Susan B. Anthony: Pro-life feminist

By Marjorie Dannenfelserpresident, Susan B. Anthony List Two Susan B. Anthony scholars, Ann Gordon and Lynn Sherr, think they’ve struck … Continued

By Marjorie Dannenfelser
president, Susan B. Anthony List

Two Susan B. Anthony scholars, Ann Gordon and Lynn Sherr, think they’ve struck at the heart of the pro-life argument: the Susan B. Anthony List’s ignorance of who its namesake actually was. Citing a lack of documentation of the suffragists’ stance on abortion, the authors concluded that Anthony was, “instead,” pro-women’s rights – in the Hillary Clinton-era sense of the term – or, at best, that abortion was nowhere on her radar.

The argument is unfounded on many levels, but foremost, on the credibility issue.

Susan B. Anthony was passionate and logical in her arguments against abortion. The Revolution was her brainchild, co-founded with Elizabeth Cady Stanton as a weekly women’s rights newspaper that acted as the official voice of the National Woman Suffrage Association and in which appeared many of her writings alongside those of her like-minded colleagues. Most logical people would agree, then, that writings signed by “A” in a paper that Anthony funded and published were a reflection of her own opinions.

In one house editorial, signed “A”, she wrote: “Guilty? Yes. No matter what the motive, love of ease, or a desire to save from suffering the unborn innocent, the woman is awfully guilty who commits the deed. It will burden her conscience in life, it will burden her soul in death; but oh, thrice guilty is he who… drove her to the desperation which impelled her to the crime!” [The Revolution, 4(1):4 July 8, 1869]

Further, as one becomes familiar with Anthony’s compatriots and their thoughts on the issue, it is clear and consistent that these early women leaders did not believe abortion was a good thing for women.

Elizabeth Cady Stanton lamented, “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.” [Letter to Julia Ward Howe, October 16, 1873]

In Anthony’s The Revolution, Stanton referred to abortion as “infanticide.” [1(5):1, February 5, 1868]

Victoria Woodhull, the first female presidential candidate, told a newspaper of the day that “Every woman knows that if she were free, she would never bear an unwished-for child, nor think of murdering one before its birth.” [Wheeling, West Virginia Evening Standard, November 17, 1875]

Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell, the first female physician, recorded in her diary her thoughts about Madame Restell, an early New York abortionist. She said, “The gross perversion and destruction of motherhood by the abortionist filled me with indignation, and awakened active antagonism. 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.” [1845]

All of this went on-record at a time when abortion wasn’t even a hot political issue of the day. Even those doctors practicing abortion had to disguise what they advertised as a service to restore a woman’s regular menstrual cycle. Abortion simply wasn’t up for debate at a time when society itself was firmly against the practice.

So, while the Life cause isn’t the issue that earned Susan B. Anthony her stripes in American history books, historians would be wrong to conclude that Anthony was agnostic on the issue of abortion.

Anthony understood that fighting for women included the rights of her unborn child.

Over time, “feminism” became the label adopted by activists preaching that women’s rights and abortion rights were somehow one and the same. For years, too many feminists have told women facing a crisis pregnancy the only way to continue a successful life is to have an abortion.

But recently, there has been a shift back to the traditional roots of a Susan B. Anthony feminism that empowers women through their strength to give life even in the most difficult and unexpected circumstances. In recent Gallup polling, more and more women self-label themselves “pro-life” over “pro-choice.” More and more pro-life women run for public office.

Many conservative commentators have hailed this “new feminism,” the rising majority of women who reject the radical feminism of the 1960′s and use traditionally “feminist” issues, such as abortion, to herald in a new era of women’s rights. This new wave of excitement is poised to elect true pro-life women to Congress, and the Susan B. Anthony List is looking forward to November to usher in these leaders who understand that the rights of one are not built on the broken backs of another.

And, in case there’s still lingering doubt about where Susan B. Anthony’s convictions lie, her words to Frances Willard in 1889 speak for themselves: “Sweeter even than to have had the joy of children of my own has it been for me to help bring about a better state of things for mothers generally, so that their unborn little ones could not be willed away from them.”

