In response to the Feminist Majority Foundation’s #AbortionMatters blog carnival, Life Matters Journal is sponsoring a #LifeMatters tweetfest/blogfest.

HOW: Make your profile picture one of the #LifeMatters tweetfest/blogfest images we share, to stand in solidarity for life! Then post early and often with the #LifeMatters hashtag on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram, your blogs — however you can spread the message! We want the media to know that our message is one based in human rights, sound science, and solid ethics. That only by laying a foundation based on the respect for life and dignity of each and every human being can we ever hope for a future peace.

All Our Lives will be participating, and we’d like to encourage our supporters to do so as well. In particular, it would be great to see posts/tweets/etc that really engage with the reasons that people give as to why abortion matters to them.

Bodily integrity matters. The ability to plan childbearing matters. Mothers’ health matters. Having enough resources to care for one’s kids matters. How can we best honor those values while maintaining a commitment to sustaining everyone’s life, before and after birth?

All Our Lives will not have a presence of its own at the 2013 March for Life, but we are co-sponsoring the “For Peace & ALL Life” meetup/march group. It will be a great opportunity to meet other consistent life/whole life proponents.

Co-sponsored by Life Matters Journal, Secular Pro-Life, Consistent Life, Students for a Fair Society and continuing to seek other partners in the meetup/marching event!The March for Life is often portrayed and publicized as an event to protest against the (legal) killing of the preborn human among us. But what if it meant something more? What if the rallying cry in our ranks was one that stood for peace and all life? What if we stood not only for the preborn, but for the criminal, the prisoners of war, innocent civilians everywhere, the aged and the disabled, the depressed and the bullied, people of every race, gender, faith, sexuality, size, level of dependency, location, nationality?

If you are a supporter of the Consistent Ethic of Life, or just want to see our world engaged in a conversation that does not exclude any human life from consideration, please join us for a meetup and march with us at the March for Life. We represent the fullness of the pro-life mission!

The plan is merely to have a space and a time to share in the community of our little movement that encompasses the anti-abortion cause, but to be strengthened in the knowledge that we are not alone. Network with others in the CL cause, learn about opportunities available, and help to spread the message for peace and all life!

(Reprinted from the Fall 2012 Life Matters Journal. An earlier version, titled “What the First Wave of Feminism Can Teach the First Wave of Common Ground” appeared at RHRealityCheck.org on July 9, 2009.)

Feminists of the 1960s and 70s were hardly the first to address abortion. Their nineteenth and early twentieth century foremothers also took a strong, if–to many today—unexpectedly oppositional stance. Since at least the late 1980s, prochoicers and prolifers have repeatedly, heatedly disputed the precise content and meaning of this herstory. After over two decades of research and writing on this subject, I cannot agree with prochoicers who outright deny that early feminists opposed abortion, or who claim that this opposition was for now irrelevant or retrograde reasons. Nor can I side with abortion opponents who crudely invoke early feminists even as they defend policies that harm women, such as restricted access to family planning (pregnancy prevention) services.

So what did early feminists really say and do regarding abortion, and why?

While I cannot here do justice to the abundant, many-voiced early feminist literature on abortion, I can briefly outline a consensus shared by everyone from anarchist, freethinking “free lovers” to Women’s Christian Temperance Union members. For documentation of primary and secondary sources, please consult the book I coedited with Rachel MacNair and Linda Naranjo-Huebl, ProLife Feminism Yesterday and Today: Second Expanded Edition (FNSA/Xlibris, 2005), as well as my article “Activism Through the Centuries” in Consistently Opposing Killing, edited by Rachel MacNair and Stephen Zunes (Praeger, 2008).

Like some who identify as feminists today, early feminists opposed abortion out of a belief that life began at conception and acquired human rights at that point. The context of this belief was something parallel to a present-day consistent life ethic. Early feminists’ concern for prenatal lives was hardly single-issue. It was interwoven with their robust advocacy for women, especially their defense of women’s nonabortion reproductive rights, and for already-born children. It was hardly unrelated to their challenges against racism, classism, imperialism, the death penalty and war and (in many cases) their promotion of animal welfare and practice of vegetarianism.

Early feminists did not oppose abortion simply in deference to its illegality. They nonviolently challenged many quite legal practices, such as the denial of women’s right to vote, marital rape and domestic violence, and bans on the open discussion and provision of family planning. Early feminists were deeply concerned about the danger to women’s lives from doubly unsafe procedures. At the same time, they spoke about any abortion that killed a woman as a taking of two lives, not one.

