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America’s First Feminists Opposed Abortion, Then The Movement Was Hijacked

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Mary Rooke Staff Writer
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The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to strike down Roe v. Wade and hand abortion lawmaking back to the states would have been supported by America’s first feminists, history shows.

Today’s pro-abortion activists are a far cry from America’s early feminists, who were responsible for organizing meaningful change on behalf of women’s rights in voting, education and employment, but believed abortion was an “evil” practice, according to Susan B. Anthony (SBA) Pro-Life America.

Many pro-abortion activists, who call themselves feminists, insist that the right to an abortion is the cornerstone to securing all other rights for women. But these new-age feminists ignore or blame misinformation when they are reminded that early feminists like Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton believed a woman could achieve equality without abortion.

Susan B. Anthony, a non-violent women’s rights advocate who co-edited The Revolution a 16-page women’s suffrage weekly, is justly praised for championing the women’s suffrage movement, equal pay and labor rights for women. Anthony was also publicly opposed to abortion. (RELATED: ‘Save Countless Innocent Lives’: Republicans Cheer End Of Roe V. Wade)

She believed in non-violent solutions for women. She considered domestic abuse and other “evils” of men as the driving force behind a women’s need for an abortion, according to the pro-life feminist group, Feminists for Life of America.  In Anthony’s famous March 1875 speech called “Social Purity,” she counted abortion, along with murder and divorce, as one of the terrible consequences of intemperance.

“The prosecutions on our courts for breach of promise, divorce, adultery, bigamy, seduction, rape; the newspaper reports every day of every year of scandals and outrages, of wife murders and paramour shooting, of abortions and infanticides, are perpetual reminders of men’s incapacity to cope successfully with this monster evil of society,” Anthony said in her speech.

She differed from other women’s rights advocates because she did not believe women should be punished for having an abortion, but Anthony still publicly opposed abortion as a solution for pregnant women.

“Much as I deplore the horrible crime of child-murder, earnestly as I desire its suppression, I cannot believe… that such a law would have the desired effect. It would only be mowing off the top of the noxious weed, while the root remains,” wrote “A” in “Marriage and Maternity” published in Anthony’s radical feminist newspaper.

“We want prevention, not merely punishment. We must reach the root of the evil, and destroy it,” added “A.”

Anthony’s friend and co-editor of The Revolution, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, another famous leader in the early women’s rights movement and an integral figure in abolishing slavery, was also publicly opposed to abortion.

Stanton, who raised seven kids alone while her husband traveled around the country as a preacher, also appears to have opposed abortion. As an editor for The Revolution, she repeatedly published articles like “Child Murder,” which describes abortion as “infanticide,” “degrading” and “evil.”

“When we consider that women are treated as property, it is degrading to women that we should treat our children as property to be disposed of as we see fit,” Stanton wrote in an 1873 letter to Julia Ward Howe. (RELATED: Supreme Court Overturns Roe V. Wade)

Anthony and Stanton believed their movement’s mission was to fight for women, mothers and their unborn children. But pro-abortion feminists, often found leading America’s modern feminist movement, disregard the unborn and claim that women’s rights and abortion rights are synonymous.

A major shift came while author and feminist-icon Betty Friedan was president of the National Organization for Women (NOW), according to Sue Ellen Browder’s book “Subverted.

Browder asserts that when Friedan led the feminist movement, its original mission was to enrich women’s lives. But soon after NOW began, the campaign was “subverted” or hijacked with propaganda by organizations and individuals leading the sexual revolution, like Cosmopolitan magazine and National Abortion Rights Action League (now NARAL Pro-Choice America) co-founder Lawrence Lader.

“For her part, Betty Friedan justifiably called Cosmo ‘quite obscene and quite horrible.’ As the mother of the women’s movement, Betty hoped to broaden and deepen women’s lives,” wrote Browder. “Cosmopolitan’s shallow sex-revolution philosophy narrowed women’s lives to what Betty called ‘an immature teenage-level sexual fantasy,’ promoting ‘ the idea that a woman is nothing but a sex object, that [she] is nothing without a man, and there is nothing but bed, bed, bed, bed.'”

“Whereas Betty Friedan’s message to women was ‘Creative work of your own will set you free,'” she wrote. “Helen Gurley Brown’s message to the single woman was ‘Hard work and sex will set you free (as long as you don’t have children).'”

Lader needed Friedan’s movement to advance his abortion agenda, and he was angry when she refused to include abortion into NOW’s platform at its first conference in 1966, according to Browder.

She said that Lader took advantage of Friedan, “who always insisted the women’s movement had to speak for mainstream women who wanted children,” while she was in the middle of a power struggle with pro-abortion feminists for control over NOW.

Lader’s pro-abortion book, released in May 1966, moved Friedan and became the last successful push for her to include abortion into the organization’s 1967 platform, Browder said.

“Only six weeks after that Bucks County road trip when Lader told Nathanson they needed to recruit her for their cause – Betty created an uproar at the Second Annual NOW Conference, when, in her characteristic domineering style, with a voice like a foghorn, she demanded that NOW take a stand in favor of contraception and for total repeal of all abortion laws,” Browder wrote.

Browder told the Daily Signal in an interview about her book in May 2020 that she admits to pushing propaganda for the sexual revolution and that the lasting effects of the women’s movement becoming synonymous with abortion have been a disaster for women’s rights.

“Women are now told that if they want to be liberated, they have to be sexually liberated. They have to want sex with any man who asks. So, the two joined together. A woman who wants a good job and a good education shouldn’t have to sell her body to get that way. And she shouldn’t have to give it away either,” Browder told the Daily Signal.

“Abortion is the kingpin here. You separate those two out, because that’s where you get into women’s sexuality, is with abortion. You separate those two out, and you’ve got an authentic feminism. That’s why I say that the pro-life movement is the authentic women’s movement of the 21st century,” she continued.

Feminist for Life of America president Serrin M. Foster told the Daily Caller that speaking about Browder’s book was “outside of [FFL’s] mission of providing resources and support.”

Foster also said it would be hard to predict how the first leaders of America’s feminist movement would react to the recent Supreme Court decision. “We can never know what people would do today, but we do know what they thought in their time,” Foster said.

“The early American feminists, who without known exception opposed abortion, worked in an uneasy alliance with the male-dominated medical profession and the media to protect women and their unborn children from abortion,” said Foster. “One notable exception was Susan B. Anthony, who was anti-abortion but did not think making it illegal was the way to make abortion unthinkable.”

NARAL president Mini Timmaraju released a statement Friday condemning the SCOTUS decision, calling it “the end of our constitutionally-protected right to abortion.” (RELATED: ‘The Leash Is Off’: Abortion Activists Behind Attacks On Pro-Lifers Issue New Threats, Urge Others To ‘Burn’)

“The impact on the real lives of real people will be devastating. The Supreme Court has given the green light to extremist state lawmakers who will waste no time springing into action to put in place total bans on abortion,” Timmaraju said. “And they won’t stop there—the anti-choice movement and its political allies have already made it clear that they want to enact a nationwide ban on abortion. This decision is the worst-case scenario, but it is not the end of this fight.”

In contrast, a pro-life group praised the ruling as a triumph for women and their unborn children.

“Today marks [a] historic human rights victory for unborn children and their mothers and a bright pro-life future for our nation,” Susan B. Anthony (SBA) Pro-Life America president, Marjorie Dannenfelser, said in a statement. “Every legislature in the land, in every single state and Congress, is now free to allow the will of the people to make its way into the law through our elected representatives.”