Rewriting History on Abortion

Ashley Herzog
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Posted: Feb 16, 2010 3:25 PM
Rewriting History on Abortion

Yesterday marked the opening of the Susan B. Anthony museum in Rochester, New York—and instead of celebrating, a lot of feminists are miffed. The museum was purchased by a member of Feminists Choosing Life of New York, and pro-choice groups are accusing her of “hijacking Susan.”

Apparently, they want the famous suffragist’s views on abortion scrubbed from the historical record.

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“There's absolutely nothing in anything that [Susan B. Anthony] ever said or did that would indicate she was anti-abortion,” Planned Parenthood founder Gloria Feldt.

Absolutely nothing? A quick Google search disproves that in a hurry. In her suffragist newspaper The Revolution, Anthony wrote that “no matter what the motive, love of ease, or a desire to save from suffering the unborn innocent, the woman is awfully guilty who commits the deed. It will burden her conscience in life, it will burden her soul in death; but oh! thrice guilty is he who, for selfish gratification…drove her to the desperation which impelled her to the crime.”

Anthony wasn’t the only early feminist to oppose abortion. Her views were shared by women like Elizabeth Cady Stanton, the feminist behind the historic Seneca Falls Convention and mother of seven children. (If Stanton applied for a teaching position in a women’s studies department today, she would probably be labeled a “Jesus freak” and promptly dismissed.)

“When we consider that women are treated as property, it is degrading to women that we should treat our children as property to be disposed of as we see fit,” Stanton wrote to her friend Julia Ward Howe in 1873.

Victoria Woodhull, the first female stockbroker on Wall Street, also became the first woman to run for President in 1870. An early suffragette with a flair for the outrageous, Woodhull personified the modern feminist slogan “well-behaved women rarely make history.” (She was repeatedly arrested and jailed for her political activities.) And she, too, opposed abortion.

“A human life is a human life and equally to be held sacred whether it be a day or a century old,” Woodhull wrote. “Wives…to prevent becoming mothers…deliberately murder [children] while yet in their wombs. Can there be a more demoralized condition than this? ”

Alice Paul, who authored the original Equal Rights Amendment, was willing to face arrests, harassment and physical assaults in order to win the right to vote. Later, when 1960s feminists began advocating the repeal of abortion laws, Paul asked, “How can one protect and help women by killing them as babies?” She considered abortion “the ultimate exploitation of women.”

It’s one thing for pro-choice feminists to admit they disagree with the early feminists’ position on abortion. It’s quite another to suppress the truth and stuff words in the suffragists’ mouths—words clearly contradicted by their own writings.

Some pro-choicers’ denialism is borderline comical. After the opening of the Susan B. Anthony museum, an opposition group launched a Web site dedicated to refuting Anthony’s anti-abortion stance.

“Feminists Choosing Life of New York, Feminists for Life of America, and Susan B Anthony's List are engaging in a incessant campaign to align Susan B Anthony with their anti-choice cause and imply that Susan B Anthony was pro-life,” the site says. “One of the primary goals of susanbanthonymuseum.com is to provide accurate historical interpretation and context regarding Susan B Anthony's written and verbal statements regarding the abortion issue.”

However, the site doesn’t provide a single source citing Anthony’s written and verbal statements. The “resources” section of the site is blank.

As my old boss used to say, “if you don’t like what the facts say about your ideology, you might want to rethink your ideology.”

As for who is “hijacking Susan” and rewriting history, pro-choice feminists might want to look in the mirror.