Serrin Foster offered a unique spin on the age-old abortion debate Tuesday evening at UB's law school, speaking from a self-dubbed "feminist" and "pro-life" perspective - what is viewed as an often contradictory combination.
The president of Feminists for Life of America delivered a powerful and straightforward lecture titled "The Feminist Case Against Abortion" in which she advocated providing emotional, financial and educational support to women as alternatives to abortion.
Feminism, according to Foster, embraces the rights of all human beings without exception. She called abortion an act of violence against women and children that violates the basic tenets of feminism.
In her speech, Serrin criticized the view that unplanned pregnancy is something that automatically condemns women to a life of poverty by depriving them of educational opportunities as well as emotional and financial resources.
"No woman should have to choose between relinquishing her career plans and her education and suffering a humiliating and invasive procedure and sacrificing her life so that she can continue [to pursue her goals]," said Foster.
Foster added that despite the fact that 10 percent of all college-aged women become pregnant, many colleges do not provide informational support for students who become pregnant, instead reinforcing the notion that having children will "ruin their lives."
"When you go to college, there's a huge stigma that you're too stupid if you got pregnant and you're really dumb if you don't get an abortion and jeopardize your career plans," she said.
Foster described her struggles as a college student who supported the ideals of anti-discrimination, equality, non-violence and justice, but could not reconcile abortion as a moral decision with these beliefs.
"I felt alone because I was against abortion," she said. "People were making people choose between being a feminist and pro-choice or being pro-life and being a good little girl that does what men say."
"I refused to choose between women and children," she added.
Foster said the practice of terminating unplanned pregnancies is not a recent development. Abortion was a common practice in colonial and Victorian America, when there were not laws prohibiting it. Since women were denied civil liberties and rights to money, property and education, they often resorted to abortion if pregnancies were unwanted.
"When you consider that women have been treated as property, it is degrading to women to treat our children as property to dispose of as we see fit," said Foster.
She proceeded to refer to what she called the "dirty little secret" of women's studies programs: the earliest women's rights activists, including Susan B. Anthony and Mary Wollstonecraft (mother of "Frankenstein" author Mary Shelley), were staunchly opposed to abortion, despite the dangers accompanying childbirth during the period in which they lived.
Wollstonecraft condemned abortion as "sexual exploitation of women" and said "nature and everything deserves respect." It is because of these women that many anti-abortion laws were put on the books.
"Women who had abortions were responsible for their own actions, even if they were pushed into it," Foster said. "But women resorted to abortion primarily because of their lack of authority within the family and within society."
Foster expressed disdain toward proponents of abortion during the 1960s and 1970s, who declared that legalized abortion signaled the "emancipation of women."
"[Freedom for women] didn't happen when they had the right to vote, when they were able to go to college or when they were able to own property," Foster said sarcastically.
Foster traced the roots of the modern pro-choice movement to Larry Lader, whom she described as a "population control freak" and Bernard Nathanson, who witnessed several "botched abortions" and considered legalized abortion a safe alternative. Prior to abortion advocacy by these men, birth rates had been declining due to women entering the work force and the development of more reliable forms of birth control.
When politicians rejected their proposals, Foster said the men approached the National Organization for Women, which was lobbying for equal rights and opportunities in the work place.
"[Lader and Nathanson] said: 'Look, little ladies, if you want to be hired and promoted like men in the workplace, you can't bother your employer with your maternity problems ... you're an obstruction to the workplace ... women can't be dependable in the workplace," said Foster. "'That's what's holding you back - it's your fertility!'"
NOW responded to this theory by making abortion rights a high priority, something Foster said would have "sickened and horrified the early feminists." Nathanson went on to become a pro-life advocate and confessed that his figure of 100,000 women dying from illegal abortions was "made up," according to Foster.
"100,000 women died and nobody noticed?" she questioned. "We notice when 36 kids die from defective car seats and you think we would not have noticed 100,000 dead women? It's a bold-faced lie that has never gotten documentation!"
Instead of abortions reducing the poverty rate and the number of unwanted children, Foster said child abuse, financial disparity and violence toward women are still prominent aspects of American society. She noted the $53 million in uncollected child support, saying men have been alienated from the child-rearing experience.
"When women were screaming in big parades at men going down the street: 'It's our bodies, it's our choice,' we were also saying, 'it's our problem' and we started disconnecting [men] from their own kids by saying they weren't necessary; that they were just a donor of sorts, they weren't important," said Foster.
Foster accused NOW of creating a "matriarchy where women had total control over all human beings and they could make decisions whether the father wanted the baby or not."
With regard to issues of rape and incest, Foster said the trauma of sexual abuse will not end with an abortion and can only perpetuate the cycle of violence.
"It's positively medieval to judge the value of a human being on who their father was," she said.
Rather than advocate abortion as a quick fix to unplanned pregnancy, Foster said the media, the government and the public need to join together to assist women and develop practical solutions to the causes and effects of unplanned pregnancy so abortion does not seem like the only way to prevent a grim future.
"[Women] are not going to accept minimal support, lack of financial support and lack of emotional support," said Foster.
"We're not saying go back to old maternity homes and shotgun weddings," she added. "There are a lot of things that we can do in this day and age to create a better type of world."