Can you be a feminist, and be pro-life?
Reviewing Fiorella Nash’s take on abortion and feminism
The other night I attended the event we previewed, called ‘Feminism and pro-life’ by Fiorella Nash, hosted by the Students for Life society. Nash is a pro-life campaigner and self proclaimed feminist, who believes that inherently, abortion is a misogynistic practice as it degrades women and belittles them. She is a researcher for Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (SPUC), and tours the globe giving speeches on this issue. Nash and the SPUC believe, essentially, that abortion should be illegal This is an opinion held by many, and one I point out in the interest of free speech, is perfectly valid. However, it troubles me that Nash claims that this is a feminist argument, and that she is approaching this from a human rights perspective, as there is an ardent contradiction here. By removing the ability of a woman to choose what to do with her body, the right to decide not to bring a baby into the world that isn’t wanted and the right to place her own needs above the needs of a three week old bundle of tissue, you are removing a human right from an actual person. I reiterate that it is acceptable to hold pro-life views, that is your personal view and you personally can choose not to have an abortion should you accidentally become pregnant. Your opinion and your personal choices, however, does not give you the right to legislate for the whole of womankind. The legalisation of abortion does not affect you if you oppose it, but by campaigning to make it illegal you are removing the rights of billions of women to appease your opinion. Furthermore, it is all well and good to call yourself a feminist and oppose abortion, you do you, but it needs to be understood that there is a fundamental contradiction between calling yourself a feminist and removing the basic right of women to have control of their bodies. The two are not compatible.
For the sake of balance, however, here are her main points:
Is motherhood taboo?
Her argument centres around the fact that the legalisation, and in her eyes ‘promotion’ of abortion, is patronising and degrading to women, and is a feature of an inherently misogynist society as it pits the mother against her unborn baby. She argues that abortion is the accepted practice for women who become pregnant, and cited a story of how she met a mother who had been asked “well you’re not keeping it are you?” by her doctor because of the situation she was in when she fell pregnant, and stresses that this is becoming a common occurrence. She believes that motherhood is becoming taboo, and that often young women are railroaded into getting rid of their babies simply because it is the done thing to do when mistakes are made. It is the ‘easy option’, the best way out and women don’t know the help that is available to them in terms of support if they did choose to have the baby. That second point is true, often women who are at school, university or are working when they fall pregnant by mistake aren’t fully aware of the help that is there to support them, that having a baby will not necessarily wreck your career and that if your employer tries to sack you because you’re going to be a mother and are therefore a burden to the company, you can sue. But is motherhood really becoming taboo? This seems to suggest that all women who accidentally fall pregnant take abortion lightly, which is nearly always not the case.
Nash also argued that the rhetoric surrounding abortion was patronising to women, and that often women were told what they wanted to hear as opposed to the truth. She quoted abortion leaflets, which describe it as a ‘gentle’ procedure, which she sees as false advertising. This isn’t entirely true, although there is a certain level of appeasement to women in leaflets, the risks are clearly labelled and there is information online which describes in no uncertain terms exactly what you go through in the procedure. Is it not absurd to assume on her part that women are being fooled by some of the rhetoric that is branded around, which I’m not denying is sugarcoated in some ways, but that doesn’t mean that women don’t thoroughly talk through the procedure with doctors and healthcare professionals to understand it fully. Furthermore, Nash pointed out that unwanted and wanted babies are discussed in different manners in order to appease mothers. For example, unwanted children are referred to as a ‘fetus’, as opposed to a wanted ‘baby’. This, in Nash’s view is misogynistic as it panders to the desires of women having abortions to think that their baby is not human, which in fact, it is.
Can you be feminist and pro-life?
In terms of being both a feminist and a pro-life supporter, Nash said this: “we all love to listen to women as long as they say what we expect them to”. Here she is pointing out that women who identify as feminists and who are against abortion are vilified and that this pits feminists against each other. If her argument is followed, then it makes sense why from her point of view you can be both. If, as she suggests, the process of abortion does degrade and belittle women, and the rhetoric surrounding it is an insult to our intelligence, then it makes sense from a feminist stance to oppose it. However, this viewpoint is unlikely to be popular. The accepted feminist view is that women should have the right to choose what they do with their bodies, and should not have it dictated to them by the state. She also made points about sex-selective abortions and the number of women who feared having girls because of cultural practices, which again does slot into a feminist argument, however is perhaps one best left outside of the wider abortion debate.
To conclude, Nash did make some sense. There are indeed some issues surrounding feminism and abortion, particularly when it comes to the issue of sex-selective abortions. However, I came out of the talk unswayed from my pro-choice stance. I understand what she’s saying, that the whole process is sugarcoated and that women need to be told the truth about abortion and that yes, sometimes abortion is seen as the only way forward for young women who become pregnant by mistake. Irrespective of this and how much I may agree or disagree with Nash on certain points, her lobbying for it to be made illegal, still seems extreme.