What the First Wave of Feminism Can Teach the First Wave of Common Ground


Feminists
of the 1960s and 70s were hardly the first to address issues of
problematic pregnancy and abortion. Their nineteenth and early
twentieth century foremothers also took a strong, if–to many
today–unexpected stand. Since at least the late 1980s, prochoicers
and prolifers have disputed the precise content and meaning of early
feminists’ stance on abortion and pregnancy.

The
dispute most surely flared in 2006, when known prolifer Carol Crossed
purchased Susan B. Anthony’s birthplace in Adams, Massachusetts with
hopes of turning it into a museum. Some prochoicers objected that prolifers were deceiving and pushing their way
onto territory where they decidedly did not belong. Despite the
controversy, the museum is well on its way, with a broad range of
supporters. 

This
is, I think, as it should be. I conclude this from twenty years of
researching abortion as an early feminist concern.  While I cannot here
do justice to the abundant, many-voiced early feminist literature on
abortion, I can briefly outline a consensus shared by everyone from
anarchist, free-thinking “free lovers” to Women’s Christian Temperance
Union members. 

Like
some who identify as feminists today, early feminists opposed abortion
out of a belief that life began at conception and acquired human rights
at that point. The context of this belief was something parallel to a
present-day consistent life ethic. 

They did not oppose abortion simply in deference to its illegality. They
nonviolently challenged many quite legal practices, such as the denial
of women’s right to vote, marital rape, and legal bans on open
discussion and provision of family planning. Early feminists were deeply concerned about the danger to women’s lives from unsafe procedures. At the same time, they spoke about any abortion that killed a woman as a taking of two lives, not one.

Today’s
prolifers and prochoicers will obviously differ in how much they can
relate to early feminist opposition to abortion. However, people on
both "sides" will likely resonate with the early feminist analysis of
the societal problems implicated in unintended pregnancy and abortion,
along with the solutions they offered.

Early
feminists demanded, and even themselves created, greater social supports
for pregnant and parenting women and their children. Single mothers and
their children were ruthlessly denied food, clothing, shelter, and
health care on the grounds that this was aiding and abetting
“immorality.”  Many single mothers could not survive without going into
prostitution. Married mothers, too, struggled in isolation with such
difficulties as domestic violence and economic insecurity. If they
were middle or upper class, they faced enforced economic dependence; if
working class, toxin-riddled, unsafe jobs that failed to pay living
wages or allow for healthy child care practices. As happens today,
pious rhetoric about the sacredness of marriage, home, and family
frequently obscured these difficulties. 

Early feminists squarely held men responsible for any children they conceived, inside or outside marriage. They
called men to responsibility in an even more radical way, starting with
antislavery documentation of sexual and reproductive outrages white men
committed against African American women and children.  As Matilda
Joslyn Gage stated, no “subject lies deeper down into woman’s wrongs”
than “the denial of the right to herself.” 

Although this might seem very strange to today’s prochoicers, when
early feminists spoke of a woman’s right to her own body, for them this
did not include a right to abortion. A woman’s body-right
did encompass other practices they likely endorse–and that many
prolifers likely do, too. 

Early
feminists agreed that at the very least, woman’s right to her own body
meant her right to choose whether, when, and with whom she wished to
have penis-vagina sex and thus face the possibility of conception. It
definitely included a right to thorough sexual/reproductive health
education.

Against
widespread contempt for “old maids” like Susan B. Anthony, early
feminists defended women’s right and ability to choose a generative
singlehood. Some extended woman’s body-right to contraception and even
to “Alphaism,” or sexual practices other than penis-vagina sex. Some,
like Drs. Emily Blackwell and Elizabeth Cushier, openly chose “Boston
marriages,” or committed same-sex domestic partnerships.

This
“herstory” holds two-at least two–big lessons for today’s common
ground movement. First, many prochoicers and prolifers alike can
validly claim these pioneering feminists as foremothers. Substantial
numbers in both “camps” share a consciousness of women’s and
already-born children’s rights arising from shared historical sources. 

Second,
if people from both “sides” share this consciousness, they can together
contemplate the early feminist analysis of causes and solutions for
unintended pregnancy and abortion. They can ask: How does this
analysis fit and no longer fit the present? To what particular
collective as well as individual responsibilities does it invite us? 

