It is no secret that abortion is a divisive topic within feminism. It is also a topic that is seen to be one of feminism’s most pressing issues. Feminist writer Katha Pollitt explains that a “women’s constitutional right to decide for themselves when and if to become a mother is an essential part of feminism today” (1). After all, Pollitt observes, just “One sperm can derail a woman for life.” This is a view shared by perhaps a majority of feminists.
However, on the reverse side there exists a number of anti-abortion feminist organisations that claim to hold to the values of feminism. The most prominent of these are Feminists For Life (FFL) and the Susan B. Anthony List. Others include the New Wave Feminists and the Feminists for Nonviolent Choices. Lauren Enriquez, the public relations manager at the anti-abortion group Human Coalition, hopes to make abortion “unavailable in our lifetime” (2). Enriquez argues that rather than disempowering women, the anti-abortion movement actually empowers them. Feminists For Life President Serrin Foster believes that we ought to oppose “abortion in all cases because violence is a violation of basic feminist principles” (3).
Thus, it is not disputed that many pro-life women consider themselves strong feminists. It is also true that common ground can be found between pro-choice and pro-life feminists who, in fact, agree on a whole lot more than on what they disagree. Both camps agree, for example, that pregnant women and mothers deserve equal protection under the law, that women deserve equal pay for equal work, and that violence against women and misogyny are unacceptable (4).
Although Pollitt is herself pro-choice she says that “nothing prevents anti-abortion women from being active in other feminist and progressive causes… A woman can believe that women are equal to men and also that a fertilized egg, embryo, or fetus is a human life and that, if pregnant, a woman should protect and nurture it” (5).
However, many supporters within feminism would disagree and contend that you can’t be a feminist if you are pro-life. According to one such feminist at a recent women’s rally, if you “restrict people’s freedoms, then you are going against feminism” (6). By restricting the freedom of a woman to access abortion one is alleged to violate the very foundation of feminism, the right for a woman to make her decisions about her own body. Thus, to many, to be pro-life is to be “anti-woman,” “misogynist,” and possibly worse (7).
Moreover, pro-choice feminists argue that pro-life feminists, like the FFL, don’t just oppose abortion, but that they want abortion to be illegal (8). This, it’s alleged, includes all abortions, even those for rape, incest, health, and major fetal defects. However, many pro-life feminists argue otherwise saying that this isn’t necessarily the view of all pro-life advocates, “Humans have free will,” notes Claire Swinarski, “The pro-life movement is trying to make legal abortion less available, sure, but we’re also trying to make cultural changes so that women won’t want to seek abortions in the first place, and we have no interest in legal punishment for women who’ve had abortions (9).
But many remain adamant that you can be both a feminist and pro-life. Feminist Aimee Murphy explains that in her experience “Pro-life feminists come from all walks of life, span many racial and socioeconomic backgrounds, and include lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals, Muslims, atheists and Christians. We share one commonality beneath all our diversity: We uphold the life and dignity of each and every human being. As such, we stand for equality, nondiscrimination and nonviolence. Living nonviolence means that we oppose abortion, because it is the intentional killing of the smallest members of our human family” (10). Other feminists wish “to obliterate the stereotype that the people working to end abortion hate women” (11).
These feminists reject the version of “feminism” that they argue says that women cannot be equal to men unless they “snuff out what is unique about us as women: our ability to protect, nourish and nurture new life inside of our bodies.” These feminists choose to “fight against the modern popular feminist paradigm that says that to support women’s rights, we must support the violent act that is abortion” (12).
1. Pollitt, K. 2017. Can a Feminist Be Pro-Life? Available.
2. Utain, E. & Bianchi, L. 2017. Can you be a feminist and anti-abortion? Available.
3. Oaks, L. 2009. “What Are Pro-Life Feminists Doing on Campus?” in NWSA Journal. 21 (1): 178–203.
4. Crockett, E. 2017. Can you be a “pro-life feminist”? The Women’s March on Washington offered some insights. Available.
5. Pollitt, K. 2017. Can a Feminist Be Pro-Life? Available.
6. Pollitt, K. 2017. Ibid.
7. Murphy, A. 2017. I’m an anti-abortion feminist. Available.
8. Pollitt, K. 2005. Feminists for (Fetal) Life. Available.
9. Swinarski. C. 2016. Why I’m a pro-life feminist. Available.
10. Murphy, A. 2017. Ibid.
11. Enriquez, L. 2017. How the New Feminist Resistance Leaves Out American Women. Available.
12. Murphy, A. 2017. Ibid.