Ruth Rosen: Sarah Palin and Feminists for Life

Roundup: Historians' Take

[Ms. Rosen is a visiting professor of history at Berkeley.]

Many people are unfamiliar with Feminists for Life and wonder what the choice of Sarah Palin, who is against abortion rights, signals to the electorate.

Well, let me tell you something about Feminists for Life. In 2003, I decided to investigate this group and its energetic leader, Serrin Foster.
What did it mean, I wondered, to be a feminist and actively fight against the right to choose when or whether to have a child?

So I went to a church in sprawling, suburban, wealthy Danville, California to hear Serrin Foster, president of Feminists for Life, speak on "The Feminist Case Against Abortion"
to a huge crowd of mainly high-school students.

Founded in 1972, one year before the U.S. Supreme Court handed down the historic Roe vs. Wade decision that made abortion legal in the United States, Feminists for Life now focuses exclusively on practical alternatives to abortion for college-age women.

No woman, argues Foster, should ever have to choose between having a child and a career. "Abortion is a reflection that society has failed women," she tells high school and college students as she tours the country.

"Women deserve better choices," she says and points to practical alternatives and resources available to a young woman who has an unwanted pregnancy. She can choose single parenthood and use food stamps or temporary assistance to needy families. She can choose adoption. Or, college-age women can pressure school campuses to offer child care and family housing so that they never, ever, have to choose between a pregnancy and an education.

Feminism is all about having choices, Foster told me, after her talk. I couldn't agree more. Young women, she says, should have the right to bear a child and have access to high-quality, affordable child care. Again, I heartily agreed.

But Foster is cleverly disingenuous. When I asked what she does to promote child care, her answers were vague and evasive. When I read the organization's brochures aimed at campus physicians and psychologists, I found nothing about campaigning for child care. The real goal is to convince professionals to persuade young women to "choose" to bear a baby.

Despite its protestations, Feminists for Life is not really about choice. You can see this on its Web site, where the slogan "refuse to choose" appeared repeatedly. Nor does the organization challenge the real difficulties working mothers face. Instead, it cleverly appropriates the words "feminist" and "choice" to convince young women that abortion is always an unacceptable choice.

Part of the problem is that Foster either does not know her history or purposefully distorts the past. She spoke that night as though she had invented the idea of child care and described pioneer feminists of the 1960s and 1970s as selfish, diabolical creatures who never wanted women to have the choice to bear a child.

But she's wrong. The three demands made at the first national march in New York City in 1970 included child care, equal pay for equal work and the legal right to "choose" an abortion. Many feminists, moreover, spent years trying to persuade the institutions where they worked that real equality for women required family-friendly policies, including child care.

Foster also accused Planned Parenthood and NARAL Pro-Choice America of supporting abortion in order to stay in business. But I had to wonder about her own financial goals when I saw, in the organization's magazine, that I could buy a "stunning new logo pin" in either sterling silver or 24-carat gold for $75.

In the end, I decided that Feminists for Life is neither about feminism nor about choice. It is a cunning attempt to convince young women that choice means giving up the right to "choose."

Sarah Pahlin is the inexperienced woman Sen. John McCain has chosen as his running mate, hoping that she will attract the vital female vote.. It's the worst kind of affirmative action, choosing a person he barely knows, who is completely unprepared to assume any national office. It's like nominating Clarence Thomas for the Supreme Court. It's all about ideology and not about competence.

To put it bluntly, Sarah Pahlin is no Hillary Clinton. Nor does she have the vision and brilliance of Barack Obama. This is an incredible insult to most American women. Just how stupid does he think we are?

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More Comments:

Lorraine Paul - 10/5/2008

'Sarah Palin didn't need a husband with status to work her way up, and she did it the hard way, step by step.'

Sarah Palin can thank the struggle of women like Hilary Clinton that she didn't need a 'husband' etc.

Katrina Smith - 9/9/2008

PS - In case you weren't aware, Hilary only has a few years experience as a Senator - that's a drop in the bucket compared to Sarah Palin's varied experiences in many levels of government. Hilary is no match for Sarah, Hilary was just hoping to further her free ride in government - it's over.

Katrina Smith - 9/9/2008

She's married to a skirt-chaser and she believes that Tammy Wynette song "Stand By Your Man" - probably because she's using him to gain for her own political asprirations - without Bill, she'd be pretty much an unknown.

Sarah Palin didn't need a husband with status to work her way up, and she did it the hard way, step by step. That's something that Hilary will never have the satisfaction of knowing.

It figures that you're a teacher from 'Berzerkly'. If you don't have the patience and time to raise your own children, then don't have any. You're just not mother material if you think it's better to have your children predominantly raised by day-care flunkies.

R.R. Hamilton - 9/7/2008

Prof. Rosen says,

"It's the worst kind of affirmative action, choosing a person he barely knows, who is completely unprepared to assume any national office."

Isn't that what the Democrats -- or more specifically the Democrat super-delegates, since Obama didn't win a majority of the popular vote or the elected delegates -- did to us with the nomination of Obama?

Btw, did the professor misspell Palin's name or was that done by someone else?

Lorraine Paul - 9/5/2008

Ummm! Not ALL men, just the dopey ones!!! LOL

Lorraine Paul - 9/5/2008

..we will find out.

However, I don't think it will be women who will vote for her.

It will be dopey men!!