Can You Be Anti-Choice and Also a Feminist?


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.

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23 Responses to “ Can You Be Anti-Choice and Also a Feminist? ”

  1. Intelligent, articulate, thought-provoking. Well done. -Tosha

  2. I agree that this is well-written, and I applaud you for thinking outside the box.

    Your argument reminds me of one made by both Andrea Dwokin and Catharine MacKinnon. Specifically, they argue that men granted women control of our reproduction (to some extent, anyway), because it would give us less of an out to be fucked, now that women were supposedly allowed to say no and have it mean something. MacKinnon also writes that pornographers gave money to Planned Parenthood and and other anti-abortion and anti-rape groups. I believe even NOW received money from pro-porn groups at one point. I have no idea how much of this still goes on.

    But yeah, the point both of them make is very much along the lines of yours: in a sex-equal world, there really wouldn't be a need for abortion, because women would have access to birth control and rape would be non-existent, as would more general pressure from men to have sex. Women wouldn't see their/our only worth as sex objects. And so on.

    Therefore, if one really wants to put an end to abortion, they should work towards sexual justice.

    As an aside, MacKinnon has repeatedly stated that it is a defamatory statement to say that she has said all sex is rape. What she has said is that under male supremacy, all sexual relations between men and women lie on a continuum containing some element of force. This idea is brilliant, and makes a lot of sense to me.

    The "all sex is rape" myth was first attributed to Andrea Dworkin, and it too, is a myth.

  3. Your premise, at first, seems to be thoughtful. You actually think you're a feminist and you talk about education!

    But, you're lying to yourself. Your own summary of the tenets of feminism include "women have the right to equal pay, equal access and equal rights both in marriage and in autonomy." But, later in the article, you prove that you don't really feel that way. You use the example of an 18 year old who has lost her virginity, "then how is it fair to make them beholden to the consequences?" I wonder why you think it is only the woman's responsibility to prevent and deal with pregnancy?

    You go on to say, "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." Again, why is all this only the mother's responsibility? I took sex ed, and I'm pretty sure my teacher mentioned something about sex being a two-person (or more!) activity. One of those two people even has to be a man! And yet, you don't seem to want to hold the dude accountable.

    You have the right idea. It would be completely irresponsible and unfortunate to outlaw abortion before making birth control more readily available (read: cheap) and introducing more effective sex ed to all people (note that I didn't just say women here). But, according to the tenets you described, equality means men have to deal with the same issues. That means the man is equally responsible for the pregnancy.

  4. I can tell you put a lot of thoughts into this, but I have to disagree with you.

    If someone truly believed that abortion is equal to murder, then the circumstances that the fetus was created in would not matter, it would still be murder to them, which is inexcusable. The only reason to believe there should be an exception in the case of rape or incest is if they think that the woman deserves consequences for her actions, and she isn't responsible in cases of rape or incest. In fact you use that term, consequences, several times in your post. Regardless, in order for this to happen a woman would have to prove she was raped. Seeing as fewer than 3% of all rapes end in a conviction, then how else could she legally claim to have been raped?

    Even in a civil trial (versus criminal) where there is less of a burden of proof, a lot of the reason rape cases that go to trial are dismissed or lost is because the defense essentially "proves" that the woman was a slut or dressed like a slut or acted like a slut (whatever that means). Given the hatred our society has for women who express sexuality, it is very likely that in court it would be decided that essentially the slutty girl has to live with the consequences of her actions, or worse, spur people to call more rape accusations false because now she would have a reason to falsely accuse someone. This is how it is for women who have been raped, this would be even more so for a woman claiming to have been raped and wanted to "avoid consequences."

    This post focuses on pregnancy a bit like women spontaneously become pregnant in a vacuum. Or that not taking sex seriously enough requires women "to face the consequences of their actions," but only for women to do so. Why shouldn't men have to equally face the consequences, to equally deal with the "consequences" of pregnancy? Until it is well-accepted that men are as responsible for pregnancy as women, then you cannot argue that restricting abortions has anything to do with feminism or equality.

    It's not even so much about being a feminist and believing in or not believing in abortion. You cannot be a feminist and believe women should be punished for having sex or that 100% of the burden of not getting pregnant should fall on the woman.

