Anti-choice feminism

Crispin Sartwell, in a column titled "I Married a Feminist," explains why he disagrees with his wife's take on Jane Roberts' stance on abortion. Judge Roberts' wife, as you may know, belongs to a group called Feminists for Life -- a position that Sartwell's spouse Marion Winik finds untenable: "I don't think you can be a feminist and try to force women to have babies they don't want."

To Sartwell, however, Jane Roberts' politics is just one more version of the many different types of feminisms. If feminists can disagree about pornography or socialism, then why not abortion?


Jane Roberts has for many years been a high-powered attorney, a status made possible in part by the victories of American feminism. There is no reason to doubt the sincerity or intensity of her commitment to many of the tenets of feminism. But like many people, she comes from a religious perspective (in her case, Catholicism) that condemns abortion and, perhaps, she also has independent moral misgivings.
Such misgivings are philosophically defensible. If it were perfectly clear that abortion is only a matter of a woman's control of her own body, then you could not endorse the liberation of women without endorsing abortion rights. But that is not clear. To what extent and up to what point a fetus is part of a woman's body are difficult questions that trouble even as strong an advocate of abortion rights as my wife.
Or if feminism were consistently libertarian -- if it opposed on principle all legislation that limited individual autonomy -- then you could make a plausible argument that feminism demanded a pro-choice stance. But because feminist theory has been extremely enthusiastic about achieving liberation through the force of law, including Title IX and sexual-harassment statutes, feminists cannot in principle be opposed to laws designed to defend the rights of children. (The only question is whether limits on abortion are in fact about children at all.)
So Ms. Roberts' anti-abortion feminism is sensible and logical. There are a hundred aspects of a feminist agenda that she can enthusiastically endorse and that may have been and may in the future be essential to her personal and professional life.
This line of argument -- though seemingly persuasive -- makes me uneasy. And not only because Sartwell ends with this endorsement of John Roberts: "But it is worth pointing out that, whatever his views on this or that, the judge is a man who married a feminist."
That's such an odd leap of logic. The kind of compromises or adjustments a person makes within their marriage says nothing about how ideologically rigid they are likely to be in the realm of politics.

In any case, here's my point. Sartwell confuses a personal, moral choice -- as in, I, Jane Roberts, will never have an abortion -- with the anti-choice position, which insists that all women make that same choice by making abortions illegal. Contrary to the caricatured image of pro-choice advocates, they include many women who are personally opposed to having an abortion. They just don't think that the state should make the choice for them.

Most Americans share a commitment to the concept of individual rights -- it's what this nation was founded on. So just because you believe in the right to privacy it doesn't make you a libertarian, as Sartwell would have it. You can oppose government intrusion in certain areas, but support it in others. Liberals and conservatives disagree on what those areas ought to be. That is the stuff of politics.

Finally, irrespective of its variations, all types of feminisms contain at their core a commitment to women's freedom and equality. So the debate is not about the moral connotations of abortion. It's about whether a woman should be free to make the most important decision in her life: whether to have a baby or not. Surely no feminist can argue that it's the state's right to make that life-altering decision for her.

[LINK via Feministing]

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