A comment in support of pro-life inclusion at the Women’s March on Washington

A few news organizations reported over the last couple of days that pro-life organizations have been excluded from official partnership with the Women’s March on Washington (e.g., here’s a piece from The Atlantic which includes interviews from folks on both sides of the issue). One pro-life group, New Wave Feminists, was recognized as a partner by the march, but then later removed.

Now, I’m not an organizer of the march, so this isn’t my decision to make. I’m not even going to the march in D.C. (though I’ll be at my local march the same day, and I encourage those who can participate to do so). Moreover, the pro-life position is at odds with the policy platform those who did organize put together. That platform reads:

We believe in Reproductive Freedom. We do not accept any federal, state or local rollbacks, cuts or restrictions on our ability to access quality reproductive healthcare services, birth control, HIV/AIDS care and prevention, or medically accurate sexuality education. This means open access to safe, legal, affordable abortion and birth control for all people, regardless of income, location or education. We understand that we can only have reproductive justice when reproductive health care is accessible to all people regardless of income, location or education.

That said, I’m a pro-choice feminist, and I think excluding pro-life groups from partnership status is a mistake.  I’m grateful that some of my pro-life fellow citizens will march regardless, and I’d be glad to march alongside them.

To be clear, I think reproductive freedom is essential to women’s health and equality (and I don’t think we have to get into substantive debate about agency or the metaphysics of personhood to recognize this; banning abortion gambles with women’s lives – and that’s true even when there are meant to be exceptions for the life of the mother). I think arguments like this rely pretty straightforwardly on sexist notions (I don’t think men are some kind of depraved creatures who can only be reined in if women find within themselves to set a moral example — to live our lives in such a way as to make the potential consequences of action salient to men — and I don’t think valuing caregiving need be at odds with sexual agency nor a recognition of the value of reproductive freedom). Further, I don’t think there is intrinsic value in unity or collaboration (there’s no value added to racism, for example, when instantiated in unity with others).

But I also think that abortion is an issue on which reasonable people disagree, and in the coming years we will need reasonable people to work together given the unreasonable have taken the helm. If pro-life groups are willing to set aside that the official platform of the march directly challenges their organizing mission for the sake of working together to protect those values which we do share, then I’ll be happy to work with them. As Richard Rorty said, “Solidarity is not discovered by reflection but created.” For those of us whose conscience permits it, it’s time to be creating.

5 thoughts on “A comment in support of pro-life inclusion at the Women’s March on Washington

  1. What precisely is your proposal here? That pro-life feminists be included so long as the commitment to a conception of reproductive freedom and reproductive health that includes abortion? Or that the defense of reproductive health organizations and of abortion services be compromised in the name of coalition building?

  2. Neither. I’m proposing that if it were my decision, I would have allowed pro-life groups to sign on as official supporters of the women’s march, and that coalition building with those who reasonably disagree with us on some significant issue need not involve compromising on that particular matter. We can work together on X, while we disagree about Y, without thereby agreeing to give up our efforts as regards Y, and further, given the seriousness of the political challenges facing us, I think we ought to do this where we can.

  3. That was meant to be my first option (I accidentally omitted the clause “is not compromised”). I guess I’m still not sure what this option looks like in practice.

    At my local Women’s March rally, there were a number of representatives from Planned Parenthood – including discussing the importance of abortion access, and the harassment from anti-abortion protesters. If New Wave Feminists were co-sponsors of the March would that have changed in any way? Would those speakers, or the organizers, have had to spend part of their organizational time defending or debating the inclusion of those speeches?

    Or would those speeches have occurred alongside speeches about how modern feminism has been corrupted and “our womanhood was traded for a handful of birth control pills”, or about how much women and their children would be respected in a world where abortion wasn’t a choice, or about how “it took Planned Parenthood 100 years and millions of dollars in blood money to create the monopoly they currently have on women’s ‘healthcare.'”? (See: http://www.newwavefeminists.com/about
    http://newwavefeminists.blogspot.com/2016/12/we-cannot-compete-with-planned.html )

  4. Derek, so far as I can tell, there’s no reason to think they would have given speeches had they been allowed to serve as partners. Planned Parenthood was both a “premier partner” and a “sponsor” of the march, so maybe that’s why you’re thinking that partners are allowed a literal platform at the events, but I believe who spoke was decided by the various organizers. There are many partner organizations who were not given the opportunity for representatives to give speeches. So far as I understand it, being a partner is mostly a symbolic move — putting the name of your organization behind the march.

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