Without known exception, the early feminists condemned abortion in the strongest terms.
Susan B. Anthony’s and Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s radical feminist newspaper, The Revolution, called abortion “child murder.”
Elizabeth Cady Stanton, who in 1848 organized the first women’s convention in Seneca Falls, New York, classified abortion as a form of “infanticide” and said, “When we consider that women have been treated as property, it is degrading to women that we should treat our children as property to be disposed of as we see fit.”
Since there were no American laws to protect women and children from abortion, the early feminists worked to outlaw abortion. (This is the dirty little secret of women’s studies departments across the United States.) Feminists, doctors, and the media worked together in an uneasy alliance for anti-abortion laws.
The feminists agreed with doctors and the media about providing legal protection for the unborn, but they disagreed sharply on the reasons that women had abortions—and on their proposed remedies.
Male physicians blamed the woman, saying that if she just did what men said, she wouldn’t have gotten herself into “trouble.”
Feminists argued that women who had abortions were responsible for their actions, but women resorted to abortion primarily because of their lack of autonomy within the family and society and their lack of financial resources and emotional support.
A passage in Susan B. Anthony’s and Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s newspaper, The Revolution, states:
Guilty? Yes, 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 des- peration which impelled her to the crime!
The first woman to run for president, Victoria Woodhull, said: “Every woman knows that if she were free, she would never bear an unwished-for child, or think of murdering one before its birth.”
Some—who begrudgingly admit the early American feminists were anti-abortion—have suggested that the reason was the Victorian attitude about sex. That’s not true either.
Elizabeth Cady Stanton shocked Victorian society by parading around in public visibly pregnant. She raised a flag to celebrate the birth of a child in a time when children were not seen in socie- ty until the age of two. She celebrated womanhood. She was “in your face” about her ability to have children.
Yet like today’s pro-life feminists, early feminists recognized that women do not have to bear children to share in this celebration of womanhood.
Susan B. Anthony was once complimented by a friend who thought that she would have made a wonderful mother. Anthony responded, “Sweeter even than to have had the joy of caring for children of my own has it been to me to help bring about a better state of things for mothers generally, so their unborn little ones could not be willed away from them.”Read the full speech on pg. 28 and marvel at the wisdom of Ms. Foster and the Feminists for Life.