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Lament of a pro-life feminist



I'm what you might call a feminist outsider. It sounds cool when I put it that way, like I'm some sort of rebel.

Rep from New Wave Feminists holds a placard that says she is a prolife feministI'm a passionate believer in the rights of women. I believe every girl should have the opportunity to be educated, and that workplaces need to become more accommodating of families. I spend a worrying amount of time shouting 'You wouldn't say that if she were a man!' to political commentators on the radio.

I'd like to be called a feminist. But I don't think I'm allowed to be. You see, I also believe a baby is a person before she is born. And I believe that person has rights.

It's okay. I'm used to not fitting in. At high school, I was all too eager to raise my hand in class, and this made it difficult to make friends. I spent lunchtimes in the school library. The stony refrain 'You can't sit with us' still echoes in my ears, 20 years later.

I'll admit, it's an uncomfortable belief to hold. I'm aware that there are many women who have undergone abortions, for whom discussion of the issue would bring additional pain. And many feminist commentators have made it clear that opposition to abortion is unforgivable.

Recently, Tanya Davies, the NSW Minister for Women, came under fire for stating that she was 'personally pro-life', but that 'in my role I am there to support all women and I will support all women, and I will listen to all women ... and ensure the best outcome for all women is secured'. Commentators were indignant. How dare the minister have a personal opinion (one different to theirs)?

Last year, Victorian upper house MP Dr Rachel Carling-Jenkins introduced a bill to effectively prevent late-term abortions. The Infant Viability Bill proposed that after 24 weeks of gestation (when a foetus is viable outside of the womb) abortions should no longer be performed except in cases of medical emergency.

A mother who sought a late-term abortion would not be criminalised; rather, the doctor would be required to refer her for support according to her needs (medical, financial, psychological, residential etc.). The baby, when born, would be provided with medical care or palliative care as needed.


"Early feminists and leaders of the women's suffrage movement saw abortion as a tool of oppression, which freed men from the burden of accountability. Alice Paul deemed abortion the 'ultimate exploitation of women'."


It was a remarkable bill, well researched and carefully written, but it was never to become a remarkable law. The bill did not pass the upper house and Carling-Jenkins became Public Enemy Number One among mainstream feminists.

Wendy Tuohy wrote in the Herald Sun that she was a 'religious ideologue' and 'the Empress who Had No Clothes'. According to Tuohy, Carling-Jenkins was attempting to exploit the subject of abortion 'for political mileage or personal attention' and was merely 'doing the bidding' of the religious right.

It's interesting that when a woman presents strong views, it is assumed she must be the mouthpiece of men. It is never thought possible that a woman could have ideas that differ from the accepted feminist position. Women are expected to conform.

Many of the women I talk to who are pro-life tend to keep their mouth shut. They don't want to be lumped in with the handful of extreme pro-lifers who are mostly about shock tactics. And even many of the women I talk to who are pro-choice are uneasy about late-term abortions. But how do you come out and say 'I'm pro-choice, but I'm not pro-that'?

Perhaps I, too, should smother the unease I feel when I consider that in Victoria, Tasmania and Canberra it is legal to perform an abortion up until the ninth month of pregnancy. Perhaps I shouldn't let it bother me that personhood, and the rights that come with it, seems a matter of mere geography; of which side of the uterine wall a baby happens to be on. Perhaps, if I want to be a feminist, I need to bite my tongue, stop raising my hand to ask questions, and be more submissive.

Or perhaps it's time for a new feminism.

It's happening everywhere. Pro-life feminist groups like New Wave Feminists, Women's Forum Australia, SBA List and Feminists for Life are rising to prominence. It's like taking refuge in the school library and finding it crowded with like-minded individuals.

And it's not like the idea is new. Early feminists and leaders of the women's suffrage movement saw abortion as a tool of oppression, which freed men from the burden of accountability. Alice Paul deemed abortion the 'ultimate exploitation of women', and Susan B. Anthony referred to it as 'child murder'.

