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The pro-life movement stands at the threshold of a new era. If the draft opinion in the Dobbs case holds, Americans will have a new debate on abortion policy with the potential to save millions of lives. I hope it also sparks a rebirth of authentic feminism.

As the leader of a pro-life organization that honors the legacy of Susan B. Anthony and the pioneers of women’s rights, I am often asked how we know those remarkable women were pro-life.

To start, Anthony’s Quaker ethic was grounded in nonviolence and the equality of men and women. As Carol Crossed, founder of the Susan B. Anthony Birthplace Museum, and family descendant Eric Anthony wrote in 2017, “the unifying theme of Susan Brownell Anthony’s life was to speak up for those without a voice. Anthony fought for temperance, the abolition of slavery and especially the enfranchisement of women. She also spoke up for the voiceless child in utero, opposing Restellism, the term that Anthony’s newspaper and others at that time used for abortion.”

“Madame Restell” was a notorious figure—a wealthy seller of abortion-inducing drugs who was frequently in court defending her actions. Smithsonian Magazine notes, “Restell counted on clients returning for surgical abortions if the abortifacients failed—$20 for poor women, $100 for the rich.” Some things haven’t changed: the modern abortion industry pushes mail-order abortion drugs with no in-person medical oversight and coaches women to say they miscarried if they end up in the emergency room, putting them at increased risk of being admitted for surgery.

Anthony was owner and publisher of The Revolution, official voice of the National Woman Suffrage Association. In its first issue, she and editors Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Parker Pillsbury laid out a signed policy of refusing advertisements like Restell’s—a principled and costly stance. More than 100 times the practice was condemned in its pages. “Child murder both before and after birth is a regular and, terrible to tell, a vastly extensive business,” one editorial read, “and it is known to newspaper publishers that its advertising patronage pays far better than any other.”

The Revolution broached taboo topics without fear. Anna Densmore French, a physician and educator whose lectures the paper printed, attributed the spread of abortion to ignorance: “few women, even among the educated and intelligent, realize that the embryo child is imbued with the life element prior to the moment when its physical movements become conscious to her. No greater error exists.” Today as science and technology allow us to see developing life in the womb in greater detail than ever before, and to know that these children have beating hearts by six weeks and can feel pain by 15 weeks, the lie that unborn children are mere “clumps of cells” is downright untenable.

Abortion protest
Pro-life activists march during the 49th annual March for Life, on January 21, 2022, in Washington, DC.
MANDEL NGAN / AFP/Getty Images

Anthony spoke most directly about abortion in a famous speech, identifying abortion and infanticide as social evils stemming from the drunkenness of men and oppression of women: “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.” There are also disapproving references in Anthony’s diary to a relative’s abortion, from which the woman was physically suffering.

Though she never had children, Anthony knew the unborn are family, not property. Fellow suffrage and temperance activist Frances Willard recalled her response to a compliment: “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.”

Anthony was hardly alone. From scores of writings by her contemporaries, a clear picture emerges of adamant, consistent opposition to abortion. And always, though they spoke in stark (even harsh to modern ears) terms about the act committed, they called for accountability from men and society and advocated prevention over punishment.

The pressing injustices of Anthony’s day included slavery and the disenfranchisement of women. Today the single greatest human rights abuse is abortion on demand imposed by Roe v. Wade. Like the suffrage movement, the pro-life movement has been proudly woman-led from the start. We celebrate tremendous progress for women, whose representation in the workforce and in legislatures has increased dramatically even as abortion rates have fallen.

As long as we remind pro-abortion “feminists” that they’ve lost touch with these roots, we will have critics. When we are accused of having an “anti-woman, anti-democracy agenda” by pro-abortion individuals and their entire movement—which ignores the humanity and rights of unborn girls and boys—something other than concern for historical accuracy is afoot.

Fortunately, thanks to the hard work of many over the years, pro-life women’s voices are no longer drowned out in the political arena. Women are at the forefront of historic life-affirming change in state legislatures and in Washington, shaping conversations everywhere about how we care for children and support families, and will continue to lead America into this new era for life.

Marjorie Dannenfelser is president of Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America, a network of more than one million pro-life Americans nationwide.

The views expressed in this article are the writer’s own.