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Susan B. Anthony: Pro-Life Feminist


Susan B. Anthony, icon of modern-day feminism, would have been horrified at what is being done in her name. Writing passionately about the evils of abortion she sought to eradicate this most monstrous crime.


The icon of modern-day feminism would be horrified at what is being done in her name.

Susan B. Anthony is a hero of the feminist movement, and with good cause: She was a trailblazer in the women's movement in the late 1800s. A Quaker who never married, Anthony devoted her energy first to the abolition of slavery and then to women's equality at the ballot box. She and other early feminists believed that the power of the vote was the key to fulfilling all other goals.

Willing to go to jail for what she believed, Anthony illegally cast a ballot in the 1872 presidential election and was arrested. Regard for her by modern-day advocates of women's rights led to the production of the Susan B. Anthony $1 coin in 1979.

"A most monstrous crime"

There is, however, one thing these advocates don't know about Anthony, something that might temper their adoration: Susan B. Anthony was pro-life.

How could a feminist be pro-life? Simple: Abortion hurts women. Anthony and her friends knew this, and in fact the feminist movement did not support abortion until the 1970s.

A hundred years ago Anthony wrote an essay in her publication, The Revolution, about the horrible crime of child-murder. She was considering specifically the tragedy of abortion within marriage, wherein a pregnant wife destroys the little being, she thinks, before it lives.

Anthony wanted to eradicate this most monstrous crime but feared that laws alone would not be sufficient: We must reach the root of the evil and destroy it.

Anthony wrote about this evil with passion: 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, for selfish gratification, heedless of her prayers, indifferent to her fate, drove her to the desperation which impels her to the crime.

Modern footsteps

But surely the era of feminists who oppose abortion is in the past? Not according to Mary Krane Derr, an author who researched the writings of historical feminists for the book Pro-Life Feminism: Yesterday and Today. Derr discovered dozens of essays by a wide range of feminists decrying the violence of abortion and its damage to women.

According to the early feminists, abortion resulted from the denial of the pregnant woman's humanity as much as from a denial of the unborn child's, wrote Derr, who still terms herself a feminist. Women felt pressured into aborting because they were deprived of truly life-affirming sexual and reproductive options. This is still very much the case. If we don't want unborn children to be treated as insensate clumps of tissue, we must first of all ensure that their mothers are not treated as insensate clumps of tissue.

When asked if she still calls herself a feminist, author and psychologist Sidney Callahan says, Oh, yes, I do. Feminism began with an analysis of the abuse of power and the impulse to fight inequality. My going on to take a pro-life position was a natural extension of feminism, just making it deeper.

Often in her speeches Callahan shocks audiences by declaring, Women will never climb to equality and social empowerment over mounds of dead fetuses.

She believes that many contemporary feminist themes should point to pro-life conclusions. Feminists were leaders in the areas of the ecology, peace and nonviolence. All of these contribute to the pro-life position.

As a popular bumper sticker produced by the organization Feminists for Life says, Peace Begins in the Womb.

That's a position Susan B. Anthony would understand. When a man sought to compliment her by saying what a fine mother she would have been, she 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 that their unborn little ones could not be willed away from them.



Mathewes-Green, Frederica. Susan B. Anthony: Pro-Life Feminist. Focus on the Family (January 2000).

Reprinted by permission of Frederica Mathewes-Green.

The Author

Frederica Mathewes-Green is a wide-ranging author. She has published 9 books, including Facing East: A Pilgrim's Journey into the Mysteries of Orthodoxy, The Illumined Heart: The Ancient Christian Path of Transformation, At the Corner of East and Now, The Illumined Heart, The Open Door: Entering the Sanctuary of Icons and Prayer, and Gender: Men, Women, Sex, and Feminism. In the past, her commentaries have been heard on National Public Radio's All Things Considered and Morning Edition. Her essays were selected for Best Christian Writing in 2000, 2002, 2004, and 2006, and Best Spiritual Writing in 1998 and 2007. She has published over 700 articles. She lives in Linthicum, Maryland, with her husband Fr. Gregory, pastor of Holy Cross Orthodox Church. They have three children and three grandchildren.

Copyright © 2000 Focus on the Family
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