Feminists For Life: A Founder Looks Back over 25 Years

This year Feminists for Life celebrates the 25th anniversary of its conception. President Rosemary Bottcher recently talked to Catherine Callaghan, who with Pat Goltz decided in 1972 to establish an organization for pro-life feminists: Feminists for Life.

By Rosemary Bottcher, President

Cathy Callaghan, who with Pat Goltz founded Feminists for Life in 1972, is a woman of intense and fearless intelligence. She is a retired professor who taught linguistics at Ohio State University for many years. She won tenure at a time when it was remarkably difficult for a woman to secure a position in the nearly all-male fortress of academia.

Cathy has always been pro-life. In fact, she recalls that nearly everyone was opposed to abortion during her youth, including her years as a student at Berkeley, simply because it was common knowledge that having a “baby on the way” meant exactly that.

It was a cunning abuse of language that caused people to “forget their pro-life instincts,” according to Cathy. The push to legalize and legitimize abortion was inspired by concern about the rapidly increasing human population — not women’s rights. Activists determined to limit or reverse population growth considered abortion an essential component of their strategy. But because the population mantra was not catching on in the country, the abortion movement revised its strategy and developed what is perhaps the most successful slogan in the history of propaganda: the right to choose. Cathy is an expert on the power of language, and she notes that this hypnotic mantra has managed to seduce thousands of good people who know in their hearts that abortion is wrong. Cathy believes that it is absolutely essential that pro-life feminists expose this slogan. ”Choose is a transitive verb,” she notes, “it requires an object. Finish the sentence — choose what?”

Cathy believes that pro-life feminism is so appealing to closet pro-lifers because it presents a secular analysis of the issues surrounding abortion. She says that many pro-life arguments are often dismissed because they are not scientific, but based solely on religious views. Cathy thinks that many people are discouraged by this. In fact, she recalls that even after she came to believe that the Vietnam War was wrong, she did not actively oppose it because she felt no affinity for the “peaceniks” who dominated the antiwar movement. Cathy believes Feminists for Life can turn this debate around by waking people up to what abortion is, how it harms women, working for restrictions on abortion and offering alternatives. “We have to appeal to pro-choice people in a non-threatening way — allow them to change their minds while saving face.”

Cathy is proud of the great progress Feminists for Life has made in redefining the abortion debate.“Be visible!” Cathy urges pro-life feminists. “Assert yourselves with pride!  Do not apologize for being pro-life, or you’ll be whittled away.”

Although retired from teaching, Cathy continues to research California Indian languages and is developing dictionaries of these languages. She also writes poetry and fiction. Feminists for Life is so fortunate to have Cathy Callaghan — a modern day Elizabeth Cady Stanton — to help us and the world find our way back to true feminism, which is pro-life and pro-woman.