Subject: Pro-Life Feminist: Not a Contradiction
Source: Insight Magazine; October 1, 2001
Pro-Life Feminist: Not a Contradiction
Washington, DC -- As the president
of Feminists for Life of America,
Serrin Foster is working to enlighten women about consequences of abortion
and to supply alternatives.
Feminists for Life of America was founded
in 1972 by women who resisted
approval of abortion by the National Organization for Women (NOW) and
other feminist groups. These rebel feminists believed that women could
support feminist goals such as greater employment opportunities without
embracing abortion on demand.
Instead, NOW kicked them out.
Reorganized in the mid-1990s, Feminists
for Life now has 5,000 members
nationwide. Serrin Foster, the group's friendly and outspoken president,
likes to compare the impact it delivers despite its small size to that
a SWAT team.
Foster points out that great early American
feminists such as Susan B.
Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton were deeply anti-abortion, which
American feminism's relationship with prolife convictions a very long
Foster speaks regularly at college campuses
across the country. She's
spoken at Harvard and Stanford universities, where her audiences have
largely hostile. She's also talked at Cambridge and Oxford universities.
Almost everywhere, though, people are
willing to hear her message about
why women should try to preserve life She speaks compassionately on
college campuses, focusing on where pregnant women can go to get help
support to keep their children at a time when a lack of funds and a
of dropping out of school might seem to point to abortion as the only
The following is an interview with her:
Question: How did you happen
to join up with Feminists for Life_
Serrin Foster: In 1994, when
I was director of development for the
National Alliance for the Mentally Ill, I came across an ad looking
somebody who was prowoman and pro-life. Since the 1970s, when I was
college, young women had been told over and over again that we couldn't
both, that we must choose between women and children.
When I saw that advertisement, my first
and immediate reaction was that I
had to do this. I took an enormous pay cut because I knew this was where
my heart is. I knew this organization was right for me. So on 4/4/94,
moved to Feminists for Life.
Question: What do you mean you knew the group was right for you_
SF: When I was in college, the
Equal Rights Amendment [ERA] suddenly was
very big. I was so excited: I had been raised with the idea that women
could be only certain things: a secretary, a teacher, a nurse, a waitress,
a stewardess. Or you could go straight to momhood. But the ERA said
could do anything! It was revolutionary, and it was very appealing!
As everyone was talking about the ERA,
the word "abortion" began to appear
in the discussions. I was sitting there listening to all the rhetoric
about feminism-- how it was supposed to be based on nondiscrimination,
nonviolence and justice for all. But I thought abortion violates each
these basic feminist tenets: It's violent, it's discriminatory and it
certainly isn't justice for the unborn child.
More important, I had heard of so many
girlfriends having abortions now
that it was legal, and I knew how painful it was for them. The revolution
was hurting women, and abortion in particular was hurting women. Women
started saying, "I can do everything," and men said: "Okay,
body, it's your choice. It's your problem."
Oh, there were good things that were
coming out of the rise of feminism:
the opportunity for women to work in different and nontraditional jobs,
for example. But I felt very alone in my pro-life and pro-woman
convictions. I knew I was a pro-life feminist, but I absolutely refused
choose between women and children.
Question: You must have felt alone.
SF: I would get angry looking
at bumper stickers on people's cars! I would
get angry at the way the whole debate was being twisted in the media
that if you were antiabortion you were antiwoman. I knew that was
absolutely not true. I got especially mad watching members of Congress
getting bullied by women who were saying, "Oh you don't understand
it's like to be pregnant. You don't understand what it means to be a
And I kept thinking, "We're feminists;
we're supposed to be
problem-solvers; we're supposed to figure out solutions in which women
don't have to be drawn into violence." And nobody was talking about
devastating abortion is to women.
Question: What has Feminists for Life been focusing on under
SF: We realized that the women
in Feminists for Life are well- educated,
and we recognized that we had access to college women, who are at the
highest risk for abortion in this society.
A 1997 Gallup poll underlined the importance
of reaching college- age
women. It showed that the influence higher education had on opinions
attitudes about abortion was extraordinary and revolutionary. When men
to college they don't change their opinion about abortion, although
overall they are more for abortion than women. But women, when they
graduate from high school, are more against abortion than they are for
By the time they are graduated from a four-year institution, however,
three out of four women support abortion.
It breaks down like this: When they
enter college, 37 percent support
abortion and 56 percent oppose it. Four years later, 73 percent support
abortion. It's that much of an increase.
Question: So college campuses are the logical place for Feminists
Life to focus its attention. What do you say when you make one of your
speeches to students_
SF: One of the things you want
to convey to women is that pregnancy is not
the end of life but the beginning.
A woman gets pregnant while in college
and breaks up with her boyfriend.
She knows that she doesn't believe in abortion, so she asks herself,
can I keep this child_" She looks around her college and sees that
putting up lots of buildings, but none are housing for pregnant women.
looks into day care and sees it costs $6,000 a year - too much for her
pay and stay in school. She reads the health-insurance policy provided
student health care and finds there is no maternity coverage.
So we have started working with colleges
to seek a supportive environment
for pregnant women who do not want an abortion. We say, "Let's
the options she has: marriage, single-parenthood, adoption. And let's
think about the resources that are available on campus and off campus,
too, that would help her and reinforce her choice against abortion."
Question: Have you had some success along these lines_
SF: We started a pilot program
at Georgetown University, doing the
education and philosophy side of being pro-woman and pro-life, but also
looking at the resources available to pregnant women. It was astounding
me. Within only two years they had a day-care center called Hoyas for
Kids. The university got someone who had been working part time on
violence against women to work full time on that plus pregnancy
They also have a beeper service and,
if a woman is having a crisis in the
middle of the night or on a weekend because she has discovered she is
pregnant, she can locate somebody to talk to immediately. Georgetown
aside four of its town houses, endowed properties, for pregnant and
There was another big change on campus.
There now are many kids having
kids while they're still in high school, and when they go to college
they're hiding their children from their peers. But students on campus
have now started saying, "I'm a mom."
Question: You've spoken before students at Harvard and Stanford
places where radical feminism is rampant. It must be be quite an
SF: At Swarthmore College I walked
into one ofthose big lounges with
chairs set up as for a lecture. There were four pro-life students on
campus who had organized the meeting and brought me in to address it.
walked into that room and was met by many very angry faces, as though
were there to ruin their lives.
They must have seen me as if I were
a member ofthe KKK [Ku Klux Klan]
walking into an NAACP [National Association for the Advancement of Colored
People] meeting. But, except for one person, they all stayed to hear
out. Afterward students came up and said they agreed with about 98 percent
of what I had said. But the front page of the student paper the next
blared: "First Pro-Life Speaker in Five Years." Such a situation,
especially where life-and-death decisions are being made, is shameful.
Question: Do you think most women will opt to keep their child
see they can handle the situationand not drop out of school_
SF: Once she is pregnant, we
need to address her needs. I still don't know
any woman who wants an abortion. There may be women who didn't want
pregnant in the first place, but who would wish an abortion on even
worst enemy_ When a woman knows she's pregnant, she's forever changed;
she's forever connected with this kid. An abortion will never undo that
child's impact on her life any more than a miscarriage would.
For more information on Feminists for
Life, visit http://www.feministsforlife.org.