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Pro-Life Views in Women's Studies

The following discussion of "pro-life" views in Women's Studies
took place on WMST-L in October/November 2002.  For additional
WMST-L files available on the Web, see the WMST-L File Collection.
Date: Wed, 30 Oct 2002 12:53:01 -0600
From: Janet Allured <jallured AT LIGHTWIRE.NET>
Subject: pro-life views in Women's Studies
As the director of the Women's Studies Program at my university, I have
recently come under fire from pro-lifers in this very conservative
community for having open pro-choice views.  They argue that I am
biased, and that our program is biased, and they have challenged me to
bring a "pro-life feminist" to campus to speak to Women's Studies
classes.  My first response would be that, like all our speakers, the
person must have solid scholarly credentials, or otherwise have a
national reputation as a researcher in her particular field (I have
brought non-academics to campus as speakers before).  My question to the
list is:  is there such a thing as an academic pro-life feminist who
teaches/researches in the field of Women's Studies?   If so, could you
please let me know who and where to I might contact her/them?


Janet Allured, Ph.D.
Dept. of History
McNeese State University
Lake Charles, LA
jallured  AT  lightwire.net
Date: Wed, 30 Oct 2002 13:02:37 -0800
From: Rachel Westfall <rachelw AT UVIC.CA>
Subject: Re: pro-life views in Women's Studies
As a researcher in women's reproductive health, I have recently discovered
the feminist pro-life movement.  It does indeed exist, though there is a
tendency to use the phase 'choose life' rather than pro-life.  I won't
attempt to explain the philosophy here, and I do not know of any academics
in the field of women's studies who openly subscribe to the 'choose life'
philosophy.  If you are interested in the subject, I suggest laying your
hands on a copy of Jeannine Parvati Baker's book _Conscious Conception_, and
indeed Jeannine might be a (non-academic) candidate for speaking on your


Rachel Westfall
University of Victoria
Victoria, BC, Canada
V8W 2Y2
rachelw  AT  uvic.ca
Date: Wed, 30 Oct 2002 15:12:45 -0600
From: Christine Smith <casmith AT MNSTATE.EDU>
Subject: Re: pro-life views in Women's Studies
There is a group called Feminists for Life.  In fact, a number of
pro-life (anti-choice) organizations tout them to somehow give
their movement legitimacy and appear as if their movement supports
women.  You can easily find them on the web. When I teach feminism,
I tell my students that feminism is about women's right to
self-determination.  The "pro-life" movement is not.  I would
recommend reading Ricki Solinger's work on this.

Christine Smith
Date: Wed, 30 Oct 2002 16:33:01 -0500
From: Gaile Pohlhaus <gaile.pohlhaus AT VILLANOVA.EDU>
Subject: Re: pro-life views in Women's Studies
Pro-life does not mean anti-choice, any more than pro-life means
anti-abortion.  As a member of Feminists for Life I would ask that
their literature be read with as open minds as possible and not pre
judgement.  If feminism is about "women's rights to self
determiniation" then surely one thing women may choose to determine
for themselves is to be pro-life.  (With apologies to Joan since this
is moving beyond the focus of the list.)  Gaile

Gaile M. Pohlhaus, Ph.D.
Director of WomenÆs Studies
Coordinator, Annual Theology Institute
Villanova University
800 Lancaster Avenue
Villanova, PA  19085

gaile.pohlhaus  AT  villanova.edu   (email)
Date: Wed, 30 Oct 2002 16:50:56 -0400
From: Jeannie Ludlow <jludlow AT BGNET.BGSU.EDU>
Subject: Re: pro-life views in Women's Studies
Wouldn't it be great--both for intellectual inquiry and for
balance--to have a small panel presentation that includes multiple
feminist (not necessarily academics--activists after all also help
create the theory that we distribute) perspectives on reproductive
rights?  For instance, one could invite a "pro-life" feminist, a
"pro-choice" feminist (using both of these terms as the cultural
constructs that they are, popularly!), and someone talking about
issues related to forced sterilization and someone else talking about
how *all* choice is privileged in the US, so long as health insurance
is a privilege (and how this influences many women's reproductive
health and "choices").

