During a week in which Americans celebrated Martin Luther King Jr. and his legacy of nonviolent protest, I’ve paid special attention to a protest planned to coincide with Friday’s presidential inauguration. The Women’s March on Washington, scheduled for Saturday morning, is expected to draw 200,000 participants, with sister marches planned for all 50 states and 55 cities across six continents. Organizers describe the event as “a women-led movement bringing together people of all genders, ages, races, cultures, political affiliations, and backgrounds.” Every defender of human rights is welcome, in fact, except those who identify as pro-life.
The Women’s March organizers made this clear after an article in the Atlantic noted that New Wave Feminists, a pro-life feminist organization, was an official partner of the event. The article pointed to the march as “a first gathering of a truly ‘intersectional’ movement which makes room for women with diverse convictions, including a moral opposition to abortion.” A few hours after the release of the article, however, Women’s March organizers removed the pro-life group from their partner list, apologizing for what they called an “error” in including an “anti-choice” organization.
Disagreement between those identified as feminists and those identified as pro-life feminists is as old as the passing of Roe v. Wade. (Christianity’s stance on the sanctity of life is, of course, even older.) In the early 1970s organizations like Feminists for Life formed to give voice to women who believe that their support of women’s rights must include the rights of the preborn, and that abortion has hurt women more than benefited them. In this week of renewed debate about the compatibility of feminism and pro-life principles, a book was released that tells the story of one pro-life feminist who is familiar with the experience of being shunned by women’s rights circles. In You Carried Me: A Daughter’s Memoir, Melissa Ohden describes discovering at age 14 that she was the survivor of a failed saline abortion. She would go on to search for her biological parents and advocate for other abortion survivors. During her years of pursuing a master’s degree in social work, however, Ohden experienced rejection by her academic peers and professors:
In the midst of conversations about every kind of abuse, abandonment, and human heartache, I learned quickly that my story was one that could not be heard, and therefore must not be told. … I too considered myself an ardent supporter of women’s rights, but I learned there was no place in the feminist fold for women who object to the procedure that had nearly ended my life before it began.
While Women’s March organizers claim to be unified by the call to “honor the lives of those women who were taken before their time” and to “work for a day when all forms of violence against women are eliminated,” they risk perjuring themselves when they reject the participation of pro-life feminists. No fight for human justice can be complete without including the stories of people like Melissa Ohden—and countless others—whose lives exist at the crossroads of reproductive rights and violence against women. This is an intersectionality that should not be ignored, and to which pro-life feminists like Ohden may be uniquely equipped to represent. Where pro-choice and pro-life advocates for women’s rights are unable to agree on violence against preborn humans, perhaps we can agree that children like Melissa Ohden count as being at risk of being “taken before their time.” If not, then it’s hard to take seriously those who would say they defend the most invisible lives.
This is an intersectionality that should not be ignored.
As a Christian, I applaud any movement seeking justice for the “most marginalized among us”—those who sit in the nexus of multiple layers of discrimination. In this way, the Women’s March is a good call for any of us following the way of Christ. Yet the group’s demand for justice is truncated by its own prejudice. With recent data suggesting that 39 percent of American women are opposed to abortion in most circumstances, there’s a good chance a number of them will be marching among the hundreds of thousands this weekend, even if their organizational affiliations are denied partnership. If the Women’s March wants to emulate the sort of welcome and dignity exemplified by the greatest leaders to have ever marched in peaceful protest, then it should allow the voices of pro-life feminists to join in the cry for justice.