Thursday, July 1, 2010

The Truth About Susan B. Anthony

How many of you have heard of the Susan B. Anthony List? They’re like the group Emily’s List, but instead of helping progressive, pro-choice women get elected, they support backwards, anti-choice, so called “feminists” who would like to see an end to women’s autonomy and control over her own body.
Yeah, I’m a little bit frustrated. But the reason isn’t because they’re anti-abortion. I know that some people are, and I try my best to respect people’s personal or religious feelings. And I want to see more women in politics because that will hopefully reflect back on all women’s ability to succeed in the workplace (though these candidates are likely to vote in ways that will restrict women to the confines of the home, chained to a crib for their adult lives). My major issue with this organization is the way they have appropriated the feminist icon of Susan B. Anthony, construing her as women-hating and anti-choice!
Let me throw some facts at you: Susan B. Anthony spent no political time on abortion. The one piece of public writing associated with Susan B. Anthony about abortion was written under the pseudonym A., one which she never used prior to this letter to the editor’s publishing, or after. Two leading scholars on Anthony argue that it wasn’t her who wrote it, she just allowed it to be published in her paper.
In her diary Anthony wrote about her dismay that her sister-in-law had an abortion, but that’s because abortions at the time were extremely unsafe for women. You see, when you make abortions illegal, they become back-ally procedures done with coat hangers. Women have performed abortion procedures since the advent of medicine; there will always be some women who choose to have an abortion. If anti-abortion activists are so “pro-life”, why don’t they care about the lives of women?
Many of the writings that the Susan B. Anthony List’s President, Marjorie Dannenfelser, sites in rebuttal actually prove the point that these early feminists cared about women first. Victoria Woodhull, the first female presidential candidate, told a newspaper of the day that "Every woman knows that if she were free, she would never bear an unwished-for child, nor think of murdering one before its birth." Woodhull is talking about a world with perfect contraceptives for women. Women are still not “free” from unwanted pregnancy, and that’s why abortion must be made available to them.
In a perfect world, the anti-abortion movement would actually be compassionate towards women, and provide them with the best possible alternatives to abortion rather than simply seeking to police their bodies. Until that time, I can not, and will not, take claims of an anti-abortion feminism seriously.

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Serena Freewomyn said...

Great post. I think it's important to mention, though, that Susan B. Anthony DID advocate for family planning. She often spoke in public about limiting the number of pregnancies, as well as spacing them many years apart. In fact, Susan B. Anthony often criticized Elizabeth Cady Stanton for having so many children, because it kept Stanton from playing a more public role in the suffrage movement. Anthony may have opposed abortion for the reasons you mentioned, but that does not mean that she was anti-choice.

Anonymous said...

The murder before it's birth comment is still problematic, even in a 100% working contraceptive world. I'm probably nitpicking, but whatever. Even if we have birth control with no failures, there will still be women who change their minds, don't want to use contraception, etc. If I heard it today I'd just hear pandering to the anti-choice crowd.