Often the terms “pro-life” and “feminist” could scarcely seem more antithetical. However, for three women featured in the new short documentary film “Pro-Life Feminist,” the terms sit as easily next to each other as mother and child.
This month, the film had its New York debut at the Sheen Center for Thought and Culture, a Catholic arts and education center on a block of Bleeker Street that also houses Planned Parenthood’s Margaret Sanger Health Center.
The film takes a powerful and emotional look into the lives of these unlikely emerging leaders in the pro-life movement. We are first introduced to Christina Bennett, who has worked for years in pregnancy centers in Connecticut trying to help women who want to keep their babies. She has a very personal connection to the anti-abortion movement, in the form of a story from her mother.
A Personal Fight
When young and pregnant, Bennett’s mom sought an abortion. In fact, she was at the facility, had paid, and was waiting in a hallway in a medical gown. At that moment, a janitor suddenly appeared, lifted the woman’s chin, and looked in her eyes, asking, “Do you want to keep this baby?” She said “Yes.”
A moment later the janitor was gone, and the woman’s name was called. She decided not to have the abortion. This decision was the difference between Bennett appearing at the Sheen Center and never existing outside her mother’s womb.
Bennett, who is black, spoke eloquently about her commitment to racial justice at the panel talkback after the film. She spoke in terms that were quite progressive about the systemic racism blacks face in America. For her, opposing abortion is a part of that fight. Drawing inspiration from the black women who were leaders of the abolition movement, Bennett sees ending abortion as a key component of empowering all women.
The New Wave Feminist
Probably the best known of the three activists is Destiny Herndon-De La Rosa, whose group New Wave Feminists gained notoriety when it was kicked out of the Women’s March sponsor list amid protests from pro-choice feminists. De La Rosa is a happy warrior who sees the pro-life movement as a primarily cultural, not legislative, fight and perfectly in line with the overall goals of feminism.
One issue she focuses on is women who are pressured or even forced by men to have abortions they do not want. These tragic circumstances lay bare a basic truth about abortion: one of its primary functions is to make men less responsible for their sexual choices, which promotes the idea that women are mere sexual objects.
The Progressive Rehumanizer
Aimee Murphy, perhaps the most overtly progressive of the three, had her own harrowing run-in with an abusive man who threatened to kill her if she did not have an abortion. It was a wake-up moment for Murphy, an atheist at that time who now identifies as a “queer Catholic.” Her organization, Rehumanize International, is dedicated to ending all aggressive violence, including abortion.
Murphy and Rehumanize’s message is intersectional and in many ways feels highly progressive. At one point during the talkback, she mentioned her support for hate speech laws. I glanced at my friend, a libertarian comedian sitting next to me, and we both raised our eyebrows as if to say, “Yikes.” But this was kind of the point. It made clear that people dedicated to ending abortion can and do have very widespread ideas on almost every political question.
Ideological Purity Versus The Big Tent
In a way, feminism and the pro-life movement face a similar choice between ideological orthodoxy and building a big tent. In the case of the Women’s March, which may or may not be at the center of today’s feminism, the divisions run deeper than just abortion. Accusations of anti-Semitism rocked the movement this year. There are also significant tensions over the trans movement, with many radical feminists denying a tenet of the Women’s March: that men can become women.
But just as there is confusion about who controls the definition and membership of “feminism,” so is there regarding the pro-life movement. Long viewed as a plank in a larger conservative Christian platform that includes religious liberty and marriage issues, anti-abortion activists who hold more liberal views on these broader issues can often appear marginalized in the pro-life movement.
That’s why it was encouraging that “Pro-Life Feminist” made its New York debut under sponsorship from Human Life Review, one of the oldest and most respected organs of pro-life thought, which William F. Buckley Jr. once called “the focus of civilized discussion on the abortion issue.” Institutional players in the pro-life movement are wise to amplify the voices of these feminist pro-life women, even if their approach to ending abortion is more cultural than punitive.
Some pro-life feminist language sounds a bit like changing “pro-life” to “choose life,” and more orthodox anti-abortion advocates are wise to keep up the legislative fights. But the two approaches are not mutually exclusive, and while politicians and lawyers fight over statutes, these women should be supported in their efforts to convince women that abortion is not only violence against their unborn children, but violence against themselves, as well.
Theirs is a pro-life vision that includes fewer angry accusations of genocide and more fundraiser potluck picnics to raise money for diapers and formula. This welcoming approach, more celebratory of life than condemning of pro-abortion advocates, may even help bring the pro-life Democratic politician back from the edge of extinction.
Walking by Planned Parenthood after the event on the way to the subway, I felt a dark sadness about the place, having just listened to these powerful and life-affirming women. I peered at its doors, where human beings enter alive and never exit, snuffed out before ever taking a breath. But after watching “Pro-Life Feminist,” it was hard to feel despondent. There is hope that these three women and many like them will save a lot of lives with their message and movement. God speed.