by Colleen Carroll Campbell
Q: Can you be a feminist and oppose abortion in all circumstances? Can you be a person of faith and support abortion in some circumstances?
The very notion of pro-life feminism is an affront to the vociferous leaders of America’s abortion-rights lobby and the aging ranks of its feminist establishment two groups that are, for all practical purposes, indistinguishable. The overlap between these two groups and their shared indignation at organizations like Feminists for Life and women like Sarah Palin is no accident. It is a consequence of their decades-long campaign to make feminism synonymous with a woman’s right to abort her child and to marginalize any free-thinking feminist who dares to disagree.
We hear a lot about the absolutism of women like Palin, who opposes abortion even in the hard cases. Often overlooked is the absolutism of her critics avowedly “pro-woman” abortion-rights advocates who cannot bring themselves to condemn even partial-birth or sex-selective abortion, the latter of which is an increasingly common practice in the US and abroad, in which unborn girls are targeted for elimination simply because they are girls.
For many American women, the feminism that once attracted them with its lofty goal of promoting respect for women’s dignity has morphed into something antithetical to that dignity: a movement that equates a woman’s liberation with her license to kill her unborn child, marginalizes people of faith if they support even modest restrictions on abortion, and colludes with a sexist culture eager to convince a woman in crisis that dealing with her unplanned pregnancy is her choice and, therefore, her problem.
Many women are not buying it. They are attracted instead to the message of groups like Feminists for Life, which tells women facing unplanned pregnancies that they should “refuse to choose” between having a future and having a baby. They believe that the best way for a woman to defend her own dignity is to defend the dignity of each and every human person, including the one that grows within her womb. And they reject the false dichotomy of abortion-centric feminism that says respect for human dignity is a zero-sum game in which a woman can win only if her unborn child loses.
This rising pro-life sentiment among women has begun to surface in public opinion polls. A 2007 study from Overbrook Research tracked the abortion views of women in Missouri, considered to be a bellwether state on such issues. Researchers found that the share of Missouri women identifying themselves as “strongly pro-life” rose from 28 percent in 1992 to 37 percent in 2006, with the ranks of the “strongly pro-choice” shrinking from about a third to a quarter of Missouri women. This pro-life shift was even more pronounced among young women.
More recent studies show similar results. A Gallup poll taken last May found that, for the first time since Gallup began asking the question in 1995, a majority of Americans now identify themselves as “pro-life” rather than “pro-choice”. Gallup found a significant rise in the percentage of young adults who believe that abortion should be illegal in all circumstances, from about one in seven in the early 1990s to one in four today. Eighteen-to-29-year-olds are now tied with seniors as the group most likely to favor the outlawing of abortion.
Abortion-rights activists have noticed this trend, and it worries them. A few weeks ago, Newsweek published an article in which NARAL president Nancy Keenan described her fellow abortion-rights crusaders as members of the “postmenopausal militia”. She noted with concern that the youthful enthusiasm in the abortion debate seems to be on the pro-life side. Upon seeing the swarms of hundreds of thousands of participants at this year’s March for Life in Washington, DC, many of them motivated equally by religious faith and concern for human rights, Keenan said: “I just thought, my gosh, they are so young. There are so many of them, and they are so young.”
Indeed, they are. They are young, their ranks are growing, and the girls and women among them are not buying yesterday’s orthodoxy about the inextricable link between abortion and women’s liberation. No matter how many times the feminist establishment tells them to sit down and shut up, they show no signs of doing so. Let the debate over the true meaning of feminism begin.
Colleen Carroll Campbell, a member of the editorial board of Voices, is an author, columnist, television host, and former White House speechwriter. She is the author of The New Faithful: Why Young Adults Are Embracing Christian Orthodoxy (Loyola Press, 2002). She is an op-ed columnist for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, a frequent commentator on FOX News, CNN, MSNBC, and PBS, a regular contributor to such national publications as The Weekly Standard, National Review Online, and First Things, and host of “Faith & Culture”, a weekly EWTN television show. She lives in St. Louis with her husband and children. Her web site is www.colleen-campbell.com. This essay originally appeared on The Washington Post’s On Faith Panelists Blog on May 29, 2010.
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