Marjorie Dannenfelser is president of the Susan B. Anthony List, a nationwide organization dedicated to advancing, mobilizing and representing pro-life women in the political process.

Read Dannenfelser’s Outlook commentary on the midterm elections.

Read a profile of Dannenfelser by the Post’s Jason Horowitz.

  • firecrackergirl57

    RIGHT ON! The new, true feminism is back and women like Marjorie Dannenfelser are leading the way! pro-woman=pro-life!

  • Alex511

    fr the article:>…But recently, there has been a shift back to the traditional roots of a Susan B. Anthony feminism that empowers women through their strength to give life even in the most difficult and unexpected circumstances…Oh, like the RIGHT to vote, establish and hold credit, own property, have a separate bank account, work at jobs other than nurse, secretary or teacher, and to go on to higher education other than at a “finishing school”? Feminism got YOUR grandmother, YOUR mother, YOUR aunt, YOUR sister, and YOU, Marjorie, the rights that I mentioned. Read REAL history and learn, not the dumbed-down white bread version so popular now. Susan B. Anthony would truly be ashamed of you and your little club, especially since you stole her name for it.

  • YEAL9

    Once again, some observations (made without any quotes from Susan B. Anthony) about taking the life of a young baby aka abortion: Abortion boils down to one simple question, when does human life begin? And one paramount observation/law: There is basic human morality that goes beyond the OT and NT. A fetus dies without nourishment. A baby dies without nourishment. There is no difference.And it is obvious that intercourse and other sexual activities are out of control with over one million abortions and 19 million cases of STDs per year in the USA alone. from the CDC-2006″Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) remain a major public health challenge in the United States. While substantial progress has been made in preventing, diagnosing, and treating certain STDs in recent years, CDC estimates that approximately 19 million new infections occur each year, almost half of them among young people ages 15 to 24.1 In addition to the physical and psychological consequences of STDs, these diseases also exact a tremendous economic toll. Direct medical costs associated with STDs in the United States are estimated at up to $14.7 billion annually in 2006 dollars.”How in the world do we get this situation under control? A pill to temporarily eliminate the sex drive would be a good start. (Andy Rooney of 60 Minutes, 4/18/2010 described them as anti-desire pills).And teenagers and young adults must be constantly reminded of the dangers of sexual activity and that oral sex, birth control pills, condoms and chastity belts are no protection against STDs. Might a list of those having an STD posted on the Internet help? Said names would remain until the STD has been eliminated with verification by a doctor. Lists of sexual predators are on-line. Is there a difference between these individuals and those having a STD having sexual relations while infected???And so a growing baby is considered by some to be nothing more than an infection?Talk about having no respect for human life!!!!!We constantly battle the forces of nature. We do not succumb to these forces by eliminating defenseless children!!!!!With respect to saving the life of a mother vs that of her and her husband’s child:With modern technology, that situation is a rare event. When it does occur, the decision should be a made by the mother and father of the child. With no father in the picture, the decision should be left to the mother or her parents if the mother is incapacitated.And it is very, very disturbing that we give legal protection to the fertilized eggs and the developing young of protected animal and insect species but give no legal protection to our developing young ones.

  • MrsCalabash11

    Once again, some observations (made without any quotes from Susan B. Anthony) about taking the life of a young baby aka abortion:

  • farnaz_mansouri2

    There is no such thing as a “radical feminist.” There are women who believe in women’s rights to full equality, unlike Dannenfelser, who subscribes to a limited gender apartheid, which entails the control of female bodies for specific purposes.When discussing Susan B. Anthony,pro-zygotist, anti-choice activists like Dannenfelser, fail to consider the necessary limits on understanding imposed on Anthony simply by virtue of the historical period in which she lived. Like Freud, Anthony was far-reaching in her vision, but did not, could not, think as we now do. In the future, I hope others will be that charitable to us. As well, Anthony may have been limited in her understanding by her never having considered having children. As liberated as she was, she was not out as a lesbian.

