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Can you be a feminist and pro-life?

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Fiorella Nash, a writer and bioethicist who has spent over ten years researching pro-life and pro-woman issues from a feminist perspective, has written a hard-hitting book which should be read by every woman who calls herself a feminist. Titled The Abolition of Woman: How Radical Feminism is Betraying Women (Ignatius Press), it analyses every form of female exploitation and rebuts the dishonest arguments used to bolster them – whether it is abortion, forced sterilisation, gendercide, reproduction that is outsourced to impoverished Third World women or prostitution.

I ask Fiorella why she calls herself a “pro-life feminist”. Isn’t this a contradiction in terms? She agrees that she would have thought so when she first came across the term. Indeed, she had once denounced contemporary feminism – only for a reader to send her a book of essays on pro-life feminism “which radically challenged my attitudes and convinced me that there is such a thing as pro-life feminism.”

Warming to her theme, she argues that “authentic feminism should be pro-life. It grew out of a rejection of the idea that women are the property of men; by what justification therefore, can we treat our own offspring as property? No movement that truly believes in justice and equality seeks to achieve those goals through the sacrifice of innocent lives.”

I am curious to know what motivates her: the campaign for true equality between the sexes or her Catholic faith – or if I am making a false distinction. Fiorella is quick to tell me that she is “unashamedly Catholic” and that growing up she was inspired by “stories of extraordinary women like Catherine of Siena and Theresa of Avila.” Further, she attended the Cambridge College for long associated with the Catholic philosopher Elizabeth Anscombe.” But she was also motivated by “the vision of the early feminists and by Pope John Paul II’s call for a New Feminism.”

I mention that in her book she refers to the movement Feminists for Life in the US. Does she share similar goals? She responds that this movement “was a big inspiration to me when I first started down this route”, adding that “we share many goals, although much of their work is focused on the US. Being based in Britain, I tend to draw more on the UK experience but I am also very keen to draw attention to the status of women in developing countries.”

Fiorella reminds me that “The British government is a major donor to agencies promoting abortion in Africa and this is something we should all be concerned about.”

I note that in her book she mentions a possible link between abortion and breast cancer. A hugely controversial topic, I want to know if it is possible to raise the subject with pro-choice feminists. Fiorella believes “it is very difficult to raise this issue because the entire debate has been so aggressively silenced. “ She emphasises that “I am not an oncologist so it is not my place to discuss whether or not the link is correct – but I am concerned about the closing down of the debate, the hostile manner with which dissenting scientists are treated and the impact this may have on a woman’s right to full information.”

She points out that a film-maker who supports abortion and who recently made a film entitled Hush! about this very issue, experienced a startling level of hostility from the medical and scientific communities.”

Knowing that Fiorella admires the vision of the early feminists, I am interested to know how feminism moved from being pro-life to being “pro-choice”. She informs me that many people are surprised to learn that “the early feminists viewed abortion as yet another way in which a patriarchal society oppressed women. It was only in the 1960s that women’s groups embraced the idea of abortion as a right.” She reflects that in her view “this was deeply connected with the beginnings of the sexual revolution and the myth of no-consequences sex. A much more comprehensive study of abortion and feminism was written by an eye-witness, Sue Ellen Browder, in Subverted: How I Helped the Sexual Revolution Hijack the Woman’s Movement.”

And what made her choose such a provocative title? Fiorella tells me “it is a nod to CS Lewis’s Abolition of Man (1943) and reflects the provocative theme of the book.” She is convinced that “radical feminism has let women down and has betrayed women everywhere because of its dogmatic obsession with promoting and defending abortion. That may seem like an extraordinary statement – but where were the radical feminists in their pussy hats when Chinese women were being forced into abortions? Where are radical feminists when baby girls are being aborted in India at a rate of one per minute? Where are the brave feminists in their Handmaid’s Tale bonnets protesting against the exploitation and violation of women’s bodies through commercial surrogacy? Where is the vocal protest when the likes of Kermit Gosnell are running filthy abortion facilities, killing babies and abusing women?”

Fiorella apologises for what “sounds like a rant”, but adding: “When a movement becomes so ideologically committed to promoting abortion that it bullies and silences any woman who challenges the status quo and ignores or actively colludes in the abuse of women through abortion, it needs to be called to account.”