Analyzing Ideologies: Is it possible to be a pro-life feminist?

Analyzing Ideologies: Is it possible to be a pro-life feminist?

Or does feminism inherently align itself with a pro-choice stance?

Note: Know that for the purpose of avoiding confusion in this article, I will use the labels pro-life to mean “anti-abortion” and pro-choice to mean “in support of a woman’s choice to abort.” This article was developed from a research paper I composed for my final project in an introductory Women and Gender Studies course at Marquette University in the fall of 2015. Some information was also drawn from writing I completed for a Christian Feminist Theology course at Marquette during the previous year.

As the anniversary of Roe vs. Wade is quickly approaching and a handful Marquette University students are preparing to travel to Washington, D.C. for the annual March for Life, my mind is on a very serious topic this week. I wasn't sure about writing this article. Would my readers be interested in such a weighty issue? Would people judge me for this? As you can see, I ultimately decided that it would be worth the gamble to write this piece, one that is so drastically different from all of my previous work for The Odyssey.

I myself identify as a pro-life feminist, and lately, I have had this pressing concern that I could not honestly call myself a feminist if I also refused to support a woman's right to an abortion. This resulted in my contemplating the question, Is it possible to call oneself a feminist and at the same time be opposed to abortion? Should all women and men who claim to be feminist also support a woman’s right to control her own reproductive system through abortion if she wants to or deems it necessary? Some of my feminist contemporaries might say that the two are mutually exclusive; that is, it is impossible to reconcile feminism with pro-life principles because abortion is a woman’s right and denying her of that right is, essentially, anti-feminist. And in a sense, this claim is hard to dispute unless one can make a convincing argument that a woman’s rights do not involve the right to an abortion. A remarkably difficult task, right? However, it is important to recognize that feminist pro-lifers do exist, and they have very real arguments opposing abortion; many argue that the right to an abortion can, in fact, be a detriment to women. Because this is such a highly contested matter, and it seems that misunderstandings exist on both sides—that is, the real opinion of the opposite is often confused—I will explore the two perspectives to determine if, in fact, one argument is more logical from the feminist perspective than the other. Pro-choice ruth wallsgrove and pro-life Sidney Callahan—two female scholars, advocates and activists—present two interesting accounts of the debate and highlight the ways in which feminism might support their particular opinion on abortion rights.

The Pro-Choice Feminist Argument in Support of Abortion Rights for Women, wallsgrove:

In a response to a letter written to the British feminist publication Bad Attitude claiming that it was not right of the publication to censor an article written by feminist pro-lifer Lesley Dove, ruth wallsgrove writes: “When we talk about reproductive choice, we are not just talking about children, but about the fundamentals of women's lives - our sexuality, our health, our economic choices, any means of controlling how we live our lives. The right to choose not to have a child at a particular point, or not at all, and yet still be able to express our sexuality, is not negotiable for feminists” (wallsgrove 5). This argument in her article "Non—negotiable Feminism” suggests that a woman’s right to an abortion is merely one facet of a woman’s rights to her own body, her reproductive system, and her sexuality. According to wallsgrove, a feminist identity means that one supports reproductive rights for women, and because abortion falls under the category of reproductive rights, he or she in turn supports a woman’s right to abort her child. Notably, nowhere does she claim that pro-choice means pro-abortion; it simply means pro-woman and pro-woman’s rights to her own sexuality and reproduction. Consistently, the pro-life movement has been linked, not surprisingly, to conservative Catholic views on sexuality (i.e. sex is for marriage, birth control is unethical, etc.), so it becomes easy and rather justifiable to associate reproductive or sexual oppression with the anti-abortion pro-life ideology. For this reason, her argument that pro-choice is really pro-woman’s reproductive rights may be quite appealing to feminists, who might oppose the sexual and reproductive oppression that they may see as permanent elements of the pro-life ideology.

Notably, wallsgrove points out another critical component of pro-choice feminism specifically when she says “we are not just talking about children, but about the fundamentals of women's lives” (5). The pro-life movement has long been cited as being largely focused on the life of the unborn child rather than on the living, breathing, acting, thinking, passionate, reflective, intelligent, aware being that is carrying that child—the mother. Pro-choicers have both, historically and in the present day, been dedicated advocates for women, a reality that perhaps could validate the claim that the pro-choice movement is a feminist movement. Indeed, wallsgrove’s attention to the woman and her needs is, arguably, inherently feminist because she concerns herself almost entirely with what women alone may want or need according to their own individual sexualities.

