Who Counts as a "Real Woman" at the Women’s March on Washington?

A young girl peeks through signs she is holding as she walks through downtown Chicago during the city's Jan. 18 March for Life. The marchers were calling for an end to abortion. (CNS photo/Karen Callaway, Catholic New World) A young girl peeks through signs she is holding as she walks through downtown Chicago during the city's Jan. 18 March for Life. The marchers were calling for an end to abortion. (CNS photo/Karen Callaway, Catholic New World) 

The Women’s March on Washington, planned for the day after Donald J. Trump’s inauguration, will bring together “people of all genders, ages, races, cultures, political affiliations and backgrounds,” according to the event’s organizers, “to affirm our shared humanity and pronounce our bold message of resistance and self-determination.”To date, over a million people in over 600 locations worldwide have pledged to march on Jan. 21.

Pro-life activists, however, have met resistance from official sponsors of the demonstration. Last Friday, the small pro-life group New Wave Feminists was listed as a partner on the event’s website, alongside Planned Parenthood and NARAL, only to be removed days later with public apologies from the organizers, who released the following statement:

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The Women's March's platform is pro-choice and that has been our stance from day one. We want to assure all of our partners, as well as participants, that we are pro-choice as clearly stated in our Unity Principles. We look forward to marching on behalf of individuals who share the view that women deserve the right to make their own reproductive decisions. The anti-choice organization in question is not a partner of the Women's March on Washington. We apologize for this error.
 

Eight unity principles form the core values of the march. The second principle on reproductive freedom (just after the principle that women’s’ bodies must be “free from all violence”) supports “open access to safe, legal, affordable abortion and birth control.” When a piece in The Atlantic highlighted pro-life participation in the march and featured the New Wave Feminist’s role, a Twitter storm of pro-choice feminists expressed displeasure at the pro-life presence. 

Apparently, the umbrella of shared humanity only opens so far.

In an age that celebrates the dismantling of gender norms and boundaries, the criteria for womanhood at the march are not up for debate. As Christina Cauterucci at Slate writes, "If some women decide they can’t get behind Medicaid-covered abortions, a humane immigration system, and police who answer for their crimes against people of color, the march won’t miss them." To feminists of this cloth, the pro-life mentality is not an opposing view. It is an intrinsic evil, in all circumstances inexcusable, even abhorrent, something to be compared with cruelty toward immigrants and race-motivated violence.

This attitude aggravates an already pronounced cultural divide. It flies in the face of President Obama’s farewelladdress, which urged Americans to embrace a basic sense of solidarity, as well as the healthy debate integral to democratic society.

The exclusion of pro-life partners in the march also fails to acknowledge the complex views on abortion in the United States. In 2016, a Gallup poll found that while 47 percent of Americans identify as pro-choice, 47 percent also believe abortion to be morally wrong, and over one-third of Americans believe abortion should be legal in only a few circumstances. The all-or-nothing mentality of march organizers does not reflect polling data.

Yet given its momentum and media attention, the Women’s March is shaping up to be a veritable thesis statement on what it means to be a woman today, and what it does not.The march’s corseting of pro-life participants creates a special kind of identity crisis for a Catholic feminist. No matter her passion for immigration issues or racial equality, her view of the womb is so offensive that she is not welcome to accompany her sister in a hijab, or a fellow survivor of sexual assault. She has been cast as the single-issue voter she did not claim or want to be.

The rejection of pro-life partnership in the Women’s March sends the message that a pro-life sister, daughter or mother is not only an ideological opponent. She is not a real woman, or if she is, she is the wrong kind.

Such rhetoric is not new. Wendy Doniger, a professor at the University of Chicago Divinity School,wrote in 2008 that Sarah Palin’s “greatest hypocrisy is in her pretense that she is a woman.” Yet we must acknowledge that these denials of womanhood are ultimately a denial of humanity. De-feminization is dehumanization. What happens when we dehumanize those who embody different values, when we believe they are less rational, less worthy of participating in society than we are? Historically, this has not gone well. Let us damn others’ views if we must; but let us not damn their humanity.

The New Wave Feminists will attend the Women’s March anyway, along with other plucky pro-life groups. They will march for the women in the womb, who do not count as real women, either. Less than a week later, a very youthful, very female crowd of similar number will attend the March for Life. Theirs will be a rather different idea of womanhood. While the March for Life platform is not as comprehensive as the unity principles of the Women’s March, the event will acknowledge the intersection of abortion and many of these same unity principles: race, violence, immigration status, disability and worker’s rights.

