Can you be a feminist and anti-abortion?

March 8, 2017

A New York Times op-ed article accused the Women's March of not being "inclusive" of abortion opponents. Lauren Bianchi and Hannah Utain-Evans answer this charge.

A RECENT New York Times op-ed article, titled "How the new feminist resistance leaves out American women," accuses the January 21 Women's March on Washington--and the newly emerging women's movement in general--of discriminating against pro-life women.

According to the article, the opposition to Donald Trump should offer women "something better than abortion."

The author of the article, Lauren Enriquez, is the public relations manager at the anti-abortion group Human Coalition--which, by the way, calls abortion the "worst Holocaust in human history" and aims to make it "unavailable in our lifetime." Enriquez goes on to claim that the anti-abortion movement actually empowers women, and that access to abortion is not necessary to achieve gender equality.

Accusing Women's March organizers of promoting "a caricature of Mr. Trump as a misogynist hell-bent on sending women back to 1950s America," Enriquez goes on to say that a "radical position on abortion rights" is the "fatal chink in the armor of the new feminist resistance movement" because it "rejects the position that most American women take on abortion--that it should be completely illegal, or legal but with significant restrictions."

Abortion rights activists in San Francisco protest the protect the right to choose
Abortion rights activists in San Francisco protest the protect the right to choose (Steve Rhodes | flickr)

These statements are disingenuous at best--and lies at worst.

Contrary to what Enriquez claims, a recent Pew Research Center poll found that a majority of the public--57 percent--continues to support legal abortion. A 2015 Vox/Perry Undem poll showed overwhelming majorities believe that when a woman decides to have an abortion, her decision should be informed by medically accurate information (94 percent) and the procedure should be safe (93 percent), without pressure (73 percent), affordable and available in her community (72 percent), and without shame (68 percent).

This pro-choice majority is very different from the attitudes of the right, which stands outside of clinics to shame and intimidate women seeking abortions, attempts to defund providers and peddles medically inaccurate information to scare women out of having abortions.

Enriquez's op-ed is yet another attempt by an anti-choicer to cloak a sexist message with a pro-woman veneer. Pro-life organizations claim to offer help and support to mothers and their families, yet refuse to recognize the devastation caused by taking away safe access to abortions--including the thousands who have died in the U.S., and continue to die around the globe, seeking out illegal abortions.

The majority of abortion patients in the U.S. today are already mothers who need the option to limit their family size. But all women are fully capable of knowing whether or not they should carry a pregnancy to term. The notion that anyone who opposes abortion can genuinely stand with women is either utterly misled or intentionally deceitful.

IT NEEDS to be made clear that the two sides of the abortion debate have no common ground. Attempts to downplay this reality are exactly what has allowed right-wing legislators to chip away at women's health care, and anti-women bigots to harass and attack abortion providers nearly unimpeded.

Women are finally beginning to fight back, as the recent protests against Trump and in defense of Planned Parenthood show. But without a doubt, the anti-choice movement won't let up without a tooth-and-nail struggle to fight for abortion rights.

Women absolutely need the right to abortion services if we are to achieve equality in any level.

The objectification of women's bodies as reproductive machines lies at the core of our subjugated status in society. The fact that women can become pregnant is used as an excuse to pay them less across the board, to keep us responsible for the domestic duties of caring for a family, to deny the expression of our identities and sexualities, and to blame us for not fulfilling the impossible expectations of motherhood.

Women have every reason to reject Trump's racist and sexist bigotry and his promises to crack down on access to legal abortion--remember that on the campaign trail, he floated the idea of criminal penalties for women who have abortions.

The so-called "pro-life" movement in this country has directly linked itself with Trump's presidency and everything he stands for--so, of course, the antis can't be welcomed in the resistance to Trump!

The right's "Defund Planned Parenthood" actions on February 11 were an attempt to rally a right-wing backlash against the impact of the Women's March. With "Trump for President" signs and "Make America Great Again" hats present at the Planned Parenthood protests, the anti-choice movement showed its loyalties as another arm of the right wing, whose long history of sexism speaks for itself.

No one should be fooled by the right's twisting of language that comes from the "left"--about "safe spaces," "inclusivity," "intersectionality," "free speech," "religious freedom" and so on.

It's already common for anti-choicers to repurpose anti-racist slogans, wielding signs reading "Babies' lives matter" as they harass patients entering reproductive health clinics. When they call for the "inclusion of pro-life feminism" in our movements, we should focus on their actions, which speak louder than their words.

The right to not choose an abortion is legal and protected by health care providers. Despite what Enriquez and others would have us believe, if a woman is against abortion, she has every opportunity to not have one.

There is, however, a long and sickening history of compulsory sterilization, targeting poor, incarcerated, Black, Latina, immigrant and Indigenous women. Yet the anti-choice right has been silent on this issue.

If the right-wingers mobilized in reaction to forced sterilization or showed any signs of wanting to improve conditions for the majority of women, their claims that they care about life wouldn't ring so hollow.

But it's difficult to take rhetoric about protecting women and children seriously when the strategies they use to attack abortion rights include bullying, stalking and guilt-tripping people seeking services from clinics.

And many anti-choice groups and activists go further, tacitly or explicitly endorsing intimidation and violence against abortion providers. From the mass shooting at a Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood clinic in 2015 to the 2009 murder of late-term abortion provider Dr. George Tiller, it's clear that the antis are no defenders of humanity.

IN THE frightening climate under Trump, abortion rights have already suffered several blows, and more are on the way, worsening the steady chipping away of abortion rights and forcing many women back to the same kinds of conditions they faced prior to 1973, when abortion became legal in the U.S.

The fight for the right to abortion access was at the forefront of the women's movement of the 1960s and '70s--alongside other demands for free child care, equal pay and freedom from sexual violence.

The hard-won victory of the 1973 Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion has been under constant attack ever since. Every January, anti-choice forces mark the anniversary of the Roe decision with a "March for Life" in Washington, D.C. This year, vice president Mike Pence became the highest-ranking elected official to speak at the event--a signal that further bolstered the confidence of the anti-choice right.

Many people are ready to fight against the right-wing tide, as was demonstrated on February 11 when dozens, hundreds and even thousands of pro-choice protesters came out to defend clinics around the country against the anti-choice bigots--despite Planned Parenthood officials' attempts to dissuade the pro-choice counterprotests.

By identifying and placing "pro-life" politics where they belong--with the rest of the right wing--we can to a strategy for fighting attacks on abortion rights. It is the same as when we build other struggles against an emboldened right elsewhere in our communities, on our campuses, and in the White House.

Trump's initial executive orders have been a cascade of attacks against every possible marginalized group. It was precisely the recognition of Trump's bigoted and divisive nature that brought millions out across the U.S. for the Women's Marches, demonstrating that he lacks the "mandate" he claims.

This burgeoning women's movement has revealed a propensity for inclusivity and solidarity as participants in the resistance recognize a common enemy in Trump.

Thousands of people who found the courage to take the streets for the first time at their local women's march have joined other efforts to fight back. Protesters wearing the iconic pink pussy hats have been found at every action since January 21--from the airport protests against Trump's anti-immigrant ban on immigrants and refugees from Muslim countries, to community meetings and emergency protests against raids targeting undocumented immigrants, to rallies in support of transgender liberation.

The mass resistance that cohered around the Women's Marches in response to Trump's inauguration is an incredible step forward for rebuilding a women's rights movement in the U.S.--an area of organizing that has seen few wide-scale mobilizations in recent decades.

We should talk about the importance of making the struggle for reproductive rights as large as possible--but we don't need to be "inclusive" of anti-choice forces who oppose those essential rights.

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