The Pro-Life Feminist Argument against Abortion Rights for Women, Callahan:

In her piece “Abortion and The Sexual Agenda: A Case for Pro-Life Feminism,” Sidney Callahan says, “women stand to gain from the same attitudes and institutions that also protect the fetus in the woman’s womb” (280). This passage emphasizes Callahan’s foundational belief that the pro-life movement, in many ways, benefits women and in turn, contradicts the common assumption that the pro-life movement is pro-unborn child, anti-woman. Whereas wallsgrove focused on the ways in which the right to an abortion is a necessary component of reproductive rights, Callahan argues that abortion is a detriment to a woman’s reproductive freedom because it “ paves the way for even more male detachment and lack of commitment” (280). She believes that traditional pro-choice arguments in support of abortion essentially exempt men from any responsibility by insisting that abortion is solely a woman’s choice—not the choice of the father. To her, this is dangerous because it gives men license to abandon a potentially difficult situation under the pretenses that it is really “the woman’s issue.”

She also argues against the way that the pro-choice camp, in her opinion, tends to demonize pregnancy, and in effect, supports a more masculine model of female sexuality. She says, “in our male-dominated world, what men don’t do, doesn’t count… Many pro-choice feminists adopt [this] male perspective when they cite the ‘basic injustice that women have to bear the babies,’ instead of seeing injustice in the fact that men cannot. Women’s biologically unique capacity and privilege has been denied, despised, and suppressed under male domination,” and in Callahan’s opinion, this is inherently anti-feminist (281). She believes that pro-choice ideologies essentially support a lack of appreciation and respect for a woman’s natural ability to reproduce. Abortion, in her opinion, validates the masculine idea that the ability to give birth is a profoundly inconvenient capability because “this female disease or impairment naturally handicaps women in the ‘real’ world of hunting, war, and the corporate fast track” (280). Essentially, she aims to point out the irony that exists when one claims to be pro-woman but also identifies as pro-choice; her belief is that to be pro-choice means that one is not entirely supportive of the various nuances of female reproduction because she seeks to regulate those natural elements of her sexuality, one of those being the ability to give life to another human being.


Based on the words of wallsgrove and Callahan, I can conclude that both women present sound arguments for each of their causes. Indeed, if I had no opinion on the matter whatsoever and read each of their accounts, it would be exceedingly difficult to choose a side. Another conclusion I have drawn from the readings is that both wallsgrove’s pro-choice feminism and Callahan’s pro-life feminism attempt to place the woman at the heart of the matter, honoring her health, well-being, and freedom. Because of this, one can conclude that these two perspectives share a common interest and audience—the woman. In respect to both sets of beliefs, it is absolutely necessary that she be the focus, that ideology and philosophy never interfere with the very real and tangible concerns of the woman. Without a focus on the woman, the pro-life movement stands little chance of garnering any kind of support from expecting mothers who are seeking an ideology that honors the woman's experience. I would argue that it would be an advantage for the pro-life movement to adopt a more openly feminist platform and use that to gain the support of women who believe that the pro-life movement largely does not concern itself with the women facing the difficult situation of an unwanted or unplanned pregnancy and instead focuses too exclusively on the rights of the unborn child.

The way in which it lends itself well to individualization is arguably the greatest and the most problematic element of feminism, and it results in an extremely diverse spectrum of beliefs and attitudes that fall under the feminist umbrella. In their article “Abortion: Understanding Differences,” Sidney Callahan and her pro-choice husband Daniel Callahan claim that “Too often, it is assumed that a commitment to feminism entails a prochoice position; but that is only one version of feminism, not necessarily its essence” (Callahan, “Understanding Differences,” 221). “See, pro-lifers can be feminist too!” the pro-life feminist might think. However, this passage neither advocates for pro-life nor pro-choice feminism; instead, it suggests that there exist numerous versions of feminism and in turn supports the idea that there is no one way to be a feminist. Furthermore, feminism is neither exclusively pro-choice nor exclusively pro-life, and to label it either of these would be to dishonor the complexity and multiplicity of the ideology. It is not fair to say that a pro-lifer cannot be a feminist for this very reason. Pro-life feminists are out there--hell, I am one--and we are working toward bridging the gap between the traditionally child-centered anti-abortionists of previous generations and the woman-oriented pro-choice movement.