What
if a strong prochoice-prolife coalition demanded a toxin-free
environment, a better child support enforcement system, a living wage,
paid family leave, and universal health care, including prompt access
to quality prenatal care, and drug rehabilitation for those who need
it? What if we redesigned schools, workplaces, places of recreation,
and houses of worship to be truly family-friendly, to all kinds of families?

In
regard to abortion itself, today’s prolifers and prochoicers obviously
draw the parameters of a woman’s body-right differently.  For many
prolifers, pregnancy interconnects two equally valuable bodies and
lives. For many prochoicers, pregnancy is a matter of one body and life, the woman’s, and/or perhaps a fully realized life
nurturing a potential life inside of herself.  But why can’t both
“sides” at least cooperate on defending a woman’s body-right before conception?

Comprehensive
sex education already enjoys a broad base of public support. It can
incorporate strong messages of male responsibility and nonviolence
towards women and children, as well as teaching young women the
assertiveness and self-respect vital to making positive decisions about
their bodies and lives.

And rooted as it is basic civil liberties of speech, association, religion, and privacy, freedom of conscience in pregnancy prevention
is another potentially large area of common ground. This includes the
right to personally choose, or not choose, from among the various
reversible or permanent contraceptiv
e methods, fertility awareness/natural family planning,
abstinence/celibacy, and sexual practices other than penis-vagina sex,
whether in the context of straight or gay relationships. 

I’m not one of them, but I hope people with religious or ethical
objections to any of these practices can agree that it is not
government’s place to decide how any of us do or do not exercise this
right—even if government is responsible for ensuring that everyone can
exercise it freely.

At
the same time, I would like skeptical prochoicers to consider that
prolifers may already be more supportive of woman’s body-right than
expected. I personally have advocated this right for years, and know other prolifers who have done the same. We are not isolated cases. According to a national public opinion survey by the National Family Planning and Reproductive Health Association, eight in ten respondents who identified as prolife supported women’s access to contraception. In the Christian Science Monitor
, pollster Nate Silver recently noted the “ increasing number of pro-life, pro-gay marriage Americans, particularly among Generation Y’ers.”

If
prolifers and prochoicers both take up and work steadily on these
shared reproductive justice responsibilities, both at the collective
and individual levels: what will our descendants be talking about and doing in a century or two? What places will unintended pregnancy and abortion have and not have in their society? I for one would love to know!

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  • invalid-0

    Mary Krane Derr’s concillatory and constructive ideas on finding common ground are a good counterbalance to Kathleen Reeve’s mean-spirited, divisive blog of 7/8 stereotyping prolifers. Ms. Derr’s blog seems to me to further the supposed purpose of “On Common Ground”, while Ms. Reeve’s remarks, being snide and alienating, run contrary to that purpose.

  • cristina-page

    Thanks for your comment. The OnCommonGround section of RHRealityCheck is dedicated to exploring areas of common ground, promoting constructive ideas, and deescalating the hostile rhetoric of the debate. Ms. Reeves post was not published on the OnCommonGround section but rather on RHRealityCheck’s main site which publishes posts in opposition to common ground and sometimes posts those in favor of it too. If you are interested in constructive common ground dialogue, you can find new posts regularly aimed at that here at http://www.rhrealitycheck.org/commonground. Thanks for weighing in.

  • paul-bradford

    Happily, right-wingers are losing their power to set the Pro-Life agenda.  This is not only good news for progressives who long to be heard as they speak out for the human rights of the very young, it is good news for the unborn.  People who are generally closed to Pro-Life arguments are listening to people such as Mary Krane Derr.  Children have a powerful advocate in Ms. Derr.

     

    Do we have common ground?  I think that common ground ought to center around a shared desire to improve women’s lives.  Women who do not wish to become mothers (or to become mothers again) need to be empowered to realize their choice.  Women who have the misfortune of carrying an unintended pregnancy need to be supported in every way possible.  Those of us who care about pre-natal rights should learn to be quick to join with those on the Pro-Choice side when it comes to issues of domestic violence, family leave, equity in insurance, opportunities in education and other issues of interest to women generally.

