In a recent essay in the Guardian, Jessica Valenti argues that, despite Pope Francis’ rhetoric in favor of women’s rights, he cannot mean what he says because he does not support abortion.
Somehow, in the last few decades, full-throated support for abortion-on-demand has evolved into a litmus test for true believers in women’s equality, for whom the expression “pro-life feminism” would be an oxymoron.
Valenti was commenting on an address Pope Francis gave in Saint Peter’s Square on Wednesday, where he spoke about women’s equality and called the wage gap between men and women a “pure scandal.” He also called for “radical equality” between men and women.
“Why is it taken for granted that women must earn less than men? No! They have the same rights,” the Pope said.
But for Valenti, Francis is a wolf in sheep’s clothing, committed to keeping women oppressed by opposing the deepest source of female dignity and emancipation: the sacrament of abortion.
So the Pope’s sentiment of support for women’s rights “rings hollow,” she writes, because true equality “is dependent on access to birth control and abortion,” she said.
Unless the Pope’s “vision for wage equality” includes an unqualified endorsement of reproductive rights, “it’s incomplete,” she added.
Valenti’s assertions mirror those of other radical feminists, including Tracie Egan Morrissey, who deny the existence of anything resembling pro-life feminism.
Sure, you can be a feminist and make a personal decision to never get an abortion. But who the fuck are you to actively work at taking away other women’s right to make their own personal decisions about their uteruses? You are not a feminist, that’s for sure.
The coopting of feminism by pro-abortion radicals would have struck the great proto-feminists who pioneered women’s equal rights as bizarrely inconsistent.
The early British feminist Mary Wollstonecraft, for instance, who wrote A Vindication of the Rights of Woman in 1792, argued that girls and boys should be co-educated and that women and men should share parental responsibilities but considered abortion to be an evil result of sexual objectification and male domination over women.
The great American champion of women’s suffrage, Susan B. Anthony, was a vocal opponent of abortion, calling it “child murder” and “infanticide.”
It seems, in fact, that without known exception, the pioneers of the feminist movement opposed abortion as a sign of male exploitation rather than a sign of liberation. It was not until much later that abortion became identified as somehow pro-woman. It was only in 1972, in fact, that the pressure group National Organization of Women (NOW) purged from its ranks those who dissented from its stance on abortion.
The Pope’s stand in favor of women’s equality and against abortion may earn him the ire of the reigning feminist regime, but it seems he has history on his side.
Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter @tdwilliamsrome