The picture on the front page of The New York Times from March 3 shows a young woman holding a sign protesting abortion that says “I am a Prolife Feminist.” In the background other signs appear: “Life Counts” and “Protect, Protect.” As a pro-life feminist of many decades I was more than encouraged.
What a contrast with the life stories of two older feminist icons that my alumni book group had just read. Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Gloria Steinem, both over 80, are justly admired for their committed efforts to obtain equality for women in marriage, education and employment. Both also pursued justice for other vulnerable groups—but not for the unborn. Their lives are “disappeared” in these narratives. Those who hold pro-life views are depicted as enemies of women, dupes of authoritarian male efforts to deny women’s rights to equality or else as backward religious bigots.
For many second-wave feminists of the 1960s, feminism by definition assumed that women should have the private freedom to choose life or death over their offspring. But this interpretation of feminism, despite Roe v. Wade’s victory, is contested by other dedicated feminists. Pro-life feminists see such lethal assertions as regression to patriarchal claims of domination; fathers once wielded life or death choices over newborns, children, women and slaves. Roman males legally made such private choices for the advancement of self, family status or wealth. Infanticide was as accepted as military conquest, slavery or gladiatorial games.
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