Seven feminists in history who were pro-life activists
In today's world, women who call themselves feminists usually fight for the depenalisation of abortion. This stance often erroneously identifies the term feminism with campaigns run by anti-life activists. To clarify matters, it could be beneficial to talk about people who fought for the civil and political rights of women but who also took a stand in defence of human life and opposed abortion.
Live Action News compiled the following list of seven pro-life feminists from the nineteenth century:
Elizabeth Cady Stanton
Elizabeth Cady Stanton fought for women’s rights for decades. She fought for the abolition of slavery, together with her husband, a prominent abolitionist. The success of this abolitionist movement did not get the rights for women that she expected. It was from her dissatisfaction, and that of other feminists of the time, that the Seneca Falls Convention originated, widely known as the start of organised feminism in the United States. Stanton was a travelling lecturer, a leader of the National Woman Suffrage Association and an editor of The Revolution.
As a devoted mother of seven children, she strongly condemned infanticide, a matter demonstrated by the following extract from her article entitled ‘Child Murder.’
“There must be a remedy for such a pressing evil as this. But where shall it be found, or at least started, if not in the complete emancipation and advancement of women?”
Sarah F. Norton
Sarah Norton is best known for her campaigns aimed at gaining admittance for women to Cornell University.
What follows is an excerpt from an article, in which she referred to a case where a woman died after her partner gave her poison to abort their child:
“Here we find that a husband has been procuring poison for his wife and prospective offspring! Not with any wish to kill the wife perhaps, but as the chances are five to one against every woman who attempts abortion, he could not fail to realise the danger. Had this scheme been successful in destroying only the life aimed at, what could have been the man’s crime – and what should be his punishment if, as an accessory to one murder he commits two?”
“Tragedy – Social and Domestic” by Sarah F Norton Woodhull and Claflin’s Weekly, November 19, 1870
Victoria Woodhull was the first woman to declare her candidacy for the presidency in 1870 as a way of raising awareness for women’s suffrage. She made a speech in front of the U.S. Congress advocating suffrage and was one of the first female stockbrokers on Wall Street. She and her sister started their own feminist newspaper wherein appeared an article entitled “The Slaughter of Innocents” jointly written by both sisters. A quote from the piece states:
“… wives deliberately permit themselves to become pregnant and then, to stop becoming mothers, deliberately murder the children while yet in their wombs. Can there be a more demoralised condition than this? …We are aware that many women attempt to excuse themselves for procuring abortions, upon the ground that it is not murder. But to resort to such a weak argument only shows more palpably that they fully understand the enormity of the crime.”
Maddie H. Brinckerhoff
She also fought for women’s right to suffrage. However, while being a supporter of “voluntary motherhood,” she did not support abortion at all. It would rather mean that women should have the right to decide if they want or not to become mothers and to abstain from sexual intercourse in marriage, and it is the duty of men to respect women’s right to refuse their advances.
Like the other feminists on the list, she also stood out against abortion.
She wrote in The Revolution:
“When a man steals to satisfy hunger, we may safely conclude that there is something wrong in society – so when a woman destroys the life of her unborn child, it is an evidence that either by education or circumstances she has been greatly wronged.”
Dr Elizabeth Blackwell
She was the first woman to earn a medical degree. She wrote the following about human conception:
“Look at the first faint gleam of life, the life of the embryo, the commencement of human existence. We see a tiny cell, so small it may be easily overlooked. It is a living cell; it encompasses robust progressive growth, according to certain laws, that lead to a definite being, that we can only regard with respectful admiration.
Leave it in its natural home, tended by the rich life of the healthy maternal organism, and it will grow steadily into a human being.”
Dr Charlotte Lozier
Dr Lozier was another one of the first women doctors in America. She was active in the fight for equal rights, and The Revolution published an article about what happened when she was approached and asked to perform an illegal abortion. The tone of the article also shows the way that Susan B. Anthony and the other editors of The Revolution regarded abortion:
“Dr Charlotte Lozier of 323 W. 34th St., of this city [New York], was applied to last week by a man pretending to be from South Carolina, by the name, Moran, as he also pretended, to procure an abortion on a very pretty young girl apparently about 18 years old. The doctor assured him that he had come to the wrong place for any such a shameful, revolting, unnatural and unlawful purpose. She offered the young woman any assistance that was in her power to render, at the proper time, and cautioned and counselled her against the fearful act which she and her attendant (whom she called her cousin) proposed.”
Susan B. Anthony
Anthony is credited by some scholars with writing one of the most powerful anti-abortion articles ever to appear in The Revolution.
The article, entitled “Child Murder” contained the following passage:
“Guilty? Yes no matter what the motive. Love of ease, or a desire to save from suffering the unborn innocent, the woman is guilty who commits the deed. It will burden her conscience in life, it will burden her soul in death; but oh! Thrice guilty is he who, for selfish gratification, heedless of her prayers, indifferent to her fate, drove her to the desperation which impels her to the crime.”
(The Revolution, 4(1) 4th July 1869)
These revolutionary intellectual women, who fought for the recognition of women’s equality with men all agreed on the question that life must be protected from the moment of conception and that abortion cannot be allowed under any circumstances.