mini pro-life history lesson on the 37th anniversary of Roe v Wade

My grandmother on the right along with her mom, circa 1910.  The woman’s suffrage movement is in full swing but it would be another 10 years before these ladies could cast a vote!

Those who attended the Treasures retreat last fall were introduced to homeschooling mom, Jane Gestrine, and were greatly moved by the story she shared of welcoming two young high school drop outs into her inner city home when they were kicked out of school.  She told us that as the school year progressed, a theme of injustice began to emerge in their readings, culminating in a study of Mary Shelley’s novel, Frankenstein, the Modern Prometheus and Jane encouraged us to read and learn from this amazing book.

First published in 1818, Shelley began writing Frankenstein when she was only 18 years of age. Her understanding of the dangers of technology and modern man along with a passion for caring for the unlovely and most burdensome of society produced one of the greatest novels of all time and one that still causes students to ponder the same questions of Shelley’s day.  But what many people do not know about Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley is that her mother, also named Mary and who died shortly after she was born, was her greatest inspiration for Frankenstein.

Author of Thoughts on the Education of Daughters and The Vindication of the Rights of Women, Wollstonecraft was an early advocate for the education of women.  She saw young women as valuable in their own right, not merely as being marketable to “suitable young men” and she decried what was passed off as the education of women of that day as teaching “artificial manners, card-playing, theatre-going, and an emphasis on fashion.”  She was saddened by the amount of time and energy placed on superficial things that “if saved for charitable purposes, might alleviate the distress of many poor families, and soften the heart of a girl who entered into scenes of woe.” She placed a high value on motherhood and the home and was tenacious in addressing the inequality and abuses of her day, one of the greatest of these being abortion.

Her unfinished novel, Mary and the Wrongs of Woman, tells the story of a young maid who is brutally and sexually assaulted by her master, in part, because she is sentenced to a life of servitude because of her own illegitimate birth. At finding out that she is now pregnant as a result of the rape, the character says “I know not why I felt a mixed sensation of despair and tenderness, excepting that, ever called a bastard, a bastard appeared to me an object of the greatest compassion in creation.”  The master, concerned only to avoid his wife’s and the public’s disapproval, gives her an abortifacient. She refuses the “infernal potion,” as she calls it. But when the master’s wife discovers him raping the her again, the woman beats and verbally abuses her, throwing her out into the street. The servant girl finally obeys her master and swallows the potion “with a wish that it might destroy me, at the same time that is stopped the sensations of new-born life, which I felt with indescribable emotion.”

Calling on her own experiences as a young woman who experienced a crisis pregnancy, Wollstonecraft observed that male sexual exploitation renders women of all social classes “weaker in mind and body than they ought to be,” thus women “have not sufficient strength to discharge the first duty of a mother and “either destroy the embryo in the womb, or cast it off when born. Nature in everything demands respect.”

Some fifty years later when Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony began the women’s suffrage movement, which had been born out of the abolition movement, they called upon the writings of Wollstonecraft for inspiration and echoed her call for an end to abortion.

During that time, women were not allowed to vote or own property or inherit anything if they were married.  They could not have their own money, testify on their own behalf in court, sit on a jury, keep their children if they divorced, or to assemble or speak freely.  A woman who was visibly pregnant was not even allowed to be seen in public!  Stanton and Anthony rightly saw abortion for the evil that it is and the scourge it is upon women, noting “When we consider that women 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.”

Examining this great social evil of the day in their newspaper, The Revolution, Stanton and Anthony observed “Guilty? Yes, no matter what the motive, love of ease, or a desire to save from suffering the unborn innocent, the woman is awfully guilty who commits the deed.  It will burden her conscience in life, it will burden her soul in death; but oh, thrice guilty is he who drove her to the desperation which impelled her to the crime!”

Today is the 37th anniversary of the US Supreme Court ruling known as Roe v Wade.  That one decision set into motion a series of rulings that have culminated in the unbridled “right to choose” that is really abortion on demand during all 9 months of pregnancy for any and every reason and, in many instances, at tax payer expense.

But it has brought with it other costs.  Every single one of us today is touched by the life of someone who suffers from the pain of “choice” whether it is a friend, a neighbor, a co-worker, a family member, a classmate, a mother, a father, a husband, or a wife.  Abortion kills children and it causes life-long grief and suffering for their mothers.

I would encourage you today to take a few minutes and examine the history of the pro-life movement with your children.  It did not begin that fateful day in 1973 when America “celebrated” a new right. Rather, it began with courageous women like Mary Wollstonecraft, Elisabeth Cady Stanton, and Susan B. Anthony who recognized that before we can value unborn children, we first must value their mothers because women deserve better than abortion.