It's time to move away from oppressive feminism. If feminism is to remain relevant, feminists need to stop telling women what to think. Ideas should be taken on merit and not dismissed as 'religious' or 'fundamentalist'. If we are to continue the work of our suffragist foremothers, we must address the societal causes that drive a woman to abortion, not silence our problems with violence and poison.


Kate MoriartyKate Moriarty is a freelance writer. She writes the 'Home Truths' column at Australian Catholics and blogs at Laptop on the Ironing Board.

Topic tags: Kate Moriarty, feminism, abortion



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Existing comments

What a beautifully written piece Kate, and l agree with every word you wrote. It was wonderful to see my view expressed so well.Thankyou!

Sandra | 10 March 2017  

Thank you Kate for your article. I really enjoyed it. A genuine and refreshingly honest truth about 'modern' feminism...Sadly! All the best and take heart if critised there are many who know what the honourable meanIng of feminism is. Kind regards

jenny kayal | 10 March 2017  

It's hard to accept that you're a feminist when you want to deny women the right to bodily autonomy. No one, including women, should be forced to have their bodies used against their will for someone else's benefit. Do you believe in mandatory, forced, living organ/marrow/blood donation? What about mandatory, forced, donation after death? No? Explain how you can give a dead body more autonomy than a living woman and call yourself a feminist. No one is preventing you from advocating for feminist causes like equal pay and equal opportunity. But the feminist movement is never going to embrace your desire to deny women bodily autonomy.

Zelda | 11 March 2017  

World War II fatality statistics vary, with estimates of total deaths ranging from 50 million to more than 80 million. How many aborted babies since 1973? Take a look at this US abortion clock how many, from the moment you open the page. STOP the carnage! http://www.numberofabortions.com/

Name | 11 March 2017  

Well said Kate - "Many of the women I talk to who are pro-life tend to keep their mouth shut." Men of a pro-life disposition tend to keep their mouths shutter, believe me. No access point from which to begin to engage in the conversation. Thank you for creating this small foothold in the public arena.

Richard Jupp | 13 March 2017  

An interesting article and I am loath to comment as a man because I believe that abortion is a fundamental female issue. I have always been a bit bemused at how this issue polarizes the community and some of the most fanatical anti-abortion people are conservative Catholic men. It seems to me that abortion has become a political issue for upper middle class women and conservative men, who are also opposed to artificial contraception. I remember an article in the Manchester Guardian newspaper about forty years back about Catholic women in the Soviet Union who were in favour of abortion as a method of contraception because artificial contraception was banned by the government. It seems to me that there are many legitimate reasons for women to have an abortion such as family planning, financial circumstances and rape and it is a bit ingenuous for people to reject these reasons. Although most women in Australia have access to artificial contraception, there are circumstances where an unwanted pregnancy occurs and I am not sure that women should be forced to endure the stress of such a pregnancy. On the issue of feminism, I believe that it has become a very self centred issue and focuses on the individual right of competing with men in a capitalist society. Unfortunately, a lot of women missed the point of classical feminist philosophy books such as Simone De Beavoir's 'The Second Sex' and Germaine Greer's 'The Female Eunuch', especially the role and rights of the unpaid housewife.

Mark Doyle | 13 March 2017  

I was touched by this article, it was a very strong piece, written with such depth, compassion and insight.

Kathleen Walter | 13 March 2017  

Kate, you can sit with me. And Zelda I do hear your pain.

Anne Chang | 14 March 2017  

Thank you for writing for all of us who are feminists and pro-life. I have never understood how abortion was seen as some great achievement for women. Is this how we measure our maturity, that we are free to abort full term babies? In the past women had abortions, unsafely, because there was no other option. There was no contraception, no financial support for single parenthood and their families would disown them. These things no longer determine the lives of women. I truly hope that more women will come to see that our ability and freedom to abort should not be the measure of our progress. When our difference is treated as equality, when nurture is as important as achievement in business, when the true gifts of being female are valued, honoured and rewarded - then equality will mean something. What we have now is denial of our femaleness as we compete to be more like men than men in the workplace, we hide our childbearing our childrearing away like something that diminishes us. Women have so much to offer beyond the current masculine view of life. Thanks Kate, sorry for the rant.

