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Books

‘The Original Feminist Plan for Women’s Equality’

Pro-choice activists assemble in downtown Memphis, Tenn., May 21, 2019. (Karen Pulfer Focht/Reuters)

Over at Public Discourse, the blog of the Witherspoon Institute, I have a review of legal scholar Erika Bachiochi’s new book The Rights of Women: Reclaiming a Lost Vision.

The book is well worth a read for anyone interested in the history of the feminist movement in the U.S., and especially the changes that propelled women’s rights advocates from the cause of women’s suffrage to the sexual revolution to the abortion absolutism of today.

Bachiochi’s book is valuable not only for the historical and legal knowledge and context she provides but also in particular for its striking thesis: The modern women’s movement went wrong, and in fact betrayed its origins, when it began advocating abortion on demand as essential for female flourishing.

Here’s a bit more on this point from my review:

Rather than acknowledging the value of self-possession and familial responsibility, today’s women’s rights activists tend to focus primarily on female autonomy and pleasure, relying on abortion in particular to render sex seemingly consequence-free. To hear them describe it, achieving female equality requires enabling women to engage in sexual relationships and walk away from the consequences in the same way that men are able to do.

It’s a theme Bachiochi features often in her other work and extensively throughout the book: Justice requires a social response to the fact of reproductive asymmetry, but it is profoundly anti-woman to address that asymmetry, as progressive feminists do, by treating women’s bodies as if they should function like those of men, which in the end leaves the burden of reproduction solely on women.

Though most feminists today fail either to realize or to acknowledge it, their allegiance to elective abortion makes female equality contingent on treating a woman’s body as if it should operate like that of a man, a view that fails to advance equality and in fact further empowers male predation. As Bachiochi points out, legal abortion makes pregnancy even more of a “female problem” than it otherwise would be. If a pregnant woman chooses to continue carrying her unborn child against the wishes of the child’s father, she is left on her own to deal with the consequences—because, after all, she could’ve chosen abortion.

Especially with the Supreme Court preparing to review its previous abortion jurisprudence this coming term, books such as this one are crucial in making the case that unlimited abortion has not, as its proponents claim, been an unalloyed good for American women. In fact, as Bachiochi illustrates, it’s been quite the opposite.

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