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Debate Room Can you be pro-life and a feminist?

Is it possible to oppose abortion rights and still call yourself a feminist?

It’s a deep, challenging question about how, or even whether, the fight for women’s equality can accommodate women who oppose what many see as a key foundation of equality: a woman’s right to control her fertility and to seek a legal abortion.

Is it possible to be pro-life and a feminist? Does feminism have room for women with diverse beliefs, including an ethical problem with abortion? We asked a commentator from both sides of the debate to tell us what they think.

YES. I’m pro-equality for everyone. Real feminism is about equal rights for all. We can’t just pick and choose the “equality” that suits us.

Abortion doesn’t empower women, and real equality is not built on pushing women towards an industry that kills babies for profit.

The diversity of the pro-life movement includes the “bad-ass, pro-life” feminists of NWA, black leaders, and gays and lesbians whose personal experiences often lead them to also seek equality for preborn children, whose humanity has long been confirmed through continuing advances in science.

It’s about money, not women’s health

The abortion industry is a powerful patriarchal institution with huge amounts of money at their disposal, mostly unwillingly extracted from taxpayers.

In the UK, abortion providers BPAS and Marie Stopes get at least £75 million per year from the public purse, and are virtually untouchable, despite the inspections showing that they endangered women, and have carried out an abortion on a woman with learning disabilities who did not understand the procedure.

Abortion promoters earn huge salaries, with the Director of Planned Parenthood, Cecile Richards, pulling in almost $1 million per year. Abby Johnson, a former US abortion clinic worker, has written that her clinic was expected to increase the number of abortions performed and maximise revenue from abortion.

Abortion hurts women

Women do regret their abortions and there is little opportunity to openly discuss this, as this is hidden away as an inconvenient truth that doesn’t suit, now that “shouting your abortion” has become a catchphrase.

Evidence is easily available that shows women express regret through support networks, and research shows that women who undergo abortions have rates of mental health problems that are about 30% higher.

True feminism means acknowledging all women’s experiences, not just the ones that conveniently suit us.

Femicide – aborting babies because they are girls

Mara Hvistendahl’s “Unnatural Selection: Choosing Boys Over Girls, and the Consequences of a World Full of Men” documents the world’s missing women through prenatal scans and readily available abortion. The Gendercide Awareness Project states that 126 million women are missing due to femicide.

It’s estimated that every year, 2 million baby girls die in sex-selective abortion and infanticide. That’s 4 girls per minute. The head of Britain’s biggest abortion provider, Ann Furedi, says aborting babies because they are girls is part of a woman’s right to choose.

We can do better than abortion, for women and for their babies. That’s why every feminist should be pro-life.

Maria Horan has a MA in Women’s Studies and is a pro-life feminist.  

8773 Abortions Bill_90503413 Pictured (L to R) Annie Hoey (President USI), Kitty O' Kane (Derry Alliance for Choice), Ailbhe Smyth (Coalition to Repeal 8th Amendment) Brid Smith TD, Emma Hendrick( Pro Choice Campaigner) Rita Harrold (ROSA) outside Buswell’s Hotel in Dublin, February 21 2017. Leah Farrell Leah Farrell

NO. You can’t be a “pro-life feminist”. A key tenet of feminism is the right to bodily autonomy; having control over what happens to your own body.

In Ireland you cannot be forced to give blood or donate an organ (even if you are dead). Yet, if you are a woman or pregnant person, you can be forced to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term, forced to undergo invasive surgery, and even be artificially kept alive so your body can be used as an incubator.

By advocating for legal restrictions on abortion the “pro-life” movement supports this, and there’s simply no denying that.

Life equal to an egg?

Once you decide that the life of a grown woman is equal to that of a fertilised egg, that her choices, wishes and needs are to be disregarded in favour of a zygote, how can you still claim to be a champion of equality? You can’t.

Of course you can be a feminist and be personally opposed to abortion, however once you stand in the way of someone else’s choice, once you campaign for her choice to be legally restricted, you lose the right to call yourself a feminist.

In fact, unless you actively support free, safe and legal abortion access, starting with the removal of the Eighth Amendment, then you cannot in good faith call yourself a feminist.

Any restrictions on abortion mean that women have choices taken away from them, and are forced to do things with their body against their will.

Controlling women

Abortion laws in Ireland have never been about anything less than controlling women. Magdalene Laundries and their mass graves are proof of that.

The Eighth Amendment was passed in a climate of stigma and shame around women’s sexuality and agency. We still see this today: opinion polls show support for abortion in cases of rape is much higher than when a woman has an unplanned pregnancy that occurred through consensual sex. Why is abortion more acceptable when women have suffered?

The answer is simple: ingrained societal prejudice against women. “Pro-life feminists” need to examine what is driving their beliefs: my money’s on internalised misogyny.

Caoimhe Doyle has been a member of the Abortion Rights Campaign since their founding in 2013 and is one of the current co-conveners. 

What do you think? Let us know in the comment section below.

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Caitriona O'Neill and William Gallagher
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