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Panel discusses pro-life feminist perspective

| Thursday, April 11, 2019

It is not uncommon to hear in contemporary discourse that it is impossible to be feminist and pro-life; that in order to be a real feminist, you must support abortion rights. The McGrath Institute for Church Life and Notre Dame’s Office of Campus Ministry co-sponsored a panel discussion titled “Pro-Life Feminism” to discuss whether pro-life feminism is an oxymoron.

The panel, which was held in the Midfield Commons in the Duncan Student Center on Tuesday afternoon, featured Abigail Favale of George Fox University, Kristin M. Collier of the University of Michigan Medical School, and Charlie Camosy of Fordham University.

The panelists each brought a different perspective to the table. Collier, who completed her internal medicine residency and chief medical resident year at the University of Michigan Health System, looked at abortion from the medical point of view: how the mother and child are physically and emotionally connected.

Favale, as an associate professor of English at the William Penn Honors Program, spoke about women’s rights and human rights from the perspective of theology, philosophy and academics.

Camosy, the only male on the panel and a professor of ethics in Fordham’s Theology department, looked at the history of the first-wave and second-wave feminism movement and how abortion has tied into feminism in the past.

One of the main topics discussed was simply what pro-life feminism is. The three panelists said feminism is the idea that women shouldn’t have to change or be ashamed of their natural biology and fertility in order to succeed in society.

“Instead of trying to adapt our culture to the reality of female biology and the possibility of pregnancy, we’ve instead asked women to change their bodies in ways that are often violent,” Favale said. “This creates a war between women and their bodies. It makes fertility a threat. … I think there are more philosophical inconsistencies on pro-abortion feminist views than a view that tries to consider the good of a woman both in harmony with her fertility, her ability to be pregnant and her ability to be a mother.”

For Collier, the nature of a woman’s body goes beyond philosophy. Speaking from her perspective as a doctor, Collier said new studies show how a baby’s cells can enter a mother’s blood stream and affect her for decades.

Because of the biological interconnectedness of a mother and its offspring, Collier said it is immoral that society prevents a woman from truly embracing her biology through pregnancy.

“If we think about reclaiming a space for women’s biology that honors our amazing power of reproduction and that honors our future sisters and brothers, we must remake these social constructs to honor the dignity of women and our biology and our differences,” Collier said.

Camosy further discussed society’s discomfort with pregnancy, calling it “the pathologizing of pregnancy.” He read out a passage from the Planned Parenthood v. Case Supreme Court case in order to demonstrate how society has demonized and pathologized pregnancy.

“The ability of women to participate equally in the economic and social life of the Nation has been facilitated by their ability to control their reproductive lives,” the case said.

To this, Camosy said, “If women are pitted against their prenatal children in this way, if literally pitting against their prenatal children is required for the economic and social equality, that is oppressive. That is offensive. We ought to do better in terms of providing paid family leave and affordable child care.”

At the end of the panel discussion, the three panelists emphasized the importance in opening up conversations about abortion and looking at pregnancy from many different viewpoints; there is not pro-life and pro-choice binary system, there are many different perspectives that need to be heard.

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