In the recent abortion debate, the battle lines have been drawn between feminists and everyone else. In my view, this is a false dichotomy. It is possible to be pro-life and a feminist. These two ideologies are not, and have never been until recent times, contradictory. In fact, the forerunners of the feminist movement vigorously opposed abortion.
Feminism and pro-life beliefs are not incompatible for two main reasons.
First, abortion perpetuates the cycle of violence against the women. Abortion is often deceptively portrayed a simple medical procedure when it actually a disempowering act of violence first committed against women by society and then by women against their unborn children. In the developing countries like China and India, the situation is more pronounced as the strong traditional preference for boys inevitably results in more unborn baby girls being victims of abortion.
The mechanics of abortion, especially late-term abortions, are grisly and macabre. Procedures like dilation and extraction (IDX) and dilation and evacuation (D&E) involve the crushing of an unborn child’s skull and the evacuation of dismembered limbs respectively.
For the mother, an abortion can be destructive both physically and psychologically. Aside from the physical side effects and complications from the procedure, it has been proven that the decision to abort an unborn child will have a deteriorative impact on a mother’s mental health.
It is a tragedy that society does not do more to discourage abortion despite the obvious harm to women. Many pregnant mothers feel they are driven to choose abortion because of the lack of financial help, care and support. Consequently, many women are prevented from making a decision that is best for themselves and their unborn child.
Instead of curtailing the choices of women, we as feminists should be working to legislate and enact laws that will expand the avenues of support and assistance for pregnant mothers such that abortion will become an option of last resort.
Second, abortion does not add to the human rights of the mother, but rather takes away the human rights of the unborn child. It is internal inconsistent to claim that abortion, which denies another human being’s right to life, is itself a human right. An individual’s right to choose ends when another individual’s right to life begins. A human life regardless of its location – in the womb or outside of it – is imbued with the same inalienable rights as another.
Unborn children are the most vulnerable members of our society because they are hidden from plain sight and do not yet have a voice to defend themselves. However, just as we do not deny severely disabled humans the same rights and freedoms, it is discriminatory not to afford a child the right to life merely because he or she is ‘invisible’ and ‘voiceless’.
It is unjust for the life of an innocent child to be sacrificed so that his or her parents can escape the consequences of their actions. As articulated by abolitionist Elizabeth Cady Stanton, who organised the first Women’s Rights Convention in Seneca Falls, “if we consider how women were once treated as property, it is degrading to women that we should treat our children as property to be disposed of as we see fit”.
Susan B Anthony, the great American social reformer and suffragette pertinently observed that the choice to abort the child in her womb will burden a woman’s conscience in life and burden her soul in death but, “thrice guilty is he who… drove her to the desperation which impelled her to the crime”.
Let us as feminists, who struggle against all forms of social injustice, violence and discrimination, not turn a deaf ear to the desperation of pregnant mothers who feel driven to commit an act of violence for lack of alternative choices, familial support and financial stability. Let us walk in the footsteps of our feminist foremothers and galvanize our country to develop compassionate solutions that will put an end to the cycle of violence and give hope and a future to the most vulnerable and precious in our society.