Two weeks ago, I attended a panel discussion hosted by the Susan B. Anthony group on pro-life feminism. I was particulary struck by a woman in the audience who was wearing a yellow sweater and asked the question: “Is there a role for a left-wing or liberal female politician who is also pro-life and can win?” That woman’s name is Sharon Beth Long. She read my post, and here is her response. Read the original post, “Reaching Out to the Woman in the Yellow Sweater,” here .
Dear Ms. Grose:
I am the woman in the yellow sweater. I determined that I was “pro-life” after reading about the biology of fetal development but remained in the closet (how could I be a “right-to-lifer” when I was so left-wing and hip?) until I saw what abortion was doing to my friends. It became increasingly clear to me that the overwhelming majority of women had abortions not because they had a choice but because they did not have a choice-not choices that they truly considered viable, at any rate.
I became so outraged that I gulped and called the National Right to Life Committee and said, “I believe a fetus is a person but I am a lefty. What can I do?” They referred me to two organizations, Pro-Lifers for Survival (now called Consistent Life) and Feminists for Life, to which I still belong. In fact, I am a past board member of Feminists for Life. Feminists for Life’s literature showed me how the same social, cultural, and political forces that oppress women lead to the objectification of the fetus and drive women to abortion.
At the time I found FFL, I was a graduate student in public administration. I had initially gone to graduate school to “make a difference” in social welfare policy. I believed then, and still believe today, that government policies and programs can go a long way toward giving women real choices. I became active at my local pregnancy care center and the right-to-life group, which was made up largely of liberal-leaning government bureaucrats. (I was based in Albany, N.Y.) My work with women facing unplanned pregnancies led me into government child-support enforcement, a program that many conservatives oppose as too “bureaucratic” and “intrusive.”
The “yellow sweater” that I was wearing to the panel is actually a nursing warm-up jacket. I came to the event from a night shift at a state psychiatric hospital where I work with the most marginalized and vulnerable of society. I see this work as a logical extension of my pro-life conviction. Many people are sympathetic to the right-to-life movement because they can identify with the fetus they once were; they understand that they themselves are vulnerable and that their future is largely subject to the choices of those who are more powerful. I believe that this is largely why immigrants and people from lower socioeconomic strata are more pro-life than elites.
Conservative politicians need to be pro-life in order to win enough votes from working class individuals. For many people nothing is more empowering than giving life and helping ensure our future through nurturing a new generation. This is why so many lower-middle-class, working class, and poor people are willing to vote for conservative candidates, although it may seem counter to their economic interests. A pro-life political platform combined with a program which provides real assistance to struggling people, which acknowledges their vulnerability and at the same time gives them hope for the future (look at the success of President Obama) in the same way that childbirth and young children do, will be unstoppable.
Meanwhile, I believe that there are many opportunities for feminists, both pro-life and pro-choice, to work together-as we have in the past, successfully passing the Violence Against Women Act and the Family and Medical Leave Act. Today we celebrate the inclusion of coverage for working poor women in the State Child Health Insurance Program and the brand-new Pregnancy Assistance Fund, especially the portion based on FFL’s College Outreach Program, devoted to developing and establishing resources for pregnant and parenting college students. Years ago, FFL and pro-choice feminists worked together to fight a mandate for states to implement the so called “family cap” in welfare reform. In the coming year, we need to renew our shared commitment to women, and cooperate on various progressive initiatives to make the workplace friendlier to pregnant women, birthmothers, and parents-solutions that feminists of all stripes can support.
Sharon Beth Long