HomePage  Prof May Home Page

Feminism and Abortion

C. Randolph Clark

Since the advent of “second wave” American feminism [1], legal abortion and feminism have become almost inextricably linked, even equated, in most people’s minds. And no wonder: by the mid-1970’s a member of the National Organization of Women could be ousted for opposing legalized abortion.[2] Feminist leaders like Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem have vocally championed legalized abortion; Ellie Smeal and Kate Michelman have celebrated abortion a “fundamental right,” implying that without it, other rights of women may be undermined and even lost.

            “First wave” feminists saw no intrinsic link between feminism and legal abortion. In fact, “without known exception, the early American feminists condemned abortion in the strongest possible terms.” [3] On what basis, then, do so many modern feminists argue that legal abortion is essential to women’s rights?

Roe v. Wade not only saved American women from death and injury in the nation’s back alleys, but also enabled women to more fully participate in the social, economic and political life of this country.[4]

The Roe decision has enabled women to participate as full partners in American society. [5]

Roe v. Wade enabled women to participate in the social, financial, and political life of this country. [6]

This classic abortion advocacy argument has found its way into the decisions of the highest court in the land. Consider the following excerpt from the Court’s opinion in Planned Parenthood v. Casey (1992):

…for two decades [since Roe] of economic and social developments, people have organized intimate relationships and made choices that define their views of themselves and their places in society, in reliance on the availability of abortion in the event that contraception should fail. The ability of women to participate equally in the economic and social life of the Nation has been facilitated by their ability to control their reproductive lives. [7]

My questions are simple: Is legal abortion necessary to women’s participation in economic and social life? Has legal abortion truly facilitated women’s participation in economic and social life? Is legal abortion essential to the achievement of feminist aims? My contention is that the answer to each of these questions is “No.”


            This generation has been taught, both implicitly and explicitly, that until Betty Friedan published The Feminine Mystique all married women were housewives who polished floors and baked cookies, and all married men were “breadwinners” who worked outside the home as doctors, bankers, mechanics, politicians, and so forth. We watched “Leave It to Beaver” reruns on afternoon TV, saw the struggle of women in the workplace in movies like “9 to 5,” and understood the humorous “reversal” of “Mr. Mom.” And we lived on “both sides” because some of us had “stay-at-home” moms and some of us had “working moms.” [8] And so we developed this idea that June Cleaver was every woman of the past and now things, for better or worse—and usually both, were changing.

            But we were very, very mistaken, because our “Ozzie & Harriet” understanding of women and men in history was ridiculously shortsighted.


            There has always been some kind of sexual division of labor in most societies (which differed from society to society [9]), but before the Industrial Revolution it looked nothing like the recent past. Why? Because almost everyone, men and women, did most of their work at or very close to home. Agrarians and farmers raised animals for milk, meat, wool, and leather; cultivated plants like grains, vegetables, fruits, herbs, and textile crops; and worked at various farm-related tasks like making and repairing tools, making and repairing clothes, and so forth. Craftsmen and artisans were smiths, coopers, cobblers, candlers, carpenters, weavers, and the like. Other small tradesmen included grocers, clerks, bankers, millers, bakers, butchers, printers, and such. Many family names, like my own, are derived from the family’s business. In most cases, this “business” was operated from or very close to the family home (e.g. a shop with an apartment above or behind), and the wife and children were just as active in some aspect(s) of the business as the husband. In the not-so-distant past, “business” was always considered a part of the “private” sector because it was a personal and/or familial interest. Only matters of civic culture, like government and public works (e.g. public libraries), were considered the “public” sector.

            So it is true that “in the past most women worked at home in the ‘private’ sector,” but the same was true of the overwhelming majority of men, because their business was at home with their families in the “private” sector. Both sexes were actively engaged, pretty much simultaneously, in both family life and business.

            Pope John Paul II, meditating on the Holy Family, gives us a taste of what families have lost when he says:

Mary worked at Joseph’s side in a personal, feminine manner, which the Gospel accounts allow us to glimpse. Doubtless their harmony was greatly fostered by the husband’s trade: Joseph could work close to his family and introduce the young Jesus to his skilled labor as a carpenter. [10]


In the 19th century, as the Industrial Revolution was profoundly changing family and society in both Europe and America, “upwardly mobile [English] merchants and entrepreneurs aped aristocratic ways; their wives no longer managed dairies or worked with their husbands behind counters but sought to transform themselves into ladies, creatures of fashion.” [11] In the minds of the middle class of that day, the less serious and hardworking a woman was, and the more frivolous and silly she appeared, the more “successful” the man and his family would appear. Such women were actively encouraged to be elegant, idle, and unproductive.

Other women reacted strongly against this “ornamental” idea of woman, disgusted with the “frigid sarcasm,” “habitual levity,” “indolent selfishness,” and “extravagance of expression” that characterized pseudo-aristocratic ladies. They reacted in quite different ways. Some “antifeminists,” like Hannah More, thought women should make themselves more “useful” by intellectual exertion, the cultivation of virtue, and willingness to work diligently in home and family management. Other “feminist” women, like Mary Wollstonecraft, pressed a case for women’s equality in education and in friendship, love, and marriage. They too wanted women to become more virtuous and productive members of society. [12] Though these women often thought themselves opposed to each other, they actually shared quite a bit of common ground, so that the “antifeminist” cult of domesticity promoted by women like More actually led many women into the “feminist” convictions of women like Wollstonecraft.

