This year’s centennial of the 19th Amendment, which gave women the right to vote, comes in the middle of a contentious election cycle. In some respects, women have come a long way in the last 100 years. Just four years ago, Hillary Clinton, wearing suffragist white, claimed the Democratic nomination for the highest political office in the land. In her speech, Clinton referenced the Seneca Falls Convention – the first women’s rights convention in our country – and the suffragists’ achievements, hailing their view that women deserve to be treated equally.
But marking this important centennial gives us the opportunity to raise serious questions about what really advances women’s rights, and to highlight the fact that many who claim to be advancing the women’s movement are actually doing a disservice to women. There are ways in which the women’s movement today has gone far afield of, and even against, the values the early suffragists embodied.
Sadly, many who now claim to champion women’s equality identify equal rights for women with the right to an abortion. There are campaigns to normalize abortion such as “Shout Your Abortion” and “One in Four,” highlighting just how prevalent the tragedy of abortion has become. Some have gone so far as to glamorize the procedure. Consider, for example, one comedienne’s crass routine called “Salute to Abortion,” in which she makes light of abortion and denies the violence the procedure inflicts on women and pre-born children.
The original suffragists who won women the right to vote fought for women to have a voice in government which they believed would improve their own lives and the lives of their families. It would open the door to full political, economic, and social participation in civic life. It was based on the principle that women are equal in dignity and value – though not the same as – men.
But abortion does not improve the lives of women and, unlike many who claim to be part of the women’s movement today, the suffragists wanted no part of it. The newspaper Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony operated referred to abortion as “infanticide” and “child murder.” Alice Paul famously called abortion the “ultimate exploitation of women.”
Abortion not only destroys women’s offspring, it can also cause lasting physical harm and psychological trauma. It’s a violent step backward that disproportionately affects women. “Abortion is profoundly anti-woman,” Mother Teresa of Calcutta pointed out. “Three-quarters of its victims are women: Half the babies and all the mothers.”
Beyond harming women, abortion goes against the principle of equality the suffragists used to establish their own rights. They asserted in the Declaration of Sentiments signed at the Seneca Falls Convention, “We hold these truths to be self-evident; that all men and women are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
Abortion creates a second-class group of people, the unborn, who are denied the same rights as everyone else. They are denied the right to life. It stands to reason that the suffragists were, in principle, opposed to abortion.
It has been 100 years since the suffragists won women the right to vote. They did so over time with single-minded focus and perseverance, and, in the end, gave voice to their voiceless sisters. We should not take for granted the progress they made. This November, we should use their victory to give voice to the voiceless unborn. They too deserve equal rights and protection under the law.