But there will be no true progress on women’s rights until pro-choice and pro-life groups recognize the shared womanhood that undergirds the principles they espouse. If we are unable to walk a mile in another woman’s shoes, the least we could do is walk alongside her.

Jane Sloan Peters is a second-year doctoral student in historical theology at Marquette University.

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
Crystal Watson
10 months ago
The question isn't 'who is a real woman?' but 'who is a real feminist?'. President Obama, for instance, is a man, but he's also a feminist. Sarah Palin, on the other hand, is a woman but is not a feminist. What all these pro-life women's groups like the New Wave Feminists and the Feminists For Life have in common is the objective of doing away with all legal abortion, even in the cases of incest, rape, or when a woman's health or life is endangered. You can't be a feminist and not believe that women are responsible moral agents. You can't be a feminist and put women's lives at risk. The Woman's March is about feminism, not about being women, and that's why pro-life women's groups don't belong.
alan macdonald
10 months ago
This twisted self-serving logic omits one salient fact. This is a pro-abortion event and if you aren't pro-abortion, you don't belong there.
Joe Kash
10 months ago
I agree with Crystal that this is not a "woman's" march. But I disagree that this is about feminism. Truth in advertisement - This is a "pro-abortion" march. The question is not why the march organizers would want to restrict pro-life woman from marching. The question is why would pro-life women want to take part in an abortion march. This would be akin to an African American taking part in a KKK march or a Jew taking part in a Nazi march. It just does not make sense.
KATHLEEN NOLAN
10 months ago
Thank you Jane Sloan Peters for your insightful and poignant article. Yes, it is disheartening to know that any group has been excluded from this march. This is an opportunity to model inclusivity, tolerance, acceptance even of views that represent opposing perspectives. I hope it is not too late for their to be a change of heart.
Gail Sockwell-Thompson
10 months ago
Pro-abortion is a misnomer, just as pro-life is hypocritical. Supporting a pro-choice position doesn't mean advocacy for abortion. Pro-choice is a position of support for abortion as an option. Given that many 'so called pro-lifers' abandon any semblance of concern once the head crests, I just call them 'no choicers'. The march is for women who respect women and their right to make choices about their lives. Those against abortion should be fighting to empower women and to ensure a level of equality and support that eliminates the need for abortion as an option. Until you are ready to do that, please don't call yourself pro-life, because you aren't.
Ryder Charles
10 months ago
Pope Francis has called abortion an "absolute evil". Two months ago he called it a "horrendous crime". He earlier quoted the words from "Gaudium et Spes" that call abortion is an "unspeakable crime". You say that "Pro-choice is a position of support for abortion as an option". So it is ok to support an option for an "absolute evil", a "horrendous crime" and an "unspeakable crime"? If you can't find it within yourself to agree with Pope Francis, at least cut some slack to pro-lifers who do agree with him. The pro-lifers I know do not quit on a person once "the head crests". I pray before an abortion clinic. I also visit people who are incarcerated in prison. I've visited mothers with babies in filthy motels trying to find them an apartment. I've driven children and their father to the pediatrician because they lacked transportation. I am unequivocally against the death penalty and torture in all its forms. Stop judging.
Luigi Pecoraro
10 months ago
