When Destiny Herndon-De La Rosa’s New Wave Feminists, a prolife women’s group, was disinvited from the Women’s March on Washington in January 2017, it was the best thing ever to happen to the organization. The controversy provided free publicity and attracted new supporters despite the opposition of feminists like Roxane Gay, Jessica Valenti, and Amanda Marcotte, who argued that feminism had no place for those who were against abortion.
Now, in Pro-Life Feminist, a new documentary directed by Jim Hanon, Hernon-De La Rosa and two other self-described feminists tell the stories of how they came to join the prolife movement. A “manmade feminist,” motivated by the bad behavior of men in her life, Herndon-De La Rosa became pregnant at the age of sixteen and chose to keep her baby. Aimee Murphy, a young, queer, Catholic Latina who directs a prolife nonprofit, also became prolife when faced with an unplanned pregnancy as a teenager. Christina Marie Bennett, an anti-abortion activist and member of the National Black Pro-Life Commission, came to her position as a result of having nearly been aborted herself.
“Feminism is based on human equality. You can’t just leave some humans out,” says Bennett, as she tells the story of how she was almost left out. Her mother was in a gown at the hospital waiting for an abortion when a janitor encouraged her to keep the baby. She did, despite the doctor telling her she needed to go through with the abortion. Then she married the baby’s father in an attempt to put together a life for Christina. “[The plan] didn’t work for them, but it worked for me,” Bennett tells the camera with a rueful smile and shrug.
The question of who abortion works for is central to the prolife feminists’ project. As Hernon-De La Rose puts it, the prolife movement tends to see one person: the child. The feminist movement tends to see one person, too: the woman. “Pro-life feminists see two people. We want to support and protect two people.”
While the three women profiled in Hanon’s documentary are very clear that abortion is a grave evil because it is, well, bad for the baby, their focus in the film is on why it’s bad for the woman, too. Putting aside questions of its effect on the soul (though at least two of the women are religious, they believe the arguments against abortion are accessible to secular audiences), they argue that abortion is bad for women in three specific ways, echoing arguments of some of feminism’s biggest names.
First, abortion violates principles of nonviolence. When Murphy was sixteen, her ex-boyfriend threatened to murder her if she did not have an abortion, and something in her clicked. An atheist at the time, she wasn’t convinced by religious sanctity-of-life arguments, but she recognized that abortion would perpetuate the violence that was being perpetrated against her. Though she doesn’t mention Adrienne Rich’s name, she is agreeing with that second-wave feminist’s claim in Of Women Born that “abortion is violence…. It is the offspring, and will continue to be the accuser, of a more pervasive and prevalent violence, the violence of rapism.”
After a screening of the film at New York’s Sheen Center, Bennett said that abortion masks “one wound with another wound.” She is no stranger to the truly horrifying circumstances in which some women face pregnancy, and she spoke candidly about occasions when asking women to keep their baby is asking them to do a very hard thing. Still, she also echoes Rich, who wrote that “clearly, the first violence done in abortion is on the body and mind of the pregnant woman herself,” whether or not the abortion is legal or illegal, self-induced or medically supervised.
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