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An Inconvenient Quote

One pretense of the National Organization for Women, Planned Parenthood, and EMILY’s List1 is that they represent the interests of all women in promoting abortion rights. But there is another “list” that begs to differ, the Susan B. Anthony List, devoted to “advancing pro-life leadership.”2 The Anthony List, named for a heroine of the women’s rights movement,3 attributes an article signed with the letter “A” to her in the suffragist publication, The Revolution, whose motto was “Men their rights, and nothing more; women their rights, and nothing less.”4 The piece, dated July 8, 1869, addresses abortion with these words:5

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 . . . drove her to the desperation which impelled her to the crime!

On the Anthony List site, these words appear alongside similar quotes from other “foremothers” (to use Anthony’s expression),6 including Elizabeth Cady Stanton, who said that “. . . it is degrading to women that we should treat our children as property to be disposed of as we see fit”;7 and Victoria Woodhull, who declared, “Every woman knows that if she were free, she would never bear an unwished-for child, nor think of murdering one before its birth.”8

Pro-abortionists are incensed that anyone would enlist these luminaries in their cause, and they strive mightily to gainsay the project. For openers, Ann Gordon, the editor of Anthony’s collected letters, and Lynn Scherr, one of Anthony’s biographers, say that “no data exists that Anthony wrote it, or ever used that shorthand for herself.”9 But who else, if not Anthony? After all, she was the magazine’s self-described “proprietor.”10 And what about the diary entry wherein Anthony said her sister-in-law, who had chosen abortion, would “rue the day she forces nature.” Gordon says the passage is ambiguous,11 but her alternative readings strain credulity.

Salon columnist Tracy Clark-Flory takes another tack, saying, “What is generally not mentioned is that the essay argues against an anti-abortion law; its author did not believe legislation would resolve the issue of unwanted pregnancy.”12 What Clark-Flory does not mention is that Anthony, in the same article, spoke of “the horrible crime of child murder” and “infanticide” and said she “earnestly . . . [desired] its suppression.” She felt criminalization merely mowed off the “top of the noxious weed,” leaving the root.13 Besides, she had picked her life battles, majoring on the abolition of slavery, the women’s vote, and temperance.

Still others call the Anthony quote irrelevant because, “in the 19th century, abortion often was life-threatening.”14 But Anthony argued it was dangerous to the mother’s conscience, not to her health. The attack continues, with one critic saying Anthony would be ill at ease with today’s Evangelical and Catholic activists;15 another noting her exasperation with Stanton’s having more children;16 and yet another saying her allies in the medical profession had economic motives.17

Whatever one makes of the quote debate, New York Times columnist Stacy Schiff maintains, “There is no question that she [Anthony] deplored the practice of abortion, as did every one of her colleagues in the suffrage movement.”18 So it is quite fair to name an anti-abortion group after her. And in quibbling over the “A” citation, the abortion enthusiasts are straining at a gnat while swallowing a camel, the camel of normalizing “the horrible crime of child murder.”


The name is an acronym for “Early Money is Like Yeast,” signaling their interest in “raising dough” for “pro-choice” causes.


The Susan B. Anthony List Website, (accessed June 5, 2013).


United States Mint Website, (accessed June 5, 2013). Anthony is honored on a US coin, the first to bear the image of a woman (other than the symbolic “Lady Liberty”).


Alma Lutz, Susan B. Anthony: Rebel. Crusader. Humanitarian. (Washington, DC: Zenger, 1959), 134-135.


“Early Suffragists,” The Susan B. Anthony List Website, (accessed June 5, 2013). See full text of article, “Marriage and Maternity,” at (accessed June 5, 2013).


Lynn Sherr, Failure is Impossible: Susan B. Anthony in Her Own Words (New York: Times/Random House, 1995), 285.


The Susan B. Anthony List Website, She wrote this in a 1873 letter to Julia Ward Howe, who wrote “Battle Hymn of the Republic.”


The Susan B. Anthony List Website, Woodhull was the first woman candidate for US president. This quote comes from a West Virginia newspaper interview.


Ann Gordon and Lynn Sherr, “Sarah Palin is No Susan B. Anthony,” Washington Post, (accessed June 5, 2013).


Lutz, Susan B. Anthony, 135.


Gordon and Sherr, “Sarah Palin is No Susan B. Anthony.”


Tracy Clark-Flory, “Susan B. Anthony, against Abortion?” Salon, October 6, 2006, (accessed June 5, 2013).


“A,” “Marriage and Maternity,” The Revolution, July 8, 1869,


Stacy Schiff, “Desperately Seeking Susan,” New York Times, October 13, 2006, (accessed June 5, 2013).


Clark-Flory says, “The “suffragists’ belief in secularism and women’s autonomy seems completely antithetical to the antiabortion position.” Though Anthony’s “spirituality was closer to transcendentalism than to any Puritan theology,” (an observation by Kathleen Barry in her book 1988 NYU Press book, Susan B. Anthony: A Biography (p. 293), natural law would suffice. Besides, Stanton, who also opposed abortion, was devout. More distinctly religious pro-life groups include: Feminists for Life, Priests for Life, and Family Research Council.


Schiff observes that Anthony scolded Stanton for indulging in “a moment’s pleasure to herself or her husband” which would “increase the load of cares under which she already groans.” She was afraid that Stanton would go AWOL from the cause. But Anthony’s solution was contraception, not abortion.


Clark-Flory, “Susan B. Anthony, against Abortion?” In this piece, she quotes former Planned Parenthood president Gloria Feldt, who says the issue was “a political hot potato . . . with doctors seeking to outlaw abortion in part to eliminate competition with nontraditional medical practitioners, like midwives.”


Schiff, “Desperately Seeking Susan.”