Responses - Defending Life / Rebuttals / Advocacy / Dating / Adoption

Our Feminist Foremothers & Abortion (updated 3/07)

Susan B. Anthony called abortion "child-murder" [The Revolution 4(1):4 July 8, 1869] and further wrote:

"No matter what the reason, if love of ease, or desire to save from suffering the unborn innocent, a woman is awfully guilty who commits the deed. It will burden her conscience in life. It will burden her soul in death. But, oh, thrice guilty is he who drove her to the desperation which impelled her to the crime."

Elizabeth Cady Stanton classed it along with the killing of newborns as "infanticide" [The Revolution, 1(5):1, February 5, 1868]. 

The Revolution and other feminist publications of the 19th century refused to print ads for abortifacients.

"As law and custom give to the husband the absolute control of the wife's person, seh is forced to…outrage the holiest instincts of her being in order to maintain even a semblance of that freedom which by nature belongs to every human soul. When a man steals to satisfy hunger, we may safely conclude that there is something wrong in society — so when a woman destroys the life of her unborn child, it is an evidence that either by education or circumstances she has been greatly wronged."   [Mattie Brinkerhoff, The Revolution 1(18): 279, May 1868]

"[This] subject lies deeper down into woman's wrongs than any other…I hesitate not to assert that most of [the responsibility for] this crime lies at the door of the male sex." [Matilda Gage, The Revolution 1(14): 215-16, April 9, 1868]

"We want prevention, not merely punishment. We must reach the root of the evil…It is practiced by those whose inmost souls revolt from the dreadful deed." [Susan B. Anthony, The Revolution 4(1): 4, July 8, 1869]

"All the articles on this subject that I have read have been from men. They denounce women as alone guilty, and never include man in any plans for the remedy." [Susan B. Anthony, The Revolution 4(1): 4 July 8, 1869]

"The rights of our children as individuals begin while yet they remain the foetus." [Woodhull's and Claflin's Weekly 2(6): 4, December 24, 1870]

"Men must no longer insult all womanhood by saying that freedom means the degradation of woman. Every woman knows that if she were free, she would never bear an unwished-for child, nor think of murdering one before its birth." [Victoria Woodhull, free love advocate, West Virginia Evening Standard, November 17, 1875]

“Every woman knows that if she were free, she would never give birth to an unwanted child, nor think of murdering one before it’s birth.”  — Victoria Woodhull, 17Nov1875 (first woman to run for US President, 1872)

“We are living today under a dynasty of force: the masculine element is everywhere overpowering the feminine, and crushing women and children alike beneath its feet.  Let woman assert herself in all her native purity, dignity, and strength, and end this wholesale suffering and murder of helpless children.”        –Elizabeth Cady Stanton, The Revolution, 29Jan1868

“Women are educated to think that with marriage their individuality ceases or is transferred to their husbands. The wife has thenceforth no right over her own body.  This is also the husband’s belief, and upon which he acts. No matter what her condition, physical or mental, no matter how ill-prepared she may feel herself for maternity, the demands of his passion may never be refused…oh! thrice guilty is he who, for selfish gratification, heedless of her prayers, indifferent to her fate, drove her to the desperation which impels her to the crime…”   — Susan B. Anthony, explaining the roots of “the horrible crime of child-murder”, The Revolution, 8July1869

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Little is known about the life of 19th century suffragist Sarah F. Norton beyond her writings. She was a public speaker, writer for feminist publications, and member of the Working Women's Association who advocated for the education of women and girls and equal opportunity in the workplace and equal pay for women.

Together, Sarah Norton and Susan B. Anthony agitated for the admission of women to Cornell University, "that stronghold of feminine prejudice," and won the support of the university's founder, Ezra Cornell. Norton wrote to Anthony's newspaper The Revolution:

After speeches by [Anthony] and myself, the house became noisy, at her suggestion, for a speech from Mr. Cornell. With inimitable grace he walked to the platform and turning so as to command a view of both the audience and ourselves as much as possible, said: “I would say in reply to Mrs. Norton's expressed wish to enter the University, that if she does not enter it, it will be her own fault.” Mr. Cornell assured us that women are to be admitted… how far his personal influence or wishes will avail against the power [of the trustees and directors], remains to be proved…

A year later, in 1870, Cornell became one of the first universities in the United States to admit women.

But equal education and employment opportunities were not Norton's only concerns. In another feminist newspaper, Woodhull & Claflin's Weekly, Sarah Norton harshly decried the "Tragedy—Social and Domestic" of infanticide and "the fast increasing crime of fœticide," or abortion.

