REPLY: You can’t be a pro-life feminist

Hannah Graham 9 May 2014

In a recent article for this paper, Annie Magee took exception to what she saw as the CUSU Women’s Campaign’s suggestion that one cannot be considered a feminist if one takes a pro-life stance. According to Magee there can be no ‘real feminist position’ on the subject of abortion, and she finds the suggestion that there might be ‘self-contradictory and, frankly, bizarre’. However, it seems clear to me that it is not unreasonable to suggest that, on certain issues, there are some positions which can be considered ‘feminist’ and some ‘anti-feminist’. The version of feminism conjured up by the article seems to be one in which one can believe almost anything and still be considered a feminist, which is simply not the case.

The idea that there can be no specifically feminist viewpoint on any issue, and that any type of feminism that says so is 'unwelcome' is an idea that is highly damaging to any feminist movement. It seems that in order to be considered acceptable, feminists must make their views utterly bland and unobjectionable; if we say anything more radical than ‘men and women are equal’, we are often accused of unfairly excluding people. Obviously the main contention of feminists is that all genders ought to be equal, but that's not the whole story. I am a feminist because I believe not only that all genders ought to be treated equally but that, as things stand, they are not. I am a feminist because I believe that women deserve to have control over their own bodies and minds, and that it is a fundamental injustice for any political group to take this away from them. And, whilst I believe that everyone is entitled to hold and express their own opinions, I am of the opinion that anyone who disagrees with the above simply does not count as a feminist.

Of course, the idea that there is one unified ‘feminist’ movement of people who all agree with each other is ridiculous; there are millions of different people across the world who call themselves feminists, and many of them hold fundamentally opposing views.  Nevertheless, if there are not some issues which can be considered feminist issues, some issues in which feminists can be said to agree, if not on the details, then at least in principle, then what does ‘feminism’ mean? Feminism is a political stance; it is ludicrous to suggest that there are not some views which are compatible with this stance and some which are not. Obviously, anyone who wishes to is entitled to call themselves a feminist. But, by the same token, their freedom is in no way limited if others choose to challenge their definition of feminism. Yes, it would be anti-feminist to tell women (or men) they were not allowed to hold pro-life views, but to opine that such views aren’t feminist ones does not impact on anyone’s freedom.

Should a pro-life attitude to abortion be considered an anti-feminist view? Well, if feminism is, as Magee claims, ‘about freedom as much as anything else… for women to have the same freedoms as men’ then yes, the desire to curtail women’s freedom to control their own bodies would seem to be incompatible with a desire for women to enjoy the same freedoms as men. The anti-abortion laws which many pro-life groups campaign for not only limit the freedom of women to choose whether or not to have a child, but, in many cases, the freedom to control their own bodily health and mental well-being. It is this which represents the real violation of freedom, not the suggestion that pro-life views are not feminist views.

Of course, it is absolutely right that people with opposing views should engage in respectful discussion about controversial issues like abortion. There are grey areas, as with most things, and I am in no way saying that anyone who wouldn’t agree with abortion in all circumstances is automatically oppressing women. However, any stance which seeks to limit women’s access to abortion, prevent individual women from making choices about their own healthcare, is a stance that can very reasonably be opposed on feminist grounds. To my understanding, this is all that protesters from the Women’s Campaign were seeking to do.

Protesting against a pro-life debate in no way limits the freedom of women or anyone else. In fact, if anyone’s freedom has been curtailed, it is that of the protesters, who were told by Trinity’s bursar that, although they have right to free speech, they would have to practice it silently.

Of course Cambridge Students for Life are entitled to express their opinions, but Lauren Steele and the CUSU Women’s Campaign are just as entitled to express their view that the CSFL’s position is not one that is compatible with the feminist cause.