The 19th century “cult of domesticity,” which glorified active motherhood and diligent domesticity, never meant that 19th and early 20th century women worked only in the home. Far from it.

Housework and child care by no means exhausted women’s energies. On the contrary, both housewives and single women threw themselves into a variety of activities that took them out of the home. They organized benevolent societies, female reform societies, and foreign missions. They put together a vast network of temperance societies. They took up charities and philanthropies of all kinds. Many of them enlisted in the antislavery crusade, the peace movement, prison reform, and of course the movement for women’s rights.... Their work as volunteers sustained a vast array of public services—libraries, hospitals, nursery schools, social settlements, parks, playgrounds, concert halls, museums.[13]

Between 1890 and 1920, it was women who did much of the work in the “public” sector, according to the traditional understanding of the terms “public” and “private.” The chief reason that our contemporaries do not acknowledge these women’s work outside the home is that their labor was unpaid.[14]

At the same time, the Industrial Revolution was creating an increasing separation between home and business. It is from this recent fact of life that we came to consider the marketplace and business something of the “public” sector and to reduce the “private” sector to the home.

So when did Ward & June Cleaver become the “norm”? Primarily in the middle of the 20th century, with the rise of the suburbs. In the words of Christopher Lasch:

In reality, full-time motherhood—the rejection of which touched off the latest [2nd] wave of feminist agitation in the sixties—was something new and historically unprecedented.... The modern home, which presupposes a radical separation of domestic life from the world of work, was an invention of the 19th century.[15]

In sum, until very recently the majority of men and women were simultaneously active in both family and business, which were both considered “private” interests. And even as business was increasingly divorced from the home, women were very active in the “public” sector, especially in massive volunteer associations and unpaid civic projects. While we have gained many benefits from the Industrial Revolution, we also lost much of the positive influence of women’s presence in business and civic culture and much of the positive influence of men’s presence in the family.


            Having clarified the history of women and men in family, economics, and social life a bit, we turn to the writings of Pope John Paul II to give an indication where the Catholic Church stands on these issues now and what the Pope thinks we should work to accomplish for the future.

Pope John Paul II actively encourages the increasing entrance of women into all areas of life, including work in labor and the economy, politics, the arts and sciences, and so forth. Women’s very real rights and responsibilities within the family provide no excuse to those who would exclude women.[16]

I cannot fail to express my admiration for those women of good will who have devoted their lives to defending the dignity of womanhood by fighting for their basic social, economic, and political rights, demonstrating courageous initiative at a time when this was considered extremely inappropriate, the sign of a lack of femininity, a manifestation of exhibitionism, and even a sin!

....This journey [of “women’s liberation”] must go on! But I am convinced that the secret of making speedy progress in achieving full respect for women and their identity involves more than simply the condemnation of discrimination and injustices, necessary though this may be. Such respect must first and foremost be won through an effective and intelligent campaign for the promotion of women, concentrating on all areas of women’s life and beginning with a universal recognition of the dignity of women.[17]

As far as personal rights are concerned, there is an urgent need to achieve real equality in every area: equal pay for equal work, protection for working mothers, fairness in career advances, equality of spouses with regard to family rights, and the recognition of everything that is part of the rights and duties of citizens in a democratic state.

This is a matter of justice but also of necessity. Women will increasingly play a part in the solution of the serious problems of the future....[18]

It is a “sign of the times” that woman’s role is increasingly recognized, not only in the family circle, but also in the wider context of all social activities. Without the contribution of women, society is less alive, culture impoverished, and peace less stable. Situations where women are prevented from developing their full potential and from offering the wealth of their gifts should therefore be considered profoundly unjust, not only to women themselves but to society as a whole.

....it is necessary to strive convincingly to ensure that the widest possible space is open to women in all areas of culture, economics, politics, and ecclesial life itself, so that human society is increasingly enriched by the gifts proper to masculinity and femininity.[19]

It is time, therefore, to close the gap between the cultural opportunities for men and women.... This will benefit not only women but culture itself, since the vast and variegated world of thought and art has a greater need of their “genius” than ever. Let this not seem a gratuitous assertion!

....Women’s increasingly qualified entrance, not only as beneficiaries but also as protagonists, into the world of culture in all its branches—from philosophy to theology, from the social to the natural sciences, from the figurative arts to music—is a very hopeful sign for humanity.[20]

Doubtless one of the great social changes of our time is the increasing role played by women, also in an executive capacity, in labor and the economy. This process is gradually changing the face of society, and it is legitimate to hope that it will gradually succeed in changing that of the economy itself, giving it a new human inspiration and removing from it the recurring temptation of dull efficiency marked only by the laws of profit. How can we fail to see that, in order to deal satisfactorily with the many problems emerging today, special recourse to the feminine genius is essential?

