Feminists for Life and the Privilege of Choice
Although it was founded in 1972, the organization Feminists for Life (FFL) gained its largest to-date profile in mainstream media and the general public when John Roberts was nominated to be Supreme Court Chief Justice and it was disclosed that his wife Jane was the former Executive Vice President of the organization. Our South Asian correspondent Nabisco recently mentioned them in a posting here, with the predictable resulting thought of many of “Feminists for What?”
So who are they? Let’s take a look, shall we?
They have a hip, slick, and well produced (and obviously well-funded) website with their tagline “Refuse to Choose”® and they describe themselves as a “nonsectarian, nonpartisan, grassroots organization … shaped by the core feminist values of justice, nondiscrimination, and nonviolence” and that it “recognizes that abortion is a reflection that our society has failed to meet the needs of women.” Their goal is “systematically eliminating the root causes that drive women to abortion — primarily lack of practical resources and support — through holistic, woman-centered solutions.”
Holistic? Justice? Nondiscrimination? Nonviolence? Holy fracking Feminist Studies, Batman! Wow, doesn’t that sound groovy to even a non-Gender Studies major? It makes me want to go star in The Vagina Monologues or something. And Flying Spaghetti Monster knows that fewer and fewer women of my generation (Gen X), or those younger than me (Gens Y, Z, AA, Milennials, etc.) call themselves a feminist. So isn’t it a good thing to acknowledge these women who are willing to drop the f-bomb and welcome them into the sisterhood of feminism?
In a word, No. Please note, FFL, despite their gauzy and “Go Grrrrl” images on their website designed to make them look less innocuous, takes a position on abortion that is more extreme than groups such as National Right to Life. The group believes abortion is an act of violence that is unacceptable under any circumstances.
Unacceptable under any circumstances. Including rape, incest, major fetal defects, and danger to the woman’s life.
FFL also attempts to tie their activism to the early leaders of the women’s movement from the late 19th Century. They have all but dug Susan B. Anthony out of her grave and propped her up at their press conferences and on their website. But there is considerable debate whether the Founding Mothers of the women’s movement even were anti-abortion. And in any event, as former Planned Parenthood President Gloria Feldt notes, “comparisons between contemporary and 19th century debates over abortion are meaningless because of the different cultural contexts.”
A quick history lesson on regulating the lady-bits:
Abortion was legal in much of the United States through the late 1800s, and was only outlawed in states because of (1) the crappy and crude state of medicine and surgery in general, (2) the professionalization of doctors threatened by primarily female midwives, (3) an anti-feminist backlash to the suffrage movement, and (4) an effort by eugenicists and industrialists to ensure that native-born white women were producing enough bodies to work in the factories versus the damn garlic and potato-eaters. (My thoughts on notions of the evolving idea in this country of what is “white” and ethnic identity politics in the turn of the last century will have to wait for another day and is a topic that I think JNOV has written much more eloquently than I could ever hope to).
/Ending history threadjack, back to my tirade.
Much like Sarah Palin’s desire to get a pat on the back for “choosing” to give birth to her baby with Downs’ Syndrome or for her daughter to be congratulated for “choosing” to give birth after an unplanned pregnancy derailed her senior year of high school, savvier anti-choice leaders are wrapping themselves in the “feminist” mantle of choice.
Palin’s Facebook missive on the anniversary of Roe v. Wade notes:
I know from experience the joy and blessings that come from embracing life, and I know how important their work is in helping women choose life despite less than ideal circumstances. The pro-life movement is pro-women, and it empowers women with the message that we are strong enough and smart enough to be able to pursue education, vocations and avocations while giving life to a child. …Today, more and more young women agree with these feminist foremothers, for they know in their hearts that the culture of life empowers women by offering them real choices.
(emphasis mine, head banging on desk mine)
Holding aside for now the irony of someone whose teabagger philosophy of getting government out of the way would destroy many of the programs that could help young women to be able to “pursue education, vocations and avocations” while raising an unplanned child, Palin’s self-serving belief (like Pam Tebow’s) shows a stunning arrogance that her individual experience allows her to speak for all women, and more importantly, to restrict other women from exercising the right to make a choice – as she got to make a choice – of whether to carry a pregnancy to term.
