Similar Principles: The Animal Rights Movement, Feminism, and Abortion Opponents - Article From The Writings of Vasu Murti

Movements with a Similar Agenda

Like the nineteenth century movements to abolish human slavery and emancipate women, the contemporary movements in animal rights and prenatal rights move along parallel lines. Because similar moral principles are involved, the rational, secular, ethical debate over animal rights is beginning to resemble the raging debate over abortion. Animal-rights activists have even shown themselves to be "anti-choice," depending upon the issue. An article in The Animal's Voice Magazine, for example, states:

"Exit polls in Aspen, Colorado, after the failed 1989 fur ban was voted on, found that most people were against fur but wanted people to have a choice to wear it. Instead of giving in, we should take the offensive and state in no uncertain terms that to abuse and kill animals is wrong, period! There is no choice because another being had to suffer to produce that item. . . . I want to repeat that an eventual ban on fur would be impossible if we tell people that they have some sort of 'choice' to kill. . . . Remember, no one has the right to choose death over life for another being."[1]

The anti-abortion movement and the animal-rights movement use words and phrases like "respecting life" and "compassion." Both compare the mass slaughter of animals and the mass execution of unborn children to the Holocaust. Both see their cause as part of the human-rights movement, and consider themselves as extending human rights to a disenfranchised minority.

Anti-abortion activists counsel young women on sidewalks outside abortion clinics. Animal-rights activists talk to "sport" hunters about compassion for other living creatures. Activists in both movements have even picketed the homes of physicians or medical researchers who perform abortions or experiment upon animals. The controversial use of human fetal tissue for medical research brings these two causes even closer together.

Both movements have components that engage in nonviolent civil disobedience, and both have their militant factions -- the Animal Liberation Front (ALF), and Operation Rescue. The popular news media usually depict animal-rights and anti-abortion activists as extremists, fanatics, or terrorists who violate the law. Each movement, nonetheless, has its intelligentsia: moral philosophers, physicians, clergy, legal counsel, and others.

Feminist writer Carol J. Adams notes the parallels: "A woman attempts to enter a building. Others, amassed outside, try to thwart her attempt. They shout at her, physically block her way, frantically call her names, pleading with her to respect life. Is she buying a fur coat or getting an abortion?"[2]

The Fur Information Council of America asks: "If fashion isn't about freedom of choice, what is? Personal choice is not just a fur industry issue. It's everybody's issue."[3] As in the abortion debate, lines are drawn. "Freedom of choice" vs. taking an innocent life. "Personal lifestyle" vs. violating another's rights.

Activists, no matter how sincere, are frequently accused of self-righteousness. Still, they continue to stir the nation's moral conscience, often using graphic pictures and videotapes of tortured animals or abortion victims.


As far as the moral issue of animal rights is concerned, we may safely conclude that full grown animals do have rights. It is merely a matter of time before our courts, legislatures, and Constitution recognize this self-evident truth, as was the case with the rights of Blacks and the rights of women. Animals are autonomous beings, possessing levels of conscious awareness comparable to those of small human children (or at least the mentally handicapped).

Full grown animals are highly complex creatures, possessing a brain, a central nervous system and a sophisticated mental life. Animals suffer at the hands of their human tormentors and exhibit "such 'human' behaviors and feelings as fear and physical pain, defense of their children, pair bonding, group/tribal loyalty, grief at the loss of loved ones, joy, jealousy, competition, territoriality, and cooperation."[4]

Dr. Tom Regan, the foremost intellectual leader of the animal-rights movement and author of The Case for Animal Rights, notes that animals "have beliefs and desires; perception, memory, and a sense of the future, including their own future; preference and welfare interests; the ability to initiate action in pursuit of their desires and goals; a psychophysical identity over time; and an individual welfare in the sense that their experiential life fares well or ill for them, logically independent of their utility for others and logically independent of their being the object of anyone else's interests."[5]

Similarly, research psychologist Theodore Barber writes in his 1993 book, The Human Nature of Birds, that birds are intelligent beings, capable of flexible thought, judgment, and the ability to express opinions, desires, and choices just as humans do. According to Barber, birds can make and use tools, work with abstract concepts, exhibit grief, joy, compassion and altruism, create musical compositions, and perform intricate mathematical calculations in navigation.[6]

Thomas Jefferson wrote in a letter to the author of a book that, in order to refute the then common view that they had limited intellectual capacities, emphasized the notable intellectual achievements of Blacks : "Whatever be their degree of talent, it is no measure of their rights. Because Sir Isaac Newton was superior to others in understanding, he was not therefore lord of the property or persons of others."[7] If a higher amount of intelligence does not entitle one human being to use another for his or her own ends, how can it entitle human animals to exploit nonhuman animals for the same purpose?

