America’s First Feminists

Long before the radical pro-abortion movement surfaced in the 1960s and took up the banner of feminism, there existed in the United States a holy alliance of sorts between the feminist and pro-life movements. America's pioneers in the feminist cause, including Susan B. Anthony, Sarah Norton and Elizabeth Stanton, would be truly mortified at the errant course their movement has taken over the past thirty years. A strong correlation between "pro-choice" and "feminism" has come to permeate contemporary parlance in America, with defense of the unborn construed as an obstacle in the way of women's march toward complete sexual liberation and equality.

Choosing to side with well-financed, nefarious, special interest groups instead of with women and the defenseless unborn, secular feminists and politicians were quick to inveigh against the Supreme Court ruling that upheld the ban on partial-birth abortion. California Senator Barbara Boxer gave voice to her disappointment at the conclusion of what she dubbed a "tough week." She lambasted the court's decision and in the process, lumped it together with a litany of recent tragedies like the Virginia Tech massacre and, of all things, global warming. The court ruling, she averred, will "endanger women's health." According to Boxer, this law, supported overwhelmingly by the public and aimed at a particularly horrific brand of abortion, is a tragedy on par with the terrible massacre of 32 university students. Constituents should reflect on the moral and intellectual depth of the individuals they send to Washington to represent them.

Predictably, Planned Parenthood and the National Organization for Women followed suit, issuing forth their hue and cry and apocalyptic predictions regarding the Supreme Court's decision. The gaucherie of Boxer aside, the ruling provides an excellent opportunity to summon forth from the history books the distant memory of America's premier feminists and reintroduce them to the national conscience.

 The pseudo-feminists of today view maternity as something of a preconditioned biological shackle. To wrestle free from this chain represents the supreme expression of female liberation and self-determination. But America's early feminists embraced motherhood as the singular and most honorable distinction of woman. Although she never had children of her own, Susan B. Anthony considered public recognition of a woman's motherhood as "the highest compliment" she could receive. Anthony and Stanton were unabashed feminist firebrands in a hostile age. They founded The Revolution, a paper dedicated to women's issues. Reading from their material, predating the silliness of political correctness is always refreshing. Contemporary abortion doctors and their defenders would be well served to brood over a few lines from one issue of The Revolution:

No matter what the motive, love of ease or desire to save from suffering the unborn innocent, the woman is awfully guilty who commits the deed. It will burden her conscience in life, it will burden her soul in death; but oh, thrice guilty is he who drove her to the desperation which impelled her to the crime.

In 1870, American feminist Sarah Norton lambasted abortion doctors in terms that may strike our ears as overtly harsh and insensitive:

Child murderers practice their profession without hindrance, and open infant butcheries unquestioned…Is there no remedy for all this antenatal child murder?…Perhaps there will come a time when the right of the unborn will not be denied or interfered with.

Unfortunately, America still awaits the day when Norton's dream is realized, a day when abortion is looked back upon with deep regret and shame as the darkest blot on the nation's history.

It is certainly worth mentioning that the cause of feminism has not been completely purloined by the radicals. Like a gust of fresh air, the "new feminism" is on the rise. This new feminism promotes a vision of woman that truly befits her dignity. The challenge thus far has been to expose the fraudulency of the modern feminist movement and the very real damage this ideology has inflicted on women. Feminists for Life is an organization of women who stand firmly opposed to the "upscale feminism" of the radicals. ("Upscale feminists" is a label coined by the late, great feminist and Catholic convert, Elizabeth Fox-Genovese.) The women of Feminists for Life are the proud heirs to the real tradition of early American feminism, a tradition pioneered by women like Anthony, Stanton and Norton.

One of the organization's most prominent members is Everybody Loves Raymond star Patricia Heaton. She accurately underscores the fault line that separates the two diametrically opposed visions of women:

To think that the only thing a woman can do with a child is abort is demeaning to women and undermines everything that the women's movement has been working on since the suffragettes.

Harvard law professor Mary Ann Glendon is one of America's leading public intellectuals and commentators on the new feminism. Her voice has been unwavering in defense of an authentic and complete understanding of feminism in contemporary society. In the process, Glendon has taken aim at the ivory tower and faulty logic of the upscale feminists. Speaking about America's early feminists, Glendon poignantly observed that they "regarded free love, abortion and easy divorce as disastrous for women and children." Glendon also pointed out the glaring contradiction that dogs the radical feminist ideology, which includes "a puzzling combination of two things that do not ordinarily go together: anger against men and promiscuity; man-hating and man-chasing."

As long as women like Heaton and Glendon keep fighting the good fight, there's reason to believe that the authentic message and true story of America's first feminists will eventually cut through the static emanating from upscale feminists like Barbara Boxer. Thanks to the Supreme Court's ruling their twisted cause suffered real damage. Chalk up a victory for genuine feminism.

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