Similarly, yet another white, privileged woman, this time FFL rally speaker Karen Sablin describes her opposition to abortion and her desire to outlaw abortion in terms of her personal experience. Sablin uses her regret over once volunteering with NARAL and having an abortion as why abortion should be outlawed for all women. And this idea that women will suffer debilitating “regret” because they don’t know their own minds was a jaw-dropping proposition cited without support by Justice Kennedy as justification for banning abortion procedures for the protection of women.
While we find no reliable data to measure the phenomenon, it seems unexceptionable to conclude some women come to regret their choice to abort the infant life they once created and sustained. … The State has an interest in ensuring so grave a choice is well informed. It is self-evident that a mother who comes to regret her choice to abort must struggle with grief more anguished and sorrow more profound when she learns, only after the event, what she once did not know: that she allowed a doctor to pierce the skull and vacuum the fast-developing brain of her unborn child, a child assuming the human form.
Gonzales v. Carhart, 550 U.S. 124, 159-60 (2007).
Yes, some women feel regret after an abortion. But since Justice Kennedy lacks “reliable data,” let’s look at study after study showing that most women feel an overwhelming sense of relief after an abortion. Some women have more ambivalent feelings – relief that they were able to end the pregnancy but feeling occasional twinges of “what if,” oftentimes around the anniversary of the abortion or the time they would have given birth but for the abortion. But you know what, every sentient human feels occasional twinges of “what if” – What if I hadn’t chosen my career? What if I hadn’t gone to a certain school? What if I had kissed that beautiful Italian woman who flashed a smile at me? What if I hadn’t gone to the doctor and had my cancer diagnosed?
And to preemptively answer the question anti-choice activists often throw around: “What if your mother had an abortion?” My response is, “Then I wouldn’t be here.” But you know what, it’s not about me. What if my mother had a headache that fateful spring night of my parents’ coitus? What if the coitus were interupus? What if my dad came two seconds later? I wouldn’t be here either. My existence or non-existence should not be the basis for restricting the civil rights of women around the world.
Do I think that you can be personally anti-abortion and a feminist? Yes, if you understand that your personal decision to oppose undergoing the procedure yourself does not mean that you have the right to restrict other women from exercising the choice as to whether to carry a pregnancy to term. Reproductive choice and autonomy is a central component to women’s ability to be a full and equal member of society, the sine qua non of feminism. If FFL and Sarah Palin want to call themselves feminists, fine, they can call themselves peanut butter cups for all I care, but calling yourself something doesn’t make it true. Actions speak louder than words, to pull out the tired saying.
Especially, especially, especially when…let’s go to the tape, shall we?
- FFL and Palin refuse to stand up for increased access to contraception, including for teenagers through the Title X family planning program;
- They refuse to stand up for medically-accurate and scientifically-based sexuality education and push a ridiculous abstinence-only gender-role-stereotyped religious message that has resulted in increased pregnancies, unprotected anal sex, rampant oral sex, and rate of STDs among teenagers;
- They refuse to stand up for health care for all;
- They refuse to stand up for increased funding for Temporary Assistance to Needy Families and foodstamps, housing assistance, or the extension of unemployment benefits;
- They refuse to push for subsidized child care for low-income and middle-income women;
- They refuse to stand up for increased funding for federal foster care programs and preventative services that reduce the likelihood of already-born children from being abused and neglected.
Those are feminist issues. What these so-called feminists for life say and what they do are two entirely different things.
But, instead, they somehow find the time to put out materials and state on their website (as FFL does) that birth control such as the Pill (which they call “abortifacients”) cause breast cancer. Or they find the time to get on the cover of People magazine with their teenage daughter and her baby and proclaim “We’re so glad we made our choice! Huzzah for us! Hurray for everything!”
So I guess I’m just sick and tired of privileged white women like Jane Roberts, Sarah Palin, or Karen Sablin demanding adulation for “choosing” to do the right thing, or “choosing” to criminalize and restrict the autonomy of other women to make what is a deeply personal decision to undergo a SAFE and LEGAL medical procedure.
In closing, and in light of the pending U.S. Supreme Court nomination to a court that recently stated that corporations are persons, so why not fetuses and embryos too, I would note that in 1965, prior to the legalization of abortion in the United States, at least 20% of maternal deaths in our country were due to illegal and unsafe abortions. In countries where abortion is criminalized and thus unsafe and illicit, the maternal mortality rates are at a level that is a human rights crisis.
What would a feminist do?