AS WOMEN MARCHED ACROSS WASHINGTON, D.C. and the rest of the world on January 21, a resistance to the resistance was brewing on social media. Women copied, pasted, and shared a lengthy text post, which alleged that the Women’s March was uninterested in global issues — in spite of the fact that it was literally a global demonstration — and that institutional sexism was dead in the U.S. Attributed to “Christy Juhasz” and bearing the hashtag #NotMyMarch, the post reduced the demonstrations to “wearing a pink vagina hat on your head and screaming profanities and bashing men.” Needless to say, it prompted a wave of nuanced backlash, and was largely drowned out by coverage of the demonstration.
Still, there were women who felt that the Women’s March on Washington had excluded them, due to a rumor that pro-life individuals and groups were unwelcome. Conservative news outlets bashed Women’s March organizers and protesters for being hypocritical. After all, how could an organization based on solidarity for all women exclude those who oppose abortion? As it turns out, quite easily, and for a good reason.
Reproductive rights are one of the Women’s March’s “Unity Principles.” From the Women’s March on Washington website:
We believe in Reproductive Freedom. We do not accept any federal, state or local rollbacks, cuts or restrictions on our ability to access quality reproductive healthcare services, birth control, HIV/AIDS care and prevention, or medically accurate sexuality education. This means open access to safe, legal, affordable abortion and birth control for all people, regardless of income, location or education. [emphasis mine]
Anti-choice groups, as a rule, do not believe in “open access to safe, legal, affordable abortion … for all people.” The most prominent anti-choice lobbying group, National Right to Life, praises the global gag rule and spreads misinformation about Planned Parenthood. Another group, Pro-Life Wisconsin, calls hormonal contraceptives “chemical abortifacients” that treat “pregnancy as a ‘disease’ state against which women must be ‘protected’ at all costs.” It’s a position echoed by anti-choice activist Kristan Hawkins in a January 28 interview with MSNBC’s Joy Reid: “In the pro-life movement, we’re working towards abolishing abortion. That’s why we want Planned Parenthood’s money to go to health centers which don’t do contraception.”
The Women’s March on Washington’s decision not to partner with anti-choice activist groups was not hypocrisy, but an adherence to the values it laid out. The anti-choice position has clear conflicts with any campaign for reproductive justice, which is why the Women’s March on Washington rejected partnership offers from two anti-abortion causes: New Wave Feminists and And Then There Were None. Those rejections — which, in both cases, came after the Women’s March had initially agreed to partner, due to a chaotic planning schedule — led moderate and conservative commentators to spin the story that the demonstrations would “exclude pro-life women.”
But individuals, and even groups, were never asked not to show up at the Women’s March on Washington. Although anti-choice organizations were removed and blocked from the protest’s list of official sponsors, nothing but ill will was stopping them from attending the demonstrations on January 21. It’s highly likely that many anti-choice women took part in the Women’s March, in full support of the organization’s other Unity Principles, and with no problems whatsoever, because, unless an individual came in holding a blatantly anti-abortion sign, no one would be the wiser about their positions on reproductive freedom.*
In all of this, it’s important to remember that there is no such thing as being “personally pro-life.” If you believe that abortion should be an option available to women who need or want it, then you are pro-choice, regardless of what you would do in similar circumstances. Being pro-choice is about recognizing that each woman is capable of making her own decisions about her body, and that no two women will — or should — make the same choice in a given situation.
On January 21, “pro-life” women, whether they were anti-choice or not, let conservative commentators convince them that they were not welcome at a march built by and for all women. The pundits were the only winners there, because they got exactly what they wanted. Anti-choice individuals and groups either stayed home on that Saturday, driving down attendance numbers for the Women’s March, or they came prepared for conflict with other demonstrators. The conservative writers and speakers who told anti-choice women that they were not welcome at the Women’s March on Washington did so because they did not want them to take part in it. They spread the rumor like wildfire, not because it was true, but because it served their anti-woman agenda.
* Note: There’s nothing wrong with a protester bringing a sign to a march. However, when you are demonstrating alongside an organization that embraces abortion access as a right, promoting a diametrically opposed agenda is not participation, but counter-protest.