And once again the voice of the man is excluded from the abortion conversation. Assuming two consenting adults engage in intercourse and procreate a child why does only one person, the woman, have the right to end that life? Are we assuming the male is always willing to consent and agree to abortion of a child they were part of creating? What if the man objects and wants the child? Why does the man's voice not count here? Are we going to rail against all men for all their past sins against women or see in the very moment when a man and woman come together consensually they share the responsibility of their mutuality and the consequences?
Robert Klahn
10 months ago
Maybe we can consider that when the discussion gets beyond the one point of having sex, and gets into the lifetime commitment including giving the woman the chance to be more than a house keeper and child care worker.
Lisa Weber
10 months ago
A man has far more say if he is married to the woman who is pregnant by him. His commitment to marriage signifies his commitment to any children conceived. The man's commitment to the woman and the child she is carrying is very important but it should be made before the pregnancy begins. Women have more say in matters of reproduction because the burden of bearing and raising children falls more heavily on women. It is not always fair, but it is the reality of the situation.
Jim Lein
10 months ago
Pro-life and pro-choice should be able to march together. Pro-choice and pro-life are not opposites. Except that they have come to be seen that way. Women can choose to have a baby or another baby. That's pro-life and pro-choice. But pro-life self-labelers have narrowed the meaning of pro-life, and their labeling has stuck. And pro-choice people have let them get away with it. Language is very important here. Pro-life people have called abortion murder, another labeling job. In fact, abortion is abortion and murder is murder. Abortion is like murder. Abortion is also like suicide. But if anything is unique, abortion is. Clarity of language, and careful use of language, could help us bridge the divide between pro-life and pro-choice factions.
Lisa Weber
10 months ago
Thank you for this thoughtful commentary.
Lisa Weber
10 months ago
We might make more progress if we excluded abortion from politics. A woman is more than her womb. Women have political concerns other than reproduction. Focusing on abortion in politics is what brought this completely unfit president-elect to office. What will it take to make people realize that abortion is something that cannot be effectively addressed by laws anyway? I wish the entire issue had been left out of the Women's March. I will march on Saturday despite the monumental stupidity of discussing abortion again.
Robert Klahn
10 months ago
The very fact that you bring Sarah Palin into any serious discussion strongly suggests you are not serious. You can shout "pro-life" all you want, but until you stand for the Catholic Pro-Life positions you are not pro-life. Yes, you do need to make it comprehensive. The Catholic Church preaches feeding the hungry, housing the homeless, not just a right to work for less but a right to a job that pays a living wage. Medical care for all and education and opportunity are also part of the Church's pro-life teaching. Until you stand for that you have no chance of success. I have heard it said Abortion brought the US a culture of death. That's a lie. The Culture of death has been in this country for far longer than abortion has been legal. Until you end the culture of death you can't end abortion. I plan to try to persuade the Ohio Democratic Party to start now to prepare to win the next congressional election in districts where Republicans hold the seats. My plan includes trying to recruit pro-life Catholics to run for office. However, I will work to recruit only REAL pro-life Catholics, those who support the whole program, and to whom changing the laws on abortion are less important than fixing the problems that make the road to success lead to the door of the abortion clinic as often as the class room.
Gail Sockwell-Thompson
10 months ago
Thank you Robert! Now that's a pro-life stance I can get behind.
Jim Lein
10 months ago

