A recent article by a prominent feminist may signal the beginnings of a shift in the feminist attitude toward abortion.
Naomi Wolf, in Our Bodies, Our Souls: Re-Thinking Pro-Choice Rhetoric, acknowledges that the pro-choice movement has hurt itself by relinquishing the moral frame around the abortion issue.
“The movement’s abandonment of what Americans have always and rightly, demanded of their movements—an ethical core—and its reliance instead on a political rhetoric in which the fetus means nothing, and proving fatal,” she says.
The author of the book Fire With Fire: The New Female Power and How It Will Change the 21st Century adds that by clinging to a rhetoric of abortion in which there is no life or death, the pro-choice is entangling itself in “ a series of self-delusions, fibs and evasions.”
The pro-choice movement needs to contextualize the fight to defend abortion rights “within a moral framework that admits that the death of the fetus is a real death,” she says in the article published in the liberal leaning American magazine, The New Republic. “For when we defend abortion rights by emptying the act of moral gravity, we find ourselves cultivating a hardness of heart.”
Wolf notes the pro-life movement’s warnings that widespread abortion leads to an overall denigration of respect for life has “a nugget” of truth. “While images of violent fetal death work magnificently for pro-lifers as political polemic, the are not polemical in themselves in themselves: they are biological facts. We know this.”
Yet Wolf comes nowhere near embracing a pro-life position, because at several points in the article she suggests shift in pro-choice rhetoric may be advantageous for strategic, rather than moral, reasons.
“Historical changes—from the imminent availability of cheap chemical abortifacients to the ascendancy of the religious right to Norma McCorvey’s defection—make the need for a new abortion-rights language all the more pressing.”
She suggests that through “redemption,” one can still hold a pro-choice position while seeing abortion as evil. In this scenario, passionate feminists hold candlelight vigils at abortion clinics, “standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the doctors who work there, commemorating and saying goodbye to the dead.”
Gwen Landolt, national vice-president of REAL Women of Canada, says Wolf’s article is significant because it indicates the feminist movement has had to acknowledge the humanity of the unborn.
“They’ve come up against a brick wall. They can’t deny it anymore…I think there is a shift in that the feminist movement realizes it is out of touch with what is happening in the general population.”
Landolt points to Wolf and others such as Christine Commers as an avant-garde group of younger feminists who are trying to break away from outdated ideologies formulated during the 1960s by radicals such as Gloria Steinem. She says the majority of modern-day feminists still cling to those outdated ideologies or later permutations developed by the likes of Betty Friedan and Germaine Greer.
But Landolt observes that in her article, Wolf fails to come all the way on abortion. “She’s acknowledged its presence, but she hasn’t acknowledged the dignity of the unborn. She’s leapt over the issue…She hasn’t matured enough in her thinking.”
June Scandiffio, president of the Right to Life Association of Toronto and Area, also says Wolf’s article is a notable evolution in feminist thinking on abortion. “She’s at least trying to be honest…She’s taking quite a leap here in saying we can’t deny reality any longer.”
But Scandiffio observes Wolf “is not pro-life by any stretch of the imagination” and points out that her line of reasoning is inconsistent.“ Wolf says, “It is a baby, but it has to be sacrificed’…She’s taking a step in the right direction, but it’s very convoluted thinking, to say the least.”
Still, Landolt sees Wolf’s article as a portent of things to come. “This is the first open acknowledgment among the feminists that there is a problem, so it is significant…Naomi Wolf is the first who’s tried to grapple with it. Others will come after her.”