     

    I believe that there is a lack of imagination and a lack of hope in those who believe that we have to choose between working to assure better lives for young children and working for the betterment of those children’s mothers.  Part of the ‘trick’ to getting both is to insist on fathers taking responsibility.  We should not forget that men and women share a moral obligation to care for their own children.  Men should also begin to take responsibility for protecting women from unwanted pregnancies.  There’s not a woman yet who got pregnant ‘by herself’!

     

    Common ground solutions will reveal to us that adequate care for children requires that men take responsibility.

     

    Paul Bradford

    Pro-Life Catholics for Choice

    • marysia

      Paul, thank you.

      Marysia (Mary Krane Derr) 

  • invalid-0

    I can certainly relate to their positions on all the issues covered in your thoughtful and very informative piece, including, and especially, the responsibilities of men. And it warms my heart to see that you acknowledge that many pro-lifers are supportive of women’s body-right. We are!

    • marysia

      Jim, being a prolifer myself who advocates for women’s right to their own bodies, I have a vested interest in recognizing the existence of such prolifers (:  but thank you.

       

      Marysia (Mary Krane Derr) 

  • invalid-0

    Although this might seem very strange to today’s prochoicers, when early feminists spoke of a woman’s right to her own body, for them this did not include a right to abortion.

    That’s not really true. Susan B. Anthony never advocated for outlawing abortion, as modern-day anti-abortion activists do. In The Revolution, she wrote that passing laws against abortion would “be only mowing off the top of the noxious weed, while the root remains,” which is true. Even early feminists understood that banning abortion does nothing to stop it.

    A woman’s right to her own body most definitely includes the right to abortion. Nobody can stop a woman from aborting a pregnancy from her own body if that’s what she wants to do. Laws against abortion only make it more deadly, and there’s nothing pro-life about that.

    If Susan B. Anthony were alive today, she would not be trying to outlaw abortion; she would be trying to make it less necessary. Nobody says you have to promote abortion or think abortion is a great thing to be feminist. Just recognize that it needs to be legal and regulated to keep women safe, and do everything you can to make it less necessary. That’s not just common ground; it’s common sense.

    • marysia

      Even if early feminism provides a rich resource for current deliberation & action, nobody can really say what Susan B. Anthony or any other early feminist would think *today* about abortion.

       We can, however, look at the historical evidence about what they *did* say and do.  I have looked at it in quite thorough detail.  While it appears that early feminists did support some antiabortion legislation, they did not regard legal bans as the heart of the matter.  For them alleviating the root causes of abortion in women’s oppression was the paramount issue.

       This column was not intended to present different views of abortion and the law, but to highlight areas of agreement & cooperative action among people with divergent views on the ethics and/or legality of abortion.

       

      Marysia (Mary Krane Derr)

    • marysia

      We cannot say beyond speculation what Anthony would be doing today.  But according to historical evidence, which I have thoroughly examined and reexamined, early feminists did support some legal measures against abortion.  However, their hearts and energies were primarily in alleviating its root causes.

       

      This column was not intended to debate ethical and/or legal differences on abortion itself, but suggest areas of agreement & cooperative action among people with divergent views of abortion itself.

       

      Thank you,

      Marysia (Mary Krane Derr)

  • invalid-0

    And here’s a link to an article that discusses the debate over Susan B. Anthony’s views regarding abortion.


    http://www.womensenews.org/article.cfm?aid=2915


    Including this history research professor…

    “She never voiced an opinion about the sanctity of fetal life,” Gordon said of Anthony. “And she never voiced an opinion about using the power of the state to require that pregnancies be brought to term.”

    • marysia

      I beg to differ with Ann Gordon on this point.  The Revolution, the paper Anthony published with Elizabeth Cady Stanton, banned abortion-related ads–very unusual for its time.  Editorials revealed the motive: a view of abortion as taking a child’s life.  Anthony implemented this policy and signed her name to it.  The paper also editorialized repeatedly against abortion on the grounds that it took children’s lives.  While it mostly dealt with relieving abortion’s root causes, it did editorialize in favor of some legislation against it.

      Marysia (MKD)

    • invalid-0

      The womansenews link above actually does give space to both views about Anthonys beliefs including Serrin Foster opinion and your own….

      but also to Lynn Sherr who in her research/publication on Susan B Anthony agrees with the research by history professor Gordon whose quote is blockquoted above. The link tells both sides.

