Widgets Magazine


Feminists should oppose abortion

Tuesday marked the 40th Anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that gave women the constitutionally protected right to terminate their pregnancies. Here at Stanford, the anniversary did not go unnoticed. Many of my peers posted on Facebook how thankful they were for the decision; some posted links to “pro-choice” literature. While the pieces I stumbled upon were respectful, often they were inadequately argued. In a prior column, I criticized a few common arguments that emanate from the “pro-choice” camp, most notably the utilitarian and realist justifications for pervasive abortion rights.

And for their part, Stanford Students for Life held a memorial in White Plaza, ostensibly for the millions of fetuses aborted since the Supreme Court decision. As I argued in a second column, these fetuses – some fifty million in America alone – represent lost human lives at the very least. In that column, I left open for debate whether we should grant the same rights to an unborn fetus as we do to a baby.

In this, my third column on the topic of abortion, I will write about the faulty notion that to be against abortion is to oppose women. This crude thinking is quite prevalent: one need only remember the “war on women,” in which activists cried foul on politicians who, among other things, challenged liberal abortion laws. These activists have stigmatized the “pro-life” position to the point where it is now perceived to be antithetical to any progressive cause.

This simplistic stance is fundamentally flawed. For some historical perspective, consider this: almost all of America’s early feminists were opposed to the practice of abortion. Susan B. Anthony wrote, “no matter what the motive – the woman is awfully guilty who commits the deed. But thrice guilty is he who – drove her to the desperation which impelled her to the crime.”  Elizabeth Cady Stanton had this to say on abortion: “it is degrading to women that we should treat our children as property to be disposed of as we see fit.”

And Margaret Sanger, the founder of Planned Parenthood, was morally opposed to the procedure now associated with her organization. Though she ultimately believed in a woman’s right to choose, she also opined, “the hundreds of thousands of abortions performed in America each year are a disgrace to civilization.” These three are feminist foremothers, yet all three expressed sentiments that today would be regarded as “pro-life” and thus disparaged by the modern feminist movement.

While the contexts of those times were surely different, the general messages are still relevant. Indeed, a small but committed group of feminists was troubled enough with the abortion discourse in the early 1970s to establish Feminists for Life. This is not a religious organization; rather, its mission is “systematically eliminating the root causes that drive women to abortion – primarily lack of practical resources and support – through holistic, woman-centered solutions.”

Surely that is a cause we can all get behind.

Despite what I have written here and in the past, I ultimately believe that the ideal state would not compel a woman to bring a fetus to term. And yet, I am highly troubled by the abortion institution at present in the United States. Not only do I regard a fetus as a human life, but I also view most of the more than a million abortions per year as failures of society to adequately support women before, during, and after pregnancies. We fail to provide, among other things, satisfactory sexual education, readily available contraception, and adequate emotional and financial support at all stages.

A 2004 study offers a bleak outlook on abortions in the United States. It showed that more than half of American women who obtained an abortion perceived it as morally wrong, 64.0 percent felt “pressured by others” to have the procedure, and almost 80 percent were not counseled on alternatives. Surprisingly, one fifth of the women who obtained an abortion desired to carry the child to term.

Any true feminist should be bothered by these findings.  The study paints a picture of abortion not as a voluntary and desirable choice but as an outcome often driven by others and sometimes even in direct conflict with a woman’s sense of right and wrong.

Is abortion – the loss of a human life through invasive surgery – a desirable solution to unwanted pregnancies that result from underlying societal problems? It is not, and it is time we stop pretending that it is. Yet the abortion institution at present provides society with an excuse to ignore the root causes of unwanted pregnancies and opens the door for others to influence this highly personal process.

It is time we stand up to this injustice. Just as we should protect a women’s right to have an abortion, society should protect her right not to have one. To steal a phrase from Feminists for Life, women deserve better.

How did you recognize the anniversary of Roe v. Wade? Email Adam at adamj11@stanford.edu.