The eloquent abolitionist and feminist Sojourner Truth dealt with this point in her famous "Ain't I a Woman" speech when addressing the question of "this thing in the head," the intellect: "What's that got to do with woman's rights or Negro's rights? If my cup won't hold but a pint, and yours holds a quart, wouldn't you be mean not to let me have my little half-measure full?"[8]

Similarly, Jeremy Bentham pondered what reasons were sufficient to abandon a sensitive being to the caprice of a tormentor: "Is it the faculty of reason or perhaps the faculty of discourse? But a full grown horse or dog is beyond comparison a more rational, as well as more conversable animal, than an infant of a day or a week or even a month old. But suppose they were otherwise, what would it avail? The question is not, 'Can they reason?,' nor 'Can they talk?,' but 'Can they suffer?'"[9]

The animal-rights movement thus rejects belonging to the human race as the criterion for "personhood," or membership in our moral community, as a form of discrimination, comparable to racism or sexism. Sentience, or the ability to experience pleasure and pain, is recognized as the only morally relevant criteria.

Sentience is relevant in the abortion debate. In a 1981 article entitled "The Experience of Pain by the Unborn," John T. Noonan, Jr., professor of law at the University of California at Berkeley, asks, "Does a stone feel pain?" He insists that "to those concerned with the defense of life, it makes no difference whether the life taken is that of a person who is unconscious or drugged or drunk or in full possession of his senses; a life has been destroyed. But there are those who . . . will not respond to argument about killing because they regard the unborn as a kind of abstraction . . . but who nonetheless might respond to evidence of pain suffered in the process of abortion."[10] Noonan then proceeds to make a case for empathy with fetal pain based upon the analogy to animals.

Noonan cites a campaign launched in England in 1928 against the cruel method of trapping animals. He writes of a 1968 California statute that says cattle must be rendered unconscious before being "cut, shackled, hoisted, thrown or cast." He also mentions a 1972 California statute that calls for painless methods in euthanizing animals.

"It may seem paradoxical, if not perverse, to defend the unborn by considering what has been done for animals," Noonan admits, "but the animal analogies are instructive on three counts: they show what can be done if empathy with suffering is awakened. They make possible an a fortiori case -- if you will do this for an animal, why not for a child? And they exhibit a successful response to the most difficult question when the pain of a being without language is addressed -- how do we know what is being experienced?"[11]

Noonan observes: "Human infants and all animals brought up by parents will cry and scream . . . What we do with animals to be able to say that they are in pain is precisely what we do with the newborn and the infant: we empathize. We suppose for this purpose that animals are, in fact, 'like us,' and we interpret the context of the cry."

According to Noonan, "We may conclude that as soon as a pain mechanism is present in the fetus -- possibly as early as day 56 -- the [abortion] methods used will cause pain. The pain is more substantial and lasts longer the later the abortion is. It is most severe and lasts the longest when the method is saline poisoning.

"Whatever the method used, the unborn are experiencing the greatest of bodily evils, the ending of their lives. They are undergoing the death agony. However inarticulate, however slight their cognitive powers, however rudimentary their sensations, they are sentient creatures undergoing the disintegration of their being and the termination of their vital capabilities."

