Estelle Sylvia Pankhurst 1882 – 1960, suffragist movement, worked for peace causes, post-World War I, started the Toy factory out of concern for women’s inadequate wages, and “price cost restaurants” with the hungry could order inexpensive meals. Supported birth control and sex education.
She also opposed abortion.
“Increasing numbers of people argue that, when faced with undesired pregnancy, women will procure abortions by hook or by crook; therefore the law should permit abortion, provided it be done under state supervision with strict aseptic precautions… It is grievous indeed that social collectively should feel itself obliged to assist in… abortion in order to mitigate Its crudest evils. The true mission of society is to provide the conditions, legal, moral, economic, and obstetric, which will assure happy and successful motherhood.”
“Abortion” by Estelle Sylvia Pankhurst
Save the Mothers (London: Knopf, 1930) 108 – 110
Rachel McNair, Mary Krane Derr, and Linda Naranjo-Hubbl. Pro-Life Feminism: Yesterday and Today (New York: Sulzburger & Graham Publishing, Ltd.) 131
Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell was the first American woman to earn and M.D. She was active in abolitionism and other women’s causes. She was also pro-life. Here she describes the unborn baby and why it should be protected:
“Look at the first faint gleam of life, the life of the embryo, the commencement of human existence. We see a tiny cell, so small it may be easily overlooked; the anatomist may examine it with scapel or microscope, and what does he discover? Nothing but a delicate, transparent membrane, containing one drop of clear water; the chemist may analyze it with the most scrupulous care, and find nothing but the trace of some simple salts. And yet there is in that same germ cell something wonderful – life – it is a living cell; it contains a power progressive growth, according to laws, according, towards a definite type, that we can only regard with reverent admiration. Leave it in its natural home, tended by the rich life of the healthy maternal organism, and it will grow steadily into the human type; in no other by any possibility. Little by little the faint specks will appear in the enlarging cell, which marked the head, the trunk, the budding extremities; tiny channels will groove themselves in every direction, red particles of inconceivable minuteness will appear in them – they move, they tend towards one central spot, were little channel has enlarged, has assumed a special form, has already begun to palpitate; finally the living blood in the small arteries joins that in the heart, and the circulation is established. From every delicate incomplete part, minute nerve threads shoot forth, they tend invariably towards their centres. They join the brain, spinal marrow, the ganglia. The nervous system is formed. The cell rapidly enlarges, it attaches to the maternal organism become more powerful… The human type is surely attained, and after a brief period of consolidation the young existence, created from that simple cell, will awake to further development of independent life.”
“Look at the First Faint Gleam of Life…” By Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell
Elizabeth Blackwell, M.D., the Laws of Life, with Special Reference to the Education of Girls, (New York: Putnam and Sons, 1852) 70 – 73
Rachel McNair, Mary Krane Derr, and Linda Naranjo-Hubbl. Pro-Life Feminism: Yesterday and Today (New York: Sulzburger & Graham Publishing, Ltd.) 28 – 29
Dr. Charlotte Denman Lozier was one of the first women physicians in United States. She was active in the fight to win women equal rights in the 1800s.
In Susan B Anthony’s newspaper, The Revolution, December 2, 1869
“Dr. Charlotte Lozier of 323 W. 34th St., of this city [New York], was applied to last week by man pretending to be from South Carolina, by the name, Moran, as he also pretended, to procure an abortion on a very pretty young girl apparently about 18 years old. The Dr. assured him that he’d come to the wrong place for any such a shameful, revolting, unnatural and unlawful purpose. She proffered to the young woman any assistance in her power to render, at the proper time, and cautioned and counseled her against the fearful act which she and her attendant (whom she called her cousin) proposed. The man becoming quite abusive, instead of appreciating and accepting the Council of the spirit which was proffered, Dr. Lozier caused his arrest under the laws of New York for his inhuman proposition, and he was held and in bail in $1000 per appearance in court.”
20 – 21 of Rachel McNair, Mary Krane Derr, and Linda Naranjo-Hubbl. Pro-Life Feminism: Yesterday and Today (New York: Sulzburger & Graham Publishing, Ltd.)
“It is often the seducer himself who convinces the woman that she must rid herself of the child. Or he may have already abandoned her… Sometimes she declines to bear the infant not without regret… Men tend to take abortion lightly; they regard it as one of the numerous hazards imposed on women by malignant nature, but fail to realize fully the values involved. The woman who has recourse to abortion is disowning feminine values, her values… Her whole moral universe is being disrupted.”
