Is pro-life feminism a contradiction in terms? Certainly some feminists see ensuing legal access to abortion as the preeminent cause of the feminist movement, central to guaranteeing women’s individual autonomy and professional success. Anti-abortion activists are seen as waging a war against women, as reactionary forces determined to maintain patriarchy and subjugate women.
Likewise, some pro-life activists would shudder at the thought of linking the protection of unborn life to a feminist agenda, seeing feminism as the mindset that has led to legalized abortion. While they would dispute the charge that they are in any way anti-women, they would acknowledge that they value traditional gender roles and are skeptical of the egalitarian impulses that animate feminism.
These pro-life and pro-choice activists often find consensus in opposing efforts to reach across the battle lines that divide the two sides to find a common ground that might better the lives of women and children—born and unborn. Too often they prefer to demonize their opponents and wage the culture war. Fortunately, this is not the only option. Millions of Americans are sick of the culture war. Many have mixed feelings on abortion, favoring legal access but with restrictions or a right to life but with exceptions. And many support concrete measures that will reduce the abortion rate and improve the lives of pregnant women and their children.
They are tired of the gridlock in Washington. They want policies that make a difference in people’s lives. A good place to start would be for pro-lifers to embrace Senator Kirsten Gillibrand’s Opportunity Plan and for Senator Gillibrand and other pro-choice figures and activists to embrace their support, if it is offered.
The plan calls for a fully self-sustaining paid family and medical leave program, an increase in the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour, universal pre-K, measures to make childcare more affordable, and equal pay for equal work. These measures are good in and of themselves. They would benefit the economy, strengthen families, increase opportunity, and empower women. They are just measures that would promote the common good. But they would also address the concerns and further the goals of both pro-life and pro-choice advocates. If pro-choice advocates are serious about choice, they should be working hard to ensure that no woman seeks an abortion because she feels it is an economic necessity, as this is incompatible with authentic choice. For pro-life advocates, this same goal will save the lives of many unborn children. Increased economic security and opportunity, greater flexibility at the workplace, and greater access to quality childcare and education for their children will lead many women to choose life.
None of this means that pro-choice or pro-life activists must sacrifice their most cherished beliefs. It is possible to work together on shared goals and bracket the differences that cause deep divisions on other issues (in this case, legal access to abortion).Many common ground efforts have stumbled in the past over contentious issues or rhetorical disputes. For activists, there is often the refusal to take more steps to a common ground than those on the other side.
Instead of trying to find some comprehensive plan that threads the needle or extracting the perfect set of concessions, pro-life organizations and activists should simply embrace this plan, articulated by a prominent pro-choice activist. And pro-choice supporters of the plan should welcome this support. In doing so, pro-life activists would demonstrate their authentic commitment to improving women’s lives and building the culture of life.
They would dispel the notion that they are pro-birth, not pro-life. They would show that they are above petty politics and not just another special interest. They can show that they are more interested in protecting the lives of children than helping Republicans win the next election. Pro-choice supporters would gain key allies in empowering women and furthering economic justice. It might undermine the claim that pro-life feminism is nonexistent, but it would have a real, positive impact on the lives of women and their children.
Robert Christian is the editor of Millennial and a PhD Candidate in Politics at The Catholic University of America. He is a senior fellow at Democrats For Life of America.