From its early beginnings, feminism was a young women’s movement. Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Alice Paul, Charlotte Lozier and so many others began their suffragist work in their 20s. These women — the original feminists — understood that the rights of women cannot be built on the broken backs of unborn children. Anthony called abortion “child murder.” Paul, author of the original 1923 Equal Rights Amendment, said that “abortion is the ultimate exploitation of women.”
So the pro-life movement hasn’t changed the meaning of feminism, as has been suggested. It was the neo-feminists of the 1960s and ’70s who asked women to prize abortion as the pathway to equality.
(MORE: Has the Fight For Abortion Rights Been Lost?)
Marjorie Dannenfelser, along with a group of mostly Democratic women, started the Susan B. Anthony List in 1992, the so-called Year of the Woman, when numerous pro-choice women were elected to Congress. Dannenfelser, then in her mid-20s, saw a need to support more pro-life women running for elected office. Twenty years since the organization’s founding, we now have two pro-life women in the Senate, 17 in the House, four in governorships and hundreds more in state legislatures.
Pro-life feminism has captivated a new generation of young women who reject the illusion that to be pro-woman is to be pro-choice. Gallup polling showed that among 18-to-29-year-olds, there was a 5% increase in those labeling themselves “pro-life” between 2007–08 and 2009–10. The past few years have seen the emergence of young leaders like Kristan Hawkins of Students for Life of America, who is responsible for organizing more than 675 pro-life groups on college campuses across the nation, and Lila Rose of Live Action, whose undercover video work has forced the abortion industry to confront and amend practices it cannot defend, as well as dozens of other future leaders who have assisted our organization as staff members and interns. During the past two summers we’ve had young female leaders join the SBA List from Stanford, Georgetown, the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and the University of California, Berkeley. These passionate defenders of women and unborn children return to their campuses ready to lead pro-life groups and educate their classmates on the tragedy of abortion.
(MORE: Why Radical Pro-Lifers Are Wasting Their Time)
Not only does this young generation of pro-life women shun the notion that abortion somehow liberates women; it views abortion as the civil- and human-rights cause of our day. Abortion is an injustice that permeates our society. Forty years after Roe v. Wade, we realize that a third of our peers are not here to share our progress and our hopes. It is our loss as well as theirs.
In his letter from a Birmingham, Ala., jail, Martin Luther King Jr. wrote, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” It is in this same spirit of King and the original feminists that young pro-life women are rising up in increasing numbers to say abortion is a radical injustice that affects us all and must end. Achieving this will require more efforts to extend our understanding of the equal rights of the disabled unborn, prevent rape and make this crime against women a thing of the past, expand adoption and make the benefits of modern prenatal care and specialties like fetal surgery more available, so that even younger and sicker children can be spared an early death.
Our fight transcends elections and legislative battles because our fight is in our hearts. This is why, 40 years after Roe, our movement is still growing. We won’t give up; we can’t give up. Our fight is for life.
MORE: Read TIME’s cover story, “What Choice?” by Kate Pickert