5 Feminist Pioneers Who Were Against Abortion

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A lot feminists today insist that a person must be pro-choice to be pro-woman.

This is highly ironic since many first wave feminists were adamantly against abortion, and in fact many of the anti-abortion laws overturned by Roe v. Wade were put in place by pro-life feminists in the 19th century. Rather than viewing abortion a tool of female empowerment, they viewed abortion as a sign of the oppression of women by men.

Here are a few examples. Heard of any of these people?

1) Elizabeth Cady Stanton (1815-1902)

Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons
Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

Credited by many as the founder of the woman’s rights movement, and herself the mother of 7 children, Elizabeth Stanton was clear that she considered abortion to be a form of infanticide, and therefore rejected it totally. She also blamed men for abortion, saying that it was a symptom of the oppression of women (rather than a sign of their empowerment!).

In one newspaper article, she blasted the “murder of children, either before or after birth,” saying “we believe the cause of all these abuses lies in the degradation of woman.”

Elsewhere she wrote: “We are living today under a dynasty of force; the masculine element is everywhere overpowering the feminine, and crushing women and children alike beneath its feet. Let woman assert herself in all her native purity, dignity, and strength, and end this wholesale suffering and murder of helpless children.”

2) Susan B. Anthony (1820-1906)

Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons
Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

Like Stanton, Susan B. Anthony viewed abortion as an evil consequence of the oppression of women by men, and not a tool of their empowerment. In her famous 1875 speech “Social Purity,” she denounces abortion alongside adultery, rape, and infanticide as examples of symptoms of the mistreatment of women by men:

“The prosecutions on our courts for breach of promise, divorce, adultery, bigamy, seduction, rape; the newspaper reports every day of every year of scandals and outrages, of wife murders and paramour shooting, of abortions and infanticides, are perpetual reminders of men’s incapacity to cope successfully with this monster evil of society.”

Her newspaper The Revolution refused to allow people selling abortifacients to advertise in their pages, and once published an article signed anonymously as “A” which said:

“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 drove her to the desperation which impelled her to the crime!”

3) Mary Wollstonecraft (1759-1797)

Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons
Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

Novelist and philosopher (and mother of Mary Shelley, author of Frankenstein), Mary Wollstonecraft also viewed abortion as a symptom of the mistreatment of women by men. In her magnum opus Vindication of the Rights of Women, she wrote that a lack of education for women means they “have not sufficient strength to discharge the first duty of a mother” and “either destroy the embryo in the womb, or cast it off when born. Nature in everything demands respect … men ought to maintain the women they have seduced.”

And in her unfinished novel The Wrongs of Woman: Or, Maria, she tells the story of a woman who is abused and conceives a child in rape. Her rapist, who is also her boss, pressures her to take an abortifacient, which she initially rejects as an “infernal potion.” Only after being thrown out of her living quarters into the streets does she take the potion, “with a wish that it might destroy me, at the same time that is stopped the sensations of new-born life, which I felt with indescribable emotion.”

4) Sarah F. Norton (19th century)

Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons
Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

Sarah F. Norton was a suffragist who successfully lobbied, along with Susan B. Anthony, for Cornell University to start admitting women as students. She was also against abortion.

In one article, she decried the “tragedy—social and domestic” of infanticide as well as “the fast increasing crime of fœticide,” another word for abortion. She also bluntly called both practices “child murder” and “infant butchery,” longing for the day when “the right of the unborn to be born will not be denied or interfered with”:

“[C]hild-murder is an easy and every-day affair…[C]hild murderers practice their profession without let or hindrance, and open infant butcheries unquestioned, establishing themselves with an impunity that is not allowed to the slaughterers of cattle…Scores of persons advertise their willingness to commit this form of murder, and with unblushing effrontery announce their names and residences in the daily papers. No one seems to be shocked by the fact…. [C]irculars are distributed broadcast, recommending certain pills and potions for the very purpose, and by these means the names of these slayers of infants, and the methods by which they practice their life-destroying trade, have become “familiar in our mouths as household words.”…Is there no remedy for all this ante-natal child murder?…Perhaps there will come a time when… an unmarried mother will not be despised because of her motherhood…and when the right of the unborn to be born will not be denied or interfered with.”

5) Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell (1821-1910)

Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons
Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell was the first woman in the United States to receive a medical degree from an American medical school. She was also strongly anti-abortion. In fact, it was partly the fact that the term “female physician” had come to mean “abortionist” that drove her to become a real doctor, in order to redeem the phrase. After reading an article a female abortionist, she wrote in her diary:

“The gross perversion and destruction of motherhood by the abortionist filled me with indignation, and awakened active antagonism. That the honorable term “female physician” should be exclusively applied to those women who carried on this shocking trade seemed to me a horror. It was an utter degradation of what might and should become a noble position for women…I finally determined to do what I could do “to redeem the hells,” and especially the one form of hell thus forced upon my notice.”

She was accepted by Geneva Medical College in New York in 1847 and graduated at the top of her class. She worked as a gynecologist for the rest of her life, and even went on to found a medical school for women.

There are many other examples. Who did we leave off the list?