Early feminists demanded, and themselves created, greater social supports for pregnant and parenting women and their children. Single mothers and their children were ruthlessly denied food, clothing, shelter, and health care on the grounds that this was aiding and abetting “immorality.” Many single mothers could not survive without going into prostitution. Married mothers, too, struggled in isolation with such difficulties as domestic violence and economic insecurity. If they were middle or upper class, they faced enforced economic dependence; if working class, toxin-riddled, unsafe jobs that failed to pay living wages or allow for healthy child care practices. As happens today, pious rhetoric about the sacredness of marriage, home, and family frequently obscured these difficulties and blocked effective solutions.

Early feminists squarely held men responsible for any children they conceived, inside or outside marriage. They called men to responsibility in an even more radical way, starting with antislavery documentation of sexual and reproductive outrages that white men committed against African American women and children. As Matilda Joslyn Gage stated, no “subject lies deeper down into woman’s wrongs” than “the denial of the right to herself.”

Although this might seem very strange to today’s prochoicers, when early feminists spoke of a woman’s “right to herself” or “right over her own body,” for them this did not include a right to abortion. It did encompass many measures that would empower women to prevent unintended pregnancies, abortions, and cases of difficult motherhood. Woman’s right to her own body unquestionably meant her right to choose whether, when, and with whom she wished to have penis-vagina sex and thus face the possibility of conception. In other words, it meant freedom from rape, inside and outside of marriage—at a time when the very notion of marital rape was laughed at, even more than it is today. Despite the prevailing cultural belief that “virtuous” women should remain ignorant, feminists also insisted upon thorough sexual/reproductive health education as part of woman’s body-right.

Against widespread contempt for “old maids” like Susan B. Anthony, early feminists defended women’s right and ability to choose a generative singlehood. Although voluntary pregnancy prevention was cast and abhorred as some monstrously wicked, selfish shirking of maternal duty, many early feminists stood up for women’s liberty to use contraceptives and even resort to “Dianaism,” or sexual practices other than penis-vagina intercourse. In a time when women were reviled or pitied even more than they are today for not marrying men, a number of women’s rights activists openly chose “Boston marriages,” or committed same-sex domestic partnerships, or at the very least warmly supported their friends and colleagues who made this choice.

Could the herstory of early feminists on abortion still mean something for today’s abortion debate–other than more pointless, unproductive argument that leaves real-life women and children, born and unborn, out in the cold? Despite all the bickering I have heard and despaired over, I dare to hope so. I believe that this herstory holds two-at least two–big lessons for the present time.

First, many—not all, but many—prochoicers and prolifers alike can validly claim these pioneering feminists as foremothers. Substantial numbers on both “sides” share a consciousness of women’s and already-born children’s rights arising from shared historical sources. Second, if people from both “sides” share this consciousness, they can together contemplate the early feminist analysis of causes and solutions for unintended pregnancy and abortion. They can ask: How does this analysis fit and no longer fit the present? To what particular collective as well as individual responsibilities does it invite us?

What if a strong prochoice-prolife coalition demanded a toxin-free environment, a better child support enforcement system, a living wage, paid family leave, and genuinely universal health care, including a full choice of voluntary family planning methods, prompt access to quality prenatal care, and drug rehabilitation for those who need it? What if we redesigned schools, workplaces, places of recreation, and religious facilities to be truly family-friendly, to all kinds of families?

In regard to abortion itself, today’s prolifers and prochoicers obviously draw the parameters of a woman’s body-right differently. For many prolifers, pregnancy interconnects two equally valuable bodies and lives. For many prochoicers, pregnancy is a matter of one body and life, the woman’s, and/or perhaps a fully realized life nurturing a potential life inside of herself. But why can’t both “sides” at least cooperate on defending a woman’s body-right before conception?

Comprehensive sex education already enjoys a broad base of public support. It can incorporate strong messages of male responsibility and nonviolence towards women and children, as well as teaching young women the assertiveness and self-respect vital to making positive decisions about their bodies and lives.