This would certainly provide the balance you and your campus seem to
be looking for, and (hopefully!) would role model for our students
empowered and healthy ways to think about many angles to an issue (in
part because they would see that there is more agreement than
disagreement among these perspectives).  This would be "critical
thinking" in action.

Living in my own little utopia,

Dr. Jeannie Ludlow
jludlow  AT  bgnet.bgsu.edu
Interim Director
Women's Studies
246 Shatzel Hall, Bowling Green State U
Bowling Green OH 43403
Date: Wed, 30 Oct 2002 22:22:04 +0000
From: Jennifer Saul <j.saul AT SHEFFIELD.AC.UK>
Subject: pro-life feminists

There's an anthology by Sydney and Daniel Callahan on abortion-- I'm not
sure of the name of it. (It's from the 1980s.) She's pro-life and he's
pro-choice, and the anthology contains several pieces by self-described
pro-life feminists.



Dr Jennifer Saul
Department of Philosophy
University of Sheffield
Sheffield S10 2TN

E-mail: j.saul  AT  sheffield.ac.uk
Date: Wed, 30 Oct 2002 17:55:04 -0600
From: Mary Ann Lamanna <mlamanna AT MAIL.UNOMAHA.EDU>
Subject: Anthology: re pro-life feminists
The anthology to which Jennifer Saul refers is a publication from a
two-stage conference organized and held at the Hastings Center :
Institute of Society, Ethics, and the Life Sciences.

The design of the conference followed the pro-life/pro-choice
dichotomy, though most viewpoints were more complex than this
dichotomy would suggest. Participants were about half and half from
the social sciences and from philosophy/theology.  Reference is:

Sidney and Daniel Callahan, eds.  1984.  ABORTION: UNDERSTANDING
DIFFERENCES.  New York Plenum.  The Hastings Center Series in Ethics.

Participants besides myself were: Kristin Luker; Jean Bethke Elshtain,
Sandra Harding, Theodora Ooms, Mary Mahowald, Virginia Abernethy, Mary
Meehan, Lisa Sowle Cahill, and Mary Segers.

Mary Ann

Mary Ann Lamanna, Ph.D.
Department of Sociology and Anthropology
University of Nebraska at Omaha
6001 Dodge Street
Omaha, NE 68182-0291

E-mail: mlamanna  AT  unomaha.edu
Date: Wed, 30 Oct 2002 18:37:02 -0600
From: casmith <casmith AT MNSTATE.EDU>
Subject: Re: pro-life views in Women's Studies
Maybe this point could be used to discuss the issue of abortion within
feminism, if you are having speakers.  If women's studies is academic feminism
(as I believe it is), then what is the role of women's studies/feminism in
addressing the abortion debate?  One would need to look at these movements as
a whole.  Are there assumptions made about women's roles and lives?  How does
the right to self-determination personally differ from movements that seek to
impact all women's reproductive lives (potentially)?  Does a group such as
Feminists for Life reflect the views of the pro-life movement in regards to
the above?  Do pro-choice groups such as NARAL reflect feminism?  That's why I
recommend Rickie Solinger's "Abortion and the Politics of Motherhood."  She
examines women on both "sides" of the issue, women who are activists and
addresses assumptions made about women's lives and roles.

Christine Smith
Date: Wed, 30 Oct 2002 19:24:07 -0600
From: Janet Allured <jallured AT LIGHTWIRE.NET>
Subject: Re: pro-life views in Women's Studies
Kristen Luker's book is _Abortion and the Politics of Motherhood_.  I am
familiar with all the works which have been mentioned, and with
Feminists for Life -- I have read their website many times.  My view is
that feminism is pro-choice precisely because it allows women the right
to self-determination, including the right to be pro-life; the pro-life
position, on the other hand, has historically and politically been
anti-choice, since it seeks to remove women's right to

I'm sure Joan will cut this discussion off very soon if we stray off
topic very much, so once again I will note that I am looking for an
academic feminist whose field is women's studies who is pro-life. I have
already received a few suggestions (thanks to those of you who
responded). I will follow up, and if I find what I'm looking for, I will
be happy to share those names with anyone who is interested.

