Can A Feminist Be Pro-Life?

Sunday, January 22, 2017

With the Women's March there's been talk about whether one can be a feminist and pro-life. The answer to this depends a lot on how one defines pro-life. Pro-life is often associated with acting to create laws which restrict women from access to abortion. Those laws frequently dis-proportionally effect lower-income women, and result in making abortion less safe, but not less frequent.
So if the goal is to reduce the amount of abortions, these laws appear to be very ineffective, and at the same time they also appear to hurt women. That's why I am pro-life, but not pro-law. Being pro-life for me means that I am pro-life across the board: It leads me to oppose the death penalty and torture. It leads me to support Black Lives Matter and believe we desperately need to reform our police and criminal justice system. It leads me to support LGBT rights and marriage equality. It leads me to feminism because feminism is about human rights. All of these are the direct consequences of my commitment to being pro-life, not simply in regards to abortion, but as an all-encompassing social ethic.

I do hope to see abortion become rare, but not at the cost of hurting women. As a consequence, I generally do not support what I see the majority of pro-life organizations doing, which is to focus on laws. I see this approach as ineffectual, and worse, hurtful. As a study by the World Health Organization concluded, abortion rates do no decline in countries where abortion is illegal, but what does increase is the risk to a woman's health. In other words, anti-abortion laws don't help reduce abortions, but they do harm women. That cannot be an acceptable outcome for someone who is pro-life.

I have increasingly come to see that with many issues, punitive laws don't seem to do much good, and often make things much worse. This has led me to move away from conservatism, and towards progressivism, motivated by my pro-life stance and desire to see people made whole and flourishing. One example is our prison system, which has become a factory for hardening inmates, rather than healing them. Because of this the alarming repeat offense rate is sadly not at all surprising. Locking someone up in the hell of prison life naturally breeds violence, not reform or repentance. People do not learn empathy by being shamed and dehumanized. Being "tough on crime" gains popular support by appealing to our most primitive impulses, but in the end results in a broken system that perpetuates hurt and cycles of violence.
So if laws restricting access are not the answer, what is? One rather obvious way to reduce abortion rates is by making contraception readily accessible and affordable. After all, women who do not have unplanned pregnancies don't get abortions. That means funding Planned Parenthood and keeping the Affordable Care Act should be supported by pro-lifers.
To be sure, it's a complicated issue, and I certainly do not have all the answers. But I do think there is room for conversation among progressives on both sides of the issue. I do believe that in the politically polarized state our country is in, we progressives, we feminists, we who share in common a commitment to justice and the value of human lives and human rights need to move away from the long history of both sides stigmatizing and demonizing the other, retreating into ever more polarized positions.

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