  5. As a menstruating woman, who once had sex with men for pleasure and in the context of healthy relationships (not anymore for the record, i now identify as lesbian and only have sex with men for money and use condoms as my only means of birth control, which for the record has been 100% effective for me) but anyways, I would also like to mention that, it is important to have not only access to cheap birth control but BETTER BIRTH CONTROL! Currently there is the condom (primarily the womans responsability to initiate but also used as a tool of humiliation (eg young women in possession of condoms seen as having loose morals) or in the case of sex work, used against us as evidence of a crime, and even condoms are of limited effectiveness if they are not accompanied with good education about how to use an negotiate them. Or we have hormonal treatments, which are problematic for many, for me they made me stop having periods, loose my libedo, put on weight, i was moody and emotional, sore boobs etc etc, or diaphram (again a womens responsibility)an IUD (we've all heard the horror stories) or the extreme hystorectomy or the guy gets sterilised. Or there is the morning after pill, abortion or adoption. In ALL THESE CASES IT'S THE WOMANS RESPONSIBILITY! It sends me crazy, this issue. Why the fuck should a woman have to turn her body upside down to stop herself getting pregnant from mens semen??!!? Why have they not made better options for men to take responsibility. Why is there no mens pill!!. In the real world, if a woman does not ask for a condom, the man assumes the woman is taking care of the birth control issue.
    Eg: two consenting adults fall into bed in a lusty passion or a drunken stupor or whatever. Neither considers birth control equally. The man continues life for next 6 weeks probably never giving it a second thought. The woman spends the next 48 hours wondering if its worth puttin her body through the stress of the morning after pill weighing it up against the likelihood of pregnancy. In the case of an unwanted pregnancy the woman decides weather to even tell the man about it, the intense and intrusive process of an abortion, or the life and body changing process of carrying a baby full term. she gets to deal with ALL of this, it's not negotiable. And if she decides to haave the child,, well then we all know what happens (she does her best and gets looked down on for being a single mum, he does dad duties every other weekend at best and gets nominated father of the year, he goes onto have succesful carrer, she is destined for part time or casual jobs etc etc)
    Sexually active heterosexual women spend so much of their lives trying to navigate this shit and sexually active men spend about 10 minutes every 5 years thinking about it. It sucks. And it is so much more than better ed and cheap birth control.
    And in the meantime, nobody better dare try take away womens right to terminate a pregnancy. not before i see men being forced to carry babys, pregnancies, birthing, equal parental and birth control responsibilities.

    *nb - generalisations based on what we all fucking know, used. obvs does not apply to everyone*

  6. You had me till the last sentence. Since when do we throw out an entire ideology until its ideals exist in reality?

    Also, calling someone "anti-choice" is like calling someone "anti-life." Have some respect.

  7. @womononajourney

    Thanks so much for your thoughtful comment. I realize I was being a little reductive about Dworkin/Mackinnon and will avoid that in the future (though I was simplifying for the sake of illustrating the wide gulf in beliefs in the feminist community).

    It seems really obvious to me that the easiest way to get rid of abortion is to improve sexual equality, but I guess we just need to keep saying it!

  8. @Anonymous While I recognize and respect your point, I don't see how it can be enforced practically. Women have to deal with the consequences of pregnancy because it is happening in their body. Yes, it takes two to have sex, but only one can get pregnant.

    Would you trust a man who says he's using male birth control? Of course not.

    So while I'm not saying men don't have responsibility, they do have the freedom to run off, or to only pay 17.5% of their income and not actually raise the child. The woman is left with whatever consequences occur, every time.

  9. @elkballet that's a very valid point you make there about rape, which certainly should not be ignored. I admit I am talking about pregnancy in a vacuum because I'm challenging the philosophical basis for a pro-life position. A hundred other people have made arguments that deal with the practical, real-world effects of anti-choice and pro-choice policies.

    The dude should be held accountable, absolutely, but that's not always practically possible. There are situations where you carry the child and you don't WANT the dude involved, like drugs, criminality, or general dickishness. Certainly that's true of mothers as well, but the infant is carried in the mother's body, every time.

  10. @San I personally wouldn't exclude people of "pro-life" beliefs from the big tent. I'm just trying to understand whether it clashes at the broad philosophical level, and I think until certain realities change, it does.

    As for the etymology of the debate, I don't like the term "Pro-life" as being pro-choice doesn't mean that you're pro-death. They are not logical antonyms. Pro-choice and anti-choice are logical antonyms. It's not meant as a term of disrespect.

  11. @theoncominghope Thanks for the reply. If you continue to write posts like this, you might get heard. Which is good. And it's why I think you should use the labels people choose for themselves. If you turn off pro-lifers in your very title, don't you defeat your goal?