And rooted as it is basic rights of health, speech, association, religion, and privacy—freedom of conscience in pregnancy prevention is another potentially large area of common ground. This includes the right to personally choose, or not choose, from among the various reversible or permanent contraceptive methods, fertility awareness/natural family planning, abstinence/celibacy, and sexual practices other than penis-vagina sex, whether in the context of straight or LGBT relationships. I’m not one of them, but I hope people with religious or ethical objections to any of these practices can agree that it is not government’s place to decide specifically how any of us do or do not exercise this right—even if government is responsible for ensuring that everyone can exercise it freely.

At the same time, I would like skeptical prochoicers to consider that prolifers may already be more supportive of woman’s body-right than expected. I personally have advocated this right for years, and know other prolifers who have done the same. We are not isolated cases—as shown by the appeal of All Our Lives, a nonprofit that I cofounded with Jen Roth. This nonprofit organization describes itself as “pro every life” and “pro nonviolent sexual and reproductive choices.”

If prolifers and prochoicers both take up and work steadily on these shared reproductive justice responsibilities, both at the collective and individual levels: what will our descendants be talking about and doing in a century or two? What places will unintended pregnancy and abortion have and not have in their society? I for one would love to know! Surely such a cooperative effort will both expand women’s choices and protect the lives of the unborn. And—even though we cannot be sure of what they would think—wouldn’t our feminist foremothers be proud of us, at long last?

[Author’s note: this article was originally published in Life Matters Journal, Volume 2, Issue 1.]

The consistent life ethic is traditionally seen as a way to draw connections among issues that do not seem related at first glance, such as war, the death penalty, and abortion. However, the connections between forms of violence and injustice are sometimes more immediate. Recent research, including a study published in August 2012 by the Guttmacher Institute, has highlighted connections between intimate partner violence, poverty, and abortion.

Intimate partner violence and abortion

Multiple studies from countries around the world have established a link between intimate partner violence (sometimes also known as domestic violence) and unintended pregnancy and abortion.[i],[ii],[iii],[iv]

The increased abortion rate among women who have experienced intimate partner violence begins with an increased prevalence of unintended pregnancy. A health survey in Massachusetts found that 40% of women who reported being abused had experienced one or more unintended pregnancies in the past five years, compared to 8% of non-abused women.[v]

Women in abusive relationships who become pregnant face numerous pressures to abort. These include fear of being punished if their partner doesn’t welcome the pregnancy, fear that the child will be abused, and the belief that having a child will make it impossible to leave the abusive partner for good. Among women who had abortions in the United States in 2008, about 7% reported having been physically or sexually abused by their child’s father, compared with about 1% of women in the general population who report experiencing physical or sexual abuse in the previous 12 months.[vi]

Reproductive coercion

In 2010, University of California-Davis researcher Elizabeth Miller and colleagues conducted the largest study to date of a phenomenon Miller has termed reproductive coercion[vii]. Miller’s team surveyed women aged 16-29 seeking reproductive health services in five clinics in northern California. Of these women, 53% had ever been physically or sexually abused by a partner. Nineteen percent had experienced pregnancy coercion, defined as a male partner using emotional or physical pressure or threats to get a woman to agree to become pregnant. Fifteen percent had experienced birth control sabotage, in which their partner had deliberately interfered with their efforts to use birth control. Miller uses the umbrella term reproductive coercion to cover pregnancy coercion and birth control sabotage.

Reproductive coercion is often associated with intimate partner violence and may partly explain why intimate partner violence is associated with high rates of unintended pregnancy.

Guttmacher study of “disruptive life events” and abortion

In August 2012, the Guttmacher Institute published a study in the Journal of Family Planning and Reproductive Health Care about the circumstances under which women have abortions. The researchers surveyed 9493 women who had abortions, and found that most had experienced at least one “disruptive life event” in the last year, such as unemployment, divorce or separation from a partner, getting behind on the rent or mortgage, moving two or more times, or having a baby.[viii]

The women in the study who were living in poverty experienced more disruptive life events – and hence, more abortions – than the women who were making greater than poverty incomes. Women living in poverty were also more likely to report having been physically or sexually abused by their partners.

In addition to the quantitative survey, researchers conducted in-depth interviews with 49 women. Nearly half of these women said that disruptive events interfered with their ability to use contraception consistently. Women reported losing health insurance and having trouble affording prescription contraception and getting to doctor’s appointments. Consistent use, not simply any use of contraception, is key to preventing unintended pregnancy. Poverty and disruptive life events appeared to make consistent use more difficult.

