Can you be both pro-life and a feminist?

It's a controversial question raised by Jennifer Baumgardner in her new book, "Abortion & Life."

Topics: Abortion, Broadsheet, Love and Sex,

Is it possible to be pro-life and a feminist? That’s the controversial question posed by Jennifer Baumgardner in her new book, “Abortion & Life,” which is excerpted in AlterNet.

In a section of her book excerpted by AlterNet, Baumgardner tells the story of a 1993 discussion of feminism in which a teenage girl asked the panel whether it was possible to be pro-life and a feminist. “No,” said Amy Richards, co-founder of the Third Wave Foundation, “next question.”

Richards was apparently then incensed when another woman on the panel contradicted her, saying that she believed that being pro-life didn’t make you ineligible to be a feminist. (Richards has since softened her stance and has collaborated with Baumgardner on this very question.) But as Baumgardner explains, it turned out that these women weren’t necessarily asking if it was possible to be a feminist and bomb abortion clinics, or, in a less dramatic example, work to prevent other women from getting them. They wanted to know if you could call yourself a feminist while still believing abortion is the “taking of a life,” and without making abortion — or, rather, the fight to keep abortion legal and accessible — one of your priorities. Baumgardner’s response? Yes you can.

She goes through a list of principles she believes are necessary to follow if you want to straddle the line between the feminist and pro-life camps. Among them: Work to make sure that women who want to raise their kids have the support to do so, support birth control and sex education, work toward early abortion (in other words, if you’re going to have an abortion, it’s better to do so early), support emergency contraception and medical abortions, actively condemn violence on abortion providers and clinics, and “truly understand adoption and make sure the birth mother has a voice.”

I think the question is interesting because in some ways it’s emblematic of a big problem not just in the battle over abortion but in American politics in general: a complete refusal to see any part of the opposition’s argument. I like to think that there are often more shades of gray, more nuance, than just the black and white lines down which we are currently divided — and this is a great example. Why wouldn’t it be possible to think of a fetus as a living creature, disapprove of abortion, and still care about women’s rights? Granted, nuance and shades of gray become problems when you have to actually decide whose “rights” (the fetus’s or the mother’s) are more important.

Nonetheless, I think that the excerpt from Baumgardner’s book addresses a question that many self-identified feminists have silently been asking — and it’s interesting to consider her conclusion. “So, can you be a feminist and pro-life?” she writes. “The answer is a resounding ‘yes.’ In fact, finding more and better ways to do just that would be, in a word, revolutionary.”


Catherine Price is a freelance journalist and author of "101 Places Not to See Before You Die". She also runs a legally themed clothing shop called Illegal Briefs.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 17
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails
    John Stanmeyer

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Container City: Shipping containers, indispensable tool of the globalized consumer economy, reflect the skyline in Singapore, one of the world’s busiest ports.

    Lu Guang

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Man Covering His Mouth: A shepherd by the Yellow River cannot stand the smell, Inner Mongolia, China

    Carolyn Cole/LATimes

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Angry Crowd: People jostle for food relief distribution following the 2010 earthquake in Haiti

    Darin Oswald/Idaho Statesman

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    “Black Friday” Shoppers: Aggressive bargain hunters push through the front doors of the Boise Towne Square mall as they are opened at 1 a.m. Friday, Nov. 24, 2007, Boise, Idaho, USA

    Google Earth/NOAA, U.S. Navy, NGA, GEBCO

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Suburban Sprawl: aerial view of landscape outside Miami, Florida, shows 13 golf courses amongst track homes on the edge of the Everglades.

    Garth Lentz

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Toxic Landscape: Aerial view of the tar sands region, where mining operations and tailings ponds are so vast they can be seen from outer space; Alberta, Canada

    Cotton Coulson/Keenpress

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Ice Waterfall: In both the Arctic and Antarctic regions, ice is retreating. Melting water on icecap, North East Land, Svalbard, Norway

    Yann Arthus-Bertrand

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Satellite Dishes: The rooftops of Aleppo, Syria, one of the world’s oldest cities, are covered with satellite dishes, linking residents to a globalized consumer culture.

    Stephanie Sinclair

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Child Brides: Tahani, 8, is seen with her husband Majed, 27, and her former classmate Ghada, 8, and her husband in Hajjah, Yemen, July 26, 2010.

    Mike Hedge

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Megalopolis: Shanghai, China, a sprawling megacity of 24 Million

    Google Earth/ 2014 Digital Globe

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Big Hole: The Mir Mine in Russia is the world’s largest diamond mine.

    Daniel Dancer

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Clear-cut: Industrial forestry degrading public lands, Willamette National Forest, Oregon

    Peter Essick

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Computer Dump: Massive quantities of waste from obsolete computers and other electronics are typically shipped to the developing world for sorting and/or disposal. Photo from Accra, Ghana.

    Daniel Beltra

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Oil Spill Fire: Aerial view of an oil fire following the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil disaster, Gulf of Mexico

    Ian Wylie

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Slide 13

    Airplane Contrails: Globalized transportation networks, especially commercial aviation, are a major contributor of air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. Photo of contrails in the west London sky over the River Thames, London, England.

    R.J. Sangosti/Denver Post

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Fire: More frequent and more intense wildfires (such as this one in Colorado, USA) are another consequence of a warming planet.

  • Recent Slide Shows



Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>