Any woman who calls herself a feminist believes in certain broad tenets -- particularly that women have the right to equal pay, equal access and equal rights both in marriage and in autonomy.
Lately there's been some controversy over whether you can be a feminist and be anti-abortion, and the general consensus is that no, you cannot. I don't entirely agree. Now bear with me here.
The problem is that, apart from the fundamental tenets I listed above, very little else is actually agreed upon within this big banner of feminism. Some believe pornography is always wrong (Dworkin and Mackinnon) while others believe it leads to healthier, stronger relationships (Tracy Clark-Flory). Some believe that any sexual relations with a man equals rape (Dworkin and Mackinnon again) and some believe that women should be free to have sex the way men do, freely and without consequences (Jezebel feminism).
So why then, is feminism so instantly exclusive of women who don't believe in the right to abortion, or who believe that an abortion actually constitutes the taking of a human life? I'm not talking about Michele Bachmann or Sarah Palin or Ann Coulter or the women who believe in that "men are the head of the household and women should know their place" crap, but women who believe in equal access and equal pay but simply believe that abortion is immoral.
I'm going to state now that I'm adamantly pro-choice, but that doesn't mean I'm not empathetic to that position, whether I agree with it or not. In fact, I believe this position is acceptable within the big feminist tent, but only conditionally:
- Birth control options must exist that are 100% effective.
- All women old enough to conceive receive thorough sex education, not abstinence-only education.
As we all well know, these conditions aren't close to being met. Yes, we are pretty close to achieving the first, but we are nowhere near the second. You might even go as far as to strike condition 1 and prioritize condition 2, as it is only fair to expect women to face the consequences of their actions if and only if they are empowered to make informed decisions.
If ALL WOMEN are adequately informed and continue to make lifestyle choices that lead to unintentional pregnancies, then I think it is not inherently anti-feminist for you to have the position that abortion should not be allowed except in cases of rape or incest.
I won't agree with you, but that's fine. I don't agree with Dworkin/Mackinnon, and I don't agree with Jezebel either. People keep trying to make it so, but feminism is not now, nor has it ever been, about ideological purity. It's about achieving broad-stroke equality, and there is room for disagreement about the finer points.
But I maintain that, in a system where so many women are inadequately informed about birth control options and the actual, real-life consequences of sexual activity (not the "your soul will burn in hell!" variety of consequence), then it is anti-women to support an outright ban on abortion.
When 18-year old girls tell you about losing their virginity at some freshman party they went to and then whisper to you "it's ok, you can't get pregnant the first time," then how is it fair to make them beholden to the consequences? They may have made that decision to have sex, but they did NOT know what would happen as a result of their uninformed (misinformed, in this case) state.
You will notice that I have not mentioned a 3rd condition, which I consider the most important of all, practically speaking: Society must have the infrastructure to support women who are economically or otherwise ill-equipped to raise a child. If you are going to require a woman to carry a child on the grounds that not doing so is murder, then you have to provide for the child after birth, otherwise you completely ruin the mother's opportunity to achieve those fundamental feminist goals of equal access, equal pay, etc.
So to sum up, in order for an anti-choice position to be acceptable within the big tent of feminism, the burden is on society to provide both robust prevention strategies and post-birth coping strategies for those women you would disallow from terminating the fetus. In American society today, we are lacking in both. Until we have both, I don't even consider women's right to choice worth arguing within feminism.