Janet Allured
McNeese State University
jallured  AT  lightwire.net
Date: Wed, 30 Oct 2002 22:04:28 -0600
From: Hannah Miyamoto <hsmiyamoto AT MSN.COM>
Subject: Re: pro-life views in Women's Studies
    Personally, if I were facing a mob of "pro-life feminists" or any
creature answering to a similar name, I'd ask them how many coats did they
give to the autumn coat drive, how many hundredweight did they give to the
food shelf this year and how did they vote on the last school bond
referendum?  If the whole burden of raising the nation's children is to fall
on the nation's mothers, then people should exercise their inalienable right
to remain silent about whether some women they won't feed and house for 19
years hence should accept the burden.  'Tis a mean thing to criticize how
someone is doing something, or not doing it, if you won't help them do the
thing right yourself.

    In other words, to let someone argue with you about whether abortion is
right or wrong surrenders the high ground.  Rather, ask them whether
malnutrition is wrong, or child neglect is wrong, or homelessness is wrong,
or illness without healthcare is wrong.  Whether overwork and short wages
are wrong.  Whether having to "choose" between domestic abuse or
homelessness is wrong.  Whether providing good schooling for some students,
while leaving the remainder to wallow in ignorance and danger is wrong.
Whether, if people love children so much, mothers should have to leave their
children with untrained and inadequate ersatz caregivers, or leave them
unsupervised entirely?

    And if they pause for a second in their answer, ask them:  "What Would
Jesus Do?"

Hannah Miyamoto
Social Change and Development, Senior
Women's Studies Emphasis
former Child Abuse, Neglect and Custody attorney

University of Wisconsin-Green Bay
hsmiyamoto  AT  msn.com

"One of the strangest things about life is that the poor, who need money the
most, are the very ones that never have it."

F. P. Dunne

Note:  I have proposed to present, at the NWSA Convention next summer, a
presentation on how Emma Goldman and other anarchist-feminists would
criticize the blindness of most feminists today to the economic conditions
under which women live and labor, compared to their choices and rights in
regards to reproduction.  Ironically, the "Woman Issue" activists of 1900 to
1940 focused much more of their attention on wages, work, and the link
between child neglect and capitalist exploitation, than our generation,
their grand-daughters and great-grandaughters in spirit.  Who has noted that
"Welfare," the tattered "safety-net" we have witnessed torn away, was the
direct outcome of the campaign of women in the 1920's for "mother's
pensions."  Likewise, the idea that it should be a crime to hire someone for
less wages than could support that person and their children, the "living
wage," was first voiced around 1900.  The presentation is tentatively
titled, "Emma Goldman in the 21st Century," and is to be part of a
presentation about Margaret Sanger and Emma Goldman that will be given by
myself, Miriam Reed and Kathy Ferguson.
Date: Thu, 31 Oct 2002 09:35:42 -0500
From: Daphne Patai <daphne.patai AT SPANPORT.UMASS.EDU>
Subject: Re: pro-life views in Women's Studies
It seems important to at least try to understand where one's opponents are
coming from.  It also makes sense to understand that IF one believes a
certain course of action results in genuine evil, one cannot just be
"neutral" and defend the right of others to choose that course.  I have no
doubt that at least some pro-lifers are sincere in their beliefs that they
are preventing a massacre. We would not blame anti-apartheid or anti-fascist
activists for not defending a woman's right to choose.  Nor are pro-choice
people perfectly consistent in their politics either.  Some I know are
adamant about prohibiting surrogacy - that is not a "choice" they think
women should be allowed to make.

