Is it possible to oppose abortion rights and call yourself a feminist? The well-worn question has arisen again this week as an anti-abortion feminist group has been ousted from its partnership with Saturday’s Women’s March on Washington.
Destiny Herndon-De La Rosa applied for her organization, New Wave Feminists, to become a formal partner of the march in early January. New Wave Feminists describes itself as a “Badass. Pro-life. Feminists.” Herndon-De La Rosa, who lives in the Dallas area, has long been outspoken in her opposition to Donald Trump. “Donald Trump is the guy who asks to buy you a drink at the bar and when you tell him you’re not interested, he calls you as a cunt and says he didn’t want to do it anyway,” she told me in August. Today, she told me she accepts the election results but wants to do her part to speak up against the president-elect’s misogyny. She sees the march as “a strong, united female voice to say ‘we’re watching you and we’re holding you accountable,” she said. “We were really excited to be included in that voice.”
The March has hundreds of official partners, and New Wave Feminists was added to that list on Friday. In an in-depth story in the Atlantic, reporter Emma Green described how the Women’s March was shaping up to be a feminist space that welcomed women from along various ideological spectrums. Bob Bland, one of the event’s co-chairs, told Green that “We must not just talk about feminism as one issue, like access to reproductive care,” and said she was happy to see women of all backgrounds involved. “Perhaps the Women’s March on Washington is a sign that feminism is changing,” Green wrote: “a first gathering of a truly ‘intersectional’ movement which makes room for women with diverse convictions, including a moral opposition to abortion.”
Not so fast! Several prominent feminist writers quickly pushed back online:
Intersectional feminism does not include a pro-life agenda. That's not how it works! The right to choose is a fundamental part of feminism.— roxane gay (@rgay) January 16, 2017
Horrified that the @womensmarch has partnered w/an anti-choice org. Plse reconsider - inclusivity is not about bolstering those who harm us.— Jessica Valenti (@JessicaValenti) January 16, 2017
https://t.co/Rn6myKjRSD Nope, you cannot be anti-choice and feminist. Forcing birth on unwilling women is a misogynist act.— Amanda Marcotte (@AmandaMarcotte) January 16, 2017
The march’s leadership responded almost as quickly, removing New Wave Feminists from its list of partners and issuing a statement that said the march’s platform is pro-choice and that “the anti-choice organization in question is not a partner of the Women’s March on Washington. We regret the error.” Herndon-De La Rosa sounded amused by the idea that her inclusion was an “error.” She said she had to submit a bio and links to her website and social media accounts in her application, all of which make clear that her goal is to “make abortion unthinkable.” She also said no one from the march contacted her before revoking her partnership and releasing the statement. (The co-chair of the march who sent Herndon-De La Rosa confirmation of her group’s partnership did not respond to an email request for comment as of Tuesday morning.)
The Women’s March platform, released last week, is indeed firmly pro-choice. Herndon-De La Rosa applied for partnership before that platform was released, but it didn’t stop her from being willing to stand side by side with women with whom she profoundly disagrees on the question of abortion rights. “We have a different opinion, but there are so many ways our beliefs overlap,” she told me. “The idea that feminism is this club, and you can be anything you want but not pro-life is so ironic.”
Of course, feminism is a kind of club—if it has no shared principles, then it has no meaning. But by publicly rejecting the “membership” of women who oppose abortion rights, feminist leaders leave many potential allies on other issues behind. That may be a rational calculation for the sake of movement unity, but it’s no small number of people to reject. A 2015 poll by PPRI found that more than half of millennial women who identify as feminists consider themselves pro-life (18 percent) or both pro-life and pro-choice (37 percent).
When she first applied for partnership in this weekend’s march, Herndon-De La Rosa had expected to attend with between 50 and 100 pro-life feminist peers, including representatives of Life Matters Journal and other groups. She is still planning on attending—she’s flying to Washington on Friday—and she hopes the publicity over her revoked partnership status will encourage even more people to turn out. Her group has signs all ready to go, with slogans including “Pro-peace, Pro-life,” “Women are never property, even in the womb,” and “Abortion is the epitome of ‘Might makes right.’ ” She could add one more, a quote from Hillary Clinton in an interview last spring: “Of course you can be a feminist and be pro-life.”