As we celebrate the 198th birthday of Susan B. Anthony, one of the Founding Mothers of American Feminism, conversations always arise regarding the true meaning of feminism. Just over a year ago, millions of American women took to the streets for the first ever “Women’s March.” The Women’s March was billed as a “social justice and human rights” protest, with a platform ranging from immigration and sexual harassment, to environmental concerns. But with the addition of Planned Parenthood as a main sponsor, and the subsequent decision to exclude pro-life feminist groups, Women’s March organizers made it clear that, in their opinion, you cannot be both pro-life AND a feminist. If you look at the evidence however, it becomes clear that the birthday girl would disagree.
Among the many projects Susan B. Anthony championed as part of her women’s suffrage activism was The Revolution, an early feminist newspaper she founded with Elizabeth Cady Stanton. A quick glimpse into the archives of this publication reveals a treasure trove of information regarding early feminist beliefs and opinions regarding abortion.
One particularly illuminating piece of evidence is the advertising policy of The Revolution itself. In a March 28, 1868 article criticizing the advertising policies of other publications, it was noted that The Revolution refused to sell advertising for what they called “Quack Medicine.” The article went on to unequivocally classify abortion as such, saying: “Quack Medicine venders, however rich, proud, and pretentious, Foeticides [abortion] and Infanticides, should be classed together and regarded with shuddering horror by the whole human race…” It would be hard enough to argue that Anthony did not agree with the general advertising policy of her own publication, but when coupled with the fact that The Revolution’s masthead lists her as the individual in charge of advertising, it becomes impossible to deny that she must have agreed with this policy.
There is also the issue of the many articles published in The Revolution that decry abortion in the strongest of terms. It seems very unlikely that Anthony and her editors, which included Elizabeth Cady Stanton, would agree to publish numerous articles that contradicted their beliefs and opinions regarding this matter. For example, a December 2, 1869 article relates the “Resistance” to abortion of an early female physician, Dr. Charlotte Lozier, who was approached by a man seeking to procure an abortion for his female companion. According to the article, Dr. Lozier told the man he had come to the wrong place for such a “shameful, revolting, unnatural and unlawful purpose.” The article also praised Dr. Lozier’s “able and excellent” defense of her decision to turn the man into the police, in which she argued that “a person who asks a physician to commit the crime of ante-natal infanticide [abortion] can be no more considered his patient than one who asks him to poison his wife.”
Then there is the July 8, 1869 article “Marriage and Maternity” which simply lists “A” as the author, and which some argue may have been penned by Anthony herself. In this article, the author condemns abortion as “child-murder” and argues that: “[N]o 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…”
The author also calls for more than just prohibiting abortion under the law, but also prevention by addressing the root causes of abortion – a viewpoint still championed by many modern pro-life feminist organizations. A similar argument is made in a September 2, 1869 article by a colleague of Anthony’s, Mattie Brinkerhoff, in which she writes, “When a man steals to satisfy hunger, we may safely conclude that there is something wrong in society - so when a woman destroys the life of her unborn child, it is an evidence that either by education or circumstances she has been greatly wronged." Both of these articles, and many others published by The Revolution, frame abortion as a societal evil that was yet another manifestation of the oppression of women.
When one looks back on these words, it becomes clear that modern feminism has lost touch with both its roots and its foundation in the shared human dignity of all individuals. Without that basic foundation, we get a “feminism” that somehow views abortion as liberation, instead of recognizing the sacrifice of innocent human lives as oppression redistributed onto our own children. Women such as Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and even the first woman to run for president Victoria Woodhull, were not shy about being proudly pro-life and feminist… and neither should this generation of strong, intelligent, formidable pro-life feminists.