As for the tough questions-approach, which attacks on inconsistencies are an
aspect of, well, it's a tactic that works to shut people up, but very few
people could in fact withstand such an assault on their proclaimed politics.
Why not ask the pro-choice woman: are you there to hold the hand of the
woman who has regrets, who feels guilt, etc., etc.  Anybody can play this

daphne.patai  AT  spanport.umass.edu
Date: Thu, 31 Oct 2002 09:54:46 -0400
From: silver_ak AT MERCER.EDU
Subject: Re: pro-life views in Women's Studies
I too teach at a very conservative university in a very conservative
region of the country (Central Georgia). For a couple of years, I
willfully ignored reproductive rights issues b/c I just didn't want to
deal with teaching them.  Now what I do is present, to my WGS
students, a short lecture that lays out the pro-choice position.  I'm
not trying to "convert" anti-abortion students, but I tell them that
no matter what their position is on abortion, they need to understand
the rationale behind the pro-choice position.  I don't present the
"pro-life" position b/c all my students are well-versed in it, from
churches, high schools, presentations on campus, etc. However, many of
the students have told me that they've never heard a pro-choice
position articulated before, and many of them are grateful to hear it.
I have students who self-identify as pro-life feminists, including
some of my most--in other ways--vociferously feminist students.
I find pro-life feminism intellectually incoherent, not in the case of
women, of course, who decide that they personally wouldn't have an
abortion, but in the  case of women who work to keep all women from
having abortions.  Still, I have learned that I can't assume that
pro-life women are necessarily anti-feminist; there does seem to be a
small group of women who identify as both.  A book that I'd highly
recommend reading and perhaps teaching is Faye Ginsberg's *Contested
Lives*; she spends a lot of time with both pro-choice and
anti-abortion activists and portrays both sympathetically.  Also,
Solinger's *Abortion Wars* (already recommended here, I believe) is

Anya Silver

Dr. Anya Krugovoy Silver
Assistant Professor of English and Interdisciplinary Studies
Mercer University
1400 Coleman Ave.       "A world understood/is a tiny world."
Macon, GA 31207-0001                     Dorothy Barresi
silver_ak  AT  mercer.edu
Date: Thu, 31 Oct 2002 10:22:01 -0500
From: Gaile Pohlhaus <gaile.pohlhaus AT VILLANOVA.EDU>
Subject: Re: pro-life views in Women's Studies
I give coats, I march against war, I support women who choose not to
have abortions, I tithe over 10% of my gross income to supportive
services of the poor and the outcast and the oppressed.  I am a
moderator of PFLAG here at my Catholic University.  I do NOT picket
abortion clinics because women who are using them have been subjected
to enough stress in their lives.

I believe that to be feminist means to be pro-life supportive of life
in all its aspects.  I also believe that as human beings no one can
take our choices away from us.  we give them away.  I believe we have
the ability to choose but that society often and regularly tries to
show us the "correct" way to choose whether it is from the
pro-abortion side or the anti-abortion side.  If all things were
equal, which they are not in our present society, I believe there
would be no need for abortions and I happen to think that most women
(whatever their position on this matter) would agree.

I think that this issue has been divisive in the Women's Movement and
I think some people has deliberately used it to weaken the strength of
women acting together.  I call myself pro-life because I oppose the
death penalty, support gun control, work for an end to abortions (but
not for laws to criminalize them), am a pacifist, and a teacher.  I
try not to lump pro-choice persons in one stereotyped mass and I ask
for the same respect.

Date: Thu, 31 Oct 2002 21:30:19 -0700
From: Max Dashu <maxdashu AT LMI.NET>
Subject: Re: pro-life views in Women's Studies
Hannah Miyamoto raises some excellent questions to ask pro-natalist
feminists (or the ones who advocate outlawing abortion, at any rate).
She is right that we should not cede the high ground. I would only
caution that we not do so on another point that she mentions: how
"most feminists today" regard the economic conditions of women. I'd
say that most feminists today are not academics, professionals or
even activists, but ordinary working women who are themselves
struggling with economic  issues on a day to day basis.

>presentation on how Emma Goldman and other anarchist-feminists would
>criticize the blindness of most feminists today to the economic conditions
>under which women live and labor, compared to their choices and
>rights in regards to reproduction.

Max Dashu   <maxdashu  AT  LMI.net>
Global Women's Studies

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