2019 1st Place, by Kathryn Thompson
America's first-wave feminists not only courageously campaigned for women's rights but also demonstrated a steadfast commitment to all the underrepresented. The same feminists who launched the women's suffrage movement went on to promulgate what was the largest petition for the abolition of slavery in US history. They lobbied for child labor laws, pushed for affordable health care, provided education for immigrants, founded homes for the elderly, partnered with labor unions, and advocated for unborn children. Feminism is historically and fundamentally grounded in a whole-life ethic, one that defends anyone whom society threatens to neglect and define as "not a person." Only in second-wave feminism did women's equality become associated with a pro-choice platform. To comprehend "whole-life feminism" it is vital to explore how promotion of abortion is inconsistent with the central commitments of the feminist movement, on a social, physical, and philosophical level.
Abortion reinforces a male-dominated social structure. While at first glance abortion seems to offer women control and equality, many women suffer interpersonal coercion to terminate their pregnancies. That compulsion, usually from men, makes abortion a decidedly unfree choice. Additionally, the basic expectations of male-dominated workplaces pressure women to feel that eliminating a pregnancy is the only viable option to sustain a career. Abortion enables men to continue defining the standards of success—not going on maternity leave, not breastfeeding every three hours, not taking a day off when children are sick. Furthermore, abortion preys on the poor. 49% of women receiving abortions live under the federal poverty level. As many surveys report, the financial inability to provide for a child is a major motivating factor for termination. Abortion also targets minorities. In 2015, 40% of all abortions in the United States were among African American women, despite African Americans comprising only 12.1% of our population. Systematic violence against black bodies begins before they even leave the womb. Thus, abortion is not a "feminist-minded solution" but a cause and consequence of structural injustice done unto women, the poor, and minorities.
Secondly, one of the strongest "feminist" arguments for abortion is the insistence that female bodily autonomy permits ownership over the fetus. However, this platform peculiarly mirrors the argument once used to deny the very personhood of women. As Charles Camosy elaborates in his book "Beyond the Abortion Wars", a woman was once considered, "incorporated into the 'one flesh' of her husband's person; she, too, was a form of bodily property." Furthermore, abortion advances the false narrative that a female's body is inferior to a male's body. Rather than respecting a woman's unique physiology, abortion insists that a woman's sex life functions best when it imitates that of a man's—when it does not result in pregnancy. It treats pregnancy as a parasitic disease to be cured rather than a remarkable capacity of female anatomy to be celebrated. Though pregnancy is not, in fact, an illness, we cannot deny that it entails varying degrees of suffering—in the social and financial sphere, and in the physical experience itself. In this way, pregnancy is a conundrum: childbirth is both poetic and traumatic—the wound of love and life.
This complexity brings us to an essential philosophical anchor at the heart of feminism: that love demands sacrifice. Feminism celebrates that while each human person has an inalienable dignity to be upheld and respected, society is not simply a collection of autonomous individuals. Rather, we are inherently interdependent. We are born out of relationships and flourish in community. This reality has stood at the heart of feminism all along—men need the voices of women, adults need the wisdom of the elderly and the imaginations of children, just as children need the protection of caregivers, and the elderly need our medical support. Feminism affirms that the secret to a flourishing community is sacrifice: the crucible of love. Feminists proclaim that we have a duty to love each life, and that the difficult yoke of love must be carried in community. And so we make sacrifices, financially, legally, personally, together, to offer ongoing concrete support to every mother and child before and after birth.
Ultimately, the nature of sacrifice illuminates whole-life feminism and grounds support for the unborn child in love for every life. As feminists, we advocate for access to health care so clinicians can tend to the suffering no matter their income status. We give up comfort and security to welcome the immigrant across our borders and into our homes. We hasten to protect the prisoner's life, no matter his or her history. And as our own mothers grow weak, we spoon feed them at their bedside just as they once fed us. Feminism is more than advocating for equality; it celebrates our interdependence and the distinct beauty of each and every human life.