And that ultimately weakens the cause of feminism because it excludes a lot of women, especially young women. Younger pro-life women often see themselves as committed to both the protection of the unborn and the flourishing of women. In a 2015 poll by the Public Religion Research Institute, more than half of millennial women who identified as feminists considered themselves pro-life (18 percent) or both pro-life and pro-choice (37 percent). Overall, a majority of Americans (61 percent) are in favor of limiting abortion in some way.
“The pro-life movement is changing. Many young activists identify as feminists,” wrote Emma Green in The Atlantic in 2017, “and reject a uniform alignment with the Republican Party, unlike their Phyllis Schlafly-style predecessors.” According to recent polls, a large minority (43 percent) of women identify as pro-life. This does not mean that these women reject vital causes of feminism, yet they are often excluded from and alienated by the current feminist movement.
Pro-life women need to be included within the feminist movement precisely because there is still much that needs to be improved for women. The United States is the only wealthy country in the world (and only one of six in total) that does not have some form of national paid leave for new parents. The gender pay gap has not improved in the last 15 years. Globally, women are far more likely to experience poverty and hunger, as well as domestic violence and homicide, and one in three women in the world experience physical or sexual abuse. The vast majority of human trafficking victims are women and girls. Around 140 million girls are “missing” as a result of sex-selective abortion. Women have less access to education than men and make up two-thirds of the world’s illiterate population.
The inequality of women is not an abstract idea. Real women face the fallout of continued sexism day in and day out. This is wrong, and we need to form a broad and diverse coalition to advocate for women. If the feminist movement ousts the millions of American women who oppose abortion, we will fail to address these other grave issues affecting women.
This week, the Supreme Court is hearing a case challenging a Mississippi law that would ban most abortions after 15 weeks. Some predict that it will be the end of Roe v. Wade. Should that indeed be the case, those of us who view abortion as the ending of a human life will celebrate the decision as a triumph of justice and a protection for the most vulnerable. Others will see it as an encroachment on the rights of women.
There is no way to avoid the reality that Americans, including American women, will be divided in our response to whatever the court decides. But moving forward, feminists who are pro-life and pro-choice can and must find common cause to improve the lives of women. Pro-life groups need to intentionally support women, not only babies in utero, and push for policies that make it easier to birth and raise children. (There is a growing “whole life” movement to address this need.) Pro-choice feminists need to prioritize the many other important issues affecting women besides abortion.
Women have been oppressed and continue to be oppressed, and it is wrong. My professor’s definition of feminism seems as cogent now as it did when I was in college. Given how much work there is to be done, we need as many allies as we can get. We need to recover the art of building coalitions across deep difference if we are going to ameliorate the complex problems women across the globe face. The needs of women are urgent, and we cannot address them if feminism devolves into a fight about one issue.
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