The New Anti-Choice Rhetoric

Feminists for Life and the Rhetoric of Choice

The New Anti-Choice Rhetoric

The Feminist Case Against Abortion

In her speech “The Feminist Case Against Abortion,” (their emphasis), Serrin M. Foster, president of Feminists for Life, lays out the fundamental beliefs and strategies of FFL.  Through this speech,  Foster aims to create this frame as she offers sympathy to women who have had abortions, calls upon the memory of famous historical figures, and blames society as the oppressor.  Through the the comic frame she seeks to build up a message of common ground to reach an audience that may or may not be friendly to her message.


“Anti-choice people often call themselves “pro-life.” But the only life many of them are concerned with is the life of the fertilized egg, embryo, or fetus.  They are much less concerned about the life of women who have unintended pregnancies or the welfare of children after they are born.”

Planned Parenthood’s Website,”Teen Talk: Ask”

Feminists for Life are well aware that many view the anti-abortion movement as unconcerned with at best, and actively opposing at worst, the well-being of women, as seen in Planned Parenthood’s answer to Jamika’s question: “Can you explain what pro-choice means and pro-life means?” Thus Foster opens her speech by immediately addressing the issue.  Contrary to what one might expect from someone who believes abortion is murder, Foster does not want to condemn (as the tragic frame might) any woman who may have had one.  Instead, her goal is “to better help women in need.”  In this same vein, she later uses anaphora to sympathize “with women who were” in a number of situations including, poverty, school, unaccommodating jobs, or with unsupportive partners that may have lead them to choose abortion.   These are the situations she wants to change, and she seeks to do so with an approach that would fall in line with the seven other articles in NOW’s Bill of Rights.  Additionally, Foster does not wish to condemn her opponents on the pro-choice side of the issue.  She believes they were misguided in their well-intended efforts to help women.  This is a central piece of the comic frame that Foster builds.  As such, she calls for an end to the screaming and for the start of new conversations that “[address] the root-causes of abortion with women-centered solutions.”

Rather than blaming the woman then, Foster follows the comic frame by placing the faults upon societal shortcomings.  In a series of rhetorical questions she relates the issue to her college audience, asking “Where are the family housing, the child care, and the maternity coverage?  Why can’t a woman telecommute to school or work?”  Citing the Alan Guttmacher Institute, she notes that a lack of financial resources and emotional support are the two main factors for a woman deciding to have an abortion.  These questions lie at the heart of her effort to change the rhetoric of choice, for according to FFL the choice that abortion presents is not authentic.  If a woman feels pressured to have an abortion, if she feels like abortion is her only option, can it truly be called a free choice?

Foster then offers practical examples of how to change these problems, everything from installing baby changing stations in bathrooms to helping institute those telecommuting programs.   The thick rhetoric that she uses here works in three ways.  Firstly, it gives Foster a chance to cast Feminists for Life in a positive light, showing how FFL has already been a catalyst for improvement.  This lends a significant amount of credibility and respectability to her organization.  Secondly, it furthers the goal of finding common ground with those who have opposing viewpoints.  Foster specifically points out instances in which both sides have come together to help struggling parents.  In one instance, FFL wrote their “information on child support for those being coerced or abandoned” with the help of “pro-choice staff, students, healing therapists and an abortion doctor.”  Everyone can unite behind these causes.  Finally, these examples are meant to empower her audience, particularly her pro-life audience, and give them the confidence and energy to make these changes at their own colleges.

To offer further inspiration to those against abortion and give pause to the supporters of choice, Foster spends much of the speech creating a common identity for Feminists for Life with the early feminists.  She provides quotations from Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Mary Wollstonecraft, Sarah Norton, Eleanor Kirk, Victoria Woodhull, and Mattie Brinkerhoff.  In each quotation these powerful women condemn abortion and blame its practice on societal failures.  FFL then says that they are extension of this, and this move is very powerful.  These early feminists are part of a common memory, heroes to all, and everyone wants them on their side.   Much in the way we call upon Martin Luther King Jr. today, or in the way MLK called upon Lincoln, historical figures further one’s respectability and offer inspiration, hope, and examples of courage.

Like any group involved in the abortion issue, Feminists for Life has generated much controversy.  Whether or not their efforts have had any effect depends upon who one talks to.  Either way, their comic frame is a significant step within the anti-abortion movement to find common ground with pro-choicers.  Hopefully, this common ground will allow for better dialogue between the groups, and provide help for women in all circumstances.

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