Unraveling the 'Seamless Garment': Loose Threads in Pro-Life Progressivism

17 Pages Posted: 4 Apr 2005

See all articles by Susan Frelich Appleton

Susan Frelich Appleton

Washington University in St. Louis - School of Law


"Pro-life progressivism" purports to approach many contested issues of the day in a unified and consistent manner - often expressed through the metaphor of the "seamless garment." This approach opposes abortion, the death penalty, and unjustified war; it supports the provision of health care for all citizens and financial assistance for the poor; and it professes allegiance to progressive and egalitarian ideals. This brief essay offers a pro-choice reply, developed for a conference and symposium called "Can the Seamless Garment Be Sewn? The Future of Pro-Life Progressivism."

After asking whether pro-life progressives seek to outlaw abortion, this essay explains why a woman's freedom to make important decisions about her body, her health, and her reproduction constitutes a nonnegotiable requirement of feminism and gender equality. An evaluation of the ability to choose requires consideration of the context, however. Although some contextual pressures tilt women toward abortions, powerful forces of "repronormativity" also shape the way women look at the possibilities.

The current practice of in vitro fertilization (IVF) not only shows repronormativity at work but also exposes biases and blind spots in the contemporary pro-life position. IVF, which routinely creates extra embryos destined for destruction, remains almost completely unregulated - and virtually ignored by those who oppose abortion freedom in the name of embryonic and fetal life. This examination of IVF confirms what historians and political scientists have observed before: The abortion debate emerges as primarily a conflict about feminism, motherhood, and women's roles.

This essay concludes by noting some initiatives that progressives might pursue to promote gender equality and respect for women's decisions while reducing the number of abortions actually chosen.

Keywords: abortion, gender equality, in vitro fertilization, women, mothers

Suggested Citation

Appleton, Susan Frelich, Unraveling the 'Seamless Garment': Loose Threads in Pro-Life Progressivism. University of St. Thomas Law Journal, Vol. 2, 2005. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=696861

Susan Frelich Appleton (Contact Author)

Washington University in St. Louis - School of Law ( email )

Campus Box 1120
St. Louis, MO 63130
United States

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