  • thebump

    A commenter makes the totally weird claim that “No young baby is killed in an abortion.”After an abortion, an innocent immature human being (baby) is dead as a result of the abortionist’s deliberate actions (killed). That reality can be escaped only by the most convoluted and dishonest double-talk.

  • bob2davis

    Regardless of abortion issues, any right-wing women’s group would have been anathema to Susan B. Anthony. She was a progressive; the pro-lifers are not. Also, considering the cultural oppression of women in 1845 and the fact that the US infant mortality rate was around 25% or higher, abortion was low on women’s priority list and certainly not a subject for “polite” conversation. Clearly, S B Anthony would not have consorted with the right-wingers of either 1845 or with those of today. And evidence highly suggests that she was a lesbian. The rule of thumb must be: if you are against abortion, don’t have one.

  • cricket44

    Actually,the abortion question boils down to one fact…where fetal development takes place. Until science has developed to the point where fertilized eggs can safely be removed from the womb and developed elsewhere, the pro-life stance is moot. Without physical autonomy women become nothing more than unwilling incubators As for the legal complications when we do get to that point, well, then I look forward to people who *talk* about the eventual babies, actually stepping up to take them. The ways in which to reduce abortion are many and multi-facetd but none with merit involve forced childbirth.

  • rohit57

    Issues of abortion, sexual morality, and the stability of the family are important issues. And I feel that the right (which is wrong about many things) has the “right” instincts here. The sort of society which well meaning liberals want to achieve, is not viable. It doesn’t make any sense for America to kill its own infants and import people from Mexico.Liberals are better educated than non-liberals, but being better educated is not much help when your values are wrong.I think the entry of Sarah Palin into politics is a good thing. I am sure there are things about national and international politics which she does not know. But she does stand against liberal dogmas, including the pernicious one that opposition to abortion constitutes oppression of women. Liberals need to come up with a more plausible response than the silly one that a movement headed by a woman, and drawing on an early feminist for inspiration, is somehow “anti-woman”.

  • rohit57

    During the years since Roe v wade, America has killed some 40 million of its own infants through abortion. It is ridiculous to pretend that all these abortions were performed by “teenage girls raped by a relative.” The vast majority were elective.During the same period, the US has acquired some 12 million illegal immigrants. Oh, OK, call them “undocumented” but they are here illegally, that is a fact.Also, industrial production has been outsourced to China to which the US owes more than a trillion dollars. What is the US going to do when an American ally, South Korea, is brazenly supported by an ally of China? The US is not going to face up to its biggest creditor. America will huff and puff, but it knows well that China owns America.So we have the bizarre situation that the US has outsourced production of goods to China and the production of people to Mexico.Meanwhile, we are living the life of Riley on borrowed money. Palin needs to be praised for her effort. She may not have the right solutions, but it does not need an Ivy league degree to know that “something is rotten in the State of Denmark.” And while you sneer at her intellect, don’t forget that during the years she was governor of Alaska, her average approval rating was more than 70%.

  • shewholives

    Against abortion? Don’t have one.

  • seter16

    Who the heck cares!!! It’s 2010! You want to go back to doing things the way they did back then? Then Marjorie Dannenfelser should be home in the kitchen bare foot and pregnant!! Go ahead if you like pro life so much…how many kids to you have and do you have a “safe baby haven” sign on your front door. Probably not so therefore you are giant hypocrite…like the rest of the pro-life…I mean pro-fetus club…because once it actually becomes life….they loose interest.

  • seter16

    Most of the people here saying that america kills infants are uneducated…and they know so. What are you going to do when we are so overpopulated like china? Have any of you nut jobs seriously thought about that? Honestly.

  • MarkDavidovich

    Although Gordon and Sherr surely overstate their case by categorically denying that Anthony wrote “The Revolution” article, Dannenfelser similarly overstates hers. What is lacking in this debate is a writing of undisputed Susan B. Anthony authorship taking an unequivocal position on the legality of abortion.

  • thebump

    Against murder? Don’t commit one.

  • acebojangles

    Susan B. Anthony’s stance on abortion is hardly a convincing argument in the modern age.