....it is necessary to respect the right and duty of woman as mother to carry out her specific tasks in the family, without being forced by necessity to take on an additional job.... The safeguarding of this basic good, however, cannot be an alibi with regard to the principle of equal opportunity for men and women also in work outside the family. Flexible and balanced solutions should be found which harmonize the different needs.[21]

A long tradition has seen mostly men involved in politics. Today more and more women are asserting themselves even at the highest levels of representation, national and international.

This process should be encouraged. Politics, in fact, geared as it is to promoting the common good, can only benefit from the complementary gifts of men and women.[22]

Pope John Paul II thanks women for being women, for contributing to society as women, and apologizes for anything members of the Church may have done to hinder women. Since most Catholics already appreciate the work and service of women within the family and in consecrated life, I focus here on women who work “outside the home.”

Thank you, women who work! You are present and active in every area of life—social, economic, cultural, artistic, and political. In this way you make an indispensable contribution to the growth of a culture which unites reason and feeling, to a model of life ever open to the sense of “mystery,” to the establishment of economic and political structures ever more worthy of humanity.

...Thank you, every woman, for the simple fact of being a woman! Through the insight which is so much a part of your womanhood you enrich the world’s understanding and help to make human relations more honest and authentic.

I know of course that simply saying thank you is not enough. Unfortunately, we are heirs to a history which has conditioned us to a remarkable extent. In every time and place, this conditioning has been an obstacle to the progress of women. Women’s dignity has often been unacknowledged and their prerogatives misrepresented; they have often been relegated to the margins of society and even reduced to servitude. This has prevented women from truly being themselves and it has resulted in a spiritual impoverishment of humanity. Certainly it is no easy task to assign the blame for this, considering the many kinds of cultural conditioning which down the centuries have shaped ways of thinking and acting. And if objective blame, especially in particular historical contexts, has belonged to not just a few members of the Church, for this I am truly sorry. May this regret be transformed, on the part of the whole Church, into a renewed commitment of fidelity to the Gospel vision. When it comes to setting women free from every kind of exploitation and domination, the Gospel contains an ever relevant message which goes back to the attitude of Jesus Christ himself. Transcending the established norms of his own culture, Jesus treated women with openness, respect, acceptance, and tenderness. In this way he honored the dignity which women have always possessed according to God’s plan and in his love. As we look to Christ at the end of this Second Millennium, it is natural to ask ourselves: how much of his message has been heard and acted upon? [23]

            Kate Michelman, Gloria Feldt, Justice O’Connor and her colleagues, and other feminist leaders clearly desire women to participate more fully in the economic and social life of the United States. Pope John Paul II desires the same for all women of the world.

“Feminism” has never been a single, monolithic movement. There have always been different kinds of feminists. [24] Yet I would maintain that all forms of “feminism” arise from the same essential impulses:

1.      a recognition and condemnation of injustice, alienation and marginalization, discrimination, exclusion and/or segregation, double standards, domination, exploitation, and violence against women as women.

2.      the express desire of women to participate in all areas of social, political, economic, and cultural life, not restricted to a so-called “private” or domestic sphere, and the recognition of the value of such participation by women as women (or at least as complete human persons).

“Feminists” are people whose thoughts, words, and actions arise from and incorporate these impulses. [25] On the basis of this definition, among other things, I consider myself a feminist. [26] Pope John Paul II, “il Papa Feminista,” who has called women to promote a “new feminism,” [27] is also a feminist, though abortion advocates like Michelman and Feldt would be loath to admit it.


Pope John Paul II also encourages men who are husbands and fathers to be more active in the lives of their families. Although he has spoken and written more specifically about women than men, the Pope has given us some choice tidbits to add to the mix for further meditation and development.

A mother’s presence in the family, so critical to the stability and growth of that basic unit of society, should ...be recognized, applauded, and supported in every possible way. By the same token society needs to call husbands and fathers to their family responsibilities, and ought to strive for a situation in which they will not be forced by economic circumstances to move away from the home in search of work.

Moreover, in today’s world, when so many children are facing crises that threaten not only their long-term development, but also their very life, it is imperative that the security afforded by responsible parents—mother and father—within the context of the family be reestablished and reaffirmed. [28]

Mary worked at Joseph’s side in a personal, feminine manner, which the Gospel accounts allow us to glimpse. Doubtless their harmony was greatly fostered by the husband’s trade: Joseph could work close to his family and introduce the young Jesus to his skilled labor as a carpenter. [29]

Love for his wife as the mother of their children and love for the children themselves are for the man the natural way of understanding and fulfilling his own fatherhood. Above all where social and cultural conditions so easily encourage a father to be less concerned with his family or at any rate less involved in the work of education, efforts must be made to restore socially the conviction that the place and task of the father in and for the family is of unique and irreplaceable importance. As experience teaches, the absence of a father causes psychological and moral imbalance and notable difficulties in family relationships, as does, in contrary circumstances, the oppressive presence of a father, especially where there still prevails the phenomenon of “machismo,” or a wrong superiority of male prerogatives which humiliates women and inhibits the development of healthy family relationships.