Sidney, Callahan. "Abortion and the Sexual Agenda: A Case for Pro-life Feminism." Ethics: Contemporary Readings. New York City: Routledge, 2004. 275-82. Print.

Callahan, Sidney and Daniel Callahan. “Abortion: Understanding Differences.” Family Planning Perspectives. Vol. 16, No. 5 (Sep. - Oct., 1984), pp. 219-221. Guttmacher Institute. Web. 22 November 2015.

wallsgrove, ruth. "Non—negotiable Feminism." Off Our Backs 26.1 (1996): 5+. JSTOR. Web.15 Dec. 2015.

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An Open Letter to the Person Who Still Uses the "R Word"

Your negative associations are slowly poisoning the true meaning of an incredibly beautiful, exclusive word.

What do you mean you didn't “mean it like that?" You said it.

People don't say things just for the hell of it. It has one definition. Merriam-Webster defines it as, "To be less advanced in mental, physical or social development than is usual for one's age."

So, when you were “retarded drunk" this past weekend, as you claim, were you diagnosed with a physical or mental disability?

When you called your friend “retarded," did you realize that you were actually falsely labeling them as handicapped?

Don't correct yourself with words like “stupid," “dumb," or “ignorant." when I call you out. Sharpen your vocabulary a little more and broaden your horizons, because I promise you that if people with disabilities could banish that word forever, they would.

Especially when people associate it with drunks, bad decisions, idiotic statements, their enemies and other meaningless issues. Oh trust me, they are way more than that.

I'm not quite sure if you have had your eyes opened as to what a disabled person is capable of, but let me go ahead and lay it out there for you. My best friend has Down Syndrome, and when I tell people that their initial reaction is, “Oh that is so nice of you! You are so selfless to hang out with her."

Well, thanks for the compliment, but she is a person. A living, breathing, normal girl who has feelings, friends, thousands of abilities, knowledge, and compassion out the wazoo.

She listens better than anyone I know, she gets more excited to see me than anyone I know, and she works harder at her hobbies, school, work, and sports than anyone I know. She attends a private school, is a member of the swim team, has won multiple events in the Special Olympics, is in the school choir, and could quite possibly be the most popular girl at her school!

So yes, I would love to take your compliment, but please realize that most people who are labeled as “disabled" are actually more “able" than normal people. I hang out with her because she is one of the people who has so effortlessly taught me simplicity, gratitude, strength, faith, passion, love, genuine happiness and so much more.

Speaking for the people who cannot defend themselves: choose a new word.

The trend has gone out of style, just like smoking cigarettes or not wearing your seat belt. It is poisonous, it is ignorant, and it is low class.

As I explained above, most people with disabilities are actually more capable than a normal human because of their advantageous ways of making peoples' days and unknowingly changing lives. Hang out with a handicapped person, even if it is just for a day. I can one hundred percent guarantee you will bite your tongue next time you go to use the term out of context.

Hopefully you at least think of my friend, who in my book is a hero, a champion and an overcomer. Don't use the “R Word". You are way too good for that. Stand up and correct someone today.

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News Flash: 'Building The Wall' Is Still A Dumb Idea And Always Will Be

The government is still partially shutdown because of funding for the wall. Really?


A man who is a strong supporter of building the wall told me this metaphor: If you don't want the wrong people walking into your backyard, you put a fence up. We don't want the wrong people coming to America, so we put a wall up. I respect people's political beliefs, and because of this, I want to share mine.

I believe that President Trump demanding money to build a border wall is dumb.

It's hard to believe so many people really think that this "build a wall" has everything to do about border security. It's just inhumane and wrong.

Literally, the most notorious drug lord of Mexico has shed light about how he smuggles the drug into the U.S. They have brought it through fishing boats, trucks going through the legal point of entry, underground tunnel, but not through unwalled parts. The half of million pounds of narcotics that were secured at the border? They were all al legal points of entry.

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The conditions of Latin American countries are inexplicable. Communist have risen from the ashes dominating these countries letting people rot on the street starving. There are little to no job opportunities. I haven't seen my family in three years because it is dangerous to go.

The media doesn't tell you this. They don't tell you how many people have gone to the border and returned to Mexico because ICE agents tear gas them.

They tell you that they throw babies over fences to distract border patrol agents. They tell you children are dying because of malnutrition of trekking thousands of miles to get the border. They don't tell you that those same children have been eating unmonitored food with thousands of microorganism some mal some good.

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