According to the San Francisco Chronicle, Senate candidate Carly Fiorina, the former CEO of Hewlett Packard, is being “heralded as …the vanguard of a new breed of ‘pro-women, pro-life’ feminists” in the mold of Sarah Palin’s conservative pro-life agenda.
And she’s not the only one in this so called new breed–in the recent primaries, Sharron Angle from Nevada won the nomination for the U.S. Senate. Susana Martinez was nominated for governor in New Mexico. Nikki Haley will run for governor in South Carolina. If Jane Norton wins in August, she will be a pro-life Senate candidate from Colorado. If Kelly Ayotte wins in September, she’ll be a pro-life Senate candidate from New Hampshire.
Are these pro-life women truly feminists? I think not.
A recent letter to the editor in the San Francisco Chronicle by Annabelle Ison of San Francisco says it best: “How can one be a feminist if one is in favor of limiting or denying a women control over her own body and, by extension, own life?” How can women have a position that takes away their rights—in this case, their reproductive rights? The fact that women themselves can condone this position continues to amaze me.
Ruth Mandel, of the Eagleton Institute of Politics at Rutgers University sees it another way. She thinks that pro-life women candidates may “illustrate how the feminist movement has matured to the point that it can accommodate many competing voices…many points of view.”
More accurately, I bet it’s all about strategic points of view. The messaging of “pro-woman, pro-life feminism” has likely been tested and shown to influence moderate pro-lifers to go their way. What they are doing is what the right still does better than the left – uses the power of words to frame positions, issues and debates to influence people and votes. This framing on feminism can easily put left–leaning women on the defensive, right where they want us. We need the famous cognitive linguist George Lakoff to help the left come up with a “feminist” frame that is not only more persuasive, but makes it easy for more people to see that the pro-life feminist frame is indeed hypocrisy.
But there are lots of pro-lifers out there. Ramesh Ponnuru, senior editor at the National Review, in a recent Wall Street Journal essay points to a recent Gallop finding that 48% of American women consider themselves pro-life, and 45% consider themselves pro-choice. In California it looks different. A March 2010 poll by the Public Policy Institute of California showed that more then 2/3rds of all voters oppose more restrictive laws on abortion. Independents make up 1 in 5 voters in this state, and 75% are in opposition.
Ponnuru thinks that if more pro-life women win their elections, it will “change the tenor of the national conversation about abortion” because conservative and liberal women politicians will be discussing abortion, not men with men, or men with women pro-choice politicians respectively.
Feminists fought for women’s right to vote (and thus make it possible for women to run for office). Feminists fought for the right to use contraception. They fight for equal rights in the workplace. A pro-life stance is about taking rights away, in this case taking away rights that have to do with women’s bodies. Any woman who thinks it is right to deny other women’s ability to make what are personal reproductive decisions and their constitutional rights (in this case the right to privacy) is no feminist. She is not “pro-woman.” She is ironically anti-woman while being a woman!
I am all for more women in higher levels of government—we need that. But when it’s about taking away my rights, that trumps gender.
What do you think about pro-life feminism?