In revealing and in reliving on earth the very fatherhood of God, a man is called upon to ensure the harmonious and united development of all the members of the family: he will perform this task by exercising more generous responsibility for the life conceived under the heart of the mother, by a more solicitous commitment to education, a task he shares with his wife, by work which is never a cause of division in the family but promotes its unity and stability, and by means of the witness he gives of an adult Christian life which effectively introduces the children to the living experience of Christ and the Church.[30]


Michelman, Feldt, Justice O’Connor and her colleagues, and numerous other feminist leaders argue that abortion has facilitated women’s ability to participate more fully in economic and social life. They are implicitly arguing that the best way to achieve the goal of women’s participation is for women to conform themselves to business, political, and social structures designed—frankly recently—by and for men. [31] Women can “fit in” if they can avoid pregnancy and mothering.

Pope John Paul II, on the other hand, believes that society itself must be reorganized to accomplish the goals of women’s increased participation in society and culture (without sacrificing pregnancy and mothering) and men’s increased participation in family life.

When women are able fully to share their gifts with the whole community, the very way in which society understands and organizes itself is improved and comes to reflect in a better way the substantial unity of the human family.[32]

The challenge facing most societies is that of upholding, indeed strengthening, woman’s role in the family while at the same time making it possible for her to use all her talents and exercise all her rights in building up society. However, women’s greater presence in the work force, in public life, and generally in the decision making processes guiding society, on an equal basis with men, will continue to be problematic as long as the costs continue to burden the private sector. In this area the state has a duty of subsidiarity, to be exercised through suitable legislative and social security initiatives. In the perspective of uncontrolled free-market policies there is little hope that women will be able to overcome the obstacles on their path.[33]

There should be no doubt that on the basis of their equal dignity with men “women have a full right to become actively involved in all areas of public life, and this right must be affirmed and guaranteed, also, where necessary, through appropriate legislation” (World Day of Peace Message 1 January 1995, no. 9) ....Profound changes are needed in the attitudes and organization of society in order to facilitate the participation of women in public life, while at the same time providing for the special obligations of women and of men with regard to their families. In some cases changes also have to be made to render it possible for women to have access to property and to the management of their assets. Nor should the special difficulties and problems faced by single women living alone or those who head families be neglected.[34]

            In short, while NARAL, Planned Parenthood, NOW, Feminist Majority, and the Supreme Court advise women to change (hormonally, surgically, or chemically!) and forgo mothering in order to “fit in” to “a man’s world,” Pope John Paul II argues that the structures of society must change to better accommodate women, including mothers.[35] He is joined by numerous other pro-life feminists, including Feminists for Life, creators of the Women Deserve Better® Campaign. Which of these would better facilitate the participation of women as women?


For decades abortion advocates have employed a rhetoric of “choice,” arguing that women should be “free” and “self-determining” in the matter of abortion. This rhetoric is extremely appealing to the American public, who enjoy thinking of themselves as promoters and defenders of liberty. But the choice whether to abort does not take place in a vacuum, and this is the key problem with the rhetoric of “choice.”

            Women who abort are increasingly aware that they risk dangerous psychological and physical consequences. Nearly every issue of Feminists for Life’s magazine, The American Feminist, contains sections called “Voices of Women Who Mourn” (written by post-abortive women who have suffered psychologically and/or emotionally) and “We Remember” (memorials to women who died during or as a result of a legal abortion). Entire books explore the possible negative psychological [36] and physical [37]consequences of abortion. Abortion is not a choice that any woman should make lightly. So why do women abort?

According to the Alan Guttmacher Institute:

On average, women give at least three reasons for choosing abortion: 3/4 say that having a baby would interfere with work, school, or other responsibilities; about 2/3 say they cannot afford a child; and 1/2 say they do not want to be a single parent or are having problems with their husband or partner.[38]

Women are not having abortions because they think it will be a fun, fulfilling, or emotionally satisfying experience. Women are having abortions because their jobs and schools refuse to cooperate with the needs of pregnant women and parents. A few actually threaten to oust pregnant women, though this is illegal. Many women are made to feel quite unwelcome even without the overt threat. Women are having abortions because they do not know anyone who will share or give them practical resources like food, housing, employment, medical and legal services, clothing, baby supplies, etc. Women are having abortions because their counselors, parents, husbands, boyfriends, and/or friends do not provide them any emotional or material support, [39]and in many cases actually ask or expect them to abort.[40] Frederica Mathewes-Green listened to women who had procured abortions, and researched various surveys, to find out their reasons for making that choice. [41] Her conclusion? “No one wants an abortion as she wants an ice cream cone or a Porsche. She wants an abortion as an animal, caught in a trap, wants to gnaw off its own leg. Abortion is a tragic attempt to escape a desperate situation by an act of violence and self-loss. Abortion is not a sign that women are free, but a sign that they are desperate.” [42]

In reality, overwhelming majority of women do not experience abortion as liberation; on the contrary, they experience abortion as a capitulation to practical and social pressures and even coercion. Elizabeth Moore Sobo was right when she wrote:

Because abortion undeniably involves a degree of physical and emotional pain, the abortion decision cannot be viewed apart from the factors that motivate it. Those factors—personal problems, social pressure, lack of support from family, society, or friends—suggest that the choice is never a truly voluntary one. It is more likely in fact that women submit to abortions, not so much because they have a choice, but because they feel that in their own circumstances, they have no choice at all.[43]


            Abortion advocating feminists, like Kate Michelman and Gloria Feldt, want women to participate more fully, as true partners, in the social and economic life of the nation. In fact, they advocate legal abortion for this reason, because they believe it facilitates women’s increasing entry into and active participation in the public culture. Abortion is a kind of compromise, a “necessary evil” accepted (or at least tolerated) for the sake of the cause’s goal [44].

