Kermit Gosnell: Abortion Doctor Debate Needs Feminist Faith


Our political debates about abortion, including those we’ve had in the aftermath of the atrocities that Kermit Gosnell committed in its name, center on language and rights. But abortion opponents — whether violent or benign — speak not only, or even primarily, of rhetoric and physical access. These things are merely tactics, means to an end. At the heart of anti-choice arguments — and beliefs — sits a patriarchal Christian God. 

In the extreme version of this world view, God is male, feminists are femi-nazis (who, according to Rush Limbaugh, want to ensure “as many abortions as possible are performed”), women are organic baby-making machines, and personhood begins as soon as egg meets sperm. Pro-choice advocates speak of a woman’s rights, of reproductive health and choice, of access and poverty and racism, all of which are vital parts of the conversation.  But because we do not also speak of God on a regular basis in the mainstream media, as a core component of why abortion should be legal, accessible, and safe, our argument cedes ground to a diminished view of womanhood that claims divine providence.

Feminist faith knows this, and refutes it. 

Feminist Christianity, as articulated by Elizabeth A. Johnson and the Rev. Dr. Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite, among others, recognizes that women are made in the image of God, as surely and completely as men are. Thus, women are on equal ground — secular and sacred — with men in all areas of experience, including sex and reproduction.

Anti-choice advocates say that feminist faith has a “radical agenda” and feminists don’t care about unborn babies. That, if only we could get more women to see that abortion murders an unborn baby, we would stop fighting and end this abortion nonsense.

Believe me, after reading about Gosnell, I was thinking about the dead babies. And I'll bet I'm not the only feminist of faith who was.

I’m a mother. I’m a Christian. I’m a feminist. I’m pro-choice, pro-birth when the baby is a baby and her or his time to exit the womb arrives, and very much pro-contraception, which lowers abortion rates. My support of abortion is a part of my faith — not only because I value women, but because I value children. And I know, just as there is a difference between a miscarriage and a stillbirth, there is a difference between a first-trimester abortion and a later abortion.

Lots of people of faith know this, and are having honest conversations about it, whether they name themselves feminists or not. These conversations recognize that abortion is a complex issue — it deals, after all, with the sacred dance between a woman and her developing child. These conversations also recognize that the mother is, and should be, in control of her own fertility — not just for secular reasons, but for sacred ones. 

When we listen to the conversations about abortion in non-Christian religious organizations, we hear another vital point: patriarchal Christianity, as codified into American law, is limiting the reproductive freedom of all American women, regardless of faith. 

Here are some of the voices we need to hear from regularly in the Atlantic and the Nation, on CNN and MSNBC (and yes, oh yes, on Fox News):

Catholics for Choice: Pro-choice Catholics who discuss how abortion fits into Catholic thought and the necessary considerations when a woman needs a later abortion.

The Christian Left: A group of liberal Christians who view abortion as a “wedge issue” introduced by the Christian Right.

The National Council of Jewish Women: Believes no one religious belief should be imposed on us all, and works to ensure abortion rights and other policies that improve the lives of women, children, and families.

The Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice: People from all faith traditions dedicated to achieving reproductive justice. Emphasizes that an estimated 43% of women in the U.S. will have at least one abortion by the time they are 45-years-old.

We need to hear these voices — we need feminist faith — to punt what the grand jury at Kermit Gosnell’s trial called “the political football of abortion,” and create a safe, sane, healthy approach to the way in which American women make decisions about their health and families.