Serrin Foster of Feminists for Life Views the Abortion
WASHINGTON, D.C., 5 MAY 2003 (ZENIT).
The U.S. Senate's vote in March for a ban on partial-birth abortion
may signal a growing pro-life trend in the country.
Recently, Serrin Foster, president of Feminists for Life of America,
shared her thoughts with ZENIT on pro-life feminism and on trends in the
abortion controversy. Her lecture, "The Feminist Case Against
Abortion," was included in a 2001 book entitled, "Women's
Q: Your name, Feminists for Life, strikes some as contradictory. What do
you see as the connection between feminism and being pro-life?
Foster: We are often asked: "How dare you call yourself a
feminist?" We proudly continue a legacy of pro-life feminism born
more than 200 years ago when Mary Wollstonecraft wrote "A
Vindication of the Rights of Woman." After decrying the sexual
exploitation of women, Wollstonecraft condemned those who would
"either destroy the embryo in the womb, or cast it off when
born." Shortly thereafter, abortion became illegal in Great
The now-revered feminists of the 19th century were also strongly opposed
to abortion because of their belief in the worth of all humans. Like
many women in developing countries today, the early American feminists
The early feminists understood that, much like today, women resorted to
abortion because they were abandoned or pressured by boyfriends,
husbands and parents, and lacked financial resources to have the baby on
their own. They knew that women had virtually no rights within the
family or the political sphere. But they did not believe abortion was
Abortion was commonplace in the 1800s. Sarah Norton, the first woman to
successfully argue admission to Cornell University in New York state,
wrote, "Child murderers practice their profession without let or
hindrance, and open infant butcheries unquestioned. Perhaps there will
come a time when an unmarried woman will not be despised because of her
motherhood, and when the right of the unborn to be born will not be
denied or interfered with."
Without known exception, the early American feminists condemned abortion
in the strongest possible terms. In Susan B. Anthony's newspaper, The
Revolution, abortion was described as "child murder,"
"infanticide" and "foeticide."
Elizabeth Cady Stanton, who in 1848 organized the first women's rights
convention in Seneca Falls, New York, classified abortion as a form of
infanticide and said, "When we consider that women are treated as
property, it is degrading to women that we should treat our children as
property to be disposed of as we see fit." Stanton would raise a
flag in front of her home announcing the birth of her children. Women
should celebrate their life-giving capacity.
Anti-abortion laws enacted in America during the latter half of the 19th
century were the result of advocacy efforts by feminists who worked in
an uneasy alliance with the male-dominated medical profession and the
mainstream media. Ironically, the anti-abortion laws that early
feminists worked so hard to enact to protect women and children were the
very ones destroyed by the Roe v. Wade decision 100 years later.
Q: How has feminism, in the wide sense of the word, changed over the
Foster: The goals of the 1970s women's movement, led by the National
Organization for Women [NOW], with respect to abortion, would have
outraged the early feminists.
What Elizabeth Cady Stanton had called a "disgusting and degrading
crime" has been heralded by Eleanor Smeal, former president of NOW
and current president of the Fund for a Feminist Majority, as a
"most fundamental right." NOW hailed the legalization of
abortion as the "emancipation of women."
Betty Friedan, credited with reawakening feminism in the 1960s with her
landmark book, "The Feminine Mystique," did not even mention
abortion in the book's early edition. It was not until 1966 that NOW
included abortion in its list of goals. Even then abortion was a low
It was a man, abortion proponent Larry Lader, who credits himself with
guiding a reluctant Friedan, the first president of NOW, to make
abortion a serious issue for the organization. Lader had been working to
repeal the abortion laws based on population-growth concerns, but state
legislators were horrified by his ideas. Immigration and improved
longevity were fueling America's population growth—not reproduction,
which in fact had declined dramatically.
Lader teamed up with a gynecologist, Bernard Nathanson, to co-found the
National Alliance to Repeal Abortion Laws, the forerunner of today's
National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League [NARAL]. Lader
suggested to the NOW leadership that all feminist demands—equal
education, jobs, pay, etc.—hinged on a woman's ability to control both
her own body and procreation.
After all, Lader argued, employers did not want to pay for maternity
benefits or lose productivity when a mother took time off to care for a
newborn or sick child. Lader successfully convinced the NOW leadership
that legalized abortion was the key to equality in the workplace.
Dr. Nathanson, who later became a pro-life activist, states in his 1979
book, "Aborting America," that the two were able to convince
Friedan that abortion was a civil rights issue, and claimed that tens of
thousands of women died each year from abortion. Nathanson later
admitted that in order to gain Friedan's support, they had simply made
up the numbers—a major point in their argument.
Lader's and Nathanson's strategy was highly effective. NOW has made the
preservation of legal abortion its No. 1 priority. Its literature
repeatedly states that access to abortion is "the most fundamental
right of women, without which all other rights are meaningless."
With this drastic change, a highly visible faction of the women's
movement abandoned the vision of the early feminists: a world where
women would be accepted and respected as women.
Q: Where do you fit in with the bulk of feminists today?
Foster: While we agree on many things—fighting sexual assault,
domestic violence, and workplace discrimination, etc.—we are at odds
with those who believe that abortion is a "right" or
"necessary evil" to achieve equality in the workplace.
