Women Deserve Better: Changing the Abortion Debate

Serrin Foster of Feminists for Life on a Key Strategy

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WASHINGTON, D.C., MAY 6, 2003 (Zenit.org).- Putting an end to abortion will require redirecting the debate, says a pro-life feminist.



Serrin Foster, president of Feminists for Life of America, shared her thoughts with ZENIT on pro-life feminism and on trends in the abortion controversy. Part 1 of this interview appeared Monday.

Q: A recent New York Times story reported that young people are more pro-life than their parents. What have you found in your experience of dealing with young people?

Foster: It is certainly evident with teens. Even as early as 1996 a Gallup poll reported, "Women with a high school education are more pro-life, 47%, than pro-choice, 37%."

But they also found that the college experience for women is "a major -- even revolutionary -- influence" when it comes to their views on abortion: "Women who have attended college but not completed a four-year program are more pro-choice, 59% -- an increase in the pro-choice group of 22 points. The margin of pro-choice over pro-life responses is even greater among women who have completed a four-year college program -- 73% to 24%."

As I began lecturing about our rich, pro-life feminist history I began to ask, "Do you know anyone on campus who has become pregnant?" Audience members nod. Then I would ask, "Have you ever seen a visibly pregnant student on campus?" The nodding stopped.

According to Planned Parenthood's research arm, the Alan Guttmacher Institute, 10% of all college-age women become pregnant each year. Where have all the pregnant women gone? Most often, women in college have abortions. In fact one in five abortions are performed on a woman in college.

Why? Too often women cannot find the practical or emotional support they need to be both parents and students. Abortion doctors know this and they set up clinics on the outskirts of campus.

As one former FFL board member said when she became pregnant while in grad school, "They say I have a free choice. But without housing on campus for me and my baby, without on-site daycare, without maternity coverage in my health insurance, it sure doesn't feel like I have much of a choice."

Feminists for Life is leading forums on college campuses that challenge university officials to provide housing, on-site child care, and maternity coverage within student health care plans, and to inform women about their hard-won right to child support. We have developed comprehensive Pregnancy Resources Kits to give women resources to support nonviolent choices.

A generation of young people live with the knowledge that many will never know their own siblings and ask "why not?" In ever-increasing numbers, those who oppose making abortion illegal are beginning to work with Feminists for Life on solutions that challenge the status quo. Momentum is growing. Minds are changing.

Q: What are the most effective arguments for winning over young people to a pro-life viewpoint?

Foster: For three decades those of us in America have been arguing at cross-purposes: "What about the baby? What about the woman?" We must redirect the abortion debate by demanding better for women. We should be asking the all-important questions, "What do women want? What do women need?"

At a 2002 "Women Deserve Better" briefing on Capitol Hill, Feminists for Life's honorary co-chair, actor Margaret Colin, asked members of Congress to "remember the woman" and ask themselves, "Is this the best we can do?"

Rather than falling into the baby-vs.-the-woman debate, we challenge the abortion rhetoric with women-centered solutions. Women who are pregnant and abandoned or poor deserve unconditional love, even from perfect strangers.

I recently presented my lecture -- which encompasses feminist history and today's lack of support for pregnant women and parents -- to medical students at the University of Pittsburgh. Afterward, a student told me "at lunch today, I swore that I would be an abortion provider as a doctor, because I saw it as a right and a necessity. I have held my position and been involved in political protests for 15 years. In the time you spoke, I rethought my position completely."

Q: Is the United States ready to abandon the precedent set by the Roe v. Wade abortion decision of the Supreme Court?

Foster: Until women believe that they deserve better, legalized abortion will continue. But the tide is turning.

Approximately 25 million American women know the truth about abortion firsthand, and many are not willing to pass on this terrible legacy to the next generation. They are beginning to speak out in ever-greater numbers about the devastating damage -- both physical and emotional -- as a result of abortion.

Our goal is bigger than making abortion illegal.

It will not be good enough for us to have laws without resources and support for women. Abortion providers will simply move the front office to the back alley. We need to focus on making abortion unthinkable.

Women deserve better, and every child deserves a chance at life.