Recently, pro-life advocates have popularized claims that abortion harms rather than helps women. The best known of these arguments are the woman-protective arguments—contentions, such as those endorsed in Gonzales v. Carhart, justifying abortion restrictions on the basis of the physical or psychological harms supposedly produced by the procedure. Woman-protective claims, however, represent only one part of a much larger strategy that this Article calls pro-life feminism. The Article follows pro-life activists’ use of the term “feminist” or “feminism.” As the Article makes clear, activists on competing sides of the abortion issue have contested the meaning of “true” feminism. Taking sides in this struggle has obscured the influence and complexity of ideas that abortion opponents identify with pro-life feminism. These are the lost nuances that the Article seeks to recapture.
For legal scholars, social movement activists, and historians, there is a good deal at stake in better understanding the pro-life feminist law reform movement. In the wake of the 2006 decision in Carhart and Justice Ginsburg’s dissent in that opinion endorsing equality-based claims, liberals on the Supreme Court may become willing to openly support equality-based arguments for abortion rights. Pro-life feminists have promoted an important counterargument to equality-based justifications for abortion rights: pro-life feminism helps to paint abortion opponents as pro-woman and amenable to the needs of women who pursue higher education or professional careers.
The Article also identifies potential common ground among self-identified feminists with different positions on abortion. Both pro-choice and pro-life scholars have written extensively on how to present their arguments as forwarding (or at least not undermining) women’s equal citizenship. However, previous work has not fully captured the complexity or diversity of the pro-life feminist movement. Public discussion of pro-life feminism has primarily involved a bitter struggle about who properly counts as a feminist. Lost in this dialogue has been a meaningful consideration of legal issues on which opposing activists might agree: contraception, equal pay for equal work, or state support for parental leave. If we no longer view pro-life feminism as monolithic, we can identify areas of agreement between some of those on opposing sides of the abortion question.
Women’s Rights on the Right: The History and Stakes of Modern Pro-Life Feminism,
28 Berkeley J. Gender L. & Just.