Citizens' Voice is a platform for people-driven news and opinion. Be the opinion leader. Write and submit an 800-word op-ed with a one sentence bio and head shot.
Journalist Naomi Wolf offers some useful guidelines for writing an op-ed - Read More
by Mary Krane Derr
If pro-life women and men really want to lower the abortion rate – why are they so anti-contraception? This contradiction really needs to be addressed.
In a recent Guardian column, Naomi Wolf accurately summarizes one feminist pro-life position, attributing some grassroots opposition to abortion rights to “a genuinely feminist perspective on social conditions that treat women as disposable sexual objects, and women's fertility as without value, or as an inconvenience to a consumer sexual culture…[T]hese give desperate pregnant women no options at all except termination.”
Wolf names Feminists for Life (FFL) as a group she “respect[s] a great deal…for creating a seamless pro-life feminist analysis of this kind.”
Feminists For Life has done a lot of good in the feminist pro-life world. It works hard to develop parenting and adoption resources on US college campuses, for instance, which often lack any such supports for college women who find themselves with unplanned pregnancies.
Yet many pro-life feminists – including Feminists for Life -- persistently undercut their own stated mission of ensuring that have “better choices,” as they often put it, than the abortion ‘choice.”
What is the problem? Feminists For Life refuses to advocate for freedom of conscience and choice in pregnancy *prevention.* In other words, they don’t support contraception access policies.
There is a vitriolic assault upon voluntary family planning within the US today, among other countries; but FFL maintains a studied silence. When challenged, the organization’s line is: “Preconception issues are outside [our] mission.”
But why? If you are a pro-life feminist, and want to fight from a feminist perspective against the need for abortions, shouldn’t you walk your talk by supporting contraception access?
In the US, FFL’s home country, studies consistently show that overwhelming majorities of just about any demographic group, including Roman Catholics, approve of and use contraception. Indeed, according to the National Family Planning and Reproductive Health Association, roughly 80 percent of self-identified prolifers advocate for it. Contraception access has a broad constituency among committed pro-lifers – something that pro choice advocates rarely know.
That percentage is likely even higher among prolifers who gravitate to feminism – another group that is not well known by pro choice activists, but which is a populous and committed movement.
FFL is the heavy hitter in the pro-life feminist ‘space.” It should show a model of how to go forward in terms of pro life contraceptiuon advocacy. But FFL’s policy – of not dealing with contraception -- confounds and distresses many people otherwise drawn to its mission.
After all, access to the full range of voluntary family planning methods is one of the most obvious, powerful means humankind has to prevent crisis pregnancies and to prevent abortions—and to save women’s and already-born children’s lives as well.
There is a new prolife feminist group in town: All Our Lives. Our group stands up unapologetically for family planning freedom and against abortion, and we do so from a proudly feminist point of view.
In fact, our own board includes three once very engaged FFL members--myself included--who left that organization and never returned largely because of its persistent failure to defend family planning rights. It is now well known that early feminists were often anti-abortion; they saw abortion as the result of exploitation of women, and as a sign of women being unvalued and unsupported socially. Early feminists argued that when women had no access to voluntary family planning, this became the main reason that women felt they had no choice but abortion.
All Our Lives certainly believes in assisting women after they experience unintended or crisis conceptions and helping them avoid abortion. But this is not enough. Women must also have the right and the actual social power to choose the prevention method(s) that best fit their own bodies, circumstances, and values. This is the single most effective way to reduce the abortion rate.
This right clearly includes abstinence, but it also should include access to natural family planning, non-intercourse sexual practices, sterilization, barrier contraceptives like diaphragms or condoms (male or female), and the pill and the emergency contraceptive Plan B.
Yes, All Our Lives even supports women’s access to hormonal contraceptives -- which so many pro-lifers categorically reject as being “abortifacients.”
We soften hare data with our members of some rather amazing evidence for the life-affirming power of modern, voluntary birth control. Every year, birth control prevents 112.3 million induced abortions, 21.94 million miscarriages, 1.17 million newborn deaths, and 230,000 maternal deaths worldwide.
Yet 215 million women want, but lack. family planning access, mostly but not entirely in the developing world.
Giving this population of women access to contraception could prevent 90 percent of maternal deaths globally from induced abortion, along with preventing the accompanying fetal deaths.
Even in the US, the rates of unintended pregnancy, abortion, and maternal and infant mortality are highest in populations with the most severely compromised access to voluntary family planning, such as African Americans.
Because of these numbers—and the personal and community stories behind each and every data point—All Our Lives calls for a new mission that unites what keeps pro life and pro choice at loggerheads. We insist that pro-life feminists cannot be neutral on family planning. To be consistent, they must support it.
Indeed we must go further: we must vigorously promote family planning freedom if we are to genuinely ease all the root causes of abortion.
We believe that feminist alternatives to abortion are nonviolent alternatives and that women deserve a real choice – including the choice not to abortion without suffering from many kinds of social penalties. We must create for a full range of nonviolent alternatives to abortion. Wide access to contraception is key.
If you agree – if you want to be pro-life with the feminism and without the contradiction -- please join your voice to ours.
:: photo courtesy of Jenny Lee Silver via Creative Commons license ::
Mary Krane Derr is a cofounder and board member of All Our Lives, a nonprofit that advocates for the interconnected human rights of life and nonviolent sexual and reproductive choice.