23 March 2010

Women Deserve Better Than Feminists For Life

Last night I attended a talk given by Serrin Foster, president of Feminists for Life. This talk was sponsored by the pro-life student group at Drake. I decided to attend because I was very curious how such a group would present their ideas and ideology. To me, feminist and pro-life don't really go together. I do accept that many feminists disagree about many things, but I also feel very strongly that feminism must accept female autonomy in terms of reproductive rights. That said, I was very disturbed by the group's message last night.

Serrin Foster is a dynamic speaker and very personable. She is also smart, knowledgeable, and seems to care about women. But, and this but is a big one, despite all of the rhetoric of her organization, I have to argue that they don't care about women. They care about birth. And what I mean by that is that they don't really care about preventing unwanted pregnancy, or unplanned pregnancy, or helping women avoid pregnancy--they care about the woman once she is pregnant. Or really, they care about the pregnancy itself.

This organization actually does some really positive things for women. They try to make it possible for women who become pregnant while still in college or grad school to stay in school and complete their educations. They help with housing, childcare, breastfeeding issues, and healthcare. But they also only help a woman who wants to keep or adopt her baby. They are profoundly against abortion--no matter what. So in other words, they care about helping women give birth, and uniquely, they actually give a shit about her life once she gives birth. My objection to all of this is that there is no room in their ideology for anything but reproduction--no abortion, no birth control, no family planning.

When I asked Ms. Foster about if her group helps young women prevent pregnancy by providing sex education and access to contraception, she told me that they only really get involved once the woman is pregnant, partially becasue there is "so much controversy" about the various methods of birth control. This stance tells me that they really don't care about women--they care about the pregnancy. Pro-life? No. Pro-birth is more like it.

I could go on and on about the problems and inconsistencies of this group and their twisted ideology, but I've got real work to do. Some of my work involves helping actual women with all kinds of issues. But I have to mention one thing in particular--I liked Serrin Foster. She was smart and seemed kind. She actually spoke the truth about many things, although she did make a few important factual errors--like saying that any woman can get an abortion any time during a pregnancy, even during the ninth month. This is patently wrong--abortion is illegal in the third trimester. Anyway, when one particularly smug woman in the audience asked a question about women who have abortions cavalierly, Foster backed me up when I argued that this woman was dead wrong.

My other favorite moment was when another woman in the audience made a comment about how birth control messes up a woman's body by subverting a system that is meant for reproduction. Aha! I asked her if she realized that what she was saying was that women should only have heterosexual intercourse in order to reproduce. A bunch of people in the audience spoke up, challenging my interpretation of what the woman meant. So I asked her, are women allowed to have sex for pleasure? She said yes, in marriage. So then I asked, so not outside of marriage? She said, no--that's what the Lord wants.

Once that came out, to me, the real purpose of Feminists For Life and their vision for women was crystal clear. Their mission is an end-run around reproductive rights. Their goal, although not explicitly stated as such, is to convince women that it is not feminist to have an abortion, and that their true purpose on earth is to give birth. In other words, their slogan "women deserve better than abortion" means nothing more than abortion is wrong and women who have an abortion are also wrong. Birth control is wrong. Family planning is wrong.

I wish I had the time to more thoroughly analyze the talk and this group. If you're interested, you can visit their website and read for yourself how they have appropriated the language of feminism to further their decidedly anti-feminist goal of controlling women's bodies.

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