Celebrate Life magazine May-June 1994
THE CHANGING FACES OF FEMINISM
by David Reardon, copyright 1994
Many people assume that feminism and the movement to legalize
abortion are virtually synonymous. Some equate feminism with a virulent
leftist political philosophy that advocates abortion, lesbianism,
pornography, witchcraft, and goddess worship. In fact, however, this
"neofeminism" is far removed from the ideals and goals of the 19th-century
feminists, who were strongly rooted in the Judeo- Christian concepts of
morality and justice.
For most early feminists, Christian idealism was the motivating force
behind their demands for the reform of attitudes and laws that allowed the
suppression of the weak.
Besides pleading the cause of women, they were active in the
abolition of slavery, in establishing the rights of Native Americans, in
reform homes for prostitutes, in protection of children's rights, and in
the temperance movement. The rights they demanded for women and minorities
included the right to own property; the right to participate in
government; opportunities for advanced education; equal employment
opportunities; equitable wages; and, above all, the right of all people to
be treated with respect.
These goals were, and are, very much in keeping with the Christian's
call to reform the world, and they continue to be a part of the modern
EARLY FEMINISTS AND SEXUAL REFORM
One of the chief goals of the early feminists was reform of sexual
abuses. They emphasized two basic Christian concepts: mutual fidelity and
They condemned male promiscuity, and denounced the social injustices
that induced their sisters to degrade themselves in lives of prostitution.
They demanded that husbands honor their commitments to their wives, and
that sons learn to honor the integrity of all women. Equal rights, they
believed, could be achieved only by fidelity, mutual sacrifice and
commitment. Self-control, not self-indulgence, was their solution to
Wives, they insisted, cannot be treated like prostitutes, available
on demand without regard to their feelings, desires or health. Love for
and from the husband is necessary. Feminists opposed "enforced
motherhood," a euphemism for unwanted sexual intercourse. To achieve both
practical reform and the elevation of wives' dignity, feminists demanded
"voluntary motherhood," the wife's freedom accept or refuse intercourse.
"Voluntary motherhood" was revolutionary. At that time, both
religious and civil law emphasized the "conjugal rights" of the husband.
The concept of marital rape was scarcely understood. A wife was expected
to submit to every sexual advance of her husband no matter how he might
CONDEMNATION OF BIRTH CONTROL AND ABORTION
The twin demands for marital fidelity and marital respect led
19th-century feminists to take a strict view of the means by which
procreation could be regulated.
They condemned artificial contraception as "unnatural, injurious, and
offensive" to women. They believed that contraceptives in the home would
further entrench women in the role of sexual objects for their mates.
Contraceptives would deny women their rightful fertility, turning wives
into little more than prostitutes, always "safe" for husbands to exploit
to satisfy their passions. Contraceptives would also free men from the
fear of an untimely pregnancy and so remove the one emotion to which women
could appeal when faced with unwanted sexual advances.
Widespread contraceptive use, feminists argued, would encourage
promiscuity, undermine chastity, lure their husbands and sons into illicit
sexual exploits, and expose more women to seduction, abuse and
Feminists also condemned abortion. They insisted it was immoral to
kill an unborn child. Susan B. Anthony, Victoria Woodhill, and virtually
every other noted feminist leader of the last century described abortion
as "infanticide" and "child- murder."
They also asserted that abortion was just another tool by which women
were exploited. While they did not exonerate women from the crime, leaders
such as Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Matilda Gage charged that abortion was
a "degradation of women" and that "most of the responsibility for this
crime lies at the door of the male sex," who beg, cajole and even force
women to have abortions. Alice Paul, author of the original Equal Rights
Amendment (1923), stated that "abortion is the ultimate exploitation of
women," the escape route men use to avoid responsibility for their own
sexual acts. These visionaries would not have been shocked by the results
of a 1984 study that found that 60% of women seeking abortions felt
"forced" to do so by others.