Noonan concludes, "There are no laws which regulate the suffering of the aborted like those sparing pain to dying animals . . . Can human beings who understand what may be done for animals and what cannot be done for unborn humans want this inequality of treatment to continue? . . . Can those who feel for the harpooned whale not be touched by the situation of the salt-soaked baby?"[12]

The relevance of sentience in the abortion debate was also brought up on January 30, 1984, by then-President Ronald Reagan. "When the lives of the unborn are snuffed out, they often feel pain -- pain that is long and agonizing." On March 6, 1984, Reagan further stated, "As abortions are performed, the unborn children being killed often feel excruciating pain."[13]

Were these remarks Reagan's usual gaffes? Abortion supporters reacted swiftly. On the day following the President's first statement, Dr. Ervin Nichols, spokesperson for the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, said: "We are unaware of any evidence of any kind that would substantiate a claim that pain is perceived by a fetus."[14] This admission of ignorance was widely touted by the media as if it contradicted Reagan's assertions.

Meanwhile, 26 other specialists in this field, including two past presidents of the same Academy, sent a letter to Washington that read: "Mr. President, in drawing attention to the capability of the human fetus to feel pain, you stand on firmly established ground." One physician, Dr. William Hogan, cited numerous texts on fetology as evidence that fetuses feel pain.[15]

More recently, in the prestigious British medical journal The Lancet, British researchers acknowledge "direct evidence that the fetus has a hormonal stress response" to such invasive procedures as the "termination of pregnancy, especially by surgical techniques involving dismemberment."[16]

In their booklet, Fetal Pain and Abortion: The Medical Evidence, doctors observed: "The prospect of fetal pain -- pain that results from abortion -- cuts through philosophical abstractions and scientific nomenclature, proceeding directly to the heart . . . The significance of this lies in the tendency of most people to make ethical and political judgements based on the empathetic or sympathetic impulses that have little to do with reason or notions of justice."[17]


In an article entitled "Pro-Abortionists Poison Feminism," Rosemary Bottcher, currently President of Feminists for Life of America, also describes abortion as a form of discrimination:

"Pro-abortion feminists resent the discrimination against a whole class of humans because they happen to be female, yet they themselves discriminate against a whole class of humans because they happen to be very young.

"They resent that the value of a woman is determined by whether some man wants her, yet they declare that the value of an unborn child is determined by whether some woman wants him. They resent that women have been "owned" by their husbands, yet insist that the unborn are "owned" by their mothers.

"They believe that a man's right to do what he pleases with his own body cannot include the right to sexually exploit women, yet proclaim that a woman's similar right means that she can kill her unborn child."[18]

Animal-rights activists, likewise, reject "speciesism," or membership in the human race, as a criterion for personhood; they deem it a form of discrimination. Genetics determine the color of one's eyes, skin, etc. In a paper presented before the Conference on Creation Theology and Environmental Ethics at the World Council of Churches in Annecy, France, in September 1988, Tom Regan expressed opposition to discrimination based upon such genetic differences: "Biological differences inside the species Homo sapiens do not justify radically different treatment among those individual humans who differ biologically (for example, in terms of sex, or skin color, or chromosome count). Why, then, should biological differences outside our species count morally? If having one eye or deformed limbs do not disqualify a human being from moral consideration equal to that given to those humans who are more fortunate, how can it be rational to disqualify a rat or a wolf from equal moral consideration because, unlike us, they have paws and a tail?"[19]

Genetics is often cited by abortion opponents as the science that allows us to distinguish humans from nonhumans. In the language of animal liberation, genetics would allow us to distinguish sentient species from insentient species (e.g., plants).


Like abortion opponents drawing a parallel between the Dred Scott decision and Roe v. Wade, Regan also draws a parallel between human and animal slavery in The Case for Animal Rights:

"The very notion that farm animals should continue to be viewed as legal property must be challenged.

"To view them in this way implies that we cannot make sense of viewing them as legal persons. But the history of the law shows only too well, and too painfully, how arbitrary the law can be on this crucial matter. Those humans who were slaves were not recognized as legal persons in pre-Civil War America.

"There is no reason to assume that because animals are not presently accorded this status that they cannot intelligibly be viewed in this way or that they should not be. If our predecessors had made this same assumption in the case of human slaves, the legal status of these human beings would have remained unchanged."[20]

Both movements compare themselves to the nineteenth century abolitionists who sought to end human slavery. In Animal Liberation, for example, Peter Singer writes that the "tyranny of human over nonhuman animals" is "causing an amount of pain and suffering that can only be compared with that which resulted from the centuries of tyranny by white humans over black humans."[21] Similarly, Dr. J. C. Willke, former president of the National Right to Life Committee, entitled a book Abortion and Slavery.

