We spoke to two anti-abortion advocates to test them on their feminism

By Abby Amoakuh

Published Apr 27, 2024 at 09:00 AM

Reading time: 6 minutes

The most basic thing that I learned in my university’s gender studies class is that there is no such thing as feminism. There are, however, feminisms. There is white feminism, intersectional feminism, girl boss feminism, anti-capitalist feminism and a range of other feminist approaches centred around a different social justice philosophy.

When people hear the words “pro-life,” they usually imagine of a variation of different Republican Congressmen hell-bent on dictating to women what they can and can’t do with their bodies. So when the words pro-life and feminism appear next to each other, the majority of people are confused. They think that they are either looking at an oxymoron or a movement of eerie Stepford wives whom the patriarchy has brainwashed.

Aren’t feminists supposed to be pro-choice? Doesn’t feminism emphasise bodily autonomy, self-determination, and control? Wouldn’t a pro-life philosophy then seem contradictory to these core beliefs?

However, as abortion continues to remain at the centre of cultural divides, especially in the US, the issue has split feminists everywhere into pro-choice and pro-life fractions.

For this reason, yours truly has taken it upon herself to interview two prominent anti-abortion activists to get a better understanding of what is driving this controversial branch of feminism. But let me make one thing clear before we delve into this. SCREENSHOT, myself included, is still openly, proudly and unapologetically pro-choice. However, with abortion moving into the focus of the upcoming US presidential election and governments across Europe working to expand access to it, we must conduct a balanced debate about some of the key issues we should all be looking at regarding this topic.

What is pro-life feminism?

Pro-life feminists is focused on promoting practical solutions to the causes that drive women to abortion, arguing that broader access to the procedure mostly sidesteps gender-based oppression.

When people think of someone getting an abortion, they usually imagine a 17-year-old high schooler who forgot to take her pill or thought that the pull-out method was equally as effective as contraceptives (it’s really not). I blame abortion road trip movies for this misconception.

Instead, information by the National Abortion Federation (NAF) reveals that women between the ages of 15 and 19 account for only 19 per cent of all abortions. Usually, the typical patient already has children, is low-income, unmarried (married people are far less likely to have an abortion), in their late 20s or early 30s and has some sort of university education.

This information highlights how abortion is frequently misrepresented as a hasty decision made by irresponsible teenagers when in reality, it is a broader poverty and maternal justice issue.

Most pro-life feminists argue that it could consequently be solved with free contraceptives, inexpensive and readily available childcare, affordable housing, and better workplace integration for parents.

SCREENSHOT reached out to anti-abortion activist and founder of the anti-abortion group New Wave Feminists Destiny Herndon-De La Rosa to explore this pro-life feminist argument.

“It’s much easier for a government to legalise a $500 procedure than to provide potentially 18 years of aid for what is by definition an ‘unplanned for’ pregnancy,” Herndon-De La Rosa replied via email.

“Abortion becomes a cop-out for most governments because then they can tell pregnant people, ‘Look, you don’t have to have this baby—we’re giving you an alternative,’ but as a pro-life feminist, we would much rather see true alternatives and systemic change such as paid family leave, affordable housing, and access to quality healthcare. That’s what real equity in society looks like… not having to sacrifice our unborn children to survive.”

SCREENSHOT also reached out to Leah Jacobson, author of the book Wholistic Feminism and founder of The Guiding Star Project to ask her the same question.

“I think that’s one of the core beliefs for most pro-life feminists, that we’ve just invested in the wrong solution,” Jacobson stated during our interview.

“We’ve allowed government agencies and people that have the money, the power and the authority to make it better for women as mothers to give us abortion as an acceptable solution when it’s not. But it’s a great solution for them. It’s far less expensive to [provide these procedures] than it is to pay for good prenatal care, good birth outcomes, raising a child, and maternity leave practices. Just all the things that we as women need to be successful, it’s a lot more expensive than a quick, easy, and cheap abortion.”

A more controversial debate between pro-life and pro-choice feminists is the issue of sexual violence and domestic abuse. Pro-choice feminists argue that even complete abortion bans need to offer access to the procedure in cases of rape or to avoid being further tied to an abusive partner.