There were no questions on the quantitative survey about reproductive coercion, but six of the 49 women interviewed in-depth reported experiencing it.

Conclusions

Intimate partner violence and poverty both make it more difficult for women to avoid unintended pregnancy and to carry to term if they become pregnant.

For pro-life advocates who are working to reduce the demand for abortion, these data suggest two courses of action. The first is working to end poverty and abuse themselves, and ensuring a strong social safety net to buffer against the effects of disruptive life events. Second, it is also important to ensure that women currently experiencing poverty and abuse have the information and health care access they need to prevent unintended pregnancy, as well as social and material support if they do conceive.

Mitigating the effects of injustice and working to end the injustice itself are not mutually exclusive approaches. As one example, Elizabeth Miller and colleagues reported in 2011 on a pilot program that tested a new harm reduction intervention for women experiencing abuse or reproductive coercion.[ix] Their intervention enhanced standard intimate partner violence counseling with information on reproductive coercion and strategies for minimizing the risk of unintended pregnancy by using birth control methods that were concealable or hard to tamper with. The enhanced intervention both reduced the incidence of reproductive coercion and increased the likelihood that women would leave abusive male partners.

Protecting lives that are threatened by poverty and intimate partner violence also turns out to be a way to protect lives that are threatened by abortion.

 


[i] Christina C. Pallitto, Claudia García-Moreno, Henrica A.F.M. Jansen, Lori Heise, Mary Ellsberg, Charlotte Watts, on behalf of the WHO Multi-Country Study on Women’s Health and Intimate partner Violence, Intimate partner violence, abortion, and unintended pregnancy: Results from the WHO Multi-country Study on Women’s Health and Intimate partner Violence, Int J Gynecol Obstet 2012. Published online in advance of print September 6, 2012. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.ijgo.2012.07.003. Accessed September 17, 2012.

[ii] Lockart I, Ryder N, McNulty AM. Prevalence and associations of recent physical intimate partner violence among women attending an Australian sexual health clinic. Sex Transm Infect 2011; 87(2): 174-176.

[iii] Alio AP, Salihu HM, Nana PN, Clayton HB, Mbah AK, Marty PJ. Association between intimate partner violence and induced abortion in Cameroon. Int J Gynecol Obstet 2011; 112(2): 83–87.

[iv] Fanslow J, Silva M, Whitehead A, Robinson E. Pregnancy outcomes and intimate partner violence in New Zealand. Aust N Z J Obstet Gynaecol 2008; 48(4): 391–397.

[v] Futures Without Violence. The Facts on Reproductive Health and Partner Abuse. Available at: http://www.knowmoresaymore.org/wp-content/uploads/2008/07/The-Facts-on-Reproductive-Health-and-Partner-Abuse.pdf. Accessed September 17, 2012.

[vi] Jones RK, Moore AM, Frohwirth LF. Perceptions of male knowledge and support among U.S. women obtaining abortions. Women Health Iss 2011; 21(2):117-23.

[vii] Miller E, Decker MR, McCauley HL, Tancredi DJ, Levenson RR, Waldman J, Schoenwald P, Silverman JG. Pregnancy coercion, intimate partner violence and unintended pregnancy. Contraception 2010; 81(4):316-22.

[viii] Jones RK, Frohwirth L, Moore AM. More than poverty: disruptive events among women having abortions in the USA. J Fam Plann Reprod Health Care 2012; published online in advance of print August 20, 2012. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/jfprhc-2012-100311. Accessed September 17, 2012.

[ix] Miller E, Decker MR, McCauley HL, Tancredi DJ, Levenson RR, Waldman J, Schoenwald P, Silverman JG. A family planning clinic partner violence intervention to reduce risk associated with reproductive coercion. Contraception 2011; 83(3):274-80.

 

Thanks to Aimee Bedoy, editor of the new consistent life ethic journal Life Matters. She published our article "Family Planning Freedom Is Prolife" in the inaugural issue.

All Our Lives has encountered active censorship not simply when we have sought cooperative action on birth control with prochoice groups, but when we have tried to civilly raise this issue within the organized prolife movement as such.

Never mind (as the article points out) that most who identify as prolife on abortion support contraceptive rights. We welcome this opportunity to get matters out in the open.

Please read, support, and send your own work to this welcome new journal.