Catholic Author on Pro-Life Feminism: It’s “the Ultimate Social Justice Campaign”

Novelist and activist Fiorella Nash discusses feminism, the state of the pro-life movement in UK, and the empowering practice of NFP.

Fiorella Nash is a novelist as well as an advocate for pro-life causes. Her novels, written under the name Fiorella De Maria, include Poor Banished Children, Do No Harm, and her latest, We’ll Never Tell Them. She will be speaking in San Francisco later this month at the annual conference of the California Association of Natural Family Planning as well as at other Bay Area locations. Catholic World Report spoke with her via e-mail. You can also read an interview with her at the Ignatius Press Novels site about her writing and latest novel.

CWR: In addition to being a novelist, you are also quite active in advocacy on pro-life issues, and are a researcher for the UK’s Society for the Protection of Unborn Children. How did you first get involved with this type of work?

Fiorella Nash: I became involved with pro-life activism as a student, but I came to it from the less-usual route of left-wing social justice campaigning. I always imagined that I would be a professional campaigner and writer when I left university, but I expected to end up working in theatres of war or earthquake zones. I practically grew up marching and holding candles at vigils for prisoners of conscience, my parents were heavily involved with our local Amnesty group for years, before Amnesty became entangled in the whole sexual-rights agenda, and I learnt a lot about the world of campaigning and what motivates people to become involved in good causes. 

A big reality check for me came while at university. I was not involved in the pro-life society for my first couple of years, but I had always opposed abortion and I could not get my head round the fact that people could talk in passionate terms about standing in solidarity with the most vulnerable—the poor, the homeless, the stateless—but when it came to the unborn, it became: “my body, my control, my lifestyle, my right to do whatever I like and to hell with the vulnerable person in the way.” For me, being pro-life was the ultimate social justice campaign—protecting the most vulnerable human lives—and it was when I realized how little support and protection there was for the unborn and for women in crisis pregnancies that I began to dedicate more time to the pro-life movement.

CWR: Many people, those who call themselves pro-life as well as those who call themselves pro-choice, generally regard feminism as being by its nature supportive of legalized abortion and contraception. But you do not. Why?

Nash: I certainly began my pro-life work with that belief—it is hard not to see feminism as the natural bedfellow of the abortion industry when abortion is always promoted in the name of women’s lib. I began the journey to pro-life feminism when a Catholic writer and campaigner sent me a book about dissent within feminism on abortion, assuring me: “Pro-life feminism DOES exist!” I was also put in touch with groups such as Feminists for Life of America and Women’s Forum, Australia, who challenge the status quo on abortion and put the case that authentic feminism is pro-life feminism. My gut feeling had always been that abortion was an essentially misogynistic practice and that a truly emancipated society would never pit a woman against her own baby, but the wealth of literature on pro-life feminism allowed me to put that instinct into words and to reconsider many of my assumptions about abortion and the status of women.

CWR: As a pro-life feminist, what is your reaction to the common claim that the pro-life movement is misogynistic?

Nash: I think that misogyny can creep into any circle the way any other negative attitude can, but the claim that the pro-life movement is inherently misogynistic is based upon a caricature manufactured by the abortion industry and some parts of the media. It is also partly a refusal to deal with the real issues—sticking labels on people and shouting insults in their direction is probably more emotionally satisfying than engaging in a debate, but it doesn’t really do much to advance the status of women. Most people who tout the line that pro-lifers hate women are not aware of the number of women who oppose abortion and work within the pro-life movement, not to mention the number who have been through abortions themselves or worked in the industry. A large part of what I do in my work is to go into hostile environments and challenge that assumption through evidence, argument, and (hopefully) a sense of humor.

CWR: What can feminists learn from the early advocates of feminism? Would they agree with the push for legalized abortion?

Nash: Looking at the views of the early feminists can come as quite a shock if you’ve grown up with an assumption that anyone on the side of women has naturally tended to favor abortion. I’m not sure the early feminists would even recognize radical feminism and its goals, let alone support them, it is so far removed from the noble view of an equal society the early feminists fought for so passionately.

 

CWR: In many ways, most modern people in Western society just accept abortion as a somewhat unsavory but necessary aspect of our culture. What are some ways we can push back against that mentality?

Nash: The first question to ask in challenging that mentality is “why”? The argument that anything is “just one of those things that happens” is morally and intellectually lazy—it tends to be used as a way to avoid engaging directly with an unsavory subject. A major reason many people believe abortion is a “necessary evil” is that they have swallowed the backstreet-abortion argument and believe that abortions will always occur in large numbers and therefore—for practical reasons—abortion needs to be accepted and legal. So one of the challenges is to push back against that assumption by publicizing the widespread use of false and exaggerated data on illegal abortion, but also to draw attention to the practical, compassionate alternatives to abortion. No one in the pro-life movement denies that women can find themselves pregnant under difficult circumstances, but what sort of a society have we created for women if abortion is just “one of those things”?

CWR: Later this month you will be speaking at the annual conference of the California Association of Natural Family Planning. What has been your experience of NFP?

Nash: I have been practicing NFP for over a decade now and I tried a number of different methods before I settled upon one that worked well for me. What I find most attractive about NFP is the knowledge it gives women about their own bodies. We tend to talk a lot about pregnancy avoidance or achievement but, first and foremost, NFP gives couples an appreciation of the way fertility works. You can’t talk about bodily autonomy if you do not first understand your own body and women are kept woefully ignorant about their own bodily functions.

Using NFP for years has also brought me into contact with many other couples who use NFP, and I have come to realize that it is not simply an educational tool or a method of birth spacing, it is a way of life. It comes with its own struggles and challenges as well as its many rewards. I do think that more needs to be done to promote NFP but also to provide long-term pastoral support for couples who embrace it.

CWR: Pope Francis has repeatedly talked about what he calls a “throw-away” culture, including how we treat the unborn as objects to be utilized in medicine. Here in the United States, the country has been rocked by the release of undercover video footage of staff at Planned Parenthood talking about ways to profit from the unborn they are harvesting. What is your reaction to these revelations?

Nash: I have to admit that I felt unable to watch some of the videos all the way through, I found the footage so disturbing, though I hope that this material will cause many people to reconsider their position on abortion. In many ways, I was not surprised by the things Planned Parenthood was caught doing; anyone involved with pro-life research knows how inhumane the whole process is. But being confronted so starkly with the horror of it has certainly renewed my determination to fight for these little ones. One of the dangers as an activist is to become desensitized to your own cause—we all need reminding sometimes of the urgency of the campaign.

CWR:  When you look ahead, are you hopeful about the future of the pro-life movement?

Nash: It has been a difficult couple of years for the pro-life movement in Britain. Sometime ago, two Scottish midwives lost their legal battle against being forced to supervise abortions, which was a major blow for anyone with a conscientious objection to abortion who works in medicine. It is hard not to be depressed at the thought that the land of Magna Carta has reached the point where individuals can be forced to go against their most heartfelt principles.

However, I remain positive about the future. One of the big success stories of the last decade has been the huge growth in youth activity, with more and more university societies springing up and the establishment of a nationwide pro-life student network. University speaking used to be a one-off activity for me; I now spend much of my working life traveling around the country talking to university societies, and every time I give a talk a number of young women will come forward afterwards saying that they want to become more involved with the pro-life movement. Even the growing presence of protestors at conferences and events gives me cause for hope—if our opponents are angry, we are successfully getting the message out.

CWR:  Thank you for speaking with us! Where can we follow your pro-life work?

Nash: SPUC has a blog charting the activities of all the team: spuc-director.blogspot.co.uk.