The early feminists' complaints about "enforced motherhood" and their
demands for "voluntary motherhood" did not imply a right to abort
"unwanted" children, or even a right to use contraceptives. They merely
wanted respectful, sensitive husbands who could control their desires in
accordance with their wives' desires or health needs.
THE SEDUCTION OF FEMINISM
Abortion was the antithesis of feminism's egalitarian principles
until the mid-1960's. Then population-control zealot Lawrence Lader
persuaded a reluctant Betty Friedan, founder of the National Organization
for Women, to adopt abortion as a central element of neofeminism. Lader
was a founder of NARAL (then the National Association for the Repeal of
Abortion Laws), and has repeatedly supported the State's right to force
women into unwanted abortions for population control and eugenics reasons.
According to Lader, "It was the surge and fervor of neofeminism that
paved the way for the abortion movement. Each was essential to the other."
He gave Friedan singular credit for "pushing an abortion plank" into NOW's
agenda at its 1967 convention even though "a lot of delegates resigned"
because of it.
In return for accepting a leadership role in the stalled abortion
movement, "neofeminism" gained the support of population controllers and
leaders of the sexual revolution, who in turn provided financial and
political muscle to aid the budding feminist movement.
The right of women to "control their own bodies" also provided an
essential focus for the movement's ideology. Since that time, young
feminists have been taught to see abortion rights as the overarching
symbol of bodily and social independence. Without this freedom, they are
told, women are enslaved by their biology.
THE SYMBOLIC IMPORTANCE OF "CHOICE"
Neofeminists treasure this "right to choose" above all else. Justice,
morality and health are less important. Feminists can truly see themselves
as pro-choice, not pro- abortion. A woman may choose against abortion for
moral or health reasons, but it is her choice; even if all abortions are
immoral or dangerous, she must be free to choose.
This is why so many feminists resist talking about the morality or
safety of abortion, whether the child is a person, or how abortion affects
But not all feminists defend "choice" without examining what it
really means, and those who have taken a closer look have found it to be a
betrayal of women's rights and of children, and an abandonment of their
daughters and sisters to the exploitation of irresponsible men and an
unloving society. One such feminist is Pat Goltz, who was called before a
tribunal of her state NOW chapter, tried and "excommunicated" for her
vocal pro-life views. A Return to Pro-Life Feminism With Cathy Callahan,
Pat Goltz founded Feminists for Life of America (FFLA) in 1972. FFLA has
grown steadily since then; their newsletter, "SisterLife," contains
articulate and logically consistent articles defending the rights of women
and children. These are the true heirs of 19th-century feminism,
continuing the tradition of respect for all persons. FFLA emphasizes the
destruction that abortion inflicts on a child, mother and society as a
whole. They argue that abortion rights have negated the gains of feminism
by reducing the status of women and covering up the need for authentic
help for women in problem pregnancies.
"Abortion, by encouraging society to consider a woman's child as a
disposable piece of property, reinforces the image of the woman herself as
disposable property and a reusable sex object," states an FFLA membership
flyer. If an unborn child can be treated without respect, how can
neofeminists hope to secure respect for women? Besides condemning
abortion, FFLA has denounced the spread of ineffective and dangerous
contraceptives foisted on American women. Instead, they encourage natural
family planning as superior, effective and enhancing respect and mutual
Pro-life feminists, like all truly Christian reformers, defy
categorization as "liberals" or "conservatives." They have remained a
voice for the authentic rights and dignity of women, without sinking into
amoral sexual ethics and revolutionary theologies. They have maintained a
truly feminine vision of their rights and duties as sisters, mothers, and
co-workers with God. Their slogan is "We are homemakers-and the world is
While the membership of NOW continues to decline, the membership of
FFLA continues to grow. It is a springtime sign. Theirs is the feminism of
which Susan B. Anthony and her Christian sisters would be proud.
To join Feminists for Life of America or to receive their newsletter
"SisterLife," write to: FFLA, 733 15th St., NW, Suite 1100, Washington,
David Reardon is director of the Elliot Institute for Social Sciences
Research, and author of Aborted Women-Silent No More.
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