Vivienne | 14 March 2017  

Whether pro-life or pro-choice, feminists bring important perspectives to the public square. Using emotive terms like 'child murder' in relation to abortion is not helpful. Even if abortion is not a choice I personally would make, there are many women under psychological and societal pressure who find themselves pregnant. Their partner has walked away and/or their support system is non-existent. What would be helpful is addressing the societal causes that drive women to abortion, as Kate wisely indicates. However, wresting autonomy from a woman is a process fraught with danger.

Pam | 14 March 2017  

Kate, thank you for a well-written article showing respect for people on all sides of this issue. There are a number of issues out there (abortion, euthanasia, the vexed question of Israel and Palestine, the relationship of Australia with the British crown ... ) where, when I hear an overly dogmatic comment on either side of the issue, I become equally dogmatic on the opposite side ... for all of 20 minutes or so. Thank you for writing charitably and respectfully on an issue where it's frequently highly difficult to be respectful and charitable to those with whom one differs ... whatever your side of the issue.

Bob Faser | 14 March 2017  

Thank you Kate, I have argued not as coherently as you, that it is ridiculous to have abortions being performed in one level of 'womens' hospital and at another level life support being addressed to a premmie baby.

Namehelen m donnellan | 14 March 2017  

Thank you, Kate, for your courage in writing this article. It seems to me that as human beings we find it impossible to accept that no one has the right to one hundred per cent make a choice without responsibly, with love and often pain, consider how any decision we make may impact on someone else, especially on the defenceless, be they male or female. Let your voice be heard!

Mary | 14 March 2017  

Quite apart from any philosophical standpoints, "Zelda" needs to understand some fundamental biology. The simple fact is that a fetus in utero, is not -- in any meaningful or biological sense -- a "part" of the mother's body. In being "attached" to the inn er surface of the uterus is is external to that body and is, in any case, genetically quite distinct from every cell in the mother's body. So "Zelda" needs to make her case on a surer basis.

Dr John CARMODY | 14 March 2017  

While I am not challenging your right to your opinion, you don't clarify whether it is only late term abortions you would like to see blocked or whether you would fight for other women's bodies to be limited by your belief system before the 12 or 24 week marks. It would be good to clarify whether your support for laws of limitation extend there.

lucy | 14 March 2017  

I love this article! I hope and believe that when women are truly equal - when we can walk down a street at night without fear - when women are no longer being killed and injured by their partners - that stridency won't be needed or apparent any more. My position is that I'm pro-choice but not pro-abortion. I hate that the pro-lifers represent women who abort as callous and irresponsible and seem to care nothing for women except as incubators. To me, this is an issue with two wrongs rather than a right and a wrong. Wrong to force a woman to bear a child when she does not want to - wrong to end a potential life. But ultimately a woman must be able to choice what happens to her body - in every context.

Maxine Barry | 14 March 2017  

Great contribution Kate. As a social worker, I have struggled with the issue of teenage pregnancies for years and I have always supported whatever the young person chose to do. I agree it’s tragic that the issue is so polarized. In retrospect, the Church’s rigid position that a human person comes into being at conception and the antics of the US religious right haven’t helped one bit. I now lean towards the way Hans Kung addresses the concern in his recent book - that is a human life begins at conception and it should be afforded respect– but that’s not the same as saying early life constitutes a human person with rights. Having said that, as a dad, I have also cradled my daughter’s still born, late pregnancy child, and have no doubt a little person was there on that occasion. Its complex as Kung points out, but I think contributions like yours are very helpful in building the bridges that will lead to an understanding and solutions that address the dignity of both parties.

Mike | 14 March 2017  

Peter Singer would agree with you that late term abortion is unlawful killing. I was astonished when Victoria legislated for late term abortions, and still am.

paul finnane | 14 March 2017  

Thank you Kate. May your voice be heard far and wide.