As a liberal opponent of abortion (at the time), the Reverend Jesse Jackson once observed that the "privacy" argument used in Roe v. Wade to justify abortion "was the premise of slavery. You could not protest the existence or treatment of slaves on the plantation because that was private and therefore outside of your right to be concerned."[22]

Escalating Violence: The "Slippery Slope"

Anti-abortion activists consider abortion the ultimate form of child abuse, and claim that since abortion was legalized, child abuse rates have risen dramatically. Acceptance of abortion, they argue, leads to a devaluation of human life, and paves the way toward acceptance of infanticide and euthanasia. Animal-rights activists, likewise, compare the rights of animals to those of very young human children, insisting that a lack of respect for the lives and rights of animals brutalizes humans into insensitivity towards one another.

In his Diet for a New America, nominated for a Pulitzer Prize, author John Robbins writes of a Soviet study, published in "Ogonyok," that found that over 87 percent of a group of violent criminals had, as children, burned, hanged or stabbed domestic animals. Dr. Stephen Kellert of Yale also found that children who abuse animals have a much higher likelihood of becoming violent criminals.[23]

Seventeenth century English metaphysician John Locke, who influenced Thomas Jefferson, attacked cruelty to animals in his essay "Thoughts on Education," which dealt with the issue of raising children to be virtuous and humane. "This tendency to cruelty should be watched in them," wrote Locke, "and, if they incline to any such cruelty, they should be taught the contrary usage. For the custom of tormenting and killing of beasts will, by degrees, harden their hearts even towards men. And, they who delight in the suffering and destruction of inferior creatures, will not be apt to be very compassionate or benign to those of their own kind. Children should from the beginning be brought up in an abhorrence of killing or tormenting any living creature." [24]

Count Leo Tolstoy became a vegetarian in 1885. Giving up "sport" hunting, he advocated "vegetarian pacifism" and was opposed to killing even the smallest of living creatures, such as the ants. He believed there was a natural progression of violence that led inevitably to war among human beings. In his essay "The First Step," Tolstoy wrote that flesh-eating is "simply immoral, as it involves the performance of an act which is contrary to moral feeling -- killing." By killing, Tolstoy argued, "man suppresses in himself, unnecessarily, the highest spiritual capacity -- that of sympathy and pity towards living creatures like himself -- and by violating his own feelings becomes cruel. And how deeply seated in the human heart is the injunction not to take life!"[25]

In a 1947 essay, "A Case for Abolition," C. S. Lewis attacked vivisection and concluded:

"No argument for experiments on animals can be found which is not also an argument for experiments on inferior men. If we cut up beasts simply because they cannot prevent us and because we are backing up our own side in the struggle for existence, it is only logical to cut up imbeciles, criminals, enemies or capitalists for the same reason. Indeed, experiments on men have already begun. We all hear that Nazi scientists have done them. We all suspect that or own scientists may begin to do so, in secret, at any moment.

"The victory of vivisection marks a great advance in the triumph of ruthless, non-moral utilitarianism over the old world of ethical law; a triumph in which we, as well as animals, are already the victims, and of which Dachau and Hiroshima mark the more recent achievements."[26]

Lewis's words about "experiments on inferior men" can apply directly to fetal experimentation, of course. They are also especially relevant to the abortion debate and anti-abortionists' belief in the "slippery slope," or the idea that acceptance of abortion leads to a devaluation of life and paves the way toward acceptance of worse forms of violence.

Animals are sentient, autonomous beings possessing many mental capacities comparable to those of human children. If we fail to see animals as part of our moral community, how will we ever extend our sphere of moral concern to embrace humans in their most primitive stages of development? Anti-abortionists look in horror as an entire class of humans are systematically stripped of their rights, executed, and even used as tools for medical research. Yet this is what we humans have been doing to other sentient creatures for millennia.

