Serrin Foster doesn’t exactly fit the stereotype of a pro-life advocate.
Her platform is irreligious. She rarely mentions “personhood” or “murder” or “life of the baby” in her arguments. In fact, she hardly focuses on the fetus in question at all. And Foster never mentions Roe v. Wade.
Oh, and she is an outspoken feminist.
Foster is the president of Feminists for Life, a national organization that seeks to eliminate what it sees as the “root causes” of abortion by providing more resources and support for pregnant women.
Last week, Seattle University’s Students for Life club hosted Foster, who delivered her well-known speech “The Feminist Case Against Abortion” and discussed on-campus pregnancy and parenting resources.
News that Foster would be visiting was met with both curiosity and resistance. Both pro-life and pro-choice students and community members were in attendance—some to learn, and others to challenge Foster.
“I’m pro-choice, but I definitely did want to see the other side,” said freshman Leslie Burnett before Foster’s speech. “I’ve only heard [the pro-life argument] from a more biased religious sense.”
Sophomore Nicolas Cruz, who is also pro-choice, said that he wanted to see how abortion could fit into a feminist framework.
Graduate student Inness Pryor, on the other hand, was ready to protest. She heard about the event on the graduate events calendar, and, after some research, found Feminists for Life to be “inherently unfeminist.”
“I am a very pro-choice feminist,” Pryor said in a phone interview after the event. “My reasoning behind that is support of bodily sovereignty, of a woman’s exclusive right to control over her own body. It’s kind of a fundamental tenet of feminism.”
Pryor toyed with the idea of a protest. She and a group of companions eventually decided to attend the talk and ask pointed questions at the Q&A instead, which she thought would be “more in the spirit of an intellectual discussion.”
A Public Safety officer was stationed in the room throughout the talk.
Foster’s speech was one that she has given many times before, and a version that she gave at UC Santa Barbara in 2001 is available on YouTube. In the speech, Foster referenced first-wave feminists like Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, who she argues were adamant pro-life advocates. She then examined the pressure placed on pregnant women to abort because there is often no more attractive option available. Foster called for a recentralization of the abortion debate around the needs and health of the women involved, not just the fetuses.
At the end of the talk, Foster quizzed the crowd and compiled a list of pregnancy and parenting resources currently available at the university. Director of Campus Ministry Tammy Liddell ended up having to name most of the resources.
“I have no idea what our school even provides for moms who are students,” said senior Elise Pavicic before the event.
Foster called the crowd’s lack of knowledge the “most disappointing” part of the talk, but added that every attendee she spoke with after the talk, regardless of ideology, said they’d be willing to work with her to improve campus resources.
But other parts of the speech proved controversial. Foster argued that legal abortion kills women, compared the violence committed during rape to the violence committed during abortion, and never mentioned the role of contraception, all points that faced serious backlash.
When it was time for Q&A, things got heated.
“I wasn’t prepared for how the mood of the room changed when she finished her speech,” said Students for Life club member and freshman Brinkley Johnson. “My heart was racing.”
Foster was immediately met with a sea of raised hands—and the tone was decidedly unfriendly.
Pryor argued that making their platform abortion-centric decentralized women, and questioned Foster’s exclusive use of first-wave feminist sources.
The speech “relied really heavily on a context and a culture that doesn’t exist right now,” Pryor said. “It seemed to present the founding foremothers of feminism as infallible when in fact they’re not, just as the founding fathers are not infallible.”
Another woman argued that abortion is rarely coerced, and said that she regretted neither of her two past abortions. Foster said she was sorry, and an argument ensued.
“I don’t know if it was so much Q&A as it was firing back and forth,” said attendee Anne Harrington, who is not a Seattle U student.
Despite the tension, the Students for Life club all saw the event as a success.
“I’m glad we got both sides,” Johnson said. “I think it would have been less educational if we heard everything she said and we all [agreed] and then left.”
The Feminists for Life event has been the club’s main focus so far this year. The club, which is comprised almost entirely of new students, will be deciding how to proceed in the coming weeks.
“We wanted to take advantage of the opportunity [to host Foster], so we went operational before strategic overview,” said Seattle U Students for Life president John Dogero.
They hope to participate in the Washington State March for Life in January, and named improving resources for student parents, increasing awareness, and exposing students to new ideas as possible goals.
“There are more pro-choicers on campus than pro-lifers, so I want to give them a [different] option instead of going along with what everybody else does,” Anderson said.
Regardless of what Students for Life does next, they maintain that all will be welcome at their meetings—even pro-choicers. Dogero encouraged students on all sides of the issue to come to their meetings, and said that the club emphasizes learning and openness.
O’Dole agreed, emphasizing that she prefers to distance herself from the “shaming and hostility” on both sides of the abortion debate.
“Having dialogue as opposed to conflict helps me to learn more,” O’Dole said.
Caroline may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Caroline is a senior Humanities for Teaching major. This is her fourth year at the Spectator. She likes gin, em dashes, and sea otters, and is probably hungry right now.