About Adam Johnson

Adam is a senior from Illinois. He is majoring in Biomechanical Engineering, although his intellectual interests span dozens of departments. This is his second year writing for the Daily (you may remember him from his work last year on the Editorial Board). Outside of writing, Adam enjoys acting, skiing, making music, and thrift-store shopping.
  • Andrew

    Your article is well written, I cannot fault you for that. Yet there is one key idea I think you should address: the notion that it is irresponsible as a nation to continue to have children when the carrying capacity of our planet is dwindling. When there are existing children who must live in abject poverty; while China and India deal with massive overpopulation; when environmental policy has failed to alter our climate trajectory: these are the issues exacerbated by the “right” to reproduction. Abortion, however horrible it may be, is a tool. You’re right, the root problem is a lack of societal resources for women, but not all women want children, and furthermore, not all women should have children. Not until we address these other issues. Not when American consumers account for a higher energy expenditure, pollution, and water consumption than the next several nations in a line. This is an issue of American societal welfare, but its impact extends far beyond our borders.

  • I can’t even.

    “It is time we stand up to this injustice. Just as we should protect a women’s right to have an abortion, society should protect her right not to have one.”

    What the f*** are you talking about? You know what else is a really cool right? Not having child when you DO NOT WANT TO HAVE ONE.

    You know why people act like being anti-choice (I refuse to grant you the idiotic name “pro-life”) is incompatible with progressive views?


  • sigh

    How is the fact that Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Margaret Sanger opposed abortion relevant to the modern abortion debate? That’s like saying we shouldn’t be quick to judge slave-owners because some of the founding fathers supported the institution of slavery.

  • you should be embarassed

    Your calm, respectful, and well thought out reply has truly benefited this discussion. Please continue your civil behavior.

  • Adam Johnson

    Thanks for your comment! I addressed this argument in one of my other pieces (http://www.stanforddaily.com/2012/10/25/criticizing-popular-pro-choice-justifications/), in my first counterargument. And while I agree with you that overpopulation is a massive problem (pun intended), I do not think it warrants a policy that takes away what I consider to be a human life which has what I believe to be some claim on the right to life.

    Not to shift gears too much, but a far better solution in my mind would be in some way to make the costs of overpopulation and overconsumption more apparent. In pre-industrial times, they were. Your neighbor cuts down too much wood, he gets in your land. He has too many children, and he is begging you for food. Now, we mine building supplies from hundreds of miles away, and free school lunches and food stamps shift the burden of donation to a faceless, federal entity. I may write a piece on this in the future…

  • Rachel

    I already posted about this on Facebook, I’m cutting and pasting that dialogue so that my recent post makes sense:

    Me: Adam, I find all you writing about abortion a little bit confusing because I’m not sure what your point is. You hint at the idea that if we ban abortion, society will be forced to confront the root causes of abortion. I think this argument is highly flawed, given a political environment that right now is challenging things such a birth control. Also, you ignore the idea that banning abortion doesn’t stop abortion, it drives it underground, meaning that even if abortion were illegal society still wouldn’t be forced to confront the root causes of abortion. In addition, until birth control is 100% effective and available, rape ceases to exist, and there are never complications to pregnancy, there will always be unwanted pregnancies. In addition, referring to first wave feminism on the issue of abortion is a bit like referring to our founding fathers’ views on the issue of racial equality. It contributes very little of substance to the debate. You make the mistake of conflating feminist with pro-choice, and of equating pro-choice with pro-abortion. Very few people (if any) think that abortion is a terrific institution and a healthy experience for women. However, sometimes the alternative is worse.

    Adam: I’m not sure where you got the idea that I proposed banning abortions. I didn’t really advocate for any policy, or at least I wasn’t trying to. I was trying to reframe a discussion that I think has lost track of the greater issues. I can see why you find my piece confusing if you project certain opinions on my piece that are not there.
    Also I do not think your historical comparison is fair. Primarily, from what I took from US History, the Founding Fathers were linked foremost by a desire to free the colonies from British rule, not a desire to create racial equality. So though it may be useless to quote them on racial equality, we would be well-served to see their thoughts on colonialism, as that was the relevant issue for them. Thus I maintain that it is relevant to quote from those feminists on a women’s issue, and if some history professor says I shouldn’t do it, well so be it.

    My response:

    Adam, the first thing I said was that I was confused about your position. Claiming to advocate nothing but continuing to produce articles critiquing abortion is going to -surprise- be read as a support of abortion restricting legislation. These articles don’t exist in a vacuum. If you aren’t advocating anything other than that abortion is not ideal, I fail to see the point of you writing these articles at all, unless you think the readership of the Stanford Daily is out having a casual weekend abortion for the lulz.