Marjorie Spiegel, author of The Dreaded Comparison: Human and Animal Slavery, writes: "All oppression and violence is intimately and ultimately linked, and to think that we can end prejudice and violence to one group without ending prejudice and violence is utter folly."[27]

Animals and Children

The parallel between animal abuse and child abuse is very real. Neither can the connection between the rights of animals and the rights of children (born or unborn) be ignored.

Henry Bergh, founder of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), successfully prosecuted a woman for child abuse in 1873, at a time when children had no legal protection, under the then currently existing animal-protection statutes. This case started the child-saving crusade around the world.[28]

English philosopher John Stuart Mill observed: "The reasons for legal intervention in favor of children apply not less strongly to the case of those unfortunate slaves -- the animals." According to Mill, "every great movement must experience three stages: ridicule, discussion, adoption."[29]


An even stronger connection can be made between the rights of animals and the rights of women, living under the thumb of a "macho" patriarchy. While it is known that the feminist movement originally opposed abortion as "child-murder" and as a form of violence that women were forced to turn to in a patriarchal society, a society that shows virtually no concern or respect for new mothers, it is generally not known that many of the early American feminists--including Lucy Stone, Amelia Bloomer, Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton--were connected with the nineteenth century animal-welfare movement. They would meet to toast "Women's Rights and Vegetarianism."[30] In 1907, Flora T. Neff asked, "Why do we make one reform topic a hobby and forget all others? Mercy, Prohibition, Vegetarianism, Woman's Suffrage and Peace would make Old Earth a paradise, and yet the majority advocate but one, if any, of these."[31] Many of the early American feminists thus saw animal rights as the logical next step in social progress after women's rights and civil rights.

Tolstoy similarly described ethical vegetarianism as social progress: "And there are ideas of the future, of which some are already approaching realization and are obliging people to change their way of life and to struggle against the former ways: such ideas in our world as those of freeing the laborers, of giving equality to women, of ceasing to use flesh food, and so on."[32]

Civil Rights

Connections can also be made between animal rights, civil rights, and the rights of the human unborn. In her preface to The Dreaded Comparison: Human and Animal Slavery, Alice Walker, author of The Color Purple, concludes: "The animals of the world exist for their own reasons. They were not made for humans any more than black people were made for whites or women for men."[33]

At a rally in San Francisco protesting the use of animals in medical research, former Alameda County supervisor John George said, "My people were the first laboratory animals in America."[34] African-Americans suffered at the hands of research scientists just as animals continue to do today.

In 1968, civil-rights leader Dick Gregory compared humanity's treatment of animals with the conditions of America's inner cities:

"Animals and humans suffer and die alike. If you had to kill your own hog before you ate it, most likely you would not be able to do it. To hear the hog scream, to see the blood spill, to see the baby being taken away from its momma, and to see the look of death in the animal's eye would turn your stomach. So you get the man at the packing house to do the killing for you. In like manner, if the wealthy aristocrats who are perpetrating conditions in the ghetto actually heard the screams of ghetto suffering, or saw the slow death of hungry little kids, or witnessed the strangulation of manhood and dignity, they could not continue the killing. But the wealthy are protected from such horror. . . . If you can justify killing to eat meat, you can justify the conditions of the ghetto. I cannot justify either one."[35]

In 1973, Gregory drew a connection between vegetarianism and nonviolent civil disobedience: "The philosophy of nonviolence, which I learned from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. during my involvement in the civil rights movement was first responsible for my change in diet. I became a vegetarian in 1965. I had been a participant in all of the 'major' and most of the 'minor' civil rights demonstrations of the early sixties, including the March on Washington and the Selma to Montgomery March. Under the leadership of Dr. King, I became totally committed to nonviolence, and I was convinced that nonviolence meant opposition to killing in any form. I felt the commandment 'Thou shalt not kill' applied to human beings not only in their dealings with each other -- war, lynching, assassination, murder and the like -- but in their practice of killing animals for food or sport. Animals and humans suffer and die alike. . . . Violence causes the same pain, the same spilling of blood, the same stench of death, the same arrogant, cruel and brutal taking of life."[36]