Pro-life feminists like Pope John Paul II and Feminists for Life also want women to participate more fully in the nation’s (and the world’s) social and economic life, but they refuse to compromise to achieve the feminist goal. What abortion advocates accept (or at least tolerate) as a “necessary evil,” pro-life feminists reject because they believe it will actually undermine the goal.

If women must submit to abortion to preserve their lifestyle or career, their economic social status, they are pandering to a system devised and run by men for male convenience.[45] Of all things which are done to women to fit them into a society dominated by men, abortion is the most violent invasion of their physical and psychic integrity. It is a deeper and more destructive assault than rape…. Accepting short-term solutions like abortion only delays the implementation of real reforms like decent maternity and paternity leaves, job protection, high-quality child care, community responsibility for dependent people of all ages, and recognition of the economic contribution of child-minders.[46]

Abortion does not address the basic inequalities, such as poverty and unequal pay, that make a woman believe she cannot have a baby. It’s a cheap fix that leaves the woman as poor and oppressed as she ever was, while politicians claim to have struck a blow for women’s rights and the doctors go home $250 richer. [47]

Pro-abortion feminists dilute the force of [feminism’s] persuasiveness by hypocritically refusing to grant the unborn the same rights they demand for themselves. Pro-abortion feminists resent the discrimination against a whole class of humans because they happen to be female, yet they themselves discriminate against a whole class of humans because they happen to very young. They resent that the value of a woman is determined by whether some man wants her, yet they declare that the value of an unborn child is determined by whether someone wants him. They resent that women have been ‘owned’ by their husbands, yet insist that the unborn are ‘owned’ by their mothers. They believe that a man’s right to do what he pleases with his own body cannot include the right to sexually exploit women, yet proclaim a woman’s similar right means she can kill her unborn child.[48]

In the mid-1970’s, “first wave” feminist Alice Paul, the original author of the Equal Rights Amendment, told Pat Goltz, co-founder of Feminists for Life, that abortion would destroy feminism if it was not stopped.[49]

We deserve, demand, have a right to—can create—something better than the abortion industry’s ‘cure’ for our unique condition of impregnability, whether that abortionist be in the back alley or the plush front office.[50]

Refuse to Choose.® Women Deserve Better. ®[51]

Pro-life feminism is an uncompromising feminism.


When summarizing the lives of women and men in family and society in the pre-industrial era, I said that until very recently the majority of men and women were simultaneously active in both family and business, which was not really separate from home life. And I argued that while we have gained many benefits from the Industrial Revolution, we also lost much of the positive influence of women’s presence in business and civic culture and much of the positive influence of men’s presence in the family. Looking to the papal teachings above, we note that Pope John Paul II calls both for women’s increased participation in cultural and social life (in business, politics, ecclesial life, the arts, the sciences, etc.) and for men’s increased participation in family life. When the Pope calls for these changes, which will require a radical reorganization of society as we now know it, I believe that he is saying that we must figure out a way to recover those good things we lost in the Industrial Revolution. It is time for us to crate a post-industrial society, to “domesticate” the world of work by bringing it home and prioritizing the family.

Feminists for Life of America (FFL) is a nonsectarian organization, not a Catholic one, but it proposes real changes in societal structures consistent with the call of Pope John Paul II. Their unique College Outreach Program, for example, challenges schools to provide affordable housing on or near campus for pregnant and parenting students, health insurance plans with maternity and affordable child coverage, on-site daycare and babysitting services, distance education programs, academic and athletic scholarships that allow for parental leave, baby changing tables and nursing chairs, adequate parental leave without academic penalty, peer support groups and counseling services if desired, etc. Student handbooks should clearly outline the school’s policies and available services, they argue, and all faculty, staff, and resident advisors should be informed and familiar with them. FFL members also promote creative solutions in the workplace, including flex time, job sharing, shortened hours, compressed work weeks, telecommuting and work-from-home options, adequate parental leave, policies which do not regard pregnancy and parenting as an illness or disability (e.g. parental leave as “sick leave”), on-site childcare if desired, reduced pressure on parents to work extra hours, etc. Women, men, and children can all benefit from changes like these.

            Real change is possible. Consider the following example in Mary Stewart van Leeuwen’s book My Brother’s Keeper:

In the mid-1990s a Midwestern U.S. couple named Charles and Joy Blanchard explained to a public television interviewer how they had organized their waged work and family life. Charles worked a six-hour shift from 6:00 p.m. to midnight at a local factory, and Joy worked a 6:00 a.m. to noon shift at the same factory. This meant that Charles was the primary parent in the morning, dressing, feeding and caring for their two sons when they were preschoolers, as well as doing household chores. Once their boys reached school age, he not only got them off to school but participated regularly in their class life as a room parent and a member of the PTA. Arriving home at noon, Joy became the primary parent and homemaker, giving Charles a chance to rest or take part in other activities such as gardening, amateur team sports, home improvement projects and spending time with friends before heading off to his next six-hour shift at the factory.

