If there’s one thing that the doomed selection of Sarah Palin has proved, it’s that feminism has become abortionism – both to most anti-feminists and to many feminists as well.
What was the most common criticism of Palin, after the chuckling over her multiple, shall we say, faux pas? Something along these lines: She’s not a feminist because “she wants to take away a woman’s right to choose while banning sex education in schools, so that essentially the only choice left for a girl is to become an uneducated teenage mother” (Bi-College News).
Come on now. Susan B. Anthony couldn’t get a legal abortion and certainly never had sex-ed, yet somehow she managed to do OK-ish.
The real problem is deeper than this one hyperbole, however; over and over, in the past weeks, the response to the idea that Palin is a feminist has been “she can’t be because she’s against a woman’s right to choose!”
Let’s be clear: Palin is hardly a feminist role model; only smart women get to be feminist role models. But this insistence that one be pro-choice to be feminist stems from a fundamental ignorance of basic ethical philosophy.
Pro-lifers are all, whether they know it or not, members of the deontological school of ethical thought, that is, they don’t take the consequences of their decisions into account. This is not an insult; all it means is that, if a woman’s life is hard hit financially or emotionally by having a baby, a pro-lifer may (or may not) feel badly about that, but the consequences to the woman don’t alter their decision. The idea here is that you should do what’s right come hell or high water. In most contexts, this is undisputably noble: Antigone insisting that she bury her brother even though she knows she will be sentenced to death for it, for example.
Pro-choicers, on the other hand, are utilitarians. Utilitarians think that you can’t possibly judge whether a deed is good or not without looking at all of its ramifications. Pro-choicers judge the ramifications of legalized abortion to be better than the ramifications of abortion being illegal.
For too long, people who argue about abortion have treated it like it’s a special case, a debate unto itself. It’s not. It’s one more example of a fundamental (and pretty tangled, the more you look into it) philosophical problem.
NF is solidly pro-choice. But NF also recognizes that a problem in philosophy that has attracted minds like Kant, Bentham, and R.M. Hare is not one with a definitive answer. Nobody, therefore, should treat those who disagree with them on this with hatred, as long as the disagreement is an intellectual one (raving loonies don’t count). And no feminist is required to be a utilitarian; therefore, no feminist is required to be pro-choice.