Well said. As a retired clinical social who has seen many woman in impossible situations for having and raising a child or another child, I have seen up close the effects of the culture of death in our society. So true: "The culture of death has been in this country far longer than abortion has been legal." There's little or no room for pregnant women or nursing women in our society. Can't help but think of the old Cheers episode where the guys were passing around the centerfold of the latest Playboy and making typical bar guy positive comments. Then Carla came in with her baby and started nursing it, and they were appalled, disgusted.

Tim O'Leary
10 months ago
Christian women should want no part of this march, which is basically a pro-abortion, pro-gendercide, Christophobic, anti-feminine campaign. It is no more representative of all women than Louis Farrakhan was of all blacks in his math-challenged Million Man March (1995 -<400k showed up). Their so-called unity principles are a laundry list of leftist causes, including the right to be a prostitute (sex worker’s rights), which only protects the sexploitation of women. They also list a right to migrate anywhere. They are mostly upset that pro-lifers in the US (over half the population) might no longer be paying for their abortions.
Crystal Watson
10 months ago
We have to remember that all women are welcomed to walk in the Women's March (men too), even pro-life women. All that happened was that a pro-life women's group was dropped as a "partner" to the march. And that makes sense because that pro-life group wants to abolish women's currently existing rights as decided by the Supreme Court, and the March is all about empowering women and protecting their rights.
Tim O'Leary
10 months ago
Crystal - you know that is spin. They were dropped because there was outrage that a pro-life group, or at least a Christian pro-life group (CAIR - an anti-abortion Muslim is allowed to march), new wave feminists, would dare to represent feminists http://heatst.com/culture-wars/womens-march-on-washington-boots-pro-life-group-after-angry-feminists-complain/. This march is not at all about empowering all women. It is about empowering left-wing feminists only. Look at their unity principles, which is a coalition of LGBTQIA, BLM, sex workers. They have no interest in unity for the millions of women who voted for Trump, for instance (note 54% white women voted fro Trump), and have no interest in gendercide. When they march on Sat, let's see what groups show up and what their speakers say.
Crystal Watson
10 months ago
Yes, there was outrage. Because that pro-life group is working against other women, working to take away our rights, working to overturn the Court's decision. It isn't only left wing women who get abortions. A third of Republicans identify as pro-choice ... http://www.gallup.com/poll/183434/americans-choose-pro-choice-first-time-seven-years.aspx?g_source=abortion&g_medium=search&g_campaign=tiles
Tim O'Leary
10 months ago
Crystal - over 75% of American women are against the on-demand, any age, any reason abortion regime we have today. Many of the so-called pro-choice are for abortion for only the first few weeks of pregnancy. But the feminist activists that will march tomorrow want the any-age, any reason option, and do not care if the child is a girl, as at least half the victims are. It is not possible to be that kind of pro-choice and a real woman. Most Americans know it is killing another human being.
Crystal Watson
10 months ago
The New Wave Feminists want it to be completely abolished in every circumstance and every times - even in cases of rape or when there's a child who is pregnant or when the woman's life is in danger. The latest Pew Forum survey ... "As of 2016, public support for legal abortion is as high as it has been in two decades of polling. Currently, 57% say abortion should be legal in all or most cases, while 39% say it should be illegal in all or most cases." http://www.pewforum.org/2017/01/11/public-opinion-on-abortion-2/
Tim O'Leary
10 months ago
Crystal - to dig deeper into the Pew poll you cite, only 23% want it legal in all cases - the position of the so-called women rights marchers today, and the position of the Democratic Party. The New Wave Feminists ("Badass; Pro-life; Feminists" http://www.newwavefeminists.com/) website has the following quote: "The problem again with the mainstream feminism's "solutions" (like abortion) is that it presumes our equality must LOWER us to a flawed standard. With abortion, they said "Now you, too, can walk away from responsibility." Rather than RAISING men to a standard that would be not only better for the world, but better for them, in every way." - Bureeda Bruner. Abortion is all about killing. But, you cannot kill your way to better women's rights.
Jim Lein
10 months ago

The law, the law, the law. It is not the answer. That is Caesar's way not Jesus' way. Countries with or without legal abortion have about the same abortion rates. Reduction or eradication of poverty is a demonstrable answer. Lower poverty levels have lower abortion rates. IMHO, way too much emphasis has been focused on law change.
Jesus said leave Caesar's way to Caesar. His called us to follow his way of love, mercy, forgiveness and doing all we can to help those in need, which obviously includes women with an unwanted pregnancy. But support is needed before these women become pregnant. One main way is to reduce poverty levels. Yet many self-called pro-life people oppose programs such as TANF, SNAP and Medicaid, even though 95% of food for the poor comes from government programs and even though Pope Francis strongly supports government safety net programs. How else realistically reduce poverty levels in a large society?

Carlos Orozco
10 months ago
The March for Life is, easily, the biggest annual manifestation in America, even though the failing MSM conspires to ignore it year after year. Who knows, maybe they learned a little humbleness in 2016, but I doubt it. Anyway, boys, you can meet pretty girls with values there and march against the current culture of death: that's a win-win for you. Same for the girls. Besides, no point in traveling twice to Washington in a week for diametrically different philosophical positions on humanity and life. Let the feminist ideologues have their own little event, why should Catholics care? Life is too short to invest time trying to be accepted by toxic influences.
Michael Barberi
10 months ago
Rather than debate all the issues that the Women's March on Washington are complaining about (e.g., in a Trump Administration), I will choose one issue that deserves attention. The SCOTUS has declared abortion to be legal in the U.S. based on a woman's "right to choose" what to do about an unplanned and unwanted pregnancy. The funding for abortion services is fully covered by Medicaid. However, there is no funding for those women who might want to choose another alternative, such as: to take the pregnancy to term and give the child up for adoption. If there was adequate funding for this, many women would choose it. Funding would include paying for the "full cost" of comprehensive educational counseling about the alternative to abortion, physician and healthcare professional services, hospital care, adoption services, pre and post delivery psychological counseling, etc. In this way, women can be properly informed about the right to choose an alternative to abortion. At the present time, alternatives to abortion are available but inadequately promoted and not widely known; nor is there adequate educational counseling for such an alternative by abortion providers such as Planned Parenthood.

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