The fact that each parent worked a thirty hour week made it possible for them not only to coparent their children and share the running of their household but also to develop as individuals and contribute to their community in ways not dominated by their waged work. There was time for canning, quilting, reading, hunting, visiting with family and doing volunteer work at the local library. Joy and Charles were equally close to their sons and equally involved in their school and extracurricular lives. Both contributed to the family economy as members of the waged workforce, each taking home a somewhat reduced load as compared to the national norm of “full time work.” This enabled both to be competent, knowledgeable parents and householders, active in community life and bringing home roughly equal pay packets.

You probably assumed that Charles and Joy Blanchard came of age in the late 1970s or early 1980s, inspired by the second wave of American feminism to be mavericks who would break down the dichotomy between the “feminine” sphere of domestic life and the “masculine” sphere of public and economic achievement. But in their television interview this retired couple, now with grown-up sons and almost-grown grandchildren, were speaking about a work pattern that was common in the 1950s among employees at the Kellogg’s cereal factory in Battle Creek, Michigan. In the immediate post-World War II era, just when the doctrine of separate spheres for men and women was at its moral and legal zenith in North America, Kellogg’s management and labor unions routinely provided for both men and women to work five-day, six-hour shifts. This was an organizational pattern begun in 1930 and phased out only as recently as 1985.[52]

 And just think, all of this was accomplished while abortion was illegal!

            Is legal abortion necessary to women’s participation in economic and social life? No, women have always contributed to the economic and social life of their cultures, and we can continue to expand our participation without sacrificing our children if we are willing to engage in an uncompromising, pro-life feminism. Has legal abortion truly facilitated women’s participation in economic and social life? Abortion only facilitates the participation of women willing to change themselves (hormonally, surgically, or chemically), risk dangerous physical and psychological consequences, and forgo mothering in order to “fit in” to “a man’s world”—in other words, women who capitulate to the coercive pressures of the status quo. It does virtually nothing to facilitate the full participation of women as women, including mothers (and responsible fathers). In Serrin Foster’s words: “[abortion] is a reflection that we have failed women—and that women have had to settle for far less than they need and deserve.” [53] Is legal abortion essential to the achievement of feminist aims? Absolutely not—in fact, it compromises and undermines feminism.


Burke, Theresa, and David C. Reardon. Forbidden Grief: The Unspoken Pain of Abortion. Springfield, Illinois: Acorn Books. 2002.

Hurley, Jennifer A., ed. Women’s Rights: Great Speeches in History. San Diego: Greenhaven Press. 2002.

Kennedy, Angela, ed. Swimming Against the Tide: Feminist Dissent on the Issue of Abortion. Dublin: Open Air. 1997.

Lasch, Christopher. Women and the Common Life. New York: W.W. Norton & Company. 1997.

MacNair, Derr, & Naranjo-Huebl, eds. Prolife Feminism Yesterday & Today. New York: Sulzburger & Graham Publishing, Ltd. 1995. (Now being published by Life Cycle Books.)

Mathewes-Green, Frederica. Real Choices: Listening to Women, Looking for Alternatives to Abortion. Ben Lamond, California: Conciliar Press. 1997.

Pope John Paul II on the Genius of Women. Washington, DC: United States Catholic Conference. 1997.

Ring-Cassidy, Elizabeth, and Ian Gentles. Women’s Health After Abortion: The Medical and Psychological Evidence. Toronto: De Veber Institute for Bioethics and Social Research. 2002.

Sweet, Gail Grenier, ed. Pro-life Feminism: Different Voices. Lewiston, New York: Life Cycle Books. 1985.

Van Leeuwen, Mary Stewart. Gender & Grace: Love, Work & Parenting in a Changing World. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press. 1990.

Van Leeuwen, Mary Stewart. My Brother’s Keeper: What the Social Sciences Do (And Don’t) Tell Us About Masculinity. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press. 2002.


Feminists for Life of America

733 15th Street NW, Suite 1100

Washington, DC 20005


202-737-FFLA (3352)

Women Deserve Better Campaign


1. The term “first wave feminism” generally refers to the women’s suffrage movement, from the late 18th century to the early 20th, when women called for the right to vote, to serve on juries, to own and inherit property, etc. The term “second wave feminism” generally refers to the women’s movement sparked in the early 1960’s. Some have argued that we should now refer to “third” and even “fourth” waves, and/or “postfeminism,” but reference to the first two is sufficient for the purposes of this paper.

2. Cindy Osborne, “Pat Goltz, Catherine Callaghan and the Founding of Feminists for Life,” in Prolife Feminism Yesterday & Today edited by MacNair, Derr, & Naranjo-Huebl (New York: Sulzburger & Graham Publishing, Ltd.; 1995), 152-153.

3. Serrin Foster, “The Feminist Case Against Abortion,” in Women’s Rights: Great Speeches in History edited by Jennifer A. Hurley (San Diego: Greenhaven Press; 2002), 198. Cf. Prolife Feminism Yesterday & Today edited by MacNair, Derr, & Naranjo-Huebl (Sulzburger & Graham Publishing, Ltd.; 1995).

