It’s often been pointed out that, until comparatively recently, trying to find a pro-choice feminist was like trying to find a vegan whose favourite eaterie is KFC. According to Feminists For Life and their Herstory series, the founding mothers of American feminism were ‘without known exception’ pro-life. What is more, they were pro-life precisely because they were feminist. Elizabeth Cady Stanton thought abortion ‘a crying evil’ for which the only solution was ‘the complete enfranchisement and elevation of women’, and Stanton’s was the mainstream view. When the suffragette leader Alice Paul remarked that ‘abortion is just another way of exploiting women’, she was looking back to a long tradition within the women’s movement.
The tradition began in Britain. For Mary Wollstonecraft, often called the first feminist philosopher, the taking of unborn life was yet another tragic consequence of male exploitation. In the twentieth century, Sylvia Pankhurst lamented abortion as ‘grievous’ and called for the social changes which would make it unnecessary. Even Marie Stopes – after whom hundreds of abortion clinics around the world have been named – was opposed, accusing a male friend of ‘murder’ after he pressurised his lover into having a termination. The Marie Stopes International website omits that detail in its biography of Stopes – just as Planned Parenthood, in a lengthy tribute to their founder Margaret Sanger, don’t find room to mention Sanger’s horror of abortion. She called it ‘a disgrace to civilization’; but her voice, like that of so many other feminists, has been edited out of history.
This matters because a lot of people defend the status quo on abortion from an uneasy feeling that if they don’t, they are standing against the advances of feminism; that being pro-woman involves being pro-choice as a matter of course. History suggests the opposite; but then, names as mighty as Alice Paul and Sylvia Pankhurst are still names from the past. They don’t necessarily prove that, in 2014, you can be pro-woman and pro-life. What proves it is someone like Michaela Aston.
Having been involved with the charity LIFE for 20 years, Michaela knows this issue in all its complexity. From her work counselling pregnant women, she understands the heart-wrenching difficulties many face. From her work in schools and the media, she knows the arguments back to front. Michaela, who happens to be a brilliantly engaging speaker, insists that a just society can no more neglect the rights of the unborn than it can disregard those of women. ‘As a society,’ she has said, ‘we are failing to cultivate respectful attitudes to life, and failing to promote positive and responsible attitudes to motherhood, family life and sexual relationships.’ What would it mean to build a better society? Come along on Wednesday evening to hear more.
The Facebook event is here.
NB bring a Bod card if you have one – if you don’t, email firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll put you on the mailing list. See you there!