Can You Truly Be A Feminist If You're Pro-Life?

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Can You Truly Be A Feminist If You're Pro-Life?

Editor's Note: This article was originally posted in January 2017.

During the lead-up to the Women's March on Washington in January 2017, the event was briefly overshadowed by controversy surrounding the inclusion and subsequent exclusion of the New Wave Feminists, a pro-life group from Texas.

Despite being welcomed to join the march in the name of "intersectional feminism", the event organizers explained their decision to retract their invitation, stating "The Women's March's platform is pro-choice, and that has been our stance since day one ... the anti-choice organization in question is not a partner of the Women's March on Washington. We apologize for this error."

This immediately begged the question: Is someone who is pro-life unable to also identify as a feminist?

My knee-jerk reaction was to assert that, of course, you can be a pro-life feminist. Many of the suffragettes who sacrificed personal safety and dignity to earn our right to vote were from conservative religious groups, many of who were anti-abortion.

What kind of jerk would learn about these brave women taking to the streets, putting their lives at risk, and enduring assault and imprisonment for the sake of our progress, and still feel the need to label them “unfeminist” just because they disagree on one or two separate issues? Why would anyone do the same now?

Unfortunately, the answer isn't so simple because as with all movements, the fight for the rights of women has evolved in this last century to something much different than the suffragettes started and this is both a beautiful and often contradictory thing. 

We all know the basis of the pro-life movement is the motive to save what that side perceives to be unborn children while the pro-choice stance is NOT pro-abortion, but instead, the right of every woman to have full autonomy about what happens to her body.

RELATED: I'm Pro-Life And Don't Deserve To Be Shamed For My Beliefs

However, if we strip down each activist into individual women who identify as feminists, the sole difference between a pro-lifer and a pro-choicer is merely the belief as to whether or not a fetus is actually a person in danger of being murdered and who requires saving. That’s it.

You’d think both sides of this ongoing debate would be able to coexist despite our conflicting beliefs about whether or not a zygote has a soul; however, the violence and hostility shown by the pro-life movement toward women exercising our right to choose perpetuate the animosity between women of both ideologies, despite the fact that most pro-lifers aren’t violent, awful humans.

Unfortunately, this is why, when organizing last weekend's Women's Marches that included 2.9 million feminists from around the globe, pro-life groups were specifically told to stay home. 

I get it. It's a tough spot to try to find common ground. 

I’m outing myself as a pro-choice mother of one who has exercised my right to choose and will defend that right to my death. It is something I am grateful for and passionate about advocating.

However, I have many friends who are pro-life and, while I hate that they are still on the side that's still trying to take away my autonomy I perceive to be a human right, I do respect the fact that, in their mind, they are saving the lives of defenseless children. I realize that there's nothing I can say to convince them that an unformed fetus is not an independently existing human with a soul, and I don’t dare try to. We agree to disagree.

As long as we’re both treating each other with respect and they’re not shrieking threats of joining Hitler in hell at me or anyone else who exercises her right to choose, we can come together to work on creating change on a larger scale.

The conflict here, however, is that the capital-F Feminist Movement is driven by the underlying belief that a woman deserves the right to choose what she does with her life, her money, her voice, and her body. This has undeniably been the platform of the Women’s Movement since its second wave in the early 1960s.

The pro-life movement, no matter how noble its motivations, desires to strip women of the right to decide what we believe about our bodies’ reproductive abilities.

Semantically speaking: No, a feminist cannot advocate a pro-life political agenda because it contradicts the entire ethos of the movement, which is CHOICE. A feminist can, obviously, be personally opposed to abortion without advocating pro-life legislation for everyone; that’s why we call it “pro-choice” and not “pro-abortion." You can absolutely be pro-choice and pro-life at the same time.

To quote writer Catherine Connors

"Where pro-life stands for the legislation of women's bodies and reproductive health and criminalization of choice, it remains at odds with women's freedoms and with most variants of feminism, full stop. You can't assert the rights of women to dominion over their own lives and bodies and then say, 'except for this one thing, where the state/their husband/their church should decide.' You can be pro-life (anti-abortion) *and* pro-choice — if you trust women, and if you support women.

