by Christina diGasbarro
“Real feminists are pro-life!”
That was what I read on a sign this past Thursday while I was at the March for Life, held in protest every year on the anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision. I recognize that a lot of people would take issue with that sign. I don’t claim to know the full intent of the person carrying it, but it made me stop and think again about the compatibility between feminism and the pro-life movement, and about what feminism means to me.
I think that when you look at feminism and at the pro-life movement, they are, at the most fundamental level, the same. To me, feminism is, like all other civil rights movements, an expression of the equal dignity and worth of all human beings. Feminism of course focuses on gender discrimination and securing rights for women, but really the idea is that all people deserve equal treatment under the law, that all people deserve the same human rights, and that all people deserve the same basic respect, courtesy, and consideration.
There are two main reasons that I see this idea as the root and most basic tenet of feminism.
The first is that feminism does not seek to elevate women above men: feminism seeks to ensure women’s equality with men. The second, and more important, is that I don’t think feminism could exist without this belief. Without appealing to the fact that all of us, men and women, are in fact equally human, I think feminists would have a harder time making their case for equality. Some people would point to observed differences between men and women as justification for unequal treatment, disparities in rights, etc. But really, the only way to completely deny feminism is to deny that women are human beings, and that position is patently absurd. It is our common humanity that demands equality for all; it is simply by virtue of being human that anyone can claim equal treatment under law, equal rights, equal respect and consideration, and equal worth and value in society.
The pro-life movement is just as invested in this notion. I freely admit that part of my (and many others’) pro-life conviction stems from religious beliefs, but I am not going to present those here. But what unites pro-lifers from every religious background is the belief in the equal humanity of all people, including the unborn. A fertilized egg, as the product of a human egg and a human sperm, is clearly human; and the fertilized egg has a life of its own, from the moment of conception. Thus, from the moment of conception, there is a new human life. The fertilized egg, while one cell, is not the same as a single human cell from, for instance, the skin, or the muscles, or the stomach. Each of these somatic cells, while being alive and being human cells, do not represent a completely different human life, nor do they represent the entirety of a human being. However, the unicellular fertilized egg does represent a completely different life and the entirety of a human being; given the opportunity, that fertilized egg will develop until birth, and then will seamlessly continue to develop through childhood, adulthood, and old age until death comes.
Seeing that an unborn child is the entirety of a human being, at whatever stage of development, pro-lifers recognize the unborn as possessing equal humanity with those who have already left the womb. Humanity cannot be assigned based on the number of cells in the body, or else a three-year-old would be somehow less human than a thirty-year-old, or someone 5’0” and 100 pounds would be somehow less human than someone 6’2” and 250 pounds. Humanity cannot be assigned based on intelligence or knowledge, or on the ability to provide for oneself, or on the ability to speak or walk. Humanity must be assigned based simply on the fact that a being is a living human, and since all people are equally alive and equally human, that assignment of humanity must be equal.
Since the unborn have equal humanity, they ought to have the same basic human rights as anyone else, and the most important human right is the right to life. Without the right to go on living, the rest of our rights and our very equality would not be worth as much, because only once life is secured can anything else develop; negating the right to life of any group endangers other rights which could not meaningfully exist otherwise. It’s not that pro-lifers think all women should be forced to have children; it’s just that, once there is an unborn child, that child’s right to life supersedes the woman’s right to determine her reproductive functions free from outside interference.
So, as I see it, being pro-life means believing in the equal humanity of all human life; and being a feminist means believing in the equal humanity of all human life. Since the two movements are based in the same core belief, they are fully compatible with each other, and, if one truly believes in the equal humanity of all human life, it makes sense to believe in both; otherwise, one must deny the humanity and the aliveness of some group of human beings.