Susan B. Anthony: Pro-Life Feminist

Susan Brownell Anthony and other pioneers of “first wave” feminism, such as Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Alice Paul, were unanimously and adamantly opposed to abortion. They viewed abortion as the exploitation of women and believed that women’s rights could not be built on the broken bodies and rights of their children.

Anthony, a Quaker, was a thoroughgoing human rights activist who also worked alongside her friend, abolitionist leader Frederick Douglass, to end slavery. She counted abortion and infanticide among the moral evils and social injustices that, she argued, would be ameliorated by greater freedom for women.

“The prosecutions on our courts for breach of promise, divorce, adultery, bigamy, seduction, rape; the newspaper reports every day of every year of scandals and outrages, of wife murders and paramour shooting, of abortions and infanticides, are perpetual reminders of men’s incapacity to cope successfully with this monster evil of society.”

– “Social Purity” speech, 1895

“Sweeter even than to have had the joy of caring for children of my own has it been to me to help bring about a better state of things for mothers generally, so their unborn little ones could not be willed away from them.”

Quoted in “Glimpses of Fifty Years: The Autobiography of an American Woman” by Frances Elizabeth Willard

Anthony was owner and publisher of The Revolution, which acted as the official voice of the National Women Suffrage Association, with the motto, “Men their rights and nothing more; women their rights and nothing less.” Abortion and infanticide were regularly and consistently denounced in The Revolution, which had a policy of refusing to print advertisements for abortion drugs even though they could bring in revenue:

“Quack Medicine venders, however rich, proud, and pretentious, Foeticides and Infanticides, should be classed together and regarded with shuddering horror by the whole human race…

“Child murder both before and after birth is a regular and, terrible to tell, a vastly extensive business. And it is known to newspaper publishers that its advertising patronage pays far better than any other.

“…And thus these frightful evils become almost incorporated into the very bone and marrow of our moral and material existence. The men and the women, for such they must be called, who manufacture and vend these dreadful destroyers of the national health and life, beginning with the embryo and ending at whatever age death closes the scene, in infancy or tottering age, it is easy to denounce; to hold up even to public detestation and execration. But what shall be said of those editors and proprietors of public journals who give them and their murderous work currency, respectability; nay, baptize them into the sacred name of religion by their co-operation!”

Quack Medicines,” The Revolution, March 26, 1868, p. 178.

Contemporaries of Susan B. Anthony and Their Pro-life Views

Early feminists urged men to take responsibility for their role in the suffering of women and children, including the unborn.

Victoria Woodhull, first woman to run for president in the United States:

“Men must no longer insult all womanhood by saying that freedom means the degradation of woman. Every woman knows that if she were free, she would never bear an unwished-for child, nor think of murdering one before its birth.”

From a lecture summarized in the West Virginia Evening Standard, November 17, 1875, p. 470-471

Sarah Norton, president of the Working Women’s Association, who successfully urged Cornell University to admit women:

“…child murderers practice their profession without let or hindrance, and open infant butcheries unquestioned…

“No one seems to be shocked by the fact; the papers are taken into the family without hesitation and read by all the members thereof without distinction of age or sex. The subject is discussed almost without restraint; circulars are distributed broadcast, recommending certain pills and potions for the very purpose, and by these means the names of these slayers of infants, and the methods by which they practice their life-destroying trade, have become ‘familiar in our mouths as household words.’

“Is there no remedy for all this ante-natal child murder? 

“Perhaps there will come a time when the man who wantonly kills a woman and her babe will be loathed and scorned as deeply as the woman is now loathed and scorned who becomes his dupe; when the sympathy of society will be with the victim rather than the victimizer; when an unmarried mother will not be despised because of her motherhood; when unchastity in men will be placed on an equality with unchastity in women, and when the right of the unborn to be born will not be denied or interfered with.”

– “Tragedy – Social and Domestic,” Woodhull & Claflin’s Weekly, November 19, 1870

Mattie Brinkerhoff, suffrage leader, lecturer, and writer:

“When a man steals to satisfy hunger, we may safely conclude that there is something wrong in society – so when a woman destroys the life of her unborn child, it is an evidence that either by education or circumstances she has been greatly wronged.”

– The Revolution, September 2, 1869, p. 138-9.

Dr. Anna Densmore, physician, educator and reformer:

“I cannot close without saying a single word more on the crime of abortion, now so frightfully prevalent, and to ask you each and severally to stretch out a helping, saving hand in this direction, that its suppression may to some extent at least be accomplished. It is only through ignorance that it has become such a wide-spread evil. But few women, even among the educated and intelligent, realize that the embryo child is imbued with the life element prior to the moment when its physical movements become conscious to her. No greater error exists; if lifeless, it could no more become developed into the hungry, breathing child, than could the lifeless seed of a plant or flower spring up and ultimately bud and blossom. The living principle is there from the first moment of fecundation [fertilization], and should be fostered and nourished and brought into the world in every instance that conception takes place – at no period can it be interfered with, from the first to the last moment of intrauterine life, without tampering with a life that God alone can give.

“…Massachusetts is shamed, if not shocked, at the spread of foeticide in that state…Philadelphia is alarmed at the increase of infanticide in that city…the exhibition by the coroner now prompts the Philadelphia papers to urge some legislative action which will tend to lessen the slaughter of children by their mothers.”

– From the lectures of Dr. Anna Densmore, The Revolution, January 21, 1869, p. 38.

Alice Paul, suffrage leader and author of the 1923 Equal Rights Amendment:

“Now, I think the [women’s] liberation movement has been a good thing, because it has aroused lots of women from their self-interest, and it has made everyone more aware of the inequalities that exist. But the ratification of the equal-rights amendment has been made a bit harder by these people who run around advocating , for instance, abortion. As far as I can see, E.R.A. has nothing whatsoever to do with abortion.”

– From “Gender Roles in American Life: A Documentary History of Political, Social, and Economic Changes,” Constance L. Shehan, ed. Vol. 1 p. 378