Early feminist quotes on abortion: Victoria Woodhill and Tennessee Claflin

Woodhull and Clafin, sisters from a poor and chaotic Ohio family, became the 1st female stockbrokers on Wall Street. In 1870, Woodhull declared herself a candidate for the presidency – the 1st woman ever to do so – and the next year presented a speech to the U.S. Congress, arguing for a way that women could gain the vote without needing another amendment to the Constitution. With the profits from their business, she and her sister started a paper even more radical and unconventional than The Revolution.

“The Slaughter of Innocents”

“… Wives deliberately permit themselves to become pregnant of children and then, to prevent becoming mothers, as deliberately murder them while yet in their wombs. Can there be a more demoralized condition than this?… Why should the birth rate decrease as the people become more enlightened?… Simply because with increased knowledge comes increased individuality; and with increased individuality, increased repugnance to submission to the slavery that childbearing almost necessarily entails in our society as at present organized; and with these also the knowledge that pregnancy can be broken up, sometimes with little present evidence of evil to the, otherwise, mother… If this practice prevails so widely among wives, who have no need to resort to it “to hide their shame,” but merely to prevent an increase in the number of their children, how prevalent it must be among the unmarried class who have social death staring them in the face when they become pregnant without the consent of the canting priest or the drunken squire?

… 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 it is to cut down the sapling, or cut down the tree? Is it not equally to destroy life, to crush it in its very germ, and to take it when the germ has evolved to any given point in its line of development? Let those who can see any difference regarding the time when life, once begun, is taken, console themselves that they are not murderers having been abortionists.

… We ask the women of this country to consider carefully the subjects thus hastily presented, and see if they do not find in them an unanswerable argument for sexual freedom for themselves, so that they may have control of their maternal functions and thereby be able to bear children only when they desire them, and such as they desire.

… We speak of these things in connection with the subject of child murder, because originally they are the foundation for it… And yet there is still to be found apparently intelligent people who seem honestly to think that the social question ought not to be discussed publicly!… For our part, so long as the terrible effects of our unnatural sexual system continue to desecrate humanity, there is no other question to be considered in which the health, happiness, and general well-being of the race is so intimately involved.”

Woodhull and Claflin’s Weekly, June 20, 1874

Quoted by Mary Krane Derr

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About Sarah

Sarah is a member of the board of The Pro-life Alliance of Gays and Lesbians.
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