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Abortion was legalised in the United States during the so-called “second wave” of the women’s movement of the 1960s and 1970s. Many self-proclaimed feminists argued for the right to abortion, claiming that it empowered women – that it gave them “choice” and control over their bodies and their reproduction. However, does feminism really entail support for abortion?

The term “feminism” is used to mean different things. However, if feminism is defined as a commitment to the well-being of women and to the equal fundamental dignity and rights of both sexes, it appears that there are several inconsistencies between feminism and abortion and/or the pro-choice movement.

Firstly, and most fundamentally, abortion dehumanises a class of vulnerable human beings (the unborn) by relegating them to the status of non-persons that may be killed for the convenience or benefit of others. This contravenes the basic principle of equal dignity for all human beings, which is the same principle that properly grounds the feminist effort to ensure female equality with men.

Secondly, there is overwhelming evidence that abortion can harm women both physically and psychologically. Nevertheless, those who advocate for legal abortion frequently downplay or dismiss the risks associated with it, and they typically oppose any requirements that women be adequately informed of these risks prior to an abortion

Thirdly, the assertion that abortion access is necessary for pregnant women to be equal to men – a common claim of pro-choice feminists – implies that women are inferior by nature. Janet E. Smith, a professor of moral theology, wrote in her 1978 essay, ‘Abortion as a Feminist Concern’, that:

Some argue that as long as men can engage in sex without the “danger” of becoming pregnant, women should have this “right” also, on the grounds that otherwise the sexes would not be equal. Consequently, women should be prepared to go to the extreme of terminating their pregnancies in order to achieve what is perceived to be equality with men. It appears that feminists would consider this a rather undemocratic stance. At its core, this argument implies that the functionality of a male body is superior to that of a female body. The argument can be interpreted as an admission that a woman would prefer to be male and that she is willing to engage in sexual intercourse on a male’s terms, rather than her own.

According to Smith, abortion represents a denigration of women and a denial of one of the defining features of being a woman: her ability to bear children. Philosopher Francis J. Beckwith provides further clarification:

Some popular abortion-choice rhetoric asserts that women cannot achieve social and political equality without abortion access. However, the underlying assumption of this rhetoric – that equality can only be achieved through surgical intervention (abortion) – implies that women are innately inferior to men, and that abortion is a form of corrective surgery that is necessary for women to become equal with men. This is at odds with any form of feminism that asserts that men are not inherently superior to women. It appears that this argument is rhetorically powerful in certain circles because it resonates with an unconscious sexism that assumes male sexuality is the paradigm of human sexuality. Consequently, the inequality does not lie in the nature of women, but in the disordered way in which our society places value on that nature. The solution to this inequality lies not in socialising women into the male paradigm, but in celebrating and honouring the indispensable role that mothers play in caring for the most vulnerable and defenseless members of our population, the unborn.

In her own words, Teresa Collett, a law professor at the University of St. Thomas, states: “True equality necessitates a societal acceptance of women with their fertility intact.”

Fourthly, the suggestion that abortion is a “need” for some women, given difficult economic or social conditions, implies that women are unable to succeed economically or socially without killing their own offspring. In her writings, Janet Smith poses the question:

“Why is it that we assume women are incapable of dealing with the adversity of an unwanted pregnancy by any other means than that of destroying life?” This perspective on women is arguably an unflattering one. Is this a fair representation of women? Are women so psychologically fragile that they cannot cope with the distress associated with an unwanted pregnancy? It can be argued that by allowing women to abort their unwanted pregnancies, we are effectively communicating to them that we hold them in low regard. Is it not the hallmark of a mature and responsible individual to be able to confront issues head-on? Does not the mature person have the capacity and the motivation to consider the well-being of all those involved in a situation that presents challenges, not just herself?

Indeed, the legalisation of abortion can be seen as an indication that as a society, we expect less of our women than we do of our men. It is therefore evident that, historically, society has traditionally expected men to risk their own lives in times of war. However, we are unwilling to ask women to sacrifice a few months of their lives in order to give life. It is curious that we expect men to be willing to risk their lives for the benefit of the wider community, yet we do not ask women to make the same sacrifice in order to protect the life they have created.

In the current era of unprecedented opportunities for women, when women are celebrated for their ability to provide for themselves, when numerous agencies are established to assist women in distress, why is it assumed that women who become pregnant when it is inconvenient for them are not sufficiently resourceful to find a way to nourish the life they have conceived? …

Furthermore, the acceptance of abortion may facilitate the mistreatment of women. Abortion can be (and on occasion is) employed as a means of concealing pregnancies resulting from incest and statutory rape, thereby facilitating the continuation of these criminal acts. Furthermore, the availability of abortion places an unfair burden on women to assume the responsibility for child rearing. As Richard Stith notes, contemporary men are able to engage in sexual intercourse but are unable to assume the responsibility of fatherhood. The decision to allow a child to be born is solely within the purview of the mother. The legalisation of abortion was intended to confer significant autonomy upon women, yet it has paradoxically resulted in the emancipation of men and the entrapment of women.

It can be reasonably argued that abortion is incompatible with the equal rights of every human being and with the welfare and special dignity of women.

Editor’s Note: This was initially published on the blog of Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life, the state affiliate of the National Right to Life Committee. The full article can be accessed at http://prolifemn.blogspot.com/2010/07/how-feminism-is-inconsistent-with-legal.html.


Daniel Miller is responsible for nearly all of National Right to Life News' political writing.

With the election of Donald Trump to the U.S. presidency, Daniel Miller developed a deep obsession with U.S. politics that has never let go of the political scientist. Whether it's the election of Joe Biden, the midterm elections in Congress, the abortion rights debate in the Supreme Court or the mudslinging in the primaries - Daniel Miller is happy to stay up late for you.

Daniel was born and raised in New York. After living in China, working for a news agency and another stint at a major news network, he now lives in Arizona with his two daughters.

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