After abortion women “learn to believe no longer in what men say… The one thing they are sure of is this rifled and bleeding womb, these shreds of crimson life, this child that is not there. It is at her first abortion that a woman begins to “know.” For many women the world will never be the same.”
Simone de Beauvoir. The Second Sex. (New York: Bantam books, 1952) from
Frederica Mathews-Green. Real Choices: Offering Practical, Life-Affirming Alternatives to Abortion (Sisters, Oregon: Multnomah Books, 1994) 18, 49
Elizabeth Blackwell was the first American woman to earn it M.D. her decision to become a doctor was prompted, at least in part, by her passionate opposition to abortion. After learning of the New York abortionist Mdm.Restell, she wrote in her diary:
“The gross perversion and destruction of motherhood by the abortionist filled me with indignation and awakened active antagonism. That the honorable term “female physician” should be exclusively applied to those women who carry on this shocking trade seemed to me a horror. It was an utter degradation of what might and should become a noble position for women… I finally determined to do what I could to “redeem the hells” and especially that one form of hell thus forced upon my notice.”
Ironically, at least one United States abortion provider named their clinic the Elizabeth Blackwell Center, despite the pro-life stance of their namesake.
Quoted in “Swimming Against the Tide: Feminist Dissent on the Issue of Abortion” edited by Angela Kennedy (Dublin, Ireland: Four Courts Press, 1997) 15
Original source Ross, I. “Child of Destiny: the Life Story Of the First Woman Doctor” (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1949) 88
As early as 1792, Mary Wollstonecraft wrote “A Vindication of the Rights of Women,” which Susan B. Anthony admired enough to serialize in The Revolution. After decrying, in scathing 18th century terms, the sexual exploitation of women, she stated:
“Women becoming, consequently, weaker…than they ought to be…have not sufficient strength to discharge the first duty of a mother; and sacrificing to lasciviousness the parental affection…either destroy the embryo in the womb, or cast if off when born. Nature in every thing demands respect, and those who violate her laws seldom violate them with impunity.”
“When a man steals to satisfy hunger, we may safely conclude that there is something wrong in society – so when a woman destroys the life of her unborn child, it is an evidence that either by education or circumstances she has been greatly wronged.” ,
The Revolution, September 2, 1869, pages 138 and 139.
“Child murderers practice their profession without let or hindrance, and open infant butcheries unquestioned…Is there no remedy for all this ante-natal child murder?…Perhaps there will come a time when…an unmarried mother will not be despised because of her motherhood…and when the right of the unborn to be born will not be denied or interfered with.”
Woodhull’s and Claffin’s Weekly, November 19, 1870
“When we consider that woman are treated as property, it is degrading to women that we should treat our children as property to be disposed of as we see fit.”
Letter to Julia Ward Howe, October 16, 1873, recorded in Howe’s diary at Harvard University Library
She classified abortion as a form of “infanticide.” The Revolution, 1(5):1, February 5, 1868
Also from Stanton:
“Dr. Oaks made the remark that, according to the best estimate he could make, there were four hundred murders annually produced by abortion in this county alone….There must be a remedy to such a crying evil as this. But where should it be found, at least begin, if not in the complete enfranchisement and elevation of women?”
The Revolution 1(10) 146-147 March 12, 1868
Cited in Rachel McNair, Mary Krane Derr, and Linda Naranjo-Hubbl. Pro-Life Feminism: Yesterday and Today (New York: Sulzburger & Graham Publishing, Ltd.)
Note: although Elizabeth Cady Stanton emphatically believe that abortion was murder, she was compassionate towards women who were in desperate circumstances. She successfully advocated for the release and pardon of a woman convicted of infanticide in the death of her newborn baby.
“Every woman knows if she were free, she would never bear an unwished-for child, nor think of murdering one before its birth.”
Woodhull was the nation’s first female presidential candidate, who ran under the banner of the Equal Rights Party in 1872. Wheeling, West Virginia Evening Standard, November 17, 1875
“We are aware that many women attempt to excuse themselves for procuring abortions, upon the ground that it is not murder. But the fact of resort to so weak an argument only shows the more palpably that they fully realize the enormity of the crime. Is it not equally destroying the would-be future oak to crush the sprout before it pushes its head above the sod, as to cut down the sapling, or cut down the tree? Is it not equally to destroy life, to crush it in the very germ, and to take it when the germ has evolved to any given point in its line of development?”
Victoria Woodhull and Tennessee Claflin – Woodhull and Claflin’s Weekly, 20 June 1874