    I also am willing to defend my analogy. The Founding Fathers had a great deal to say about liberty, who should qualify as a citizen, and what rights a citizen should be assured. However, they lived a long time ago, and while we might look to them as a reference point, we certainly don’t consider their views to be contemporary or even terribly relevant to a discussion of those issues today. You are welcome to quote from any person, identified feminist or not, on the issue of abortion. I just believe it’s absurd to quote a first wave feminist as an example of why “feminists should oppose abortion.”

  • Sigh2

    Expanding women’s rights does not equate to restricting their choices.

  • Adam Johnson

    Rachel, you’re right, these articles don’t exist in a vacuum. The context that surrounds them is what I perceive to be a campus that continues to propagate what I view as misinformation and poor justifications for their positions. The other side of the debate often does this as well, but at Stanford these students are a minority, and they have probably been questioned enough. The echo chambers exist on the “liberal” side. Unfortunately, though this nation is roughly a 50/50 split on this issue, it has been rare for me to find “pro-life” pieces in the Stanford Daily. I am trying to change that, and more than a few people have expressed their thanks for this, from both sides. So if you want to question my journalistic motives, at least understand them first.

    If you want to talk further, feel free to post here, else you know where to find me.

  • Rachel

    I don’t question your journalistic motives, I simply don’t understand them. As a journalist it is your job to make your position clear within your writing. I’m still confused. Questioning poor justifications and misinformation is a noble cause, but I haven’t really seen you do that. In your first article on abortion, you specifically chose the weakest arguments for abortion to discuss, without making it clear that this was an analysis of flawed argumentation, not a series of pro-life arguments. The fact that you managed to fulfill (violate?) Godwin’s Law within your first column shows the level of reasoned analysis you are engaging in.

    I also don’t find the argument that you want to add balance to the Stanford Daily’s opinion section to be comforting. There is a reason people write opinion pieces, and that is to sway others. In the abortion debate, people’s opinion matter, and those opinions are translated into policy. While I might hope that your writing has no effect on anyone’s personal politics, I believe it is duplicitous to write a series of articles that are strongly against abortion and then claim you do not advocate any sort of policy, all while refusing to either be transparent about what you are advocating or to address the best arguments from the pro choice camp.

  • j9valadez

    I respect your right to your opinion, but your arguments are flawed and ignore the massive amount of data that show that regardless of laws prohibiting abortion rights, regardless of prevalent mores, ethics, and morals, regardless of anyone’s opinion either way, women will seek out abortions through whatever usually dangerous, if not deadly, means possible. Women and girls will die! And if you are so concerned with the rights of an unborn fetus, and if you believe that fetuses are sentient at the moment of conception, consider that, within the scope of your argument, fetuses aborted through illegal, improper, or dangerous conditions are more likely to suffer. And if you are so concerned with the rights of a newborn to be born into a situation where they are not wanted, consider that babies born into such situations are more likely to suffer overall.

  • hi

    Killing in the name of the greater good is called genocide. Ever heard of the Holocaust?

    The argument we should be having is not about the greater good, but about the constitutional right to life. Does a fetus have a right to life? That is the question. If it does, it doesn’t matter if it’s for the “greater good” to have an abortion, because killing is wrong!

  • sk

    Adam, it seems like you’re creating (or at least catering to) a strawman here. I highly doubt that the majority of pro-choice activists think that there should be more abortions – in fact, decreasing the abortion rate is often the goal of both sides. Obviously, an ideal situation would be one in which abortions are unnecessary – whether that be the result of better access to contraception and family planning or better resources for women who decide to carry the fetus to term. But we don’t have those things, and restricting abortion further is not the way to get there. Pro-choice is called pro-choice (and not pro-abortion) for a reason.

  • A pragmatic Pro-Life Position

    From a constitutional standpoint, I think that fetuses have a right to life and that right should not be
    abridged. However, from a pragmatic standpoint, I realize that banning abortions immediately would result in more dangerous illegal abortions. It’s sort of like the gun-control debate. However, we should do whatever we can to eliminate the base need for abortions. We need to educate our youth to use protection when having sex. Also, we need to educate people on the responsibilities of testing to see if you’re pregnant and also using the morning after pill if one has unprotected sex. If we get the general populace to just stop being stupid and irresponsible, then the rate of abortions will go way down. Once this rate becomes very small, we can think about overturning Roe v. Wade and making abortion illegal with exceptions (i/e health of mother, rape, incest).

    Also, an improved economy would help a lot because people are more likely to have the resources to raise a child when they are financially stable.

