For their issue commemorating the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, Time not only floated tired stereotypes accusing pro-choicers of losing the abortion wars through lack of ladylike modesty, but also gave space to Emily Buchanan, the executive director of the dishonorably named Susan B. Anthony List, to promote the blatant falsehood that there is a such thing as a “pro-life” feminist. Not only does this make as little sense as labeling someone a pro-DOMA gay rights activist or a pro-segregation civil rights activist, it’s an assertion built on a pile of lies, starting with Buchanan’s scurrilous accusation that the suffragettes agreed with the anti-choice movement’s desire to throw doctors and women in jail for abortion.
Giving space to this organization to spread their falsehoods is a form of dancing on the real Susan B. Anthony’s grave, as well as the other now-dead feminists that Buchanan falsely claims as allies in her war to strip away women’s basic right to control their own fertility. There is no reason to think that Anthony would have picked up the banner of throwing doctors in jail for helping women, or for driving women into dangerous, back-alley abortions, as Deborah Hughes, the president and CEO of the National Susan B. Anthony Museum and House, explained to Lauren Feeney back in September. She specifically addressed an out-of-context quote that Buchanan uses to build her entire case that 19th century feminists objected to legal abortion:
There’s a quote people refer to from a magazine that Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton published together in the late 1860s and early ‘70s, called The Revolution. One of the most common quotes used is “I deplore the … crime of child murder.” But if you read the quote in its context, it’s talking about a prior editorial that was for the criminalization of abortion, and this article is essentially a rebuttal. It’s actually making the point that we need to look at all the reasons why a woman might choose to have an abortion — economic reasons, health reasons, pressure from family or society, fear about her ability to take care of the child — and says we shouldn’t criminalize the practice of abortion because that is, the article says, “mowing off the top of the noxious weed, while the root remains.”
So first of all, that quote has been taken way out of context. But secondly, that editorial is signed with the initial ‘A,’ and there’s no evidence that Susan B. Anthony ever signed anything that way.
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She also points out that in Anthony’s time, the majority of abortions performed these days would not have been considered abortion, as anything prior the 4th or 5th month. In other words, this mysterious writer wasn’t talking about the 98.5 percent of abortions that occur in the first 20 weeks, and certainly not the 88 percent of abortions that occur in the first twelve weeks. Time should have rejected the essay simply on the basis of the historical lies that not only do a disservice to their readers, but also dishonor the memory of the first wave of feminists by suggesting that they would reject the very women who proudly carry their torch.
But even beyond that, Time should have exhibited more skepticism around Buchanan’s claim to stand for “feminism.” I get it; feminism is an inexact term and it’s tough to deny that someone is one if she says she is. But a bare minimum should be that SBA List does anything—anything—to actually work for equality. Or, barring that, they shouldn’t be actively fighting against other feminist efforts in the realm of fighting violence against women or improving women’s economic opportunities. I think, even if you think there’s such thing as a “pro-life” feminist, that we can and all should agree that those who wear the label “feminist” support women’s equality outside of the abortion battle.
But SBA List stands generally against women. They are leading the charge in the war against contraception, for instance, objecting to women having access to drugs that prevent pregnancy by suppressing ovulation. They oppose contraception so much they openly lie about what it is and what it does in an effort to reduce access to it. As Nick Sementelli argues, SBA List uses deceit to distract from the fact that they generally oppose women’s sexual liberation, even in cases that don’t have anything to do with abortion. Trying to take away women’s right to have non-procreative sex if she wishes is a lot of things, but “feminist” is not one of them.
Here is a list of SBA List’s endorsements for 2012. If they stand for “pro-life feminism”, surely these candidates are generally pro-woman, even as they oppose abortion rights, right? Luckily, the past few years have had a couple of prominent pieces of legislation that give politicians to show support for women outside of their opposition to abortion. So, they’re all a bunch of supporters of women’s rights to equal pay and a life without violence, right?
Out of seven endorsees that had a chance to support equal pay for equal work with the Lilly Ledbetter Act, all seven endorsees voted no. Fourteen endorsees had an opportunity this year to vote to reinstate the Violence Against Women Act. All 14 voted against the bill, which has been incredibly successful at reducing the incidence of rape and domestic violence in the past two decades.
So there you have it: When given a chance to support women in the fight for equal pay for equal work or against being raped or abused by an intimate partner, SBA List stood with candidates who stood against women. They will choose someone who stands against women every single time, for a very simple reason: They oppose women’s rights. That’s why they’re against abortion rights, and flinging the word “feminist” around doesn’t change that in any way, shape, or form.
The SBA List is the equivalent of an organization formed to fight racial equality that calls themselves the Frederick Douglass List. It’s gross and disrespectful. Shame on Time for giving a group that so dishonors an American hero an airing.