If pro-life stands for improved reproductive health services for women, better access to birth control, more support for single mothers, low-income families, etc, etc — that is, for the *reduction* of abortion rates through proven means (those rates are proven to be lower under governments, and *highest* under governments with restrictive reproductive choice policies)  then great, there's no conflict.

But it usually doesn't, and I think what pro-life women who identify as feminists are feeling isn't exclusion from a movement that defines feminism too narrowly it's the internal tension that comes with a conflict between the feminism they think they want and what feminism actually is."

RELATED: Why I Didn't March

However, it's a grave mistake to completely rule out women working for equal rights because of this one conflicting belief. This doesn't mean compromising on beliefs, by the way, but learning how to interact so we can start to enact change between the two sides of this gender. 

Look, when it comes right down to it, I'm pretty sure both sides can agree that nobody actually enjoys abortion. Instead of continuing to scream "YES!" and "NO!" at each other ad nauseum, why don't we start working together to build a world that requires less abortion in the first place? Volleying the same ethical arguments between ourselves for generations is getting old and only serving to pit women against each other needlessly. It's gross and counterproductive. 

Ultimately, we need to do something different with this argument than just pointing fingers and trying to police how "feminist" we find each other. This applies to every argument as to what makes a "real feminist," by the way, not just this one.

Accepting the harsh reality that feminists come with a variety of differing ideologies is instrumental in learning how to unify and cooperate. Some feminists don’t believe in attending marches but show solidarity in their own way. Some feminists are dudes. (Some are even hetero, cis, white dudes! In the suburbs! I married one and am friends with a bunch!)

I know feminists who are pro-capital punishment, pro-gun, anti-marijuana, and a dozen other stances that tend to make neo-liberals clutch their pearls and start hurling accusations. If we continue drawing lines between our differing opinions, we’re going to be stuck with a gigantic clusterf*ck of three-woman sub-sects of feminism all screeching about how the others aren’t “real feminists” while the world cackles at our cannibalistic self-destruction.

It’s already happening and it’s all derivative, reductive drivel. We have to do better, y’all. It’s mandatory for our success.

See, the magic of a massive cultural movement like feminism is that, once we’re moving forward at full steam, we can break off into task forces to conquer each individual aspect of our battle pertaining to what we feel more passionate about and where we are best able to share our efforts.

I don’t know about you but I, personally, cannot fix workplace misogyny, lack of funding for Planned Parenthood, the lack of judicial accountability/penalty for sexual assault, street harassment, domestic violence, the media’s perpetuation of body negativity, LGBTQ discrimination, institutionalized racism, AND the taxation of menstrual hygiene supplies all by myself.

We don’t have room for any more infighting. We don’t have time or energy to devalue women because of a difference of opinion. The world does enough of that already; at some point, our judgment and exclusion are just part of the same problem, but under a different moniker.  

Now is the time for radical inclusion, whether it makes us comfortable or not. To quote Martin Luther King Jr., “You can have no influence over those for whom you have underlying contempt.”

Positive forward movement will begin when we sit down and talk with each other one-on-one like sane, rational friends sharing opinions about this new world we hope to build, instead of just screaming opinions from our individual social media podiums all day and blocking those who share their disagreement.

I don’t believe we should only include pro-lifers who want to fight for women's equality as a means of changing their minds about choice, because I know that's an unrealistic expectation. However, I do know that we’ll never be able to change the minds of those who are adamantly against us if we can’t even effectively communicate with others who are on our side but do not agree with us entirely.

RELATED: I'm A Pro-Life Mom Of 4 Who Believes ALL Women Deserve Safe Access To Abortions

Elizabeth Z Pardue is a creator and polymath based in the South. Her words have appeared in Huffington Post,, XOJane, Ravishly, and in a bunch of Letters to the Editor columns.