Deborah | 14 March 2017  

I agree with you whole heartedly. Thank you

Irena Mangone | 14 March 2017  

I hope you support the right to life of unborn male babies also, Kate. But seriously, in todays parlance, you are probably more conservative libertarian (I think as Catholics this is where we fit, if you need definitions), than bona fide feminist, with the Marxist and humanist connotations this title now carries. As for the arguments of "bodily autonomy", that is well and good, but if a "right" requires the death of another person to be observed, it is not a right that can be defended. It reminds me of the scene from Life of Brian, when Stan / Loretta proclaims his / her right to bear children (despite the anatomical absence of a uterus. No babies were harmed in enforcing this right, I noted)

Paul Triggs | 14 March 2017  

Kate, A great article. Thank you for having the courage to speak out on what is a touchy and divisive subject. Personally I often shut up when the topics you touched on are raised. We need more honest dialogue! I also liked the comments, even if some were rather direct and forthright. More please Eugene Personally

EUGENE AHERN | 14 March 2017  

"we must address the societal causes that drive a woman to abortion" well that would be good, but in the meantime, until this uptopia has been created??

Russell | 14 March 2017  

Thank you Kate for your article. I am grateful for your courageous, compassionate and well-written views. We need more women like yourself!

Eugennie | 14 March 2017  

' [F]eminists need to stop telling women what to think'. Yes Kate, and so does the Church.

Ginger Meggs | 14 March 2017  

The International Convention on the Rights of the Child states, "the child, by reason of his physical and mental immaturity needs special safeguards and care, including appropriate legal protection, before as well as after birth." There is no International Human Rights instrument which gives women a "right" to abortion. Abortion is an assault on a woman's body, as well as killing her child. In our society which has been designed by men for the benefit of men, women have to become instant imitation men in order to succeed. Let's change that.

Dr Katrina Haller | 14 March 2017  

Kate, you are so very right. This article addresses a very important issue. As a Catholic feminist, my pro-life stance has been unacceptable to the mainstream feminist community for many years. Even to join EMILY 's List in the ALP (set up to help women into political office) a woman must be pro abortion.

Mary | 14 March 2017  

Dr Haller. Abortion as we have it today was not designed by men but by second wave feminism embodied in Sarah Weddington (nee Ragle) and Linda coffee the two first year graduate lawyers who concocted the Roe v Wade challenge to the anti- abortion laws in Dalas Texas. Historically abortion law in Western society was drafted by men but was in fact anti-abortion carrying severe penalties for breach of the law.

john frawley | 14 March 2017  

Kate, thank you for your thoughts and well chosen words. I agree with all you have written.

Colin Apelt | 14 March 2017  

Thank you, Kate, for taking on the bullies who want to shout down anyone who dares to differ from their brand of political correctness. Your stance will hopefully encourage others to resist the bullying

Geoff Seaman | 14 March 2017  

I have never been able to reconcile the conflicted position that a child is a human person once outside a woman's body but not one when inside her. That is what the law is effectively stating in those states where abortion is lawful. The law also sanctions people who through physical violence on a pregnant woman cause her to have a miscarriage (when she did not want that), so that the baby dies. In that case it is unlawful. It was not that long ago that women were considered the possession of their husbands. At the moment, the abortion laws are saying that the unborn child is the possession of the woman carrying the child, to do with according to her will. Why is that somehow less repugnant?

Frank S | 14 March 2017  

When the Second Vatican Council, in its Constitution regarding today’s world, declared that “Life from its very conception must be guarded with the greatest care,” and that “Abortion and infanticide are abominable crimes,” it rested its case on almost two millennia of Catholic faith and doctrine. Paul VI confirmed this teaching with a special declaration in the clearest possible terms. “Respect for human life,” he wrote, “is called for from the time that the process of generation begins. From the time that the ovum is fertilized, a life is begun which is neither that of the father nor of the mother; it is rather the life of a new human being with his own growth. It would never be made human if it were not human already.” Consequently, “Divine law and natural reason exclude all right to the direct killing of an innocent human being.”