In a 1979 interview, Gregory explained: "I didn't become a vegetarian for health reasons; I became a vegetarian strictly for moral reasons. . . . Vegetarianism will definitely become a people's movement." When asked if humans will ultimately have to answer to a Supreme Being for their exploitation of animals, Gregory replied, "I think we answer for that every time we go to the hospital with cancer and other diseases."[37]

Gregory has also expressed the opinion that the plight of the poor will improve as humans cease to slaughter animals: "I would say that the treatment of animals has something to do with the treatment of people. The Europeans have always regarded their slaves and the people they have colonialized as animals."[38]

Many African-Americans have viewed abortion as a type of genocide. For example, civil-rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer taught, "The methods used to take human lives, such as abortion, the pill, the ring, etc., amount to genocide. I believe that legal abortion is legal murder."[39]

Liberal Politics

Colman McCarthy, columnist for the Washington Post, is a good example of an ethical vegetarian, and is someone who may truly be called pro-life. McCarthy teaches filled-to-capacity classes on nonviolence in high schools and colleges in the Washington, D.C., area. He speaks eloquently about the rights of "our fellow Earthians, whom we call animals."

"How many of you had a corpse for lunch today?" he asks his students. "What part of any animal did you eat? A Leg? A rib? . . . I never call it meat -- that's just a euphemism. You know why I avoid dairy products and eggs? Because they're sexist; it's the females in the barns and henhouses. What do you think of that?"[40] McCarthy writes about public education, the violence of our meat-producing and chemical-agriculture industries, and the wasted millions of dollars spent on military buildup and high-school ROTC programs. He also takes an ardent stance against abortion. "Have you heard the new pro-choice strategy?" he asked in the spring of 1989 after a huge abortion rally in Washington, D.C. "Now they're all saying nobody wants an abortion, but that it's important to keep the option open. That's like a general who says he doesn't like war, but wants to keep it as an option just in case. You don't find peace through war, and you don't enhance life through killing babies."[41]

A 1972 Presidential commission on population growth recommended legalizing abortion, with only a few voices dissenting. One of those expressing opposition to legalized abortion was Graciela Olivarez, a Chicana active in civil rights and anti-poverty work. "The poor cry out for justice and equality," she explained, "and we respond with legalized abortion. I believe that in a society that permits the life of even one individual (born or unborn) to be dependent on whether that life is 'wanted' or not, all its citizens stand in danger. . . . We do not have equal opportunities. Abortion is a cruel way out."[42]

Soon after the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, one of the most liberal Senate Democrats, Harold Hughes, joined one of the most liberal Republicans, Mark Hatfield, in co-sponsoring a Human Life Amendment. Both were active in the anti-war movement, and both opposed abortion because of their political views. Michael Harrington once called the anti-abortion movement one of the only true grassroots movements to emerge from the 1970s.[43]

In an article appearing in the September 1980 issue of The Progressive entitled "Abortion: The Left Has Betrayed the Sanctity of Life," Mary Meehan wrote:

"If much of the leadership of the pro-life movement is right-wing, that is due largely to the default of the Left. We . . . who marched against the war and now march against abortion would like to see leaders of the Left speaking out on behalf of the unborn. But we see only a few, such as Dick Gregory, Mark Hatfield, Richard Neuhaus, Mary Rose Oakar. Most of the others either avoid the issue or support abortion.

We are dismayed by their inconsistency. And we are not impressed by arguments that we should work and vote for them because they are good on such issues as food stamps and medical care . . . . The traditional mark of the Left has been it protection of the underdog, the weak, and the poor. . . abortion is a civil rights issue."[44]

Rosemary Bottcher similarly criticized the Left for its failure to take a stand against abortion, In an article appearing in the Tallahassee Democrat, she wrote:

"The same people who wax hysterical at the thought of executing, after countless appeals, a criminal convicted of some revolting crime would have insisted on his mother's unconditional right to have him killed while he was still innocent. The same people who organized a boycott of the Nestle Company for its marketing of infant formula in underdeveloped lands would have approved of the killing of those exploited infants only a few months before. The same people who talk incessantly of human rights are willing to deny the most helpless and vulnerable of all human beings the most important right of all. Apparently these people do not understand the difference between contraception and abortion. Their arguments defending abortion would be perfectly reasonable if they were talking about contraception. When they insist upon "reproductive freedom" and "motherhood by choice" they forget that "pregnant" means "being with child." A pregnant woman has already reproduced; she is already a mother."[45]

