Pro-life feminism is not an oxymoron, according to Sally Winn.
At Yale Law School last Friday, the senior communications specialist for the Feminists for Life of America argued that resources for pregnant students and staff at universities need to be more available so they do not feel that abortion is the only option. While some students in the audience questioned whether, as Winn claimed, a true feminist could be pro-life, four of those interviewed said Winn presented a side of the abortion debate that they had not previously heard.
In her talk before an audience of about 20 people, Winn reexamined nearly 200 years of feminism through a pro-life lens, beginning with the early 19th century.
Winn was particularly skeptical of the history of the National Organization for Women (NOW), a nonprofit feminist advocacy organization founded in 1966 by Betty Friedan. She scoffed at the notion she attributed to NOW that abortion is the “most fundamental right of women, without which all other rights are meaningless.”
Asked Winn: “Does this mean that my right to be protected from marital rape is meaningless?”
Furthermore, colleges must adjust to modern-day reality of pregnancy and high rates of abortion among students, Winn contested.
At a northeastern college health center that Feminists for Life works with, Winn said, 6,000 pregnancy tests were done in a single year and 300 of those tested positive. But only six babies were born to those students.
“Where have all the pregnant college students gone?” Winn asked a quiet audience.
High rates of abortion — perhaps because students feel they have no other choice — have prompted Feminists for Life to develop their college reach-out program, said Winn. The program has resulted in decreased abortion rates among college graduates of the participating universities, according to Feminists for Life.
Winn speaks from experience: She became pregnant in college and had to decide “what the four-letter-word to do.”
Winn had the baby, but experienced difficulties finding off-campus housing, parking spaces sufficiently close to school and affordable day-care services.
“Why should I have to violate my body to achieve my education and career goals?” she said.
Winn said she believes most women do not want to have an abortion but do so simply because they lack the necessary resources to consider otherwise.
Yifat Bitton LAW ’09 questioned how Winn’s support for alternatives to abortion leads to the conclusion that women should not be able have abortions at all.
“Are you saying that women shouldn’t have the choice?” she asked.
Winn replied that Feminists for Life promotes resources as its primary focus but that the organization also believes abortion hurts women. Winn said she personally thinks abortion should be illegal.
When asked how this viewpoint could coincide with feminism, she asserted that abortion is violent and that violence breaks the tenet of feminism.
“There are a lot of things I think should be allowed, for instance, piercings,” she said. “But this infringes on the rights of another person.”
Amanda Machin LAW ’11, on the other hand, said she was pleasantly surprised by the talk, since she said Winn did not make the typical pro-life feminist argument but instead focused on creating a supportive environment for pregnant students.
Feminists for Life of America does not take a stance on the issue of contraception.