AO | 14 March 2017  

You are certainly not alone Kate. My experience following the conception of each of my four daughters, not always at the most convenient times, was that they each had a personality from the very moment I was aware of their existence. There were differences from the very beginning. Even when times were at their most difficult I and my husband would have been devastated if any one of them had been lost. Pro-choice people forget or ignore the fact that there are two people involved in the decision to abort and that one of them is completely powerless. You are actually a true feminist. Keep writing and sharing your feelings with us..

Margaret McDonald | 14 March 2017  

Thank you, great article. I'm an oldtime feminist who's amazed that the feminist movement has changed from 'No-one should tell women what to think' to 'No-one should tell women what to think except us'. The Church has always told us what to do and what not to do, and we've always chosen our own path according to our consciences. The Church actually affirms our duty to do this. The feminist movement doesn't allow us any such latitude. One disagreement and you're out.

joan seymour | 15 March 2017  

“' [F]eminists need to stop telling women what to think'. Yes Kate, and so does the Church.” If so, Ginger Meggs, the Church would not be able to tell women through its adoption of the Jewish Book of Genesis that Adam is more at fault than Eve for her sin. The consequences of his eating of the fruit, economic scarcity, are more troublesome for the human race than hers. Her sin brings into train consequences limited to women. His sin brings consequences for everybody.

Roy Chen Yee | 15 March 2017  

Roy, I wasn't suggesting that the Church, or the femininist movement, or anyone else, should not, or may not, articulate a position and support that position with argument. The position that I was taking was that no one, neither the feminist movement nor the Church nor the state nor you nor I should presume to 'tell' anybody what s/he 'must think'. So to that extent I agree with Kate. I also support her when she proposes that 'ideas should be taken on merit and not dismissed as 'religious' or 'fundamentalist''. But then Kate goes on, I think, to dismiss the ideas of others as 'violence and poison' without regard to their possible merit, and that is where I appear to differ with her.

Ginger Meggs | 15 March 2017  

Thank you Kate, you state: "You see, I also believe a baby is a person before she is born. " Kate, idea of "personhood" as a simple black and white either/or status and which leads to the idea that there may exist inside a single body more than one set of rights is a well canvassed position. I have to agree that it's unusual for a person who self describes as having other feminist views maintaining this view.

Ross | 15 March 2017  

: "Kate you are salt of the earth and light for the nations". I believe that abortion is always a human tragedy and morally wrong, but i can accept that in a particular situation it may be the lesser of two evils, at least in the mind of a desperate woman. I do however, hate what has become a social "normalisation" of abortion, which harms the very core of civilisation.

Eugene | 16 March 2017  

Kate...you have another member here to join your feminist party! My beliefs exactly! I have been working on an art piece, which is anti-abortion, for a while. It is called 'Nipped in the Bud'. I felt I had use my art for something worth talking about, rather than merely feel outraged about recent proposals and more. It is not finished yet as it it is stitched and I have yet to find a venue who will accept it.....But back to you. Good on you! Keep up the wonderful writing and spread it far and wide. You will find supporters where you least expect them.

Penny | 16 March 2017  

I am a 91 year old man who remembers my beautiful cousin. During WW2 her boyfriend went off to war. Two months later she got word he had been killed in action, and she found she was pregnant. Unable to tell her family and not able to get a legal abortion from a competent medical practitioner she killed herself. That ended her life and the life of the fetus. I think of her when I hear someone who is against abortion speak of their opposition. Nobody is telling you what to think. You may think what you like and refuse to get an abortion if you are pregnant. However, I think of my cousin and feel sad. I think it's a great advance that a pregnant woman finding herself in my cousin's position can get an abortion from a competent medical practitioner and get on with her life.

David Fisher | 16 March 2017  

Thank you for this Kate ! I am proud to call myself a feminist but i don't support abortion and I too find this tricky as often my support is assumed and thus i feel the need to defend or explain. I work with people with disabilities who contribute so much yet this group are the most at risk. Also when pregnant myself, i always considered life began at conception. Would seem incongruent to think it different for others.

