Politics Daily: Pro-Life and Pro-Woman: Sarah Palin's Case for Authentic Feminism

This article originally appeard on PoliticsDaily.com on June 12, 2010.


Pro-Life and Pro-Woman: Sarah Palin’s Case for Authentic Feminism

By: Marjorie Dannenfelser

In her piece entitled, “Sarah Palin: Embracing Feminism, or Co-Opting it for Conservatives?” Frances Tobin continues the conversation about who is allowed to define feminism and how the label should be applied. We welcome this discussion and agree that it is a “good thing” to engage in this robust debate. Ms. Tobin, however, fails to directly rebut the arguments we have made.

For years, many feminists have told women facing a crisis pregnancy that the only way to continue a successful life is to have an abortion. Ms. Tobin mentions Sarah Palin’s comments at the Susan B. Anthony List’s Celebration of Life Breakfast: “…feminist groups want to try to tell women… that no, you’re not capable of doing both. You can’t give your child life and still pursue career and education. You’re not strong enough. You’re not capable.” Palin argues that this point of view is the antithesis of authentic feminism as it minimizes rather than encourages the full ability of women to embrace both motherhood and career.

Susan B. AnthonyTo bolster her case that feminism rejects the pro-life position, Ms. Tobin quotes an opinion by Lynn Sherr and Ann Gordon, “experts” on Susan B. Anthony and early suffragettes. They argue that Susan B. Anthony spent “no time on the politics of abortion” and that to say otherwise is “empty talk.”

What is remarkable is that neither Sherr nor Gordon make any attempt to link pro-abortion rights sentiment to the early suffragettes. After all, if being pro-choice is central to being pro-woman, wouldn’t at least one suffragette have made that point? Rather, they try to deconstruct the significant evidence that early suffragettes across the board saw abortion as a direct affront to womanhood.

Conveniently, Ms. Tobin ignores our response in the Washington Post blog On Faith, where we point to numerous writings from Susan B. Anthony herself and her fellow feminists that show they did talk about protecting the unborn — and frequently.

You can read the response here, quoting Victoria Woodhull, the first female presidential candidate, who told a newspaper of the day that “Every woman knows that if she were free, she would never bear an unwished-for child, nor think of murdering one before its birth.” (Wheeling, West Virginia Evening Standard, November 17, 1875)

While Ms. Tobin holds that what she calls truth “is probably too inconvenient for Palin and those who fill out her anti-abortion cohort,” perhaps she can come up with the first shred of evidence of Susan B. Anthony agreeing with her pro-abortion rights fervor.

Early founders of the feminist movement like Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, who fought for the right of women to vote, also paved the way for women like Sarah Palin to enter public life. They celebrated the notion that women bring a unique perspective to public policy.

Women can be — and are — increasingly strong political actors who reject the liberal ideology of abortion-on-demand. The dramatic victories of Sharron Angle in Nevada and Carly Fiorina in California in two high profile Senate primaries are just the most recent examples.

At the heart of the matter is the fact that “feminists” like Ms. Tobin, insist upon one thing: feminism, whatever else it might entail, must include virtually unqualified support for abortion rights.

What gives them the authority to insist that there is a pro-abortion rights requirement for feminism? Certainly not majority opinion. Polling proves that women as well as men are moving in a pro-life trajectory. Certainly not the political positions of women seeking to lead this country, such as Angle and Fiorina. There has been an explosion of strong successful pro-life women candidates. Certainly it can’t be found in the writings of the early suffragettes. The response of Tobin, Sherr and Gordon is, at best, that they aren’t nearly as pro-life as you portray them. These liberal feminists never show any proof that the early suffragettes approved of abortion, a practice that Susan B. Anthony herself called “child murder.”

Following the June 8 primaries, it is clear that authentic, pro-life feminism resonates with increasing numbers of women. Abortion rights advocates should stop insisting on their ever more tenuous claim on the term “feminism” and applaud their pro-life sisters’ efforts to move feminism in a more diverse, popular and traditional direction.

Marjorie Dannenfelser is president of the Susan B. Anthony List, a nationwide network of more than 280,000 pro-life Americans dedicated to advancing, mobilizing and representing pro-life women in the political process.

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