Forty-three years ago this week, the Supreme Court struck down the laws of 50 states and made abortion-on-demand the law of the land. Over half a million people are expected to protest that decision Friday on the national mall, in what has become the largest annual protest in America. One thing you can bet on: There will be a lot of women in the crowd.
The pro-life movement has always been driven by women. And so it is appropriate that the theme of this year’s March for Life is this: Pro-life and pro-woman go hand-in-hand.
And yet despite all the talk of “the right side of history” and other such popular but empty phrases, abortion remains unpopular and deeply divisive, including among women. Alveda King, the niece of the man who taught us that the “arc of the moral universe is long but it bends towards justice,” is one of the most prominent female faces of the anti-abortion movement. So is Norma McCorvey, also known as “Jane Roe,” of Roe v. Wade. The very plaintiff of the Supreme Court’s landmark ruling never went through with her abortion; rather she has since dedicated her life to opposing it.
More recent additions to the slate of women fighting the government on abortion include Barbara Green of Hobby Lobby, who led her family’s fight against the Department of Health and Human Services mandate that would have required her to provide employees with abortion drugs, the Little Sisters of the Poor, nuns are fighting the government on the same issue for the non-profit sector, and now Margo Thelen and Rhonda Mesler, two pharmacists who are fighting a law in Washington state written by Planned Parenthood that would require them to fill prescriptions for abortion drugs, or else.
The leadership of these women and others like them have made it harder to maintain the narrative that to be a modern feminist, one must be pro-choice. The most recent election cycle only further weakened that talking point. Senators with a pro-choice voting record and a pro-choice campaign platform were tossed for ardent opponents of abortion, among them women like Kay HaganKay HaganPhoto finish predicted for Trump, Clinton in North Carolina Are Senate Republicans facing an election wipeout? Clinton's lead in NC elevates Senate race MORE, who received millions in campaign donations from pro-choice groups. That same cycle saw the election of Elise Stefanik, the youngest woman ever sent to Congress and a committed pro-lifer.
Today’s pro-life female leaders follow in the footsteps of great pro-life freedom fighters that went before us. The earliest American feminists, the women who fought slavery and when it fell turned and pushed for their own rights, women like Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, were ardent opponents of abortion. Because fundamental to the feminism that drove suffrage for women was an empowerment of woman as herself, not despite herself. The early feminists who linked arms with the abolitionists understood that the fight for one marginalized group is threatened by the marginalization and rejection of human rights of all those who are oppressed.
Today’s pro-life feminists continue to argue that abortion is not just an attack on the right to life of a defenseless person, but is also exploitative and harmful to women. The staggering numbers of girls eliminated by gender selective abortion, estimated to be in the hundreds of millions worldwide, or the concentration of abortion clinics in poor and minority neighborhoods, where clinics like that of Kermit Gosnell prey on scared and vulnerable women, are tragic evidence in our case.
And so, many of today’s women are calling into question the societal assumption that abortion is the key to women’s liberation. My generation of pro-life activists understands that pitting woman against her own nature and her own body is profoundly anti-progressive. A society that tells a woman that her power to bear new life is a hindrance to her progress in fact just turns the clock back once more to a world where it was women, and only women, who were flawed and in need of correction in order to be full members of society. It was this very mentality that the suffragettes fought tooth and nail.
Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell, the first women to receive a medical degree in the United States, once wrote, “The gross perversion and destruction of motherhood by the abortionist filled me with indignation, and awakened active antagonism.” We have a long road ahead of us. But a new generation of women is rising up as active antagonists for the rights of both woman and child to peacefully co-exist. And like the women that went before us, we won’t stop marching until our work is done.
McGuire is a senior fellow at The Catholic Association.