Margaret | 16 March 2017  

Thank you Kate for your article. I have struggled with that conflict and tried to let go of the indoctrinations of many 'should books' over the years but that issue has always bothered me. It's always good to see the many sides of the one issue rather than be so quick to label something right or wrong.

carmel | 17 March 2017  

"But then Kate goes on, I think, to dismiss the ideas of others as 'violence and poison' without regard to their possible merit..." I don't interpret those words as you do but, in any case, what's the Church got to do with dismissing the ideas of others as violence and poison?

Roy Chen Yee | 17 March 2017  

As a man, i'm reluctant to enter this debate. But I'm very glad to see Eureka Street publishing such a courageous and truthful article on this topic.

Brendan | 18 March 2017  

Thank you, Kate, for this article. I am not a "feminist" but a 'personist"who believes all have equal rights including the unborn. It is often said, "Women have the right to do as they wish with their own body."I agree. even to the point of suicide ,but the foetus is not part of the mother's body but a "foreign" body with its own DNA temporarily lodged within the mother's body.Life within her body before birth has profound effects upon its life then and after birth. It seems to me that abortion is now considered as a form of contraception if other forms fail or are not even used.Adoption as an alternative for the child of a woman who gives birth and is not willing/able to care for he/him is viewed with horror today. Also while fathers are expected to provide for their children after birth, they are probably not consulted if abortion is planned and many, even married fathers, may be unaware of the pregnancy. Abortion should be a matter of concern for them too, As a society we must support all parents, so that abortion is not considered except in exceptional circumstances.

mary | 19 March 2017  

You will find plenty of support in the disability field who have to deal with nearly every article on the life story or achievement of a person with congenital disability includes the phrase 'her / his parents did not know before he / she was born' implying that they should be excused from aborting someone who, while inspiring would be better off dead.

Kelli | 23 March 2017  

What is your opinion of the documentary Red Pill?

Gary Saywell | 04 April 2017  

Loved the post...but tell me..,what's the difference between palliative care post birth and abortion when the outcome is near certain? Alas, having spent a few years one one side of this issue then the other, I do believe it comes down to a case by case basis. Wholesale slaughter is evil...yet there are some cases where this is the best scenario...and as a firm believer in the afterlife, I believe in the latter cases those souls find a Heavenly home more life giving than if they were to be born and forced to live. As a friend, poet and seeker once wrote: "We know not all...but a tiny sliver, sometimes seen with the eye where the log is lodged and sometimes through the other briefly clear eye that sees God's intervention in all things, labouring to make it 'all ok', as God works the broken pieces that were once our certainties into a masterpiece we are loved for."

Naomi | 04 May 2017  

Beautiful Kate. I feel that I just spent time in that library with like minded individuals. I find the paradox of pro choice is that whilst proclaiming a woman's right to her own body, she is potentially subjugating the right of a developing woman (unborn female) of hers. It is an irrational premise. I also believe that feminism has become oppressive to many women in that it tacitly subdues a woman's right to think differently. This is in opposition to post modern non positivist feminist posits. Please keep writing.

Beck | 27 October 2019  

Zelda. With respect, how can you rationally advocate for a woman's autonomy over her own body, whilst denying the rights of a developing individual (possibly female) of theirs? I see this premise as flawed & glaringly anti feminist. Kind Regards.

Beck | 27 October 2019  

Kate, loved your article. Your thinking is sharp. The ‘libbers” helped me mature with their insight into justice and equity. But never expect me to accept hard feminist “consumer choice”, no reason or ground is ever needed. Abortion requires just and compelling of medical necessity, given the stakes at play. Suffering affects us all, but is no justification for oppression. Strength, not power “over”. “Zero tolerance for violence”, after all, was supposed to mean “Zero Tolerance for Violence”. You are a true liberationist. Very best. Michael

Michael | 15 July 2020  

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