Was Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life?

The following is from Brittany Christiansen, a Field Director from the Susan B. Anthony List in Philadelphia. She shares a stark truth of many of the 19th Century suffragists and how they were “pro-life”.

Early 18th and 19th century suffragist writings regularly referred to abortion as “ante-natal murder”, “child murder”, “ante-natal infanticide”, and “infanticide”.  These early feminists regarded abortion as abhorrent, as violence against women and their children, and attributed its practice to the denial of their rights and a dearth of nonviolent choices for women.  While early feminists were indeed concerned about abortion’s physical and psychological dangers to women, they also opposed abortion itself.

Susan B Anthony wrote in her diary in 1876 about her sister-in-law recovering from an abortion (tampering with herself):

  • “Things did not go well” “Sister Annie in bed — been sick for a month — tampering with herself — & was freed this A.M. what ignorance & lack of self-government the world is filled with.” 
  • Three days later, “Sister Annie better — but looks very slim — she will rue the day she forces nature”

Susan B Anthony delivered a speech in 1875:

  • “When the office of maternity shall be held sacred … then, and not till then, will this earth see a new order of men and women, prone to good rather evil.”

Susan B. Anthony responded to a male leading publicist who asked why she with such a generous heart had never been a wife or mother:

  • “I thank you kind sir, for what I take to be the highest compliment, but sweeter even than to have had the joy of caring for children of my own has it been to me to help bring about a better state of things for mothers generally, so that their unborn little ones could not be willed away from them” 

Susan B Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton founded a Newspaper in NYC called The Revolution with the motto “Men their rights and nothing more; women their rights and nothing less.”

  • Published only editorials against abortion during its run from 1868 to 1872
  • Refused to publish ads for abortifacients
    • In the late 1800s, pills and pessaries were sold by unscrupulous abortion practitioners through euphemistic ads, labeling these products as for “the remedy of illnesses peculiar to women”, “restoration of female regularity”, and “correction of menstrual suppression”.
    • Many newspapers and publications ran ads for such products, and such businesses proliferated even though abortion was technically illegal at the time. These ads were lucrative for many newspapers of the time; however, Anthony and her colleagues steadfastly refused to accept them for The Revolution’s entire run. 
  • Susan B Anthony is credited by some scholars with writing one of the most powerful anti-abortion articles ever to appear in The Revolution; however, the article was published with only her initial, leading some to argue that it she was not in fact the author. The article, entitled “Child Murder” included the following:
    • “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, for selfish gratification, heedless of her prayers, indifferent to her fate, drove her to the desperation which impelled her to the crime.”

Susan B Anthony repeatedly gave her “Social Purity” speech in the 1870’s lumping abortion in with many other social evils:

  • “The prosecutions on our courts for breach of promise, divorce, adultery, bigamy, seduction, rape; the newspaper reports every day of every year of scandals and outrages, of wife murders and paramour shooting, of abortions and infanticides, are perpetual reminders of men’s incapacity to cope successfully with this monster evil of society.”
  • “The true relation of the sexes never can be attained until woman is free and equal with man. Neither in the making nor executing of the laws regulating these relations has woman ever had the slightest voice. The statutes for marriage and divorce, for adultery, breach of promise, seduction, rape, bigamy, abortion, infanticide—all were made by men. They, alone, decide who are guilty of violating these laws and what shall be their punishment, with judge, jury and advocate all men, with no woman’s voice heard in our courts”

Susan B Anthony was arrested for voting straight Republican in the 1872 Presidential Election

  • November 1st 1872 Susan B Anthony registered to vote in a barbershop in Rochester’s Eighth Ward.  The male registrars didn’t want to do it, but Susan B Anthony threatened to sue them personally unless they relented.
    • 14 other women also registered to vote.
  • President Grant and his Republican Party, the party that ended slavery, was far more receptive to the idea of women’s rights than the Democratic Party. And so, as she informed Elizabeth Cady Stanton in a letter, Susan B Anthony enthusiastically voted for Grant and a straight party-line ticket.
  • A Democratic Party poll watcher named Sylvester Lewis didn’t want to accept the vote, but the two Republicans registrars did; on a 2-1 vote, it went in the hopper.
  • She was then indicted, tried, and convicted for voting illegally and sentenced to pay a fine of $100 and court costs.  She declined to pay the fine.
    • The historic New Yorker described her two-day trial in June 1873 as “the greatest judicial outrage history has ever recorded,”

On the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution (known as the Susan B. Anthony Amendment) recognizing women’s right to vote, President Donald Trump posthumously pardoned suffragist pioneer Susan B. Anthony for illegally voting in 1872. SBA List President Marjorie Dannenfelser, a member of the Women’s Suffrage Centennial Commission, was present for the historic moment.

  • “Later today, I will be signing a full and complete pardon for Susan B. Anthony,” “She was never pardoned. What took so long?” “She was guilty for voting” – President Trump
  • “Walking out of the White House on cloud nine because Susan B Anthony has just been pardoned for voting illegally. At the time, she said ‘I will pay not one penny for this unjust fine.’ ” “Susan B. Anthony fought to expand the promise of human rights and dignity to all people,” “She and her compatriots provide us with the model of how to advocate for the voiceless and disenfranchised in our own time. It is her courageous example that inspired the formation of SBA List and continues to inspire our work today. We are deeply moved and grateful to President Trump for honoring the legacy of this great American hero and we pledge never to tire in carrying on her unfinished work.” – Marjorie Dannenfelser

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