How radical feminism is betraying women

Feminism is vital for the pro-life movement; a pro-life ethic is vital for feminism. Not an intuitive position for those on either side of the abortion debate, but this is the stance taken by Fiorella Nash in her 2018 book, The Abolition of Woman.

The Abolition of Woman: How Radical Feminism is Betraying Women
By Fiorella Nash. Ignatius Press. 2018. 234 pages

Novelist, bioethicist and advocate for life, Nash makes the case for reconciling two seemingly diametrically opposed views. She does so in an effort to promote a broader, more authentic view of feminism – a view which contends that abortion has been and continues to be devastating for women’s struggle for equality. Though the subtitle of the book reads “How Radical Feminism is Betraying Women”, the focus is less on the bad that feminism has wrought and more on all the good work Nash believes (and aims to convince us) it has yet to do.

Borrowing from C.S. Lewis for its title, the book is divided into nine chapters. Each examines one of the various contexts in which the lot of women has been impacted by the right to choose and all that this right has dragged in behind it. According to Nash, oppression, rather than liberation, is the inevitable end result of widespread access to abortion. She makes this case very convincingly, deftly employing historical, philosophical, sociological and bioethical perspectives and responding effectively to many of the pro-abortion side’s most compelling arguments, including the likes of Judith Jarvis Thomson’s influential “Violinist” argument, and various other bodily autonomy positions. The tight structure of the book and obvious expertise of the author mean that this is a compelling read, though it might not be described as an exciting one: the prose is too academic for that, and the content too harrowing.

Beyond the West

Much attention is given to countries and situations outside of Europe and North America, in which it is easy to think most matters of importance to the abortion debate take place. An analysis of China’s “one-child policy” is particularly striking. Many of us will be familiar with the policy in concept, but unfamiliar with just how devastating it has been in practice, referred to here by a commentator as “the greatest bioethical atrocity on the globe.” The hypocrisy of Western nations’ response to China’s “solution” to overpopulation is revealing.

Again and again, claims Nash, the West has hedged their criticism, suggesting that perhaps China had their heart in the right place but were misguided in their implementation of their infamous policy. This implementation has resulted in a mother being restrained and having her pregnancy forcibly terminated, in the abandonment of babies who had the misfortune of being the wrong gender, in babies being bought and sold on the black market. George Orwell couldn’t have written it, and worse still, this chapter is still being written. The full implications of this “gendercide” are yet to be understood, and it would be wise to watch this space.

Nash often lays out the facts impactfully. Take the following: in China, a woman commits suicide every four minutes. This is one of the highest female suicide rates in the world. Another piece of data likely to rattle the reader is that ten million baby girls were aborted in India in the last twenty years alone. That amounts to roughly one baby aborted each minute for two decades — and that’s just girls. The results of this mass killing are borne out in modern demographics, with huge disparities between the number of boys and girls in the Indian and Chinese populations. It is borne out also in the increases in rape, wife-sharing, baby smuggling, sex trafficking, child brides, marriage purchases and levirate marriages, where a widow is compelled to marry her brother-in-law. Such statistical realities are mind-boggling. They might raise the eyebrow of even the staunchest pro-lifer were it not for how well-referenced the book is.

Law and ethics

Other facts and figures here are less stomach-churning, such as a reaffirmation of the fact that countries such as Ireland, Malta and Poland had lower rates of maternal death with pro-life laws in place in contrast with countries with permissive abortion laws. One feels that Nash could simply have printed all the figures cited in the book on a large poster and the effect on the reader would be nearly as profound, though much of the reading experience would have been lost.


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Equally well done is the way Nash reframes and recontextualises arguments with which we might be relatively familiar. Assisted reproductive technology (or ART, which includes IVF, surrogacy and the cryopreservation of embryos) is described as perpetuating “the otherwise discredited myth that children are the property of their parents and can be created or disposed of according to the needs of others.” As such, she argues, it plays directly into the jaws of a culture that seeks to commodify all within it.

Nash takes a detailed look at surrogacy and “fertility tourism”, which treats the countless, often underprivileged surrogates in the countries where it thrives as producers of a resource, one which is more or less valuable according to the desires of the paying customer – and there are many paying customers. By means of abortion and ART, the unborn child is no longer a person of unique and unrepeatable value. The child is instead an economic proposition, desirable or undesirable according to circumstance and the whims of the industry into which it was conceived. It has the ring of a trite slogan, but there is truth to the idea that the most dangerous place for a baby to be in this world is inside the womb.


An objection to this revisionist view of feminism might be that, of course, abortion is bad for women and babies – but that doesn’t mean we need to adopt the F-word and all it implies. For many readers, the baggage of fourth-wave feminism may be hard to escape; why not just call ourselves pro-life and be done with it? One of the later chapters in Nash’s book speaks to this perspective, a tour de force of some of the ways authentic feminism is still essential beyond the abortion debate. Rape and the abysmal response to it by justice systems across the world; domestic violence; forced marriages; child brides; human trafficking and prostitution, issues which remain closely linked; the sexualisation of women and girls in so much of our media and advertising; the grip which pornography continues to have over our culture and our young men. It’s difficult to say that feminism ought to be retired when these evils seem to be gaining ground, and fast. If our response to the above isn’t called feminism, Nash implies, then what exactly should we call it?

Though released five years ago, The Abolition of Woman seems to speak only with greater urgency as time goes by. It brings with it the feeling that the damage done by abortion and all of its horsemen is as yet untallied, unquantified; but this, at least, is a start. It is important to a culture where a new – or perhaps older – form of feminism is fighting to make itself heard, insisting that the commonly understood and understandably maligned definition of feminism as anti-religion, anti-family and anti-natalist (to quote Nash) is not the only one. We have only to look at the likes of Abigail Favale or Mary Harrington to know this is true.

The book is not an account of how the pro-life position can be reconciled or coexist with feminism. It states boldly that the pro-life position is and always was inherently feminist, and that feminism is incomplete and even incomprehensible without a pro-life philosophy at its heart. Nash calls us all, feminists, pro-lifers and pro-choicers, to more. There is much here to admire and inspire reflection. I highly recommend it.



Luke Power is a writer and English language teacher living on the west coast of Ireland. He writes variously, including fiction, poetry and reviews.

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