Can Pro-Choice Feminists Welcome Pro-Life Women Into the Movement?

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Destiny Herndon-De La Rosa, founder of the Dallas-based group New Wave Feminists, says she just wanted to protest President-elect Donald Trump's inauguration — his misogynistic actions and comments of the past — at the Women's March on Washington, where thousands of feminists and women's rights advocates are expected to gather the day after he takes office.

She said she was feeling "incredibly encouraged" at first by how inclusive the Women's March organizers appeared to be — allowing her clearly self-labeled pro-life feminist group to march as listed partners with mostly pro-choicers!

But then an article ran in The Atlantic highlighting that interesting partnership. And then suddenly, everything was no longer going so swell with the organizers of the January 21 march. The organizers had removed New Wave Feminists as a listed partner hours after the article ran, assuring participants and other partners that this march stood specifically on a pro-choice platform.

"We look forward to marching on behalf of individuals who share the view that women deserve the right to make their own reproductive decisions," they wrote in a statement. "The anti-choice organization is not a partner of the Women's March on Washington. We apologize for the error."

Herndon-De La Rosa founded New Wave Feminists in hopes of making room in the feminist movement for women who are pro-life yet otherwise feel maligned by pro-choice mainstream feminism. Women who still care about equal pay and who condemn misogyny (particularly from a certain someone who bragged about grabbing women by their genitals), yet who, on one polarizing issue, have a different opinion.

Now, after the group's removal from Women's March on Washington's list of partners, Herndon-De La Rosa has forged front and center the question of whether mainstream feminists are willing to welcome pro-life feminists into the movement — or even into this specific march.

"It's frustrating to see the more prominent feminist movement say, 'You can be anything you want to be as a woman — except for pro-life. You can't be that,'" Herndon-De La Rosa said.

For a large number of feminists in the mainstream pro-choice movement, the idea of standing in solidarity with those on the pro-life side of the aisle is still difficult to make sense of.

Roxanne Werner of the Houston Feminist Movement said she sees many of the issues that women fight for as interrelated, and that it's hard to separate these from the abortion debate — particularly in Texas, a state where attacking Planned Parenthood is like a daily exercise. Better access to women's reproductive health care and the right to choose abortion, she said, ties back to pregnancy-related workers' rights. If women can't access birth control, or, if it comes down to it, abortion, are they still equipped to succeed in the workplace should they become pregnant and not have proper benefits in place?

"It's really hard to accept an organization that is adamantly trying to scale back women's access to health care as an organization that is feminist and advocating for the rights of women," she said. "That's just contradictory, and we've really seen the damage it can do in Texas. It's hard for anyone who's been involved in the feminist movement to say we can fight alongside [pro-life women] today — and tomorrow you'll go back to trying to take away our health care."

Herndon-De La Rosa doesn't see it that way. To be clear, she said the group does not advocate for making abortion illegal, but does believe it is morally wrong. She says she is fine with Texas politicians pushing to defund Planned Parenthood — but says they put too much energy into it and not nearly enough into alternative solutions and offering women better access to health care. She believes the end goals among all feminists are truly similar — with the exception of abortion.

"It's become such a political hot-button issue that people don't look at the gray area and the nuances," she said. "Why am I a pro-life feminist? Because for so long, I believe, women were treated as property. No human being should be treated as property — we just choose to extend that to unborn children in the womb as well."

Houston's women's march will commence at City Hall on the same day as the Washington march. Aimee Mobley Turney, president of the feminist organization League of Women Voters of the Houston Area, said that despite the expected anti-Trump protesters, it's still a nonpartisan march, and everyone, including pro-life women, should feel welcome.

"I feel disappointed when I hear people feel like they can't stand side by side with people who have the opposite opinion of them," she said. "When you exclude a person or a group because they don't agree with you, then you're missing out on a lot of opportunities to have more power.

"Frankly, if it doesn't happen, we're doomed."

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