  • kuato

    I have to admit up front that I dont care at all what Susan B. Anthony thought about abortion. I am, however, glad of her work for the rights of women. So, I find it upsetting that a zealot like Marjorie Dannenfelser is willing to trample Anthony’s legend in order to further her misguided political agenda. Hope and poor scholarship do not manufacture a new truth. To the point, there are specific guidelines to scholarship that are designed to prevent this type of abuse. This is true in history just as it is true is science. You do everyone a disservice when you manipulate data to serve predetermined conclusions.

  • ZZim

    Against abortion? Don’t have one.Posted by: shewholivesAlternatively:Against slavery? Don’t buy one.Against pedophilia? Don’t rape children.Against poverty? Get a job..

  • ZZim

    After an abortion, an innocent immature human being (baby) is dead as a result of the abortionist’s deliberate actions (killed). That reality can be escaped only by the most convoluted and dishonest double-talk.Posted by: thebump =-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-This is correct. Pro-abortion arguments that pretend babies are not killed by abortion are dishonest and weak. My pro-abortion argument, on the other hand, is honest and strong:The important thing here is that this baby who is killed is an UNWANTED baby. Unwanted babies grow up. When they do, they are disproportionately violent, criminal, poor, diseased, and otherwise burdens on society. Society is better off without them. Your WANTED children will live better lives if the unwanted children are never born.I’m sorry, but this is a true fact. Society as a whole is better off without the unwanted babies.The mother of the unwanted baby is the best judge of whether or not the baby is unwanted. After all, if your mother doesn’t want you, nobody else does either. I certainly don’t. Society benefits when women have the right to choose to abort their unwanted babies. That’s why it’s legal..

  • Zino

    The issue is not that abortion is a good thing or a desirable thing for ANY woman of ANY era. The POINT is on whom the responsibility weighs most heavily for MAKING THE DECISION on the (extreme and regrettable) step of having an abortion.Nobody with any sense thinks an abortion is a “good” thing to do. But the preponderance of moral weight MUST accrue to the woman herself who is facing the fact of her pregnancy.Nobody WANTS to abort a child. And yet the decision being left to (mainly) Republican men demeans every woman’s moral right to self-determination and control over her own body.As regrettable as any abortion surely is, it’s simply preposterous to leave the control of women’s bodies to disinterested male-dominated government policy.Rightists in this country have such a fondness for opining about about government ‘interference’ in individual rights. That only makes the debate on who should make the decision to abort or not one of the most extreme of many instances of hypocrisy in public discourse.

  • farnaz_mansouri2

    Palin has as much in common with Susan B. Anthony as Brad Pitt does with Gandhi. Actually, less. Palin is a hick opportunist whose knowledge of geopolitics is limited to what she can see from her house in Alaska. It is reported that Brad Pitt can read.Anthony, in contrast to Palin, was a national leader involved in struggles for civil and human rights. She was also gay, had long term affairs of which we know, and was, unsurprisingly not out. She died more than one hundred years ago. (Word has it that Palin passed earlier, but this has not been scientifically confirmed.)It is doubtful that Anthony had the social imagination to make all the different kinds of judgements, we are in a position to make today. Were Anthony alive now, I have little doubt that, unlike Palin, she would be an advocate for gay marriage.Given her egalitarian stance, I suspect she would hold that until men are willing to end the murder of infants, children and adults, by mandating male bone marrow transplants, blood donations, nonvital organ donations, male anti-choice, pro-zygote activists have nothing to say in this “debate.” And I haven’t even mentioned murder, maiming, etc., through war, mass murder, genocide.

  • thebump

    A commenter says that Anthony was “gay”.Anthony is no longer around to speak for herself, but inasmuch as she lived long before “gay” ideology was concocted, she certainly did not apply that label to herself.

  • farnaz_mansouri2

    By the time Anthony was dwelling among us the construct of gayness did exist albeit not entirely in the form in which it does today.By the same token that construct of gayness differed during her lifetime, so did that of Choice. It makes as little sense to take up Anthony’s position on choice in this “debate” as it does to compare her to Sarah Palin. Actually, significantly less, all things considered.

