Below is the story of a small group of Adam’s Massachusetts residents who exposed the anti-choice organizations and leadership behind the February 14th opening of the Susan B Anthony Birthplace Museum – you can hear the audio version of this text on the group’s website – http://susanbanthonymuseum.com/
– this commentary aired March 4, 2010 on 29 Northeast NPR stations
When our local group first met to discuss concerns about the Susan B Anthony Birthplace Museum, we did not know about the breadth of the museum’s connections to national and state level anti-abortion organizations and how these connections directly tied into the wider agenda of the museum. Nor did we have an understanding of the long term contentious debate between objective historical academic experts with these same organizations portrayal of Susan B Anthony as a “pro-life” feminist icon. After a month of extensive research and consult with expert research historians on Anthony, a story emerged that we realized needed to be shared with the community. So, on February 14, our group held a informational protest outside the opening ceremony of SBABM at Adams Town library and announced the launch of our own website, susanbanthonymuseum.com.
Our group’s objective has never been to advance an opinion one way or another about how Anthony would view the modern abortion debate, but rather to explain the inappropriateness of inferring upon her an unproven historical stance. Historians agree that it is impossible to ascertain how Anthony would interpret the contemporary abortion debate and according to Ann Gordan, Rutgers University Professor and Research Historian and editor of the academically acclaimed Susan B Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton Papers, there is “zero evidence that Anthony ever made her opinion known”.
Anthony serves a model of female empowerment and strength to all women, and for any group to misrepresent her legacy to claim her for their own political agenda is divisive and a disservice to her legacy.
For the past ten years, two anti-abortion organizations entrenched with the leadership of the SBABM, Feminist Choosing Life of New York and Feminist for Life of America have been conducting a deliberate and methodical campaign to co-opt Anthony as a historical role model and icon for their new anti-choice feminist movement. The attainment of Anthony’s birthplace by the founder of FCLNY is central to providing legitimacy and credibility to this movement. Feminist for Life of New York was founded by museum owner and President, Carol Crossed, in 2000 as a state chapter for FFLAM. The group changed its name in 2006 to Feminist Choosing Life when it was involuntarily dissolved from its parent chapter. FCLNY & FFLA continue to work together in some capacities. Sally Winn, the former Vice President of FFLA and executive director of the SBABM is a current listed speaker for FFLA college outreach speaking program. Winn was originally commissioned by FCLNY to head a committee “to explore ideas on how best to utilize the property (Anthony’s birthplace) for the advancement of the pro-life, pro-women philosophy”, according to the organization’s 2006 newsletter. In the group’s 2007 newsletter, they announced the SBABM as a registered subsidiary of FCLNY and noted FCLNY would ‘retain control over the selection of board members and the direction of the museum itself. The majority of the SBABM advisory board and board of directors are members of FCLNY including the group’s current president, Kelly Vincent Brunacini, who serves on its board of directors.
FCLNY & FFLA newly advanced theory of ‘pro-life’ feminism is ribbons and bows for their real agenda to prevent women from accessing comprehensive reproductive health care including safe abortion services. FCLNY and FFLAM are against abortion in all cases, even rape and incest. They are against emergency contraception. FCLNY links on its homepage to Care Net, a Pregnancy Center accused in a 2006 report to Congress of providing inaccurate information about health & psychological risks associated with abortion to pregnant women and teens. Both groups has previously sponsored lectures advancing the completely debunked claim that abortion increases a woman’s risk of breast cancer. These groups claim compassion and respect for women as central to their pro-life feminist philosophy. Yet, there is nothing respectful about deliberately manipulating a vulnerable pregnant woman with false information. There is nothing compassionate about utilizing fear as a tactic to bully a woman into making a reproductive choice.
This is not the legacy of feminism that Susan B Anthony teaches us. The whole of her life’s work was dedicated to empowering women to advocate for themselves in the context of truth and courage. It is inappropriate for her image and words to symbolize a school of feminist thought advanced by those who do not believe women capable as acting as moral agents on their own accord.
The SBABM leadership has deliberately masked their anti-choice agenda as a feminist ethic and disingenuously utilized Anthony as a model and symbol for their own anti-choice cause. As local residents of her home tome of Adams, we will not stand idly by as our most cherished native daughter is co-opted for the narrow political agenda of a few. Susan B Anthony deserves much better.