  • emma

    I’m not sure why pro-life writers in this series seem to assume that advocacy of comprehensive sex ed., affordable and accessible contraception and economic and social support for all women, regardless of their choices, is something new to pro-choicers? I’m yet to meet a committed pro-choicer who doesn’t fiercely advocate for all of those things (other than ‘fiscal conservatives’, who hyperventilate at the thought of Their Tax Dollars being spent on the Dirty Poor People, although there seem to be more such people amongst those identifying as pro-life).

     

    Here’s another thought: with regard to abortion, the early feminists referenced in this article were wrong.

    • marysia

      Emma, I decidedly do not think, or suggest here, that most prochoicers are remiss when it comes to supporting comprehensive sex ed and contraception.  I don’t think for one minute that this is anything new for prochoicers.

      What I *am* saying here: Many prochoicers believe that prolifers uniformly oppose these & other abortion-reducing measures, but this is not the case.  recognizing this removes a large barrier to common ground.

       

      Nor do all abortion opponents "hyperventilate at their precious tax dollars being squandered on the dirty poor."  I know many, many prolifers who object to this view and actively promote government social spending.  I am one of them.  

       

      Yes, the early feminists could have been wrong on abortion. Obviously you think so. I don’t.  Butmy point here is to show that many prolifers and prochoicers descend from the same humanitarian movement and values, even while going separate ways on abortion itself. Contemplating the early feminists can remove considerable barriers to understanding & joint action today.

      Marysia (MKD)

      • emma

        Marysia – ok, I apologise; I misunderstood.

         

        I know you’re not one of the ‘oh noes, My Tax Dollars!11′ types. I do appreciate that about you. :)

    • invalid-0

      check out the womenenews link above Emma for both sides, including

      But after poring over the entirety of Anthony’s record, Gordon and Sherr say these quotes have either been taken out of context, do not express anti-choice views, or were not written or uttered by Anthony.

  • invalid-0

    Lynn Sherrs quote

    Lynn Sherr, an ABC News correspondent who wrote “Failure Is Impossible: Susan B. Anthony in Her Own Words,” sides with Gordon, noting that Anthony didn’t sign her pieces “A.”

    “We’ve pointed this out zillions of times,” Sherr says. “I don’t know what her position on abortion is, and for them to pretend that they do is simply flat-out wrong.”

  • marysia

    I have tried to get in touch with Lynn Sherr and Ann Gordon to find out more about the specific documentation for their views, but have had no luck.

    It may interest you to know that I began researching early feminists on abortion when I found out from reading  *prochoice* historians like Linda Gordon and Carl Degler about their opposition to abortion, & the motives for it. 

  • marysia

    There are arguments either way about the Revolution article in question.  However, that article strongly resembles a later speech unequivocally given by Anthony.

    And there is much surer evidence about her view from other sources.

  • marysia

    Again, I have tried to contact Sherr & Gordon and learn about the specific documents that they invoke to support their views.  And I have carefully examined primary sources and come up with a different conclusion. 

     

     It’s not because I’m a liar or anything!  They may have zeroed in on different primary sources than I have.  Who knows?  The precise reasons why we have come up with different conclusions remain to be seen.

     

    However, if I can dare say to this, on the whole, primary source documents support my reading of the early feminists on abortion I connect to them. 

    Primary source documents are reprinted in the book Prolife Feminism Yesterday and Today (2nd ed., 2005), which I helped to edit.  (if you don’t want to buy it try finding it in a library at http://www.worldcat.org)

    if you stil don’t trust my analysis, then you are welcome to look up the primary source documents themselves, some of which may be available to you on microfilm or in institutional electronic holdings or through interlibrary loan if they’re not in your own library.

    please see for yourself, please don’t just take anyone’s word for it whether they are prolife or prochoice 

    • invalid-0

      Who is the more credible source on Anthony? Sherr, a journalist and Gordon, a renowned historian, who have published complete histories on suffrage and biographies on Anthony and all the suffragists,versus, someone who has a political motive for trying to link Anthony to one side of this issue? I vote for the former….

      Also nice try to say go back and look at the original source documents…something you know not one of your readers will do but it is something I know both Sherr and Gordon did do…and I have had extensive conversations with them on that fact.