[C]hild-murder is an easy and every-day affair… [C]hild murderers practice their profession without let or hinderance, and open infant butcheries unquestioned, establishing themselves with an impunity that is not allowed to the slaughterers of cattle… Scores of persons advertise their willingness to commit this form of murder, and with unblushing effrontery announce their names and residences in the daily papers. No one seems to be shocked by the fact… [C]irculars are distributed broadcast, recommending certain pills and potions for the very purpose, and by these means the names of these slayers of infants, and the methods by which they practice their life-destroying trade, have become "familiar in our mouths as household words." …Is there no remedy for all this ante-natal child murder? …Perhaps there will come a time when… an unmarried mother will not be

despised because of her motherhood… and when the right of the unborn to be born will not be denied or interfered with.

Norton was particularly concerned that double standards regarding the sexes should be eliminated, and that men should be held responsible for the "instigating" role they so often played.

Feminists for Life is proud to share our rich pro-life feminist history with the next generation of pro-woman, pro-life leaders. We invite women and men from various perspectives to participate in creating solutions that meet the needs of pregnant women and parents in the workplace, on college campuses and at home.
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"Herstory: Sarah F. Norton and Eliza Bisbee Duffey" by Mary Krane Derr
The American Feminist Fall 1999: Back on Campus, pg. 20
http://www.feministsforlife.org/taf/1999/fall/Fall99.pdf

Cat Clark is author of "The Truth About Susan B. Anthony: Did One of America's First Feminists Oppose Abortion?" the feature story in the Spring 2007 issue of The American Feminist,® and "Herstory" on Pearl Buck (http://www.feministsforlife.org/taf/2004/spring/Spring04.pdf), and has served as a past editor of The American Feminist.®

www.feministsforlife.org

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"Abortion is a reflection that we have not met the needs of women. Women deserve better than abortion."
REFUSE TO CHOOSE® WOMEN DESERVE BETTER®

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In 1849 Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell (1821-1910) became the first woman to receive a medical degree from an American medical school, and in 1859 became the first woman on the British medical register. She was ardently anti-abortion and pro-woman, choosing to enter the field of medicine partly because she was repulsed that the term “female physician” was applied to abortionists.

Born in Bristol, England, Blackwell moved with her family to the United States at the age of eleven. The Blackwell family was very active in the movements to abolish slavery and enfranchise women; Elizabeth’s sisters-in-law included suffragists Lucy Stone and Antoinette Brown Blackwell, and she was a friend to abolitionist novelist Harriet Beecher Stowe.

Initially repulsed by the idea, more than one event contributed to Blackwell’s entering the medical profession. “The idea of winning a doctor’s degree,” she wrote, “gradually assumed the aspect of a great moral struggle, and the moral fight possessed an immense attraction for me.”

The idea was suggested, for example, by a friend dying of cancer, who told her “If I could have been treated by a lady doctor, my worst sufferings would have been spared me” and recommended that Blackwell devote her intellect and love of study to the service of suffering women. “Why don't you study medicine?” her friend asked.

Related concerns eventually convinced Blackwell. Struck by an article in the New York Herald about Madame Restell, a woman notorious for selling abortifacient medicines and performing surgical abortions, Blackwell wrote in her diary:

The gross perversion and destruction of motherhood by the abortionist filled me with indignation, and awakened active antagonism. That the honorable term “female physician” should be exclusively applied to those women who carried on this shocking trade seemed to me a horror. It was an utter degradation of what might and should become a noble position for women…. I finally determined to do what I could do “to redeem the hells,” and especially the one form of hell thus forced upon my notice.

The fact that other people considered her medical education impossible only spurred Blackwell on. She read medical texts with physician friends and applied to several medical schools. She was eventually accepted by Geneva Medical College in New York in 1847; anecdotal evidence suggests that the male students may have voted in favor of her admission as a joke. Blackwell graduated at the top of her class.

After gaining more practical experience in clinics and studying midwifery in Paris and London, where she met Florence Nightingale, Blackwell returned to the United States, where in 1857 she incorporated her dispensary as the New York Infirmary for Women and Children with her sister Emily—America’s second female physician—and their friend Dr. Marie Zakrzewska. The Infirmary was the first American hospital staffed by women, providing medical training and experience for women doctors as well as care for the poor. Blackwell later opened a women’s medical college at the hospital, based on a plan developed with Nightingale.
 

In 1869, Blackwell returned to England permanently, where she established a private practice, helped organize the National Health Society, and became professor of gynecology at the London School of Medicine for Women.