  • sladeod

    Life begins at conception.Living people are the fundamentals and future of the human race.To destroy these fundamentals is a crime against humanity.

  • persiflage

    SLADEOD sez:’Females should be temporarily sterilised until they can prove sound capability of producing and keeping responsibly these fundamental beings.’Good God, I hope this maniac is not really an OD….he might poke your eyes out if he doesn’t like your stand on abortion!But seriously, this sounds like the mindless, unreasoned opinion of plenty of males over on the anti-choice side of the great divide. They’ve got no skin in the games, but want to make all the rules. They’ve got an ally in Sarah Palin….

  • sladeod

    PERSIFLAGE writes typical tripe of a feminist nature,but at least quotes a good God.

  • abbyandmollycats

    Here I go again. I will believe the pro-lifers when they also take up the cause of sexual responsibility. And by sexual responsibility I mean debunking the cultural myth prevalent in the United States that the fantasies of the adolescent male provide the desired sexual role model. Sounds too much like repression and prudery, doesn’t it. Might get laughs. Unfortunately, as long as we pretend reality and fantasy are one and the same, we will have abortions. Responsibility and abstinence are not one and the same either.

  • sladeod

    persiflage assumes that the sladeod article was written by a male–WRONG!

  • Athena4

    There’s a lot more to feminism besides reproductive rights. If you believe that women should be paid the same as men for doing the same job, you are a feminist. If you believe that women have the right to a career outside of the home if she wants it, you are a feminist. If you believe that men and women have the same rights to vote, own property, serve in the military, run for office, or be CEO of a company, you are a feminist. I may disagree with her on a lot of issues – including grammar – but I do think that Sarah Palin could be considered a feminist. I think that she’s a grown-up version of a “mean girl” from high school, but she is a feminist.

  • Athena4

    SladeOD: for you to say “be reasonable” is a joke. Maybe if you would stop the misogynist garbage you spew, you’d actually get yourself a real woman.

  • ZZim

    SladeOD: for you to say “be reasonable” is a joke. Maybe if you would stop the misogynist garbage you spew, you’d actually get yourself a real woman. =-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-Athena, Slade informs us she is a woman. True or untrue, it is my experience that women are far more harsh and judgmental toward women who reproduce irresponsibly than men are.If you think about it, this is perfectly natural. Men in general are far less concerned about the well-being of other peoples’ offspring than women are. Since the primary victim of an irresponsible reproducer is the child, it is natural that women would tend to be more critical than men..

  • ZZim

    “…by sexual responsibility I mean debunking the cultural myth prevalent in the United States that the fantasies of the adolescent male provide the desired sexual role model.”Posted by: abbyandmollycats=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-Abby, this is an interesting assertion. Could you elaborate on this please?Specifically, I’m interested in what you are referring to as the “desired sexual role model,” do you mean what a woman acts like, or what she looks like?How does “desired sexual role model” of adolescent boys impact pregnancy rates?.

  • massmedia77

    Abortion is wrong and most couples (or women) who decide to carry out the procedure usually have lingering mental anguish.I still don’t believe this gives us the right to tell a woman what to do with her body. It’s really no one else’s business. We’d all do a lot better in life if we paid attention to what was going on in our own homes and less to what goes on in the homes and bedrooms of others.

  • law1946

    This article is complete BS. She pretends that the letter A must be proof of Susan B. Anthony’s writing. Did she always, or even often do so? Let’s have facts please, not imbecilic “I guess, therefore I am the authority on this matter”.All the other quotes are from other people. BS! BS! BS!A clumsy attempt to hijack SBA’s values to justify a troglodyte cult’s religous syncophantacies.Rermember why SBA didn’t trust people who spoke for god….

  • YEAL9

    Again, it is obvious that intercourse and other sexual activities are out of control with over one million abortions and 19 million cases of STDs per year in the USA alone. from the CDC-2006″Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) remain a major public health challenge in the United States. While substantial progress has been made in preventing, diagnosing, and treating certain STDs in recent years, CDC estimates that approximately 19 million new infections occur each year, almost half of them among young people ages 15 to 24.1 In addition to the physical and psychological consequences of STDs, these diseases also exact a tremendous economic toll. Direct medical costs associated with STDs in the United States are estimated at up to $14.7 billion annually in 2006 dollars.”