Pro-life feminists, however, debate that abortions can give abusers an ‘easy out’ because it allows them to rape and exploit women without the fear of pregnancy… I’m not particularly sold on this argument, so let’s see what our pro-life experts had to say.

New Wave Feminists boss Herndon-De La Rosa completely agreed with this reasoning, stating: “I think one of the things people don’t realise is how abortion can often be used to cover up sexual violence and other crimes. It’s a predator’s best friend in a lot of cases because it allows them to cover up the evidence for their assaults.”

Pro-life feminists further believe that the issue should shift away from pregnancy and towards rape, noting that there need to be more projects for combating sexual violence.

While these are interesting points, to us at SCREENSHOT, they still don’t sufficiently explain why a rape victim should be denied abortion access. In most countries, rape provides grounds for abortion. With court cases usually taking over two years in the UK, next to conviction rates being incredibly low, and the fear of retaliation from abusers for pressing charges, this access is usually also provided without having to file a police complaint. Instead, patients can undergo a medical examination that can determine whether rape has occurred and secure the relevant evidence.

As my conversations with these two women progressed, we started to approach the topic of a feminist utopia where all parental needs were met and abuse and sexual violence were eradicated as much as possible. Would there still be the option of abortion in cases of incest, foetal anomalies, when the mother’s life is at risk, or when a woman simply doesn’t want to have a child?

When I asked Herndon-De La Rosa this question, she replied: “I believe in prevention and a full understanding and acceptance of our fertility and which procreative acts can lead to the formation of a new human life. I also understand that there are cases in which a termination is necessary in order to save the life of the pregnant person. It’s heart-wrenching, but unfortunately sometimes unavoidable. I do not put foetal anomalies in that same category, however, because I don’t believe abortion should be used in cases of disabilities.”

Jacobson’s views of a feminist utopia were more strongly informed by her catholic and wholistic views: “I think that abortion is a violation and a destruction of something that a healthy female body is doing, a pregnancy is an incredible achievement of a female body. And, you know, the gross destruction of it as a normalised practice is really a form of misogyny in my mind that we can just take this body that’s doing something incredibly beautiful, incredibly good, and say ‘this doesn’t matter.’”

“Feminism should be the preservation and protection of life and the advancement of a culture that allows female bodies to exist, exactly how they are,” she added. As such, Jacobson also argues against the use of contraceptives.

As my interviews with these women came to a close, I found myself increasingly curious about these individual’s reception in feminist circles. One Google search reveals that pro-life feminist views have been erased from progressive discussions, with a Jezebel article from 2022 even arguing that pro-life feminism simply doesn’t exist.

“Back in 2017, we were publicly removed as sponsors from the Women’s March on Washington because of our consistent life ethic stance. We still went anyway, and to our surprise, we received a very warm welcome from many of the women there, even though they didn’t agree with us on everything. So while many feminists don’t align with all of our views, it’s been great to see that quite a few have also accepted us throughout the years because they know that abortion is a horrible thing and many will acknowledge that they view it more as a ‘necessary evil’… but one which they believe pregnant people still need because so many other parts of our society are broken,” Herndon-De La Rosa replied when I asked her about her organisation’s inclusion in mainstream feminist circles.

Jacobson encountered similar challenges: “The pushback has come from very angry feminists, women who have obviously been hurt, they’ve been wounded, they’ve been traumatised. They’ll yell things like, ‘I hope you get raped. I hope you get raped, and then you can tell me that you’re pro-life.’ And I can’t see that ever being a productive start to a conversation on these issues. It’s not productive or engaging.”

Jacobson added: “I think that when we actually do have these conversations with one another, we have a lot more common ground than pro-choice feminists would think. I have had a few very positive interactions. One with a pro-choice journalist who is a very smart and intellectual woman, and we agree on probably 95 per cent of things until it comes to the issue of abortion.”

During the past few weeks of speaking to many pro-choice and pro-life feminists, I learned that being pro-choice doesn’t necessarily mean being pro-abortion, in the same way that being pro-life doesn’t mean being anti-abortion. But if there is one thing we can all agree on it’s that abortions should be rare and not the only realistic option people are confronted with when they face an unplanned pregnancy.

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