The Missed Opportunity of the Women's March
By: Claudia Winkler
March 13, 2017
We stood among strangers in solidarity, soaking in the feeling of being part of something historic. People of all ages, gender and sexual identities, and races had gathered to send a message to the new U.S. president that women’s rights, along with a whole host of other rights and freedoms, need to be advanced and protected. But because of a decision by the march organizers to exclude the pro-life New Wave Feminist group as formal partners, the political and religious diversity of those participating in the march was likely limited.
It is fair to say that I share many of the same perspectives as the march organizers. Among other causes, I marched in the interest of equal pay for women; better (or, frankly, any) maternity leave policies and childcare options; and better, cheaper access to reproductive care, including abortion services. But I couldn’t have disagreed more with the decision to exclude pro-life partners from the march.
I understand common frustrations with pro-life advocates that likely motivated the choice to drop New Wave Feminists as partners. For one thing, I, like the organizers of the march, believe that a woman should have the right to choose if and when to have children, and that no state apparatus—especially not a male-dominated one—should be involved in such an intimate and life-altering decision.
There’s also the pragmatic perspective that making abortion illegal would not prevent it from happening. Consider Latin America, a region with some of the strictest abortion laws on the books. It’s estimated that an average of 6.5 million abortions took place there annually from 2010 to 2014—a much higher rate than in the much more permissive United States.
In fact, in the United States, abortion numbers have been steadily declining. While this phenomenon may be due in part to higher restrictions, the decline in states like Oregon with no new or additional restrictions on abortion suggests that limiting access is far from the main cause for the drop. The change is certainly attributable to some extent to religious charities like pregnancy centers and women’s personal moral stances on the issue, but many experts cite better access to contraception (and an associated drop in teen pregnancy rates) as a main driver of the decline.
Hence, it is frustrating that anti-abortion activists typically ally themselves with a political party that, while keeping the ACA’s birth control and other women’s health provisions intact (for now), is determined to defund Planned Parenthood, an organization that—it bears repeating—receives ZERO federal funds for providing abortion services, which make up just 3 percent of the vital reproductive health services they provide to underserved communities.
It’s also worth looking at why women choose to have abortions. According to the Guttmacher Institute, “The three most common reasons [for having an abortion]—each cited by three-fourths of patients—were concern for or responsibility to other individuals; the inability to afford raising a child; and the belief that having a baby would interfere with work, school or the ability to care for dependents,” (emphasis mine).
Why, then, are so many pro-lifers supporting a political party that has historically opposed a living wage and maternity leave? At the risk of painting with too-broad a brush, sometimes it seems to me that the pro-life movement has more interest in battling a symptom (abortion) rather than addressing the cause (inequality of and lack of support for women).
But this is precisely why the pro-life New Wave Feminists should’ve been included as partners of the Women’s March. Here’s a group on the other side of the fence that is equally disgusted by the misogyny of our newly elected president and eager to push for policies that support women. The group’s “about” language reads: “So let's work towards a culture that supports a woman so well that she never has to have [an abortion]. Let's work towards a culture that tells her ‘You Can,’ ‘You Are Strong Enough,’ and ‘If You Need Some Help - We Are Here,’ because that is what the sisterhood is all about.”
March organizers should have seized the opportunity to ally themselves with women and men across the political and religious spectrum to work on issues that deeply affect us all; instead, they opted for a hardline approach that only feeds antagonism.
What’s more, in adopting this stance, organizers engaged in a level of hypocrisy that liberals seem to have become blind to. I applaud the organizers for making the march about more than just women—for standing up for their Muslim brothers and sisters, demanding that their basic safety and religious freedom be protected. But the irony of their rejecting pro-lifers who are also living out their faith was not lost on me.
And it is perhaps worth reminding my fellow liberals that the same religious beliefs that fuel many people’s anti-abortion stance also inspire anti-death penalty, anti-war, and anti-torture activism, not to mention countless acts of charity. You might be surprised how much you have in common with those you so quickly paint as your enemy.
We find ourselves in times when demonizing those with whom we disagree and patently refusing to compromise has created a toxic political situation that results in either complete stagnation or winner-takes-all policies. The Women’s March missed a golden opportunity to forge new coalitions across ideological lines and make real progress on women’s issues.