The Epic Political Battle Over the Legacy of the Suffragists

A note from the Editor: Early last month, The Atlantic published “The Epic Political Battle Over the Legacy of the Suffragettes [sic]*,” an article that downplayed our feminist foremothers’ pro-life sentiments and even falsely implied that Feminists for Life has exaggerated their opposition to abortion.

Immediately, FFL President Serrin Foster contacted the Letters department to correct the record. As of today, it appears unlikely The Atlantic will publish our response, and so we present it to you, in full and unedited.

Because women deserve better,
Damian Geminder

While more recently, women are being written back into history, the 2020 Centennial Celebration of the 19th Amendment is an opportunity to recognize that our feminist foremothers opposed abortion.

Feminists for Life of America was founded a year before the Roe and Doe decisions overturned the legal protection for women and children from abortion. FFL co-founders Cathy Callaghan and Pat Goltz believed in the basic tenets of feminism: nonviolence, nondiscrimination, and justice for all. They had no idea that the early American feminists were pro-life. It wasn’t until Goltz met suffrage leader and author of the original Equal Rights Amendment Alice Paul that she learned that we were not the first pro-life feminists. Paul called abortion “the ultimate in the exploitation of women,” asking her friend Evelyn K. Samaras Judge, “How can we protect and help women by killing them as babies?”

FFL historians began to uncover our rich pro-life feminist history. From pro-life publisher of The Revolution Susan B. Anthony – whose publication made opposition to abortion the third-most discussed topic, behind suffrage and dress reform – to the founder of the women’s movement, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, to Mattie Brinkerhoff, Eleanor Kirk, and Laura Cuppy Smith, there is no confusion about their anti-abortion sentiments.

It is also crystal clear that Drs. Charlotte Denman Lozier, Rachel Brooks Gleason, Juliet Stillman Severance, Alice Bunker Stockham, Anna Densmore, Maria Montessori, and Elizabeth Blackwell each opposed abortion in no uncertain terms. Blackwell wrote that her opposition to abortion motivated her to become a physician – the first woman do to so in the U.S.

The first woman to be nominated for President of the United States, Victoria Woodhull, and her sister, Tennessee Claflin, are outspoken against abortion in Woodhull & Claflin’s Weekly.

I know from our work with other women’s organizations on VAWA, child support, support for poor mothers, etc. that there is a place where feminists on both sides can agree and move forward.

Let’s leverage the 2020 to realize the vision of Anthony and others who sought to address the root causes that drive women to abortion. Read the Guttmacher Institute’s research. Note that women who have abortions are disproportionately the poor and women of color – and most are already mothers. Listen to the reasons why women have abortions – especially lack of support in school and the workplace and lack of paternal support – and take this as our task list of injustices against women. Yes, abortion is a reflection that we have failed to meet the needs of women. Together, we should focus on ending the feminization of poverty. We would be so much farther down the road.

Because women deserve better,

Serrin M. Foster
Feminists for Life of America
The American Feminist and

* FYI: The Atlantic incorrectly referred to American proponents of women’s suffrage as “suffragettes,” the term preferred by their counterparts in the U.K. The proper term in the American context is “suffragists.”