March 20, 2024

First Female Feminist Physicians Opposed Abortion, too.

As we continue to celebrate Women’s History Month—and leading up to FFL President Serrin Foster’s 30th anniversary leading FFL, we invite you to read a new addition to her landmark speech, “The Feminist Case Against Abortion.” An earlier version was named one of the “Great Speeches in History” in an anthology titled, Women’s Rights. 

The first female feminist physicians opposed abortion too.

Elizabeth Blackwell, who became the first woman in the United States to earn a medical degree, graduated at the top of her class. She penned in her diary that the impetus was her opposition to abortion:

“The gross perversion and destruction of motherhood by the abortionist filled me with indignation… That the honorable term ‘female physician’ should be exclusively applied to those women who carried on this shocking trade seemed to me a horror. It was an utter degradation of what might and should become a noble position for women…”

The courageous Dr. Charlotte Lozier was applauded by the media for refusing to perform an abortion when a married man brought his young mistress to her practice. Instead, she offered the young woman help—and called the police—and caused his arrest. The liberal Massachusetts newspaper, the Springfield Republican, praised her. So. Do. We. Sadly she died soon after in a carriage accident. She was pregnant at the time.

The Quaker teacher Dr. Alice Bunker Stockham asked, “By what false reasoning does she convince herself that another life, still more dependent upon her for its existence, with equal rights and possibilities has no claim upon her for protection?”

Consider Dr. Maria Montessori, most famously known as a pioneer in education. The first female Italian physician was nominated for the Nobel Prize six times and earned the French Legion of Honor.

Less well known is that she became pregnant out of wedlock. She could have had an abortion, but instead in 1897 she quietly placed her son in foster care. He learned the truth as a teen, and from that point on, Maria and her “nephew,” Mario, became inseparable.

There are so many others: Dr. Juliet Stillman SeveranceDr. Rachel Brooks Gleason. It makes sense. Who better than the early female physicians to reveal to another woman the amazing ability of her body as another newly formed human being grows within her?

We cannot ignore great women of color, like Dr. Susan La Flesche Picotte who was the first American Indian, of either sex, to earn a medical degree. With two sons of her own, she declared, “Motherhood is a privilege.” 

Of course we are fortunate to have many prolife women in the medical profession active in the movement today. They are writing the next chapter of our history now.

But I would be remiss if I did not note the significant role of Dr. Mildred Jefferson, the first Black woman to earn a medical degree from Harvard and who went on to cofound National Right to Life. 

She was a strong supporter of FFL’s work on campus, and I was greatly honored when she attended my lecture to law students at Boston College.

“If I had my way, there would be a pro-life group on every college campus here in the United States and its territories…”

Dr. Jefferson nominated Feminists for Life to be the first pro-life group to be invited to donate our archives to the Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America on the old Ratcliffe College campus, now a part of Harvard. She passed away in 2010.

Today, in the challenges of our post-Dobbs landscape, we look to these remarkable pro-life feminist physicians to inspire us to care for both patients—mother and child.

We hope you find inspiration and admiration in the words and deeds of our feminist foremothers, including these Remarkable Pro-Life Women.® Clearly, we have history and reason on our side. March forth!

Because women deserve better,

Joyce McCauley-Benner
Director of Public Education

P.S. Please forward this email on to family and friends to share our “Herstory” and make sure your support is current to receive our newest issue of The American Feminist “Strong As a Mother!”

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *