Maine Opinion: There’s no such thing as ‘pro-life,’ and no such thing as ‘pro-life feminism’ / by Aspen Ruhlin

If you’ve read any of my previous articles, you may have noticed that I don’t refer to people who oppose abortion access as “pro-life,” but instead as “anti-abortion.” Along with being vague, the “pro-life” label simply doesn’t reflect their views. Denying the autonomy and wellbeing of pregnant people certainly doesn’t align with the idea of being in support of life, and in fact actively devalues the lives of people who have had and will have abortions.

There are as many reasons that someone would seek out abortion care as there are people that have abortions. These reasons are sometimes boxed into strict categories of “necessary” versus “frivolous.” Like most binaries, this doesn’t come close to accurately describing a person’s lived experience. 

All abortions are necessary. Control over your own body is a human right, and that includes continuing or ending a pregnancy. A common retort from the anti-abortion crowd is that having an abortion violates the “autonomy” of a fetus, a claim that ignores both that a fetus isn’t a person, and that people do not have the right to use someone else’s body. If I needed a kidney transplant to live, I wouldn’t have the right to force another living person to donate theirs to me. In fact, I wouldn’t even have the right to make a dead person donate their kidney to me, as people have to consent to being an organ donor, even if they end up in a position where they no longer need those organs. If people can understand bodily autonomy in this context, why can’t they grasp it for pregnant people?

This brings us to the more specific topic of so-called “pro-life feminists.” As I’ve already established, I take issue with the label of “pro-life” anyways and consider it a misnomer—given the disrespect towards pregnant people inherent to being anti-abortion coupled with the violence that is frequently displayed by those activists. Defining feminism can be a bit trickier. As a feminist myself who prioritizes a practice that centers marginalized voices and keeps the influence of intersectionality in mind, it can be easy to simply claim that someone is not a real feminist. While I do think that can be true, as people can slap on any label they want in a bid for legitimacy, it can also quickly turn into a “no true Scotsman” purity test. More useful than simply writing off self-proclaimed feminists who hold anti-feminist values is pointing out the cognitive dissonance they are displaying. This is true of white-centered feminism that ignores the impact of race, thus ignoring the experiences of Black, Indigenous, and other women of color, and of TERFs, or trans eradicating radical feminists, who rely heavily on biological essentialism and the notion that a person is defined only by their reproductive capabilities.

An anti-abortion feminist would be someone who claims to support gender equality, but doesn’t support the autonomy of pregnant people. Given that anti-abortion sentiments and transphobia tend to be common bedfellows, this would also likely be someone who views all people who have abortions as women, meaning that they specifically don’t view women as deserving the right to self-determination, while simultaneously claiming to be pro-woman. I do not buy the idea of genuinely believing in feminism and also viewing women as less-than. Just as “pro-life” is a misnomer, “pro-life feminism” is as well.

This notion of a “pro-life feminist” is fresh on my mind after a draft Supreme Court opinion was leaked Monday evening showing the court planned to overturn Roe v. Wade. Also, the March 30 arrest of Lauren Handy, a well-known anti-abortion activist currently working with Progressive Anti-Abortion Uprising. Handy was found to have five stolen fetuses in her possession, and claimed to have stolen a total of 115 fetal tissue samples in her apartment. Nothing says “progressive” like opposing the autonomy of pregnant people and stealing medical waste products, right? This behavior certainly pokes holes in the argument that anti-abortion advocates make that they are concerned with the respectful and safe handling of fetal tissue samples, as it is not best practice to store biohazard materials in coolers in an apartment.

When it comes down to it, there is no good reason to oppose abortion access, particularly if you claim to have feminist values. To truly value life, you have to value the lives of pregnant people and trust that they know their needs.

Photo: Hundreds turned out for a pro-abortion rally in Portland on October 2, 2021. | Sam Spadafore, Beacon

Aspen Ruhlin is a Client Advocate in the Bangor area, where they help people overcome barriers to accessing healthcare. They have a particular focus on serving the trans community and increasing access to gender-affirming care. In their off time, they enjoy embroidery, gardening, and participating in an array of activism.

Maine Beacon, May 3, 2022, https://mainebeacon.com/