Can you be both pro-life and a feminist?

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

Published September 30, 2008 1:10PM (EDT)

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."


By Catherine Price

Catherine Price is an award-winning journalist and author of Vitamania: How Vitamins Revolutionized the Way We Think About Food. Her written and multimedia work has appeared in publications including The Best American Science Writing, The New York Times, Popular Science, O: The Oprah Magazine, the Los Angeles Times, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Washington Post Magazine, Salon, Slate, Men’s Journal, Mother Jones, PARADE, Health Magazine, and Outside. Price lives in Philadelphia.

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