    Basically, we need to address the cause of the problem, not the symptoms.

  • Adam Johnson

    Rachel, you don’t understand my motives because, as I see it, you are not approaching this with enough of an open mind to understand them.

    You call my first piece out for not being clear. Well, in that column I wrote: “I will readily admit that they are not, in my mind, the strongest arguments the pro-choice position has to offer. Rather, they are commonly cited arguments that I believe people, regardless of their ultimate opinion on the legal and moral status of abortion, should refuse to accept.”

    I do not think I can get any more clear than that. Indeed, even in the comment section for this piece, I have seen much reliance on those weak arguments used to justify present abortion policies.

    If any reference to Nazi Germany invalidates my argument, that is your problem not mine.

    “Strongly against abortion”? Please. My first column explicitly said that regardless of one’s side one should reject these arguments. My second column explicitly said that even assuming the fetus is a human life, assuming then it has rights, does not mean one has to be morally opposed to abortions. My third column explicitly said that though I do not believe the state can/should compel a woman to give birth to a child, I am troubled by the abortion institution at present.

    The fact that you interpret these as strong opinions against abortion only proves why these columns are “necessary”. The echochambers at Stanford result in decidedly leftist policies being perceived as moderate. I want to show that there is another side, and it can be just as, if not more, rational than the current leftist position. If you aren’t at all convinced by my arguments, then fine, but keep in mind you do not speak for everybody.

    If people’s opinions are swayed, well good! My readership if anything is well educated, so I rest assured that many will not be easily convinced. If as a result of my pieces some readers form opinions further to the “right” than my own, that’s good too, provided their beliefs are inspired by reflection not rhetoric. If someone is worried about the implications of my pieces, little is stopping them from writing an op-ed in response. Indeed, one person already has. I did not think that piece was entirely fair to what I wrote, but at least it engaged with it to an extent.

    Regarding your last statement about transparency, I have dropped explicit indicators here and there of my formal position. I have one more piece planned, I have saved it for last for a reason, and I did not provide the explicit outline at the outset because I had not finalized everything yet and was waiting to see how the first piece played out. My moral views are not secret. Rather, they were not relevant to the earlier pieces.

  • Adam Johnson

    Thank you for your comment. I would like to refer you to my first piece on this topic (http://www.stanforddaily.com/2012/10/25/criticizing-popular-pro-choice-justifications/). In that column I address many of the points you bring up here. Feel free to comment again or email me at adamj11@stanford.edu if you would like to further discuss that first piece.

  • Adam Johnson

    Exactly! Hence my line: “Just as we should protect a women’s right to have an abortion, society should protect her right not to have one.” So as you see, I never advocated for “restricting their choices.”

    The research I cited (and many personal anecdotes one can find with a simple Google search) show that many women (too many, in my opinion) receive abortions despite major reservations, likely as a result of significant external pressure, whether financial, societal, family/significant other, and more.

    Imagine if obtaining an abortion cost as much (financially and/or mentally) as giving birth to and/or raising a child. Would you still say that women, especially from certain backgrounds, are “free” to not have their child?

  • Really…?

    “The echochambers at Stanford result in decidedly leftist policies being perceived as moderate. I want to show that there is another side, and it can be just as, if not more, rational than the current leftist position.”

    I find it blatantly offensive that you’re assuming the average Stanford student hasn’t noticed the massive increase in anti-abortion legislation at both the state and federal levels in the past few years. Thanks SO MUCH for clueing us in to the fact that a huge faction of the Republican party has decided to make women’s reproductive health the number one public enemy. I never would’ve snapped out of my leftist echo chamber if you hadn’t pointed out the flaws in pro-choice reasoning and quoted Susan B. Anthony.

    P.S. Thanks so much for telling me what I should think–as a woman, it’s always nice when a man steps in and points my confused feminist mind in the right direction.

  • Muie Zog

    it is easy to speak for those already born….

  • Jane

    This disappoints me. Refusing to honor an attempt to show both sides of an argument just belittles your own stance. Treating it with sarcasm and a decidedly ad hominem argument doesn’t do anything but make it more difficult to have a rational discussion. As a Stanford student you should be open to listening to the other side and, if needed, disputing it with an informed reply, not a sarcastic, small minded one. It’s these types of arguments that give us feminists a bad name.

  • Silly man

    This read like “I’m not racist. I have tons of black friends!”