      Also while I have to agree that Anthony would not have wished abortion on any woman since back then it was often a death sentence due to the medieval medical techniques….I think the point that everyone agrees on is that finding ways to make abortion unnecessary is something everyone both then and hopefully now would say is something on which we should all work together …does that sound like common ground …I think so!

  • invalid-0

    I’m not saying you are a liar (per your comment below)…I presented a link that has Gordon, whose published much research on Susan B Anthony, and Sherr…. but also the pro-life side of opinion and the responses back and forth.

  • invalid-0

    Again, there’s nothing about calling someone a liar by showing the opinion of Gordon who researches, compiles and published Anthonys works…. but doing so with a link that also shows the other side (such as your opinion which is included in that link).

  • invalid-0

    I could have tried to find a link without your opinion or Serrin Fosters in it…or just quoted them without providing a link. I think the information about the back and forth provided in the link is informative itself.

    • marysia

      sorry, i didn’t mean to sound as if i was objecting to your link to other angles on this subject.  that’s all well and good.

      i am just personally a little sensitive on this point because over the decades i *have* had *some* (not all, to be sure!) people (baselessly, i think) call me dishonest & manipulative about the early feminist materials, as if a prolifer could not be about anything else.

      in the abortion debate, there are people from both "sides" who regularly make deorgatory assumptions about one another’s characters instead of truly listening to what everyone has to say & contribute.  i apologize if i have been too quick to fear a character assasination in progress!

      i am grateful to cristina page for inviting my voice into this forum, and to you & the commenters (thus far) for your civility and fairness.

  • invalid-0

    Isn’t this just an appeal to authority? Whatever the early feminists thought about abortion in their time, the world has changed radically since then. I am a feminist, but I don’t consider the early feminists’ philosophy to be holy writ. They were women of their time and place: I am a woman of mine. Their opinions on racism don’t influence mine, so why should their opinions on abortion?

    It’s nice to see a prolifer acknowledging the reality of human sexuality, though. People who genuinely want to save “babies” should, logically, support preconceptive birth control measures. People like Jill Stanek sort of sound like they’re from another planet, you know?

  • marysia

    no, it’s not an appeal to authority, it’s more like honoring one’s ancestors and taking them seriously. i am not someone who ever thought “because they said so” was a good reason for doing anything (:

    despite the fact an african american is in the white house now, a necessary societal step forward, all around me in my neighborhood is the psychological fallout of slavery. so it is worth going back and studying the history and how it was moved along by human beings courageous enough to imagine & demand something other than racism.

    as feminists today we need to be aware that we are not the first to deal with these questions of women’s oppression. also, we can speak and take action to the extent that we can these days because there were brave women who came before us.

    and the injustices they struggled against have hardly disappeared no matter what progress has occurred. there are continuities between their time and ours. there were moments when early feminists directly addressed the women of the future–us–because they cared about what things would be like in our time.

    so it’s worth considering what they thought and did about abortion, and what that means today. what i am calling for is a process of critical but loving and respectful reflection, not blind faith and obedience.

    well, when it comes to sexuality, what else is there to do but acknowledge it? and foster people’s enjoyment of it in fully informed, voluntary, nonviolent ways?

  • invalid-0

    This was a wonderfully informative post and interesting series of comments, although the latter were hardly about common ground.

    Not to be a cynic, but aren’t all these “common ground” proposals a fairly standard set of liberal policies that are being re-branded as also being prolife to appeal to moderate prolife voters? Obama has a series of policies that he is going to pursue anyway, but which also might happen to reduce the number of abortions, and he wants credit for that wherever he can get it.

    And, when these kinds of policies are proposed, aren’t they already being supported by pro-life individuals and organizations who otherwise also have a strong commitment to social justice issues? For example, I believe many Catholic bishops already support the Pregnant Women Support Act, which this site lists as a “common ground” initiative.

    Do we really need a Kumbaya moment, a meeting of the minds between prolife and prochoice advocates for this strategy to succeed?

    I can see why Republicans might want to throw water on this strategy, because it might work. However, given the potentially significant benefits of these proposals for women, I don’t understand how people concerned with women’s rights could reasonably object.