The basic tenets of feminism are nonviolence, nondiscrimination and
justice for all. Abortion violates all three. Abortion is discrimination
based on age, size, location, and sometimes gender, disability or
parentage. As pro-life feminists, our values are woman-centered and
inclusive of both parents and child.
Abortion has hurt women in that it has diverted feminist attention from
other issues, particularly those that help mothers, such as affordable
child care, comprehensive health care and a living wage.
Abortion is a reflection that we have not met the needs of women. Women
deserve better than abortion.
We support nonviolent choices, practical resources and support for
pregnant and parenting women.
Abortion advocates pit women against our own children. Babies are not
obstacles to success! We should refuse to choose between giving up our
education and career plans and sacrificing our children. Feminists for
Life is committed to finding holistic solutions that address the root
causes that contribute to abortion. FFL believes that women have a right
to be women in the workplace and school. Women shouldn't have to pass as
As FFL's honorary chair, two-time Emmy winner and New York Times
best-selling author Patricia Heaton has said, "Women facing an
unplanned pregnancy also deserve unplanned joy." ZE03050523
WOMEN DESERVE BETTER: CHANGING THE ABORTION DEBATE
Serrin Foster of Feminists for Life on a Key
WASHINGTON, D.C., 6 MAY 2003 (ZENIT).
Putting an end to abortion will require redirecting the debate, says
a pro-life feminist. Serrin Foster, president of Feminists for
Life of America, shared her thoughts with ZENIT on pro-life feminism and
on trends in the abortion controversy....
Q: A recent New York Times story reported that young people are more
pro-life than their parents. What have you found in your experience of
dealing with young people?
Foster: It is certainly evident with teens. Even as early as 1996 a
Gallup poll reported, "Women with a high school education are more
pro-life, 47%, than pro-choice, 37%."
But they also found that the college experience for women is "a
major—even revolutionary—influence" when it comes to their
views on abortion: "Women who have attended college but not
completed a four-year program are more pro-choice, 59%—an increase in
the pro-choice group of 22 points. The margin of pro-choice over
pro-life responses is even greater among women who have completed a
four-year college program—73% to 24%."
As I began lecturing about our rich, pro-life feminist history I began
to ask, "Do you know anyone on campus who has become
pregnant?" Audience members nod. Then I would ask, "Have you
ever seen a visibly pregnant student on campus?" The nodding
According to Planned Parenthood's research arm, the Alan Guttmacher
Institute, 10% of all college-age women become pregnant each year. Where
have all the pregnant women gone? Most often, women in college have
abortions. In fact one in five abortions are performed on a woman in
Why? Too often women cannot find the practical or emotional support they
need to be both parents and students. Abortion doctors know this and
they set up clinics on the outskirts of campus.
As one former FFL board member said when she became pregnant while in
grad school, "They say I have a free choice. But without housing on
campus for me and my baby, without on-site daycare, without maternity
coverage in my health insurance, it sure doesn't feel like I have much
of a choice."
Feminists for Life is leading forums on college campuses that challenge
university officials to provide housing, on-site child care, and
maternity coverage within student health care plans, and to inform women
about their hard-won right to child support. We have developed
comprehensive Pregnancy Resources Kits to give women resources to
support nonviolent choices.
A generation of young people live with the knowledge that many will
never know their own siblings and ask "why not?" In
ever-increasing numbers, those who oppose making abortion illegal are
beginning to work with Feminists for Life on solutions that challenge
the status quo. Momentum is growing. Minds are changing.
Q: What are the most effective arguments for winning over young people
to a pro-life viewpoint?
Foster: For three decades those of us in America have been arguing at
cross-purposes: "What about the baby? What about the woman?"
We must redirect the abortion debate by demanding better for women. We
should be asking the all-important questions, "What do women want?
What do women need?"
At a 2002 "Women Deserve Better" briefing on Capitol Hill,
Feminists for Life's honorary co-chair, actor Margaret Colin, asked
members of Congress to "remember the woman" and ask
themselves, "Is this the best we can do?"
Rather than falling into the baby-vs.-the-woman debate, we challenge the
abortion rhetoric with women-centered solutions. Women who are pregnant
and abandoned or poor deserve unconditional love, even from perfect
I recently presented my lecture—which encompasses feminist history and
today's lack of support for pregnant women and parents—to medical
students at the University of Pittsburgh. Afterward, a student told me
"at lunch today, I swore that I would be an abortion provider as a
doctor, because I saw it as a right and a necessity. I have held my
position and been involved in political protests for 15 years. In the
time you spoke, I rethought my position completely."
Q: Is the United States ready to abandon the precedent set by the Roe v.
Wade abortion decision of the Supreme Court?
Foster: Until women believe that they deserve better, legalized abortion
will continue. But the tide is turning.
Approximately 25 million American women know the truth about abortion
firsthand, and many are not willing to pass on this terrible legacy to
the next generation. They are beginning to speak out in ever-greater
numbers about the devastating damage—both physical and emotional—as
a result of abortion.
Our goal is bigger than making abortion illegal.
It will not be good enough for us to have laws without resources and
support for women. Abortion providers will simply move the front office
to the back alley. We need to focus on making abortion unthinkable.
Women deserve better, and every child deserves a chance at life.