On Saturday, as many as 200,000 are expected to join the Women’s March organized in protest of Donald Trump’s victory in November’s US presidential election. This symbolic act is meant to signal solidarity and a united response, but there’s one plank of the protest platform that is proving to be a source of discord among American women: abortion.
Last week, the Women’s March organizers released a platform calling for “open access to safe, legal, affordable abortion and birth control for all people, regardless of income, location or education.” Linda Sarsour, one of the main organizers of the march said that the platform, which covers everything from reproductive rights to immigration and disability, was deliberately wide-ranging in order to be open to everyone, even if they don’t agree with specific parts of its mission. “We don’t believe a quarter million people will see themselves in every platform,” Sarsour said. “We are not a pro-abortion march, we are a pro-women march.”
But women who are anti-abortion—a group that includes one in six women who supported Hillary Clinton—have expressed feeling unwelcome at the march. This raises a question that has plagued women’s rights in the US for years: Can you be anti-abortion and still be a feminist?
Erika Bachiochi, a pro-choice activist, wrote in CNN:
I did not vote for President-Elect Donald Trump and continue to question his fitness to serve. Thus I am unsurprised that hundreds of thousands of women would want to protest his election this coming Saturday, the day after the inauguration. I am surprised, however, that the leaders of the Women’s March on Washington—and most feminists today—are so unwilling to listen to an alternative feminist perspective, one with deep roots in feminist history and a good deal to offer to women today.
Pro-choice organizations like Planned Parenthood and NARAL Pro-Choice America are co-sponsoring the Women’s March events. But in early January, before the platform was released, there was an unlikely addition to the formal partners of the march: New Wave Feminists, a group that describes itself as “Badass. Pro-life. Feminists.” Destiny Herndon-De La Rosa, the group’s founder, told Slate that she saw the march as “a strong, united female voice to say ‘we’re watching you and we’re holding you accountable,” adding that the group was “really excited to be included in that voice.”
Initially, the march took an inclusive approach. “Intersectional feminism is the future of feminism and of this movement,” Bob Bland, one of the event’s co-chairs, told The Atlantic, in a piece published on Monday, Jan. 16. In fact, The Atlantic reported that a few hundred pro-life women were planning to attend the Women’s March on Washington. However, the decision to be inclusive was heavily criticized on social media.
On Monday afternoon, following the criticism, the Women’s March organizers removed the New Wave Feminists from their website and list of partners. “The Women’s March’s platform is pro-choice and that has been our stance from day one,” the organizers said in a statement. “The anti-choice organization in question is not a partner of the Women’s March on Washington. We apologize for this error.”
The new Wave Feminists are not alone; the New York Times reports that the anti-abortion student organization Students for Life of America (SLFA) applied to become a sponsor of the march but was ignored. “It further proves that this is what the abortion industry does,” SLFA president Kristan Hawkins told The Washington Post: “They have taken over any talk of feminism in the country to point out that if you are anti-abortion, you are accused of being anti-woman.”
Hawkins still plans to attend, and will prominently display insignia that shows her anti-choice stance.
Abby Johnson, an anti-abortion activist who formed a group that helps abortion clinic workers leave their jobs, told the Washington Post that she will participate in the march but will still make her anti-choice stance known:
I think it’s important that a pro-life feminist voice is there. I am not going to protest, I am going to join in solidarity. And to be honest, abortion is not the only issue I’m concerned about. I’m concerned about the pay gap. I’m concerned about the lack of women in the political arena. There are a lot of things that are important to me.
Herndon-De La Rosa too plans to attend the event, and hopes that the publicity from the incident attracts even more people to the march.
But other women who are anti-abortion are staying away from the march. Pro-life activist Charmaine Yoest, a senior fellow at American Values, told the New York Times that she felt the march was not representative of American women. “This is what we conservative women live with all the time, this idea that we somehow aren’t really women and we just reflect internalized misogyny. I think [the organizers of the march] are a wholly owned subsidiary of the abortion movement.”
Maria Lyon, who describes herself as feminist and pro-life, also will not be attending. She told the New York Times, “It’s hard, because right now it feels like if you’re pro-life, you’re anti-woman. That’s kind of the traditional rhetoric. It’s like if you care about women and you care about women’s rights then you should be pro-choice.”
One week after the Women’s March, tens of thousands of women will march in the largest annual anti-abortion demonstration in America March for Life. Jeanne Mancini, the head of the March for Life organizing committee, said that she did not want to attend the Women’s March after they released their pro-choice platform. “I would have wanted to march because I’m pro-women, I’m 100% pro-women. I want little girls to be empowered to know that they can be anything they want to be,” she told the Washington Post. “I have never felt left out from the feminist movement. I feel more misunderstood and frustrated.”
The issue will likely continue to afflict women’s movements in America under the incoming administration.“I think this march will be discussed for a very long time, because this march raises in a very powerful way the question of who can rightfully be called a feminist, what does feminist organizing mean in the 21st century,” Carole Joffe, a sociologist and reproductive rights advocate at the University of California, San Francisco, told the New York Times. “Is it even possible to have a conception of American feminism that does not involve pro-choice and pro-contraception?”