Women are legally allowed to have abortions. At any time during a pregnancy. For any reason.

From the moral perspective of the pro-life movement the legal situation should be different. But it isn’t. The simple fact is: Women are allowed to have abortions.

According to the polls most people –including women- are uncomfortable with abortion. Most people-including most women- disagree with the reasons given as to why most abortions are performed. But still, most people agree that a woman has a right to choose an abortion. Most people, strangely, are “pro-choice,” but are against the reasons why most abortions are done.

Society hasn’t always said that abortion was a woman’s individual choice. Even 30 years ago public opinion was very different. Why have attitudes changed?

Some people think that a group of university-trained, white, middle-class women started meeting and speaking and writing about their careers and women’s rights; that these women-calling themselves feminists- managed through hard work over the last three decades to convince the Canadian government, the U.S. Supreme Court and public opinion generally that a women has a right to choose abortion.

It’s true that feminists were the faces and the voices that argued publicly for a woman’s right to choose abortion. But feminists- no matter how resourceful and hard-working-could never have brought about the social revolution that abortion represents, if they hadn’t had lots of help.

Feminist and business interests dovetailed

The help came in the 1960s as the North American economy – dominant world-wide since the end of World War II – began to experience difficulties. A rebuilt, integrated Europe and a rebuilt, resurgent Japan started to offer real competition against North American goods in the world market.

North American manufacture goods were seen increasingly as overpriced. The business community responded by trying to slow real wage growth as a way of reducing the costs of goods for export. Growth of manufacturing jobs slowed and the service sector began its dramatic growth.

How did these economic changes help feminists get abortion rights? It’s really quite simple. For the first time since 1945 the economy needed more women in the work force. The business community’s attempt to cut real wages – an attempt to lower unit prices and keep up with lower–priced foreign competition – meant that a single wage earner had a harder and harder time supporting a family at an accustomed standard of living.

The percentage of two-earner families began to increase in the late ‘69s until today – 25 years later – a majority of families have both husband and wife working to maintain the same standard of living that one income brought in the period of 1945-1965.

Feminism: Self-interested front for social change

Training more women for the work force still wouldn’t provide a second family income, if women continued to marry at age 20 and average between 3 and 4 children. Enter fertility control: the pill and abortion.

What the feminists beginning with Betty Friedan did was to provide an outspoken, activist group of women to argue that the economic and social changes required by Wall Street and Bay Street were changes that women wanted.

The gradual economic and social pressure on women – to marry less often marry later and average only 1 or 2 children – was marketed as a positive boon for women: they called it “women’s liberation.” The real and increasing, crushing pressure placed on women over the last quarter century – to work outside the home and to still be a “good” wife and mother by continuing to perform most household tasks – was trumpeter by the media and the universities as breakthroughs in “women’s rights.”

The women who articulated the business community’s “feminist” agenda were not involved in a planned conspiracy. They were not conscious agents for conservative business think tanks. They were not paid under the table to trick women into welcoming being increasingly pressurized.

Feminists speak for women – which women?

On the contrary, these women advocating “feminism” were university-trained, middle-class, white women-married and unmarried – who wished to pursue careers. They viewed unrestricted abortion as a necessary back-up to the pill for career women whose plans did not include the demands of pregnancy and child-rearing. Abortion guaranteed them the same freedom from sexual consequences that men enjoyed.

For thirty years feminists have put forward an agenda that spoke to the perceived needs of their particular class of women: nearly all college educated, higher income, career women

But feminists claimed to speak for all women. In fact, the feminist agenda represented a minority view. In 1989 45 per cent of people who went to college favoured abortion compared to only 25 per cent support among high school dropouts. Likewise, 42 per cent of people earning more than $40,000 a year favoured abortion, but just 24 per cent of those earning less than $20,000. (L.A. Times, 1989)

Feminism and the language of conservatism

Cleverly, the feminist agenda has been delivered in the language of radical individualism, the language of 18th century liberalism (the language of 20th century conservatism): The rights of the individual are paramount in the social contract; the rights of family, community and the larger society are what remains after the rights of the individual are enshrined and protected. (An internal inconsistency in the language of “rights” is eliminated by denying that an unborn child is an individual, a person.)

The catchword of the feminist movement – “Choice” – best symbolizes the intellectual link between the bourgeois roots of the movement and the uniquely American, free enterprise, laissez-faire, rights-of-the individual philosophy that unites conservative and corporate America.

The feminists’ language of individual rights has also seduced the leadership of the pro-life movements into the parallel rights argument: the rights of the unborn vs. the rights of the pregnant woman. This pro-life approach represents a moral triumph, but a political disaster. The women’s rights argument, according to all polls, holds sway.

The contradiction within feminism: class

There is a significant long-term political problem facing the feminist elite: that the feminist agenda has never been shown to represent the interests of the majority of women. And women know this. Although 90 per cent of women tell pollsters that achieving equality is important for them, only one-third of women are willing to call themselves “feminists.”

For years one middleclass, white, university-educated feminist leader after another has told rallies of middle-class, white, university- educated followers that feminists speak for working class and poor women on “access to abortion.”

Working class and poor women have a different story: Women earning less than $15,000 a year oppose using tax dollars to fund abortions by a ration of 63 to 32, while women earning over $60,000 favour it by 57to 41. Black women oppose public funding by 64 to 33 while whites by only 53 to 43. (Wirthlin Poll, May 1992)

Polls indicate that two-thirds of all women know that feminist leaders and their agenda represent class interests different from their own.

This divergence of class interests is best symbolized by a $560,000 a year feminist, corporate lawyer and Clinton-nominee for U.S. Attorney General, Zoe Baird. Baird paid an immigrant Peruvian woman barely the minimum wage to cook, clean and care for ‘Baird’s child and illegally neglected to pay the woman’s social security benefits. But Baird assured the American people that as Attorney General she would fight to protect every woman’s “right” to abortion.

The long-standing difference between the class interests of the feminist elite and most North American women is now openly discussed – not only around the issue of abortion – but with respect to the reproductive technologies, surrogate mother contracts, prostitution and pornography.