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Editorial: Women and Abortion

by Monika Rodman and Kathleen Buckley

Public transit riders have recently been greeted by a series of abortion-rights ads directed at young women. Sponsored by the Pro-Choice Public Education Project (PEP), the ads are visually and rhetorically bold. An ad shows five scowling, middle- aged men and declaims, "77 percent of anti-abortion leaders are men. 100 percent of them will never be pregnant.'' A friend of ours overheard the typical comment on this ad: "Isn't that the truth!'' Is that the truth? Not at all. You see, we belong to the purported 23 percent calculated by PEP. We are young, pro-life women. We are anti-abortion leaders. And we are happy to report that we collaborate locally, statewide and nationally with many other gifted and compassionate anti-abortion women.     

When we first saw the PEP ads previewed months ago in a feminist journal (yes, we read feminist journals and even subscribe to many of the best ideals of feminism), we immediately questioned this “statistic.'' To be honest, we laughed at it.

PEP asserts that 47 out of 61 leaders of anti-abortion groups are men. We'd like to see that list. Given our many years' involvement in the anti-abortion and broader pro-life movements, we fail to see this number reflect those who really are the key thinkers, actors and spokespersons in the contemporary anti-abortion movement.

In fact, women represent a strong majority among pro-life leadership. For many of us, that work includes the promotion of life-affirming alternatives to euthanasia and the death penalty, as well as to abortion.

"Where are the men?'' is the running joke at our own monthly conference calls. You see…11 out of 12 employees are women, including the executive director. They are articulate and attractive, competent and creative, thoughtful and thought-provoking women.

The president of the National Right to Life Committee, a psychologist by profession, is female, as are many directors and lead players of state “right-to-life'' groups, including those in California. Women almost exclusively direct and overwhelmingly staff the more than 3,000 pro-life pregnancy assistance centers around the country.

In recent years, leaders of major abortion-rights groups have often declined invitations extended by prominent anti-abortion women leaders to publicly debate the issue. …Perhaps this is because they are especially compelling ambassadors of the anti-abortion position and the greater pro-life cause, whose basic principle asserts that taking human life is never a just solution to personal or social problems.

In fact, …Feminists for Life officially affirm a consistent pro-life ethic, disavowing not only abortion, but euthanasia, the death penalty and war, as proposed solutions to personal and societal problems.

The mere recognition of an educated and articulate female leadership at the helm of the anti-abortion movement would subvert the free and easy way in which abortion-rights leaders purport to speak for all women. Women who exercise anti-abortion leadership do so not in spite of our gender, but because of it. We know both the unique struggles and the great strengths of women. We agree with original Equal Rights Amendment author Alice Paul that “abortion is the ultimate exploitation of women.'' And we echo the sentiment of the early American feminists who condemned abortion as an affront to women and a mockery of "choice.''  

Suffragette Elizabeth Cady Stanton perhaps best articulated a woman's reasons for working against abortion: "When we consider that women are treated as property, it is degrading to women that we should treat our children as property to be disposed of as we see fit.''

In our work, we see increasing numbers of women who are aware that abortion's promises of liberation aren't panning out.

In fact, it is most often men whom abortion liberates. While women certainly emerge from the procedure un-pregnant, they often come away with emotional scars, increased likelihood of future infertility and miscarriage, and relationships that were ended, not salvaged, by the abortion. Given many such stories of abortion as a short-term gain followed by long-term pain, it is not surprising that women are at the forefront of the anti- abortion movement.

While men are vital partners in this struggle for human rights, they don't speak "for'' us. They don't need to.

Women working against abortion and for respect of life, sexuality and relationships have voices of their own. We proudly raise those voices, representing a new feminism that is much more radical in what it requires of men, women and society than that of our opponents, who still rely on abortion as the guarantor of women's equality.

[San Francisco Chronicle; May 9, 2000]