4. Kate Michelman, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, remarks for the Roe v. Wade Anniversary Pro-Choice Coalition Press Conference, January 22, 2002. Printed on December 6, 2003, from http://www.prochoiceamerica.org/about/newsroom/pressrelease/20020122_roe.cfm.

5. Kate Michelman, Roe v. Wade Anniversary Speech, January 22, 2002. Printed on December 6, 2003, from http://www.naral.org/about/newsroom/pressrelease/20020122_pressclub.cfm.

6. Gloria Feldt, president of Planned Parenthood, quoted in Reuters Health news article “‘Roe’ Seeks to Overturn U.S. Abortion Law,” June 18, 2003. Printed on December 6, 2003, from http://www.wellspan.org/HealthNews/reuters/NewsStory0618200315.htm.

7. Planned Parenthood v. Casey (1992).

8. The slogan “every mother is a working mother” is entirely true, but in this case the phrase “working moms” refers to mothers engaged in extra-domestic work, beyond mothering and housework.

9. In some cultures, women make baskets and men build houses, while in others men make baskets and women build houses. Cf. Mary Stewart van Leeuwen’s Gender & Grace (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press; 1990), 113-114. See also van Leeuwen’s My Brother’s Keeper (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press; 2002).

10. Angelus Reflection “The Feminine Presence in the Family,” 19 March 1995. Unless otherwise noted, papal excerpts are taken from Pope John Paul II on the Genius of Women (Washington, DC: United States Catholic Conference; 1997).

11. Christopher Lasch, “Bourgeois Domesticity, the Revolt against Patriarchy, and the Attack on Fashion” in Women and the Common Life (NY: W.W. Norton & Co.; 1997), 68.

12. I am not suggesting, nor do I think More and Wollstonecraft meant, that people should be valued for what they do and produce above or before what they are. “Productive” here stands in contrast to the affected “idleness” and “frivolity” of the pseudo-aristocratic ladies: people should develop their gifts and talents, rather than bury them, for the benefit of all people.

13. Christopher Lasch, “The Sexual Division of Labor, the Decline of Civic Culture, and the Rise of the Suburbs” in Women and the Common Life (NY: W.W. Norton & Co.; 1997), 95.

14. There’s always been plenty of hard labor done by women that went unacknowledged for one reason or another. Recall the words of former slave Sojourner Truth, as recounted by Frances Gage: “That man over there says that woman need to be helped into carriages, and lifted over ditches, and to have the best place everywhere. Nobody ever helps me into carriages, or over mud-puddles, or gives me any best place—and aren’t I a woman? Look at me. Look at my arm. I have plowed and planted and gathered into barns, and no man could head me—and aren’t I a woman? I have borne thirteen children, and seen them almost all sold off into slavery, and when I cried with a mother’s grief, none but Jesus heard—and aren’t I a woman?” As it appears in Women’s Rights: Great Speeches in History edited by Jennifer A. Hurley (San Diego: Greenhaven Press; 2002), 63.

15. Christopher Lasch, “The Sexual Division of Labor, the Decline of Civic Culture, and the Rise of the Suburbs” in Women and the Common Life (NY: W.W. Norton & Co.; 1997), 95. But, as we have seen when considering women’s earlier activities in civic culture, it was not yet in the 19th century what it became in the 20th. Note also that the “full-time motherhood” of which Lasch speaks was often a luxury of the upper and upper-middle classes, which is why I wrote “norm” in quotation marks.

16. Be forewarned: many long quotes from Pope John Paul II follow. It is necessary to emphasize that his teaching on these points is forceful and consistent.

17. Letter to Women, no. 6.

18. Letter to Women, no. 4

19. Angelus Reflection “The Feminine Genius,” 23 July 1995.

20. Angelus Reflection “Closing the Gap Between Cultural Opportunities for Men and Women,” 6 August 1995.

21. Angelus Reflection “Equal Opportunity in the World of Work,” 20 August 1995.

22. Angelus Reflection “Women in Political Life,” 27 August 1995.

23. Letter to Women, nos. 2&3.

24. The two most common forms of feminism are British-American “egalitarian-individualist” feminism and Continental European “difference-relational” feminism. Cf. Karen Offen’s “Defining Feminism: A Comparative Historical Approach” (Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 1988, vol. 14, no. 1, pp. 119-157) and Patricia Donohue-White’s “Understanding Equality and Difference: A Personalist Proposal” (International Philosophical Quarterly, vol. 37, no. 4, issue 148, pp. 441-456). I have argued elsewhere that Pope John Paul II has worked to integrate these two.

25. I don’t mean that these impulses are feminists’ only motives for action, rather that these impulses are somehow included within their motivations. Karen Offen’s “Defining Feminism” has a more complicated definition, which may be wiser.

26. Some of my friends, who would be “feminists” according to this definition, abstain from self-applying the term on the grounds that they believe it does not incorporate a corresponding concern for men. I appreciate the objection, because I also seek solidarity between the sexes. I agree with Offen, however, that “Feminism is necessarily pro-woman…. it does not follow that it must be anti-man,” (ibid., 151).

27. Evangelium Vitae, no. 99. It is worth noting here, by the way, that the American pro-life feminist organization Feminists for Life influenced the addition of this passage to the encyclical.

