blastocyst, embryo, or fetus is a person is a religious belief, and it’s a religious belief that most people in this country– and in the world– don’t share. Judaism has almost universally (and quite explicitly) granted abortion rights to pregnant people. Japanese Buddhism believes abortion is ethical, as does many articulations of Islamic teachings (in Islam, ensoulment (or “pershonhood”) happens in stages). In Christianity, even St. Augustine said fetal personhood was an unresolvable question. Most mainline Protestant Christians have extremely well-thought-out positions on abortion, based in a comprehensive understanding of autonomy as one of the foundations of Christian ethics and morality.

      I live in America, where forcing a minority religious belief onto the entire country is unconstitutional. This is true in many other countries– and the countries where it’s not, where banning abortion has been tried, has only lead to more suffering and death. This is not an area where feminism can compromise.