Population and Environment

The threat of overpopulation and global famine is often used by abortion defenders to justify abortion as another necessary form of birth control. What does the future hold? According to Keith Akers in A Vegetarian Sourcebook, if the world population triples in the next century, and if meat production would triple as well, then instead of 3.7 billion acres of cropland and 7.5 billion acres of grazing land, we would require 11.1 billion acres of cropland and 22.5 billion acres of grazing land. Unfortunately, this is slightly more than the total land mass of the six inhabited continents! We are already desperately short of groundwater, topsoil, forests and energy. Even if we were to resort to extreme methods of population control -- abortion, infanticide, genocide, etc. -- modest increases in the world's population during the next century would make it impossible to maintain current levels of meat consumption. On a vegetarian diet, however, the world could support a population several times its present size. The world's cattle alone consume enough to feed 8.7 billion humans.[46]

The fact that raising animals for food uses vast amounts of land, water, and other resources for a remarkably meager return in protein and calories was delineated in Frances Moore Lappe's landmark 1971 book, Diet for a Small Planet. She called the animals who were fed grain "protein factories in reverse." It takes sixteen pounds of grain and soy to produce one pound of feedlot beef. "To give you some basis for comparison," she wrote, "sixteen pounds of grain has twenty-one times more calories and eight times more protein -- but only three times more fat -- than a pound of hamburger."[47]

There are environmental considerations as well, as are detailed at length in Robbin's book. Half the water consumed in the United States goes to irrigate land growing feed and fodder for livestock. Huge amounts of water are also used to wash away their excrement. U.S. livestock produce twenty times more excrement than does the entire human population, creating sewage that is ten to several hundred times more concentrated than raw domestic sewage. Animal wastes cause ten times more water pollution than does the U.S. human population; the meat industry causes three times more harmful organic water pollution than the rest of the nation's industries combined. Meat producers are the foremost industrial polluters, contributing to half the water pollution in the United States. The water that goes into a thousand-pound steer could float a destroyer. It takes 26 gallons of water to produce a pound of wheat, but 2,500 gallons to produce a pound of meat.

If these costs weren't subsidized by the American taxpayers, the cheapest hamburger meat would be $35.00 per pound! The burden of subsidizing the California meat industry costs taxpayers $24 billion annually. Livestock producers are California's biggest consumers of water. Every tax dollar that the state doles out to livestock producers costs taxpayers over seven dollars in lost wages, higher living costs and reduced business income. Seventeen western states have enough water supplies to support economies and populations twice as large as the present.

Overgrazing of cattle leads to topsoil erosion, turning once-arable land into desert. We lose four million acres of topsoil every year, and 85 percent of this is directly caused by raising livestock. To replace the soil we've lost, we're chopping down our forests.

Since 1967, the rate of deforestation in the United States has been one acre every five seconds. For each acre cleared in urbanization, seven are cleared for grazing or growing livestock feed. One-third of all raw materials in the United States are consumed by the livestock industry, and it takes three times as much fossil-fuel energy to produce meat than it does to produce plant foods.[48]

In an article entitled "Parallels Between Abortion and Eco-Abortion," Paul C. Christian wrote:

"Is there any connection between how our society abuses our planet and how we abuse unborn children through abortion? . . . Imagine the earth as a sort of cosmic egg. It is not unlike the human fetus in a woman's womb. . . . Both also have great amounts of water, an essential ingredient of life as we know it. . . .

"Saline abortions are performed by removing amniotic fluid and injecting a salty solution in its place, which causes death by burning all exposed tissue. Are we not doing something similar to our planet via acid rain, which "burns" trees and other plants and even kills whole lakes, fish and all? . . .

"Another form of abortion involves cutting up the living unborn child and removing it. Are we not doing a similar thing on a different scale by tearing down the rain forests? . . .

"A child not given a chance to live is lost to us. We can never benefit from what she or he could have contributed to our world. Yet we humans not only kill our offspring, but whole species of other animals and plants as well. The possible benefits of these are lost to us forever, too . . .