28. Welcome to Gertrude Mongella, Secretary General of the 4th World Conference on Women, nos. 3&4.

29. Angelus Reflection “The Feminine Presence in the Family,” 19 March 1995.

30. Familiaris Consortio, no. 25. This document does not appear in the Genius of Women collection.

31. Trying to conform women to structures made “for men” would be bad enough, but the reality is far worse: these structures were designed for truncated men—men unnaturally disconnected from family relationships and home life. In other words, these structures are really no more welcoming and accommodating to responsible married men and fathers than they are to women.

32. World Day of Peace Message 1 January 1995, no. 9.

33. Welcome to Gertrude Mongella, Secretary General of the 4th World Conference on Women, no. 8.

34. Welcome to Gertrude Mongella, Secretary General of the 4th World Conference on Women, no. 5.

35. Many of same changes in social and economic structures that would welcome and accommodate mothers would also allow fathers to become more involved in family life, a need too long neglected.

36. E.g. Theresa Burke’s Forbidden Grief: The Unspoken Pain of Abortion (Springfield, IL: Acorn Books; 2002).

37. E.g. Elizabeth Ring-Cassidy and Ian Gentles’ Women’s Health After Abortion: The Medical and Psychological Evidence (Toronto: De Veber Institute for Bioethics and Social Research; 2002).

38. Alan Guttmacher Institute, “Induced Abortion,” http://www.agi-usa.org/pubs/fb_induced_abortion.html.

39. This non-provision can take many forms, from silence (e.g. failure to offer help) to overt threats (e.g. threats to withdraw existing emotional support or practical resources, threats of emotional or physical abuse, etc.). In some cases, the rhetoric of “choice” becomes a way for family and friends to avoid any difficulty or personal inconvenience—“it’s your choice” becomes “it’s your problem.”

40. It can be very discouraging for a confused and ambivalent pregnant woman to hear trusted friends say things like “of course, you’re not keeping it.” But in some cases, another person’s request or expectation that a woman abort can become anxious, pleading, repetitive and taxing, demanding, overbearing, threatening, and even abusive or violent.

41. Frederica Mathewes-Green, Real Choices: Listening to Women, Looking for Alternatives to Abortion (Ben Lamond, CA: Conciliar Press; 1997).

42. Many abortion advocates, like Planned Parenthood, used the first two sentences of this quote themselves, but not the rest.

43. “A Matter of Welfare,” in Pro-life Feminism: Different Voices edited by Gail Grenier Sweet (Lewiston, New York: Life Cycle Books; 1985), 120. Even women who loudly proclaim that they do not regret their abortions, like the women whose stories appear on the website “I’m Not Sorry” (http://www.imnotsorry.net), usually admit they chose abortion because they lacked social and economic resources necessary to continue their pregnancies. Cf. my March 31, 2003, commentary called “Reading Between the Lines of the ‘I'm Not Sorry’ Chronicles” at http://taofool.blogspot.com/2003_03_01_taofool_archive.html#91738246.

44. Even Kate Michelman has said, “We think that abortion is a bad thing. No woman wants to have one,” though she later denied it. See http://www.nrlc.org/news/2003/NRL02/pres.html.

45. Please recall my above statement that, in this context, “for men” really means for truncated men—men unnaturally disconnected from their family relationships and home life. This situation is not truly beneficial to anyone.

46. Daphne Clair de Jong, “The Feminist Sell-Out,” in Prolife Feminism Yesterday & Today edited by MacNair, Derr, & Naranjo-Huebl (New York: Sulzburger & Graham Publishing, Ltd.; 1995), 172.

47. Jane Thomas Bailey, “Feminism 101: A Primer for Prolife Persons,” in Prolife Feminism Yesterday & Today edited by MacNair, Derr, & Naranjo-Huebl (New York: Sulzburger & Graham Publishing, Ltd.; 1995), 163.

48. Rosemary Bottcher, “Pro-Abortionists Poison Feminism,” in Pro-life Feminism: Different Voices edited by Gail Grenier Sweet (Lewiston, New York: Life Cycle Books; 1985), 45.

49. Cindy Osborne, “Pat Goltz, Catherine Callaghan and the Founding of Feminists for Life,” in Prolife Feminism Yesterday & Today edited by MacNair, Derr, & Naranjo-Huebl (New York: Sulzburger & Graham Publishing, Ltd.; 1995), 155-156. Abortion was indeed a huge factor in the 1970’s demise of the ERA.

50. Julie Loesch, “Our Bodies, Their Lives,” in Pro-life Feminism: Different Voices edited by Gail Grenier Sweet (Lewiston, New York: Life Cycle Books; 1985), 186.

51. Slogans of Feminists for Life of America, coined by current FFL president Serrin Foster.

52. Mary Stewart van Leeuwen, My Brother’s Keeper: What the Social Sciences Do (And Don’t) Tell Us About Masculinity (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press; 2002), 228-229.

53. “Women Deserve Better than Abortion,” a Respect Life article sponsored by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2003. Available online at:


Copyright ©;
C. Randolph Clark 2003

Version: 18th December 2003

 HomePage  Prof May Home Page