For more inspiration on our foremothers who stood strong in their opposition to abortion, read the history archives at Feminists for Life.

Related articles and podcasts from thatmom:

My Own Adoption Story

On Being a Mother, My Own Crisis Pregnancy Story
Shedding of Innocent Blood

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  1. Susan T says

    “Stanton and Anthony rightly saw abortion for the evil that it is and the scourge it is upon women, noting “When we consider that women 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.””

    This quote really jumped out at me because I just read the following this morning.

    In a pro-life letter to the editor in today’s PJStar, Jeanne Smith quotes the 9 men on the supreme court of ’73, “Who does the child belong to? It’s got to be the mother.” and succinctly responds to their “logic” with this: “The unborn child was proclaimed property, not person, much like Dred Scott nearly 120 years before.”

  2. says

    Thank you for sharing this. Today is a day that has special significance to me. About 13 years ago, my mom told all her children that she had an abortion in 1976, and that same day she shared her testimony with our church. For the last 15 years she has been working with the pro-life ministry at our church, and just this past weekend was officially licensed as a pastor over the same ministry. Today she is speaking at a pro-life rally on the statehouse steps in Columbus, and her ministry’s goal is to give women REAL choices when it comes to crisis pregnancies. To date, they have prevented hundreds of abortions, and have provided probably more than 1000 children with diapers, formula, clothing, beds, and whatever else they might need. I am so proud of her (as you can tell), but it’s because she not only works to help moms and prevent abortion, but because she has been very vocal within the state about changing the rules about abortion. She has spoken at churches, State senate meetings, and colleges about abortion, and her story is one that bears repeating again and again to show people the real effects of abortion on women.

    I think it is always worth mentioning that this is no simple issue, and that there are a host of complications within the abortion issue. It is, and will probably continue to be, a tough fight, because most people, in spite of knowing that abortion does kill a child, simply do not care about the well-being of that child. In a world that is seemingly concerned about “Children’s rights” it is sad to me that the unborn are left out. One day, I hope that all children are valued, whether outside the womb or in it.

  3. madame says

    Hello Karen,
    I think it’s the first time I post a comment on your blog.
    Thanks for sharing this mini-pro-life story. It might come as a shock to some people to hear that the fist feminists were against abortion, even if it makes every little bit of sense.

    Today, my uncle posted a video on facebook of my cousin’s wife sharing how her abortion affected her life. I’ll have to find the link and post it on TW. Women (and men!) ought to hear more of those testimonies, to help those who have committed abortion to heal, and those who think abortion is a solution, to reconsider.

    I’m not that familiar with US laws, but I know that there are laws in the European countries I have lived in that condemn discrimination against people because of their age and their place of origin or residence. Is abortion not denying a basic human right to a human being because she’s not old enough or because she lives in her mother’s womb?

  4. says

    Abby, thanks for sharing about your mom. Looking at those pictures makes me weep as well. I believe that, for many people, putting faces on those who have suffered from abortion tears down many of the arguments pro-abortion advocates use.


  5. says

    Madame, I would love to see that video.

    You said: “Is abortion not denying a basic human right to a human being because she’s not old enough or because she lives in her mother’s womb?”


    Yesterday I was at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and happened to read one of the commentaries on the Gettysburg Address, one that struck me as interesting and so very true. That speech, quite short in length and to the point, encapsulated the truth that the American Civil War was fought over the very basic human rights outlined in our constitution, chiefly that all men are created equal. The slavery issue is one that is very very close to the abortion issue and is rooted in the notion that some people aren’t as important as other people, that some people are worthy of dignity and life and basic rights and others are not. Today we are embattled for the same basic reasons!

    Some of the same people today who are the most outspoken against abortion also look back longingly at the pre-Civil War era, reinventing history and ignoring the horror of slavery’s inhumanity to man. To me that is either ignorance, hypocrisy, or an inability to think logically. (Maybe a desire to make money, too!) That is one reason it is so valuable to point out the truth, that those who first took up the cause of the unborn in the United States were abolitionist women who saw the parallel to the slavery issue and spoke out against the horrors of both.

  6. says

    On January 23, 1849, Elizabeth Blackwell graduated first in her class, becoming the first female doctor in the United States. Her decision to become a physician was cinched when she heard of women performing abortions. Referring to an article in the New York Herald about the notorious abortion provider Madame Restelle, Elizabeth 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 carried 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.”

    from Feminists for Life, 2014

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