  • marysia

    it is nothing new for many prochoicers, or many prolifers, to support policies identified as common ground.

    prochoice/prolife dialogue and common ground go back many years.

    nor is it anything new for people on both “sides” to be skeptical of the whole endeavor & deem all members of the “enemy” automatically incapable of having a good intention or idea.

    i do think common ground is now being considered on a larger scale than ever before.

    the abortion debate is so divisive– both “sides” are realizing to an unprecedented degree how much the issue of abortion itself burdens and hinders joint action on issues that are pretty much no-brainers for joint action.

  • invalid-0

    Yes, and these policies neither reduce the significance of the abortion issue for prolifers, nor do they necessarily add further stigma to the practice, or limit access, which are the main concerns for prochoicers.

  • moiv

    "For example, I believe many Catholic bishops already support the
    Pregnant Women Support Act, which this site lists as a "common ground"
    initiative."

     

    If this site lists the Pregnant Women Support Act as a "common ground" initiative, it does so in error. 

     

    Catholic bishops support the PWSA because it’s nothing but a rechristened version of the 95-10 Initiative from Democrats for Life of America. This is a Trojan donkey of a bill, which failed three years ago but now has been replanted in fertile "common ground."

     

    PWSA, AKA 95-10, contains several long-overdue social support measures. So why isn’t it good legislation?

     

    Maybe it’s because 95-10 calls for preventing pregnancy, but mentions
    contraception only in regard to failure rates — anti-choice dog
    whistle code for "abstinence-only."  Maybe it’s because 95-10 also
    calls for the imposition of repressive legislation upon every physician
    in the country. Maybe it’s because 95-10 mandates federal funding for a
    nationwide network to funnel unsuspecting women seeking information
    about abortion into crisis pregnancy center "ministries."

     

    Maybe it’s because most Democrats have scruples about crawling into bed with Concerned Women for America, Priests for Life, the March for Life, the Conservative Congregational Christian Conference, Lutherans for Life, CareNet, Heartbeat International, Project Rachel, the "abortion is genocide" Abortion in Black America, Life Issues Institute, LifeSite, Joe Scheidler’s Pro-Life Action League, Americans United for Life, the American Life League’s Stop Planned Parenthood International, Human Life International, Feminists for Life, National Right to Life, and the same Life Dynamics that lists every provider of abortion care in the country as "American Death Camps" — all of them directly linked from the DFLA site.  

     

    Maybe it’s because DFLA opposes embryonic stem cell research. Maybe it’s because DFLA is still spreading the discredited lie that abortion causes breast cancer.
    Maybe it’s because DFLA officers publicly refused to support the
    Democratic presidential ticket in 2004, calling John Kerry the "Hitler of the Unborn." 

     

     

     

    Even former board member Rep. Tim Ryan now calls DFLA a "fringe group" because of its adamant opposition to comprehensive sex ed and contraception.  Many people confuse the PWSA with Ryan’s own "Reducing the Need for Abortion and Supporting Parents Act," which truly is a common ground measure.

  • marysia

    Now, I personally am a strong advocate of contraception & comprehensive sex education as well as prenatal and postnatal supports for mothers and children…

    But I am concerned about your argument’s quite heavy reliance on the strategy of imputing guilt by association, a strategy that all too often amounts to a logical fallacy. 

    If you would please, if only as a brief thought exercise, set aside the guilt-by-association components of your argument for the moment–what precisely is your argument against the Pregnant Women Support Act?

    And why are you making your case in the comments on this particular column?

     

  • invalid-0

    You may be a strong advocate for those things but Democrats for Life and Feminists for Life certainly are not. I could be wrong but I believe Moiv was responding to a comment from someone who said about the passage of the Pregnant Women support act “I don’t understand how people concerned with women’s rights could reasonably object” by pointing out some of the ways a person concerned with women’s rights could object.

    As for ‘guilt by association’ and ‘logical fallacies’ try Tim Ryan who was just kicked off the advisory board of Democrats for Life because he didn’t understand how it was possible to achieve the goal of lowering the number of abortions by 95% without supporting contraception.

    See:
    http://www.vindy.com/news/2009/jul/13/pro-life-group-ousts-ryan-from-its-advisory-board/?

    http://www.vindy.com/news/2009/jul/14/ryan-loses-favor-with-pro-life-group/?newswatch

    Let’s be clear. Rep Ryan has a zero rating from both Planned Parenthood and NARAL. His ‘common ground’ crime was supporting the use of effective contraception as a way to lower the number of abortions.

