Feminism, Abortion, and Coalition-Building

There was a bit of a dust-up earlier this week over when it was discovered that this weekend’s Women’s March on Washington had added an anti-abortion group, New Wave Feminists, to their list of organizational partners. After some controversy, the group was removed from the list of official partners (though still invited to attend) and the Women’s March released this statement:

The Women’s March’s platform is pro-choice and that has been our stance from day one. We want to assure all of our partners, as well as our participants, that we are pro-choice as clearly stated in our Unity Principles. We look forward to marching on behalf of individuals who share the view that women deserve the right to make their own reproductive decisions.

The anti-choice organization in question is not a partner of the Women’s March on Washington. We apologize for this error.

After this statement was released, Rachel Held Evans, widely viewed as a progressive feminist voice within evangelical Christianity, tweeted critically in response: “Progressives have a chance to build a broader coalition here and they are blowing it.” Even Christianity Today got into the action, claiming that the Women’s March was excluding “40 percent of American women” (despite the fact that the Women’s March is not preventing anti-abortion women from attending the march).

Let’s talk about New Wave Feminists. According to the organization’s website, “New Wave Feminists are here to take feminism back from those who have corrupted it.” Despite their broader name, the group focuses solely on abortion. The group’s founder, Destiny Herndon-De La Rosa, is quoted in World Magazine as follows:

It’s not like we’re trying to take abortion away. We’re trying to get out there and help women and say, “Dude, how can we help women better?” Because it’s not pro-choice when a woman goes into an abortion clinic because she feels like she has no other choice.

Here, Herndon-De La Rosa asserts that her organization is not in favor of banning abortion and only works to ensure that women have a full range of options in order to argue that feminist groups who refuse to work with her organization are anti-choice. This is highly misleading, to say the least. For one thing, Herndon-De La Rosa testified in favor of Texas’ HB2, which was struck down by the Supreme Court this past summer as a transparent attempt to erode abortion access. She does support restrictions on abortion access. But actually there’s more to it than that.

Have a look at the organization’s blog. The group non-ironically uses the term “slut.” They write that the birth control pill causes abortions. They claim that abortion is a racist plan to kill black babies. And check out this excerpt from a post by Herndon-De La Rosanow removed from the organization’s blog (available on the Wayback Machine):

Sex leads to babies. Everyone knows that. If you don’t want a baby, then don’t have sex. That doesn’t mean you can’t be a slut, it just means you can’t be a full service slut, so can we please put this argument to bed already?

The entire post is like that. This isn’t simply a group that wants to ensure that no woman is pressured into having an abortion due to lack of options, it’s a group that promotes legal restrictions on abortion, spreads medical misinformation, slut-shames women, and shares gross (and false) propaganda. That the Women’s March partnered with this organization to begin with suggests that they didn’t vet it very thoroughly.

But there’s a bigger issue at play here. Can you be anti-abortion and a feminist? Obviously, this isn’t a question I can answer. It’s something many people have argued over in recent decades; there is no gatekeeper for the label “feminist” and no one can stop anyone else from using it. I would offer a few thoughts, though.

I see no conflict between support for women’s rights and efforts to reduce the number of abortions performed through better access to quality birth control and an improved social safety net that ensures that women with unintended pregnancies can afford to carry to term if they want to do so. Reducing the stigma single mothers face, and the stigma of unwed pregnancy, present additional ways to reduce the number of abortion performed while empowering women. The same is true of doing more to educate women about their bodies. Reducing violence against women can also reduce the number of unplanned pregnancies by cutting down on reproductive coercion.

What about efforts to ban abortion? Look, legal restrictions on abortion lead to women being investigated for miscarriages and to women dying in hospital beds. We know this because these things happen in countries where abortion is restricted, and also because they happen in the U.S. in states or hospitals that infringe on women’s reproductive rights. You cannot ban abortion without significant negative consequences to women. Even restrictions that stop short of a full ban can create problems; recent state-level restrictions on abortion have led to an upswing in women in the U.S. turning to often-dangerous DIY abortions.

Because of the above, I would have a hard time working to promote women’s rights alongside someone also working to ban abortion. I would have absolutely no problem, however, working to promote women’s rights alongside someone working to decrease the number of abortions performed by promoting access to quality birth control, creating paid maternity leave and better childcare policies, and reducing the stigma faced by single and unwed mothers—all things I support myself.

One last note. I would also have a problem working to promote women’s rights alongside those who spread misinformation and tell lies about abortion, birth control, and organizations like Planned Parenthood. It is not okay (or at all feminist) to lie to women in order to pressure them out of having an abortion—or using birth control.

I believe there is ample room within a broader feminist coalition for individuals who are personally opposed to abortion, and for individuals who would like to decrease the need for abortion through measures designed to reduce unintended pregnancies and ensure that women can afford to carry to term and raise children if they so choose. I do not believe this position is necessarily in conflict with the statement issued by the Women’s March, either, because individuals who want to increase the options available to women (by ensuring that all women can afford to gestate and parent, for example) are not anti-choice.

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