Lila Rose, founder of the controversial anti-abortion group Live Action, recently penned an article on Politico entitled “Battle Hymn of the Anti-Abortion Feminist.” As board members of All Our Lives, an unapologetically feminist organization whose (interfaith, nonsectarian, secular) mission is to alleviate the societal problems responsible for so many abortions, we are outraged by Rose’s presumption that she speaks for us. Starting with that militaristic title. Whether it is Rose’s or an editor’s doing, we feel it is contradictory to cast a prolifestance in such terms, especially just days after an attempted abortion clinic bombing in Wisconsin. But the rest of the “Battle Hymn” is unquestionably Rose’s. She points out that “women are not a monolith” and notes the absence of the “anti-abortion feminist” voice from recent public discourse about health care. True enough…so why does Rose then proceed to shut out every possible voice that identifies as prolife feminist and yet does not conform to her troubling take on what prolife feminism is?
She bashes “liberal” women’s purported “eager embrace” of “the role of victim, advancing the idea that women are casualties of a ‘war on women.’” She situates herself within a group of women who “reject” what she mischaracterizes as “both the anti-male feminism of the 1960s and the ‘girls gone wild’ mentality that’s pervasive today.”
Women like Rose do not simply disagree with prochoice feminists over abortion, a complex matter on which thoughtful and compassionate people can and do differ. Rather, they find “the idea of artificial birth control as ‘preventive care’…deeply insulting.” They abhor contraception as an enemy of “authentic womanhood” and “true emancipation,” blaming it for ever more abortions, broken relationships, and objectification and exploitation of the female sex. They keep “shaking their heads” at Sandra Fluke’s alleged intrusion upon the “religious liberty” of Catholic universities, even as they let off Rush Limbaugh’s “said in jest” fulminations against her with a slap on the wrist.
But to hear Rose’s “Battle Hymn,” you would never know about the long, deep, still-living herstory—going back to the suffragists—of feminists who oppose abortion both as prenatal lifetaking and as the result of injustices against women, such as the denial of sex education and voluntary family planning rights, the incidence of gender-based violence, and the stigma slapped upon single mothers. One of us (Mary Krane Derr) helped to document this often neglected, still unfolding herstory in the print anthology ProLife Feminism Yesterday and Today, Second Expanded Edition, as well as in the recent Fem2pt0 blog post “Susan B. Anthony Was Slutshamed, Too!”
Our vision of prolife feminism has no quarrel with anyone’s right to choose abstinence or natural family planning/fertility awareness for themselves. But Rose’s notion of prolife feminism has no room for something at the very core of ours: women’s right to universal, informed, voluntary access to all available family planning methods and the actual social power to carry out their preferences. Not only is this a right of inestimable value for its own sake; it is indispensable to preventing and reducing unintended pregnancies and abortions in every nation on Earth.
Lila Rose’s ideal, contraceptive-free world would not be a paradise of gender equality. It would be a place where women’s sovereignty over their own bodies was even more fragile and imperiled than it is now. It would have escalating rates of maternal, prenatal, and postnatal child mortality, including the mortality of fetuses and women from induced abortion. Is it any wonder, then, that we assert a very different vision of prolife feminism—and object vigorously to Rose’s complete overlooking of our existence?