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 People Who Don’t Tip Their Servers

This one's for you.

Dear Person Who Has No Idea How Much The 0 In The “Tip:" Line Matters,

I want to by asking you a simple question: Why?

Is it because you can't afford it? Is it because you are blind to the fact that the tip you leave is how the waiter/waitress serving you is making their living? Is it because you're just lazy and you “don't feel like it"?

Is it because you think that, while taking care of not only your table but at least three to five others, they took too long bringing you that side of ranch dressing? Or is it just because you're unaware that as a server these people make $2.85 an hour plus TIPS?

The average waiter/waitress is only supposed to be paid $2.13 an hour plus tips according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

That then leaves the waiter/waitress with a paycheck with the numbers **$0.00** and the words “Not a real paycheck." stamped on it. Therefore these men and women completely rely on the tips they make during the week to pay their bills.

So, with that being said, I have a few words for those of you who are ignorant enough to leave without leaving a few dollars in the “tip:" line.

Imagine if you go to work, the night starts off slow, then almost like a bomb went off the entire workplace is chaotic and you can't seem to find a minute to stop and breathe, let alone think about what to do next.

Imagine that you are helping a total of six different groups of people at one time, with each group containing two to 10 people.

Imagine that you are working your ass off to make sure that these customers have the best experience possible. Then you cash them out, you hand them a pen and a receipt, say “Thank you so much! It was a pleasure serving you, have a great day!"

Imagine you walk away to attempt to start one of the 17 other things you need to complete, watch as the group you just thanked leaves, and maybe even wave goodbye.

Imagine you are cleaning up the mess that they have so kindly left behind, you look down at the receipt and realize there's a sad face on the tip line of a $24.83 bill.

Imagine how devastated you feel knowing that you helped these people as much as you could just to have them throw water on the fire you need to complete the night.

Now, realize that whenever you decide not to tip your waitress, this is nine out of 10 times what they go through. I cannot stress enough how important it is for people to realize that this is someone's profession — whether they are a college student, a single mother working their second job of the day, a new dad who needs to pay off the loan he needed to take out to get a safer car for his child, your friend, your mom, your dad, your sister, your brother, you.

If you cannot afford to tip, do not come out to eat. If you cannot afford the three alcoholic drinks you gulped down, plus your food and a tip do not come out to eat.

If you cannot afford the $10 wings that become half-off on Tuesdays plus that water you asked for, do not come out to eat.

If you cannot see that the person in front of you is working their best to accommodate you, while trying to do the same for the other five tables around you, do not come out to eat. If you cannot realize that the man or woman in front of you is a real person, with their own personal lives and problems and that maybe these problems have led them to be the reason they are standing in front of you, then do not come out to eat.

As a server myself, it kills me to see the people around me being deprived of the money that they were supposed to earn. It kills me to see the three dollars you left on a $40 bill. It kills me that you cannot stand to put yourself in our shoes — as if you're better than us. I wonder if you realize that you single-handedly ruined part of our nights.

I wonder if maybe one day you will be in our shoes, and I hope to God no one treats you how you have treated us. But if they do, then maybe you'll realize how we felt when you left no tip after we gave you our time.

Cover Image Credit: Hailea Shallock

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Sociolinguistics Series: Part 50

Language is a powerful tool.


It's part 50--halfway to 100! I'm so glad to still be here writing! In this section, we will talk about Dr. Shikaki's findings on how Palestinians view the state of Israel.

25 years ago, 85% of Palestinians supported a two-state solution. 10 years ago, this number decreased to 70%. Dr. Shikaki believes this was due to an increase in the prominence of Islamism in Palestinian society during the second intifada; Islamists were opposed to the two-state solution. In the most recent survey, the December 2018 one, only 43% of Palestinians supported the two state solution.

In 2000, American President Bill Clinton met with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and PA Chairman Yasser Arafat at the Camp David Summit to come up with a solution to the conflict. It ended without an agreement, but in December of 2000, Clinton once again proposed a resolution: the Clinton Parameters.

The content of the Parameters basically allowed Israel to annex settlements while Palestine to take 94-96% of the West Bank, as well as Arab neighborhoods in East Jerusalem. There were other guidelines regarding territory, refugees, security, and the end of the conflict. Essentially, the West Bank would have been split up by Israeli roads and settlements--which is kind of the reality today.

Both the Israeli government and Arafat accepted the terms with reservations, and Arafat wrote to Clinton a letter asking for clarifications on the terms. Clinton and Dennis Ross, an envoy of the Parameters, publicized that Arafat had refused to accept the terms; they painted Palestinians in a negative light, saying that Israel wanted to accept the peace negotiations but Palestine did not.

American Lawyer Robert Malley was at the Camp David Summit and oversaw parts of the Clinton Parameters. In 2001, he said that three myths had come out of the failure of both negotiations, and that these three myths were dangerous to any future peace processes if people kept believing in them.

These myths are as follows: "Camp David was an ideal test of Mr. Arafat's intentions," "Israel's offer met most if not all of the Palestinians' legitimate aspirations," and "The Palestinians made no concession of their own."

He said that these three statements were not true but very heavily publicized by America and Israel after the negotiations failed; rather, there is more nuance to each of these issues, and America and Israel have just as much responsibility in the failure of the Summit and Parameters as Palestine did. Malley wrote, "If peace is to be achieved, the parties cannot afford to tolerate the growing acceptance of these myths as reality."

Anyway, what does this have to do with Dr. Shikaki? He polled Palestinians not only on the their attitudes to the two-state solution, but the Clinton Parameters as well. 25 years ago, there was 60% support for the Clinton Parameters by Palestinians, but the June 2018 poll showed that the number had gone down to 37%.

The last ten years shows a significant decrease in public support for both the two-state solution and the Clinton Parameters, and it could be a result of disagreeing with specific parts of the proposals (such as how the Temple Mount/Dome of the Rock or Jerusalem is delegated).

I did some further digging when I got home, and I found this data from the UN Division for Palestinian Rights website:

"A 25 December [2000] published poll found that 48% of the 501 Israelis questioned were opposed to the proposals; 57% would object to Palestinian control of the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound; 72% were against even a limited return of Palestinian refugees to Israel. A 29 December published poll found that 56% of the Israelis would oppose a peace agreement reached on the basis of the Parameters."

This shows that though public media--especially Western media--may have painted the Palestinian government as the villain (and Israel and America as the "victims"), the proposals accepted by either government had varied support among its people.

The Israeli civilian population did not want to accept the Clinton Parameters because of the way certain things would be resolved; their reservations lie with the Temple Mount/Al-Aqsa Mosque because the Temple Mount, which is the holiest site in the world for Jews, would have been given to Palestine, while Jews would have control of the Western Wall of the Temple Mount (which is the status quo).

In addition, there was a section in the Clinton Parameters that dealt with the right of return for Palestinians, where there would be a certain number of Palestinian refugees who settled in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, while other Palestinians either would become citizens of their host countries, move to a third-party country, or settle back into the land that is Israel Proper (with permission from the Israeli government, of course); many Israelis did not support this.

That was the public opinion years ago. Today, there is even less support for these proposals. Dr. Shikaki outlined three issues as reasons for a decrease in support of compromise, which we will cover in the next section. Stay tuned!

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