This article references a talk “Feminism & Planned Parenthood” given by Kristan Hawkins, president of Students for Life of America and mother of four. It occurred at Princeton University on November 6, 2017.
Thousands of women marched in Washington D.C. last January clad in bright pink hats and strong convictions. The sheer size and passion of that march brings to light that there must be something wrong with our culture’s treatment of women. Kristan Hawkins, president of Students for Life of America, couldn’t agree more. Only she believes that “abortion is and always will be the opposite of empowerment.” Can modern day feminism reconcile the controversial issue of abortion or is feminism a crowning title only for pro-choice women?
Since only 20% of American women call themselves feminists, it’s important to recognize that the decision to self-identify as a feminist is by no means a simple one. The word has altered and changed meaning several times in our culture. The word, “feminism,” can mean a number of positions across a spectrum or across a series of waves. Mrs. Hawkins clarified that she supports feminism’s first wave positions. Mainstream feminism, however, has intertwined its message with that of Planned Parenthood. Mrs. Hawkins spoke of the difficulty that pro-life groups such as hers had in participating in the Women’s March last January. After several pro-life groups that had been previously allowed to participate in the March were then excluded, the March organizers clarified on their website that they supported, “open access to safe, legal, affordable abortion and birth control for all people, regardless of income, location or education.” Regrettably, this division between pro-choice and pro-life feminists will ultimately undermine the many common goals that the two groups have.
Mrs. Hawkins delved into the history of feminism as she read out many excerpts from the writings of Susan B. Anthony and Mary Wollstonecraft. She, then, emphasized the role of Planned Parenthood’s founder, Margret Sanger’s role in shifting the focus of feminism. Hawkins touched on how Sanger’s own personal beliefs were tainted by eugenics and racism. The beginnings of Planned Parenthood were rooted in dangerous ideologies that undermined the dignity and worth of other human beings. It is in this second wave that Hawkins’ believes that lies began seeping into the mainstream feminists’ message.
One of the lies that Planned Parenthood and mainstream feminists promote is that women are empowered by having access to abortions. Mrs. Hawkins participated in pro-life demonstrations in which they silently prayed outside Planned Parenthood Centers. She described the women entering the clinics with the telling statement: “[a woman entering the clinic] is not there because she’s exercising some awesome choice…she’s there because she feels she has no choice.” We live in a culture that paints abortion as one of the tools that women should use to become equal to men in the workplace. Mainstream feminists often pitch the idea that abortion is something that women want, that women need, and that will help them. If anything, abortion only helps men who wish to use women’s bodies for sexual pleasure and not face the natural consequences when birth control fails. In Mrs. Hawkins’s lecture, she provided disheartening statistics about the increased suicide rates for post-abortive women. She urged us to reconsider whether abortion is truly empowering women.
Mrs. Hawkins also underscored the health risks of taking birth control, risks that many American women do not fully realize. Taking hormonal birth control especially the high-dose estrogen pills drastically increases the chances that a woman will develop breast cancer. The World Health Organization classified this form of contraception as a Group 1 carcinogen along with tobacco and asbestos. Mrs. Hawkins related how hard it is to have an honest conversation about the health risks of birth control because the pill is widely used and never questioned. Moreover, the decision to use the pill is inevitably a very personal decision. Yet, this conversation is becoming more and more necessary when the health of women is at risk.
Hawkins emphasized what she does want for women—she wants women to have choices, to have equal pay, to have access to education. But she also believes that the life of a child can never be a choice to make only when convenient. Hawkins pointed out that the problem is not solely the fault of mainstream feminists but also those who encourage the hook-up culture. A generation has grown up believing the lie that sex is casual, consequence-free, and liberating for young women. But when this view inevitably leads women into the abortion clinics of Planned Parenthood, it is not equality and liberation that they experience. After her lecture, Mrs. Hawkins showed a video of a post-abortive woman’s disturbing account of her treatment in Planned Parenthood. Regardless of one’s views on the personhood of the fetus, it is hard to study the statistics and personal stories without questioning whether abortion on demand is really “progress” for women.
Many pro-choice feminists argue that there is currently a war on women. While some dispute this, we can all agree that there is a war among women. As feminists struggle to decide what is truly helping women, we should take advantage of the current debate to probe deeper into the meaning of feminism itself. Now is the time to reflect on the divisions in our movement and reconsider the direction we want for feminism going forward into the future.