  • marysia

    I agree that Democrats for Life and Feminists for Life limit their effectiveness in reducing abortion by not strongly advocating freedom of conscience in pregnancy prevention, including the right to use contraception.  

     I have never been involved with Democrats for Life–one reason is that  personally my politics are further left than those of the Democratic Party; another is this very issue of prevention. 

    I was involved with Feminists for Life before but ultimately left in protest against the organization’s refusal to address prevention as an essential part of reducing abortion.

     And it angers me when prolifers get flak from other abortion opponents for advocating something that is proven to reduce abortions!  Tim Ryan did not deserve what happened to him.

     This much said, in my experience, as much as I hate to acknowledge this—sometimes prolifers who do not take a stand for contraception, or who even oppose it– *do*–sometimes–have good ideas about support for pregnant and parenting women and their children.  

    For example, Catholic Charities USA offices don’t provide birth control–alas–but they do provide many necessary services to pregnant woman and families in need, as well as lobbying for better social welfare policies.

    Part of common ground is bringing such prolifers to the table. Common ground is all about learning to understand & work with people who views you don’t or don’t entirely share and maybe even consider ridiculous & self-defeating!

     It’s not always easy or comfortable, to be sure, but it’s better than… 

    The abortion debate-as-usual, with its rigid division into people who scream past each other, and even fire guns at those they disagree with…Obviously this is not doing our society a bit of good. 

    It certainly isn’t doing a thing to alleviate the problems of unintended pregnancy and abortion, to stay rigidly attached to our respective "enemy camps."

    I think common ground is for real. 

    One small example:I am very encouraged, for example, that a friend of mine who is prolife and has religious concerns against contraception responded very positively to my column above, just as some prolife/procontraception readers, and prochoice/procontraception readers have too.  

  • invalid-0

    My point was not necessarily to endorse PWSA, but to question the need to create an artificial “common ground” consensus, when any piece of legislation will develop its own natural constituency that may include some who are prolife and some who are prochoice.

  • marysia

    well, the pieces of legislation that gain the most support are often those which build on their natural constituencies to reach the half-persuaded or unpersuaded.  and anyway, the formation of "natural constituencies’ is not always some spontaneous happening–they are often the result of much hard work.

    differences on abortion are so intense, they influence people not to support measures they otherwise might.  for example, some prolifers fear universal health care because they think of it as being forced to pay for abortions–never mind how many abortions it could avert.  if they witness a coalition of prolifers working with prochoicers on this issue, they might be more inclined to support it.

  • marysia

    Prochoice historians, like prolife, bring their own politics to their interpretations.  Total "objectivity" is impossible.  Acknowledging one’s biases while trying to stick to the facts is the best anyone can do. 

     And just because someone is an acknowledged expert or authorty like Lynn Sherr or Ann Gordon, and someone who disagrees with them is an unknown like me–that doesn’t in and of itself settle the question.

    No offense to Sherr or Gordon–both remarkable and accomplished women. 

    Who I would be glad to discuss this matter with if I had the opportunity to, to listen to the evidence for their own perspectives and to explain mine.

    And I am not lying or deceiving about history for some ungrounded, base political motive.  If there wasn’t evidence that anthony opposed abortion, in part because of concern about fetal life, I wouldn’t set it forward publicly, considering that it just invites criticism, and not always as civilly expressed as yours!!!

    Also, I don’t think conservative prolife women can easily claim her as one of their own, in the way the Susan B. Anthony List does. 

    SBA may have been a lesbian, and at the very least she defied "traditional family values" by devoting her life energies to the cause of women rather than getting married and having children. 

    She was quite critical of marriages that disempowered women and supportive of egalitarian ones.  She supported family planning, and challenged male violence against women. She backed up a single woman friend’s decision to adopt a baby. 

    Not exactly the dream woman of today’s Religious Right!

     I was *serious* about encouraging readers to go back and examine primary source documents if they want to see for themselves.  It’s not always easy to find such documents, but there are ways to access them if one is moved to do so. 

    I am a great believer in in examining evidence with one’s own eyes and forming one’s own conclusions.  

    at any rate, I’m glad of your support for common ground.