    If the opponent of pro-choice must be anti-choice, the opponent of pro-life must be anti-life. I doubt you'd appreciate that label. You are not against life, right? You are just against the life of the baby trumping the right of the woman bearing him or her. I don't think the terms should be viewed as antonyms--they are intended to show emphases. "Pro-choice" emphasizes choice over the baby's life; "pro-life" emphasizes the baby's life over the woman's choice. I am glad you didn't mean it as a term of disrespect. Still, you gotta know that's how it'll be read by the very audience you otherwise have a good chance of influencing.

  12. Your post inspired me to wrote this.

    Why American men should boycott American women

    I am an American man, and I have decided to boycott American women. In a nutshell, American women are the most likely to cheat on you, to divorce you, to get fat, to steal half of your money in the divorce courts, don’t know how to cook or clean, don’t want to have children, etc. Therefore, what intelligent man would want to get involved with American women?

    American women are generally immature, selfish, extremely arrogant and self-centered, mentally unstable, irresponsible, and highly unchaste. The behavior of most American women is utterly disgusting, to say the least.

    This blog is my attempt to explain why I feel American women are inferior to foreign women (non-American women), and why American men should boycott American women, and date/marry only foreign (non-American) women.


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  14. @Sand

    You have an excellent point. Unfortunately, it seems that all the language surrounding the issue is heavily freighted with pre-conception. It seems that we need to work to find a new vocabulary that's less freighted and less reductive to what's fundamentally a complex position.

  15. elkballet,

    "If someone truly believed that abortion is equal to murder, then the circumstances that the fetus was created in would not matter, it would still be murder to them, which is inexcusable. The only reason to believe there should be an exception in the case of rape or incest is if they think that the woman deserves consequences for her actions, and she isn't responsible in cases of rape or incest. In fact you use that term, consequences, several times in your post. Regardless, in order for this to happen a woman would have to prove she was raped. Seeing as fewer than 3% of all rapes end in a conviction, then how else could she legally claim to have been raped?"

    You are absolutely brilliant!

  16. I think that being a feminist you should be free to believe in whatever ideas you wish. It's all about being about choice, so if you choose to believe that then it's your call. I'd disagree, but it's all about choice.

  17. "Pro-choice and anti-choice are logical antonyms."
    I believe that abortion is killing (I do not know if its murder as that gets into the belief and intent). Yet I do not plan to have children and do not consider myself to be "anti-choice" as I agree with tons of reproductive choices- hormonal birth control (which I believe should be free and readily available), other forms of birth control, education, adoption, etc. I have no judgement for anyone, I just believe that something that moves around and has a heartbeat is alive. When it becomes alive I do not know, but to me it seems a fetus is alive. I consider myself a feminist and I do not see that as incompatable, I believe in equal rights, equal pay, etc. I just think killing is wrong be it a puppy or a fetus. (that said, I am not sure it sure it should be illegal)

  18. Wow, you have a way with enticing post titles! You made me think about these issues in a fresh way, and that's a great thing. I'm here from the Blogger Ball, btw.

  19. Hi Ruth, thanks for stopping by! Sometimes I spend longer on post titles than on actual posts ;p

  20. @Andrew I'm inclined to agree with you, I just think people need to consider the structural ramifications of certain beliefs.

  21. @Anonymous "Choice" has nothing to do with birth control. Birth control is not abortion or killing by any definition, it's prevention. Choice refers only to abortion and whether you believe women have the right to that choice or not.

    Generally I'm on your side, however. I don't know how I feel about it, but I definitely don't think it should be legislated against.

  22. The thing I noticed was that you went from a mistake in pregnancy to rape and incest for reasons for an abortion. This excludes any other medical reason for an abortion up to and including genetic screening. It presents abortion as a commentary on choices and consequences; the 18 year old was ignorant, should she raise a baby? or the 18 year old was raped, should she raise the baby?. Your positions ignore the implications of medical intervention. Example: Doctors tell the parents that their gestating child has a severe developmental disorder that will cause her to be in pain for most of her very short life with a 90% chance of accuracy. Does the couple have a D&E now or hope for the 10% chance that their child won't suffer and continue with the pregnancy? Their choice has nothing to do with consequences about sexual intercourse and everything to do with ethics and morality. I would rather the abortion debate defined in these choices because they epitomize why the government needs to stay out of a medical decision between a mother and her doctor better than arguing over who was responsible for the sex.

  23. Jessica, that's a good point. In truth, I think it goes without saying that a woman should be able to abort for medical reasons (and while it appears that the commenters above have various political stances, I imagine they would agree as well).

    My point is that since the 18 year old made an misinformed decision, she has the right to have an abortion, because society failed to educate her about sex and reproduction. I'm absolutely not saying it's her fault.


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