[Editor’s Note: Fiorella Nash is a writer and bioethicist in the United Kingdom with over ten years’ experience researching life issues from a feminist perspective. She speaks often at international conferences and has appeared on radio and in print discussing abortion, gendercide, maternal health and commercial surrogacy. Her book The Abolition of Woman: How Radical Feminism Is Betraying Women was published last year. She is also an award-winning novelist and has published numerous books under the nom-de-plume Fiorella De Maria, including Poor Banished Children, Do No Harm, and We’ll Never Tell Them. She spoke to Charles Camosy about her work in bioethics.]
Camosy: Pro-life feminism in the U.S.–though by no means popular or widely discussed–has been around for a while. First wave feminists here were almost all publicly against abortion. Sidney Callahan, a well-known pro-life feminist, was a kind of co-founder of U.S. bioethics. Quite a few pro-life feminists got significant public attention around the Women’s March. How does pro-life feminism “fit” into a UK political and cultural context?
We are a much smaller voice over here in the UK and it is only fairly recently that pro-life feminism has begun to be discussed, even within pro-life circles. There is no equivalent to Feminists For Life of America, for example. In feminist circles, the hostility has been savage, but I suspect that is the same in the States. We don’t keep to the narrative and we don’t fit within the outdated stereotypes manufactured by pro-aborts (we’re not supposed to be young, female and educated for starters!). However, though we are small in numbers as yet, I have had a huge amount of support from young women who are 100 percent pro-life and 100 percent committed to women’s rights, but who have previously felt excluded from the debate. My feeling is that pro-life feminism is going to play a more and more significant part within the broader pro-life movement.
What do you see as the relationship between patriarchy, misogyny, and abortion?
It is fashionable in some circles to talk about ‘internalized misogyny’ and abortion is a classic example. Whilst women celebrate ‘abortion rights,’ abortion is used to eliminate baby girls and violently to control other women. The women who are coerced into abortion by abusive partners or patriarchal parents are ignored, as are the women who are maimed and even killed in supposedly ‘safe, legal abortions’ (Does anyone remember the name of the woman killed at Kermit Gosnell’s house of horrors?)
The tactics some feminists use to silence women who oppose abortion are no different to the misogynist behavior women have experienced at the hands of abusive men for generations: Verbal bullying, threats, intimidation, gaslighting, social exclusion, the patronizing assumption that women who oppose abortion are ignorant and need educating by their social superiors.
Much of the narrative surrounding abortion is transparently patriarchal in tone. The desperate woman, the benevolent doctor rescuing her from the horrors of pregnancy, carefully shielding her delicate eyes from the ugly reality of what abortion involves. This is one of the main points of my book. We need to question the mythology that has grown up around abortion and see it for what it really is.
Much discussion (and, frankly, argument) within the U.S. pro-life movement surrounds how much state-intervention there should be in supporting women in their pregnancies and raising children. Paid leave from work, help with child care, increased protections at work, etc. The UK has moved in this direction much faster than has the United States. Do you think these structures of support reduce the demand for abortion? How should U.S. pro-lifers think about governmental programs and their relationship to abortion demand?
I don’t feel it would be right for me to tell my U.S. counterparts what their approach to government programs should be as I am aware that the situation in the UK is very different. We have had a National Health Service since after the war and it is an established part of British society. However, I do feel that it is important for pro-life campaigners to work to ensure that pregnant mothers are protected in the workplace and have access to the support they need – financial, practical as well as emotional. I have certainly seen situations in which the lack of a financial safety net has increased abortions. For example, when a number of Eastern European countries joined the EU years ago and there was a large influx of citizens of those countries coming to Britain to work, there were reports of an upsurge in abortions among women from these backgrounds. The abortions were absolutely not wanted, but because the women concerned had arrived in the country too recently to be entitled to maternity pay, they were forced into abortion by the poverty trap. Like the U.S., we have some excellent crisis pregnancy centers run largely by volunteers, but some local councils as well as the abortion industry are doing everything possible to stop them reaching out to the neediest women by pushing for buffer zone legislation.
Young people in the U.S. seem more open to pro-life feminism than older people who tend to identify feminism with abortion rights. They are more open to new ideas and have a very different political and ideological imagination than that of their grandparents. Have you found something similar in the UK?
Very much so. My feeling is that young pro-life women in the UK are under no allusions about the heavily pro-abortion leanings of mainstream feminism, but see this more as a call to action than a reason to abandon the name of feminism altogether. However, the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children, which is the oldest pro-life group in the world, has been incredibly supportive of my work and encouraged me to write my book, even if some of the older members would not necessarily go with that approach themselves.
Britain has fairly extreme abortion laws when compared to many countries in Europe. Do you think pro-life feminism could develop the kinds of legs necessary to convince British people and politicians that abortion ought to be more strictly regulated?
Sadly, the European country with one of the most extreme abortion laws now is Ireland, which is a cause of great distress for European pro-life activists. I would like to see pro-life feminism grow and become more influential in terms of changing attitudes and challenging unjust laws, but at present, we need to be realistic about the current situation in Britain. We do not yet have the Parliamentary support to make any serious changes to the Abortion Act and there are powerful voices in Parliament trying to reverse what restrictions are in place. There is currently a vigorous campaign to supersede the 1967 Abortion Act and to take abortion out of the criminal law altogether, making it as deregulated as possible. Any attempt at present to modify the law in a restrictive direction would be extremely risky and likely to fail, even aside from the kinds of moral problems such proposals can bring with them.
My hope is that if we can bring about a change in current thinking about abortion, we could also bring about changes in the law, and I don’t think pro-life campaigners should be despondent on that score. Social change can occur very quickly. There have been other laws jealously guarded by Parliament which have eventually been overturned. We should not lose hope that the truth will eventually prevail.