Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Susan B. Anthony Was Many Things, But Not Pro-Life

In the past few years, pro-lifers have taken up the feminist moniker. Sarah Palin, who seems now to make a living of speaking fees, has appeared before pro-life audiences touting feminism as a way for women to support anti-choice legislation.

The root of this newly adopted feminism seems to be from the work of long-recognized first-wave feminist Susan B. Anthony, who is dead and therefore can't make a stand on the subject. The group Feminists for Life have photos of Anthony on their websites as well as links to the "whole history" of feminism. Furthermore, there's the Susan B. Anthony List, a sort anti-Emily's List, which is a political PAC that seeks to get pro-life women elected to office. It was at a Susan B. Anthony List breakfast that Palin noted that Anthony was her inspiration for entering the pro-life movement.

But two historians, Ann Gordon and Lynn Sherr, over at the Washington Post's On Faith section note that whatever ideals modern pro-lifers may want to ascribe to the historic figure, her stance on abortion simply can't be one of them:
For nearly 30 years, both of us have been immersed in Susan B. Anthony's words - Ann as the editor of Anthony's papers, Lynn as the author of a biography. We have read every single word that this very voluble - and endlessly political - woman left behind. Our conclusion: Anthony spent no time on the politics of abortion. It was of no interest to her, despite living in a society (and a family) where women aborted unwanted pregnancies.
Generally the works ascribed to Anthony come from a newspaper she owned following the Civil War. But the article in question was simply signed by "A." and there's no historic evidence to suggest that Anthony was the author or that she ever used such a signature.

And, the authors go on to point out, other tenants of Anthony's ideology directly contradict other intersecting movements for today's pro-lifers. Though pro-life folks generally find allies in the small-government conservatism movement, Anthony herself was a strong federal advocate:
In a shout-out to the Tea Party Friday, Sarah Palin said, "That's enough, federal government, enough of your overreach, and we're going to do something about it!" This in the name of a leader who, in her lifetime, was one of America's most consistent advocates of federal power, with its promise of overriding ill-conceived and discriminatory state laws.
So while many modern pro-lifers may want to take up Anthony as a face of their cause, it seems they're simply rewriting history.


Amanda Marcotte said...

If there was a modern day anti-suffrage movement, anti-choicers would support it. I'm sure their excuse would be they have to do it to save babies. Perhaps voting causes spontaneous abortions, or maybe just letting women vote means legal abortion.

Brett said...

Great post. I will be linking to it in a post of my own about how Sarah Palin has attempted to re-write feminist history and hijack the legacy of Susan B. Anthony, among others.

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