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References:
Prolife Feminism Yesterday and Today, Mary Krane Derr, Rachel Macnair, Linda Naranjo-Huebl, eds.
Encyclopedia Britannica Profiles 300 Women Who Changed the World, (
http://search.eb.com/women/article-9015561).
National Institutes of Health Office of Research on Women's Health, National Library of Medicine, “Celebrating America’s Women Physicians”  (
http://www.nlm.nih.gov/changingthefaceofmedicine/physicians/biography_35.html).
Child of Destiny: The Life Story of the First Woman Docto

r, Ishbell Ross, (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1949), p. 88.
Hobart and William Smith Colleges website: http://campus.hws.edu/his/blackwell
Cat Clark is author of "The Truth About Susan B. Anthony: Did One of America's First Feminists Oppose Abortion?" the feature story in the Spring 2007 issue of The American Feminist,® and "Herstory" on Pearl Buck (http://www.feministsforlife.org/taf/2004/spring/Spring04.pdf),

and has served as a past editor of The American Feminist

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“I have even heard a woman who acknowledged to several successful abortions…say, ‘Why there is no harm in it, any more than drowning a blind kitten. It is nothing better than a kitten, before it is born.’…I did not think of questioning [this] until, in later years, I became thoroughly acquainted with sexual physiology, and comprehended the wonderful economy of nature in the generation and development of the human germ.”  — Eliza Duffy, 19th Century feminist

In the 19th century, feminists opposed abortion because “when a woman destroys the life of her unborn child, it is an evidence that either by education or circumstances she has been greatly wronged.” [The Revolution, 9Apr1868]

These days, feminists are more inclined to be bothered by the blind kitten analogy because we are more sensitive about the violence against the poor kitten.

The pain of animals is matched by the pain of the human embryo or fetus whose heartbeat is stopped, whose brain is crushed, whose efforts to escape the sharp currette are to no avail.

The reasoning used to justify it is the same: “lower beings” get in the way, or are exploitable for research, and us “higher beings” have no obligation to avoid violence against them.  Don’t we “higher beings” actually hurt ourselves when we don’t have compassion for those who cannot protect themselves?
[Rachel MacNair, Feminists for Life of America, 10/1991]

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Since their first stirrings in the 19th century, feminists have opposed torture and capital punishment, and have been active in the peace movement.  Until the past few decades, feminists have also opposed abortion for very similar reasons.

As historian Carl Degler has noted, putting value on fetal life at all stages “was in line with a number of movements to reduce cruelty and to expand the concept of the sanctity of life…the elimination of the death penalty, the peace movement, the abolition of torture and whipping in connection with crimes.”

Unlike other abortion opponents of the day, however, they were sensitive to the root causes of abortion. As one such headline in the newspaper of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony noted, “Man’s Inhumanity to Woman Makes Countless Infants Die.”  [The Revolution, May, 1868]
[Rachel MacNair, Feminists for Life of America, 10/1991]

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In our day, Domestic Abuse is often the excuse for abortion:
“My father was a tyrant. Birth control was [my mother’s] problem. But it was her wifely duty to satisfy his sexual desires. She used self-induced abortion…She reasoned it a greater sin to bring into the world children to suffer cold and hunger than to abort…”    — The New Our Bodies, Ourselves  (1984), p. 291-2

This is offered as an example of a hard case showing the need for providing abortions legally.

But these questions must be answered before that conclusion can safely be drawn:
1. Why are we focussing on providing abortions, rather than on changing the relationship with the tyrannical husband?
2. If a woman must go through a series of surgeries because of an abusive husband, isn’t that part of the abuse?
3. If her husband sees birth control as her problem and the abortion center affirms that viewpoint, isn’t the abortion center an accessory to the abuse?

“We want prevention [of abortion], not merely punishment. We must reach the root of the evil, and destroy it.”    — Susan B. Anthony, The Revolution, 8July1869

[Rachel MacNair, Feminists for Life of America, 10/1991]

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We’re told that abortion is none of our business because the right to abortion will free women.  Yet, most abortions reflect not the liberation of women, but the failure of society to support women and children.

• On-site daycare and other child-caring options are good for women.
• Responsibility by the men in their lives is good for women.
• Management policies that accommodate women as women is good for women.
• Dead babies are not good for women.

Being given a cleaner place to make those babies dead is not women’s liberation. How many employers are pressuring women to use the quick fix of abortion as a way of avoiding treating pregnant women reasonably and compassionately?

[Rachel MacNair, Feminists for Life of America, 10/1991]

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Abortion proponents admit that the “choice” is a “tragedy”.
But a “tragedy” is not a “right”.
Avoiding tragedy is a right.

[Rachel MacNair, Feminists for Life of America, 10/1991]