  • DennisCMyers

    I’d say that Ms. Dannenfelser has made their point for Ann Gordon and Lynn Sherr. Anthony lived for 86 years and she comes up with a total of five citations of Anthony’s abortion views? The Revolution was published for four years and she came up with a whopping two references to abortion, including the item of disputed authorship? Clearly, Gordon and Sherr are correct that the issue was peripheral to Anthony. Moreover, Ms. Danenfelser carefully avoids mentioning that the author of the disputed article also opposed making abortion illegal.

  • rohit57

    I don’t know if feminists realize this, but they have paid a heavy price for pushing abortion so hard as an integral part of women’s rights. Few of us non-fanatics can grasp the idea that killing someone can be a constitutional right.And so, feminism, instead of being an earth friendly, child friendly (at all ages), and heck, even men friendly movement, has been seen instead as a movement which is hungry for money and power, and does not care whom it hurts.This has resulted in terrible public relations for feminism, where many educated and autonomous women feel embarrassed to say that they are feminists.

  • farnaz_mansouri2

    In fact, it seems that we now have someone posting as Farnaz that sounds suspiciously like the recent Susan Jacoby phony – long time posters know who the culprit is.Unfortunately, some radical masculinist pro-zygote, anti-choice bigots do not quite get that.T’s I Persiflage, and I stand emphatically be every point I made.If I find a suitable poem I will post it. In the interim, recommend SExton, and Brooks, on the abortion theme. No one wants to get an abortion. Men need to keep out of the discussion, and keep it shut, until they are willing to trade their bone marrow, nonvital organs, blood, etc., for a ticket to the debate.Warmest regards,Farnaz

  • persiflage

    Farnaz,Praise Ahura Mazda, it is you! Actually, I agreed completely with the posts, but was fearful that given the SUSAN_JACOBY imposter of recent times, your recent absence was filled by a poseur that was copping your script. Did you in fact recommend the JJ website? If so, I think that might have thrown me off. My own posts are philosophically reflective of your own….I’ve personally been through the abortion ordeal long ago, as an attending support participant. It was a necessary thing, as it usually is.regards, Persiflage

  • rohit57

    Abortion is wrong and most couples (or women) who decide to carry out the procedure usually have lingering mental anguish.Or would you like the government (aka the police) to interfere when a man is attacking his wife (or the reverse)?As someone said, your right to swing your arms stops where someone’s nose begins. The right to autonomy does not imply the right to kill.Why is it so difficult for the “I am pro-life, but I respect the right of others to kill” to understand just WHAT it is that they are asking us all to tolerate?We live in a strange time where a woman cannot legally smoke pot – and never mind autonomy, but she CAN kill the life within her womb.

  • onthejourney

    Our energies should be spent to eliminate the chance of a nuclear winter, child abuse, poverty & hunger. When one’s world is brighter then you can truly lessen their need or desire to end a pregnancy.

  • rohit57

    Palin has as much in common with Susan B. Anthony as Brad Pitt does with Gandhi.And, permitting it or encouraging it is also wrong. It was wrong not to help the Jews when they were being killed by Nazis, and it is also wrong to stand aside from the killing of an infant and say, “It is not my business – I respect her right to kill.”

  • farnaz_mansouri2

    It is wrong to enslave the Dalit, Rohit. Concentrate on liberating them. Gandhi would approve.When you get pregnant, you will be free to have your baby. No one is forcing you or any other man one way or the other.In the meantime, the Dalit. !.5 million. And the recent international conference on untouchability, along with books and articles published by Dalit in America suggests you had better get moving.You might want to consider delaying pregnancy for awhile, if birth control is acceptable to you.

  • farnaz_mansouri2

    Hi Persiflage,Yes, I did recommend JJ’s web site. In the past, he had all sorts of astronomical pictures and info. It was very a happy, universe-loving place.Now, it is quite different. You will be surprised!

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