"Perhaps we should call what we are doing to the earth eco-abortion. . . . We must nurture and protect life both in the womb and around the globe. It will not do to save one and lose the other, for they are but two sides of the same coin.[49]"

Assembly Lines

Among abortion opponents, the nature of the modern abortion clinic as an assembly line is well-known. The public perception of abortion being "safe and legal," together with an assumption that it is treated like medical care, does not match reality. Dr. Edward Allred, an abortion provider, stated this explicitly when he said: "Very commonly we hear patients say they feel like they're on an assembly line. We tell them they're right. It is an assembly line. . . . We're trying to be as cost effective as possible, and speed is important. . . . We try to use the physician for his technical skills and reduce the one-on-one relationship with the patient. We usually see the patient for the first time on the operating table and then not again."[50]

The dehumanization of women in this fashion, depriving them of the individual attention normally expected in medical situations, also deprives them of the after-care and worsens the psychological ramifications.

One clinic, Ob/Gyn Services, in presenting itself as superior to other clinics, ran classified ads in 1991 in the Atlanta Journal Constitution. They read: "Don't be herded like a cow." The advertisements also assured potential clients that the stay at the clinic would only be one hour; the discrepancy was never explained.

The mention of the treatment of animals, however, was not coincidental, and unfortunately, merely being "herded" is primarily a practice of yesteryear. For modern cattle, pigs, and chickens, the assembly-line nature of factory farming leaves sentient creatures treated with incredible cruelty. The laws on humane treatment of animals do not apply to those who are destined to be eaten.

Animal-rights activists are aware of the appalling assembly-line conditions, but most members of the public are under the misconception that animals live happy lives on farms before being converted into food. In fact, chickens are stacked up in close proximity in cages in buildings where their sensitivity to light, which makes the rooster crow at sunrise, is frustrated. They live under such insanity-producing conditions that they injure each other in pecking attacks. This is prevented by cutting their beaks off, a painful procedure. The cause of the problem, hysteria-producing conditions for highly social animals, remains, but the injuries are fewer without the beaks.[51] Poultry Digest reports the typical egg factory holds 80,000 hens per warehouse.[52]

Pigs are highly sociable animals. Subject to the confinement and abuse of modern factory farming, pigs are placed on metal slatted floors without bedding, which would cost money. Their feet are not designed for this, and the conditions damage them. The editors of Farmer and Stockbreeder explain: "The slatted floor seems to have more merit than disadvantages. The animal will usually be slaughtered before serious deformity sets in."[53]

Abortion opponents are familiar with the assembly-line nature of most abortion clinics, and animal-rights activists know about the assembly-line nature of most factory farms, but the information is not exchanged very well between these two movements. The general public, meanwhile, is mostly unaware of either one. Members of the public know that abortion and infanticide and cruelty to nonhuman animals have been going on since time immemorial, but are unaware that in the modern world these cruelties have multiplied and been institutionalized in an assembly-line format. In both instances, the most efficient way of making money is being sought, with an eye to low production prices and a cheaper final product, which draws more customers and therefore greater profits. The suffering that is caused to women and to animals is not put into calculations that are based on profit, not compassion.

Rights Language

In an article on animal rights entitled "Just Like Us?," Gary Francione, a former Supreme Court law clerk and a professor of law at the University of Pennsylvania, explained:

"I believe that animals have rights. This is not to say that animals have the same rights we do, but the reasons that lead us to accord certain rights to human beings are equally applicable to animals.

"The problem is that our value system doesn't permit the breadth of vision necessary to understand that. We currently use the category of "species" as the relevant criterion for determining membership in our moral community, just as we once used race and sex to determine that membership.

"If you had asked white men in 1810 whether Blacks had rights, most of them would have laughed at you. What was necessary then is necessary now. We must change the way we think: a paradigm shift in the way we think about animals. Rights for Blacks and women were the constitutional issues of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Animal rights, once more people understand the issue, will emerge as the civil rights movement of the twenty-first century."[54]

In that same article, bioethicist Art Caplan warned: "If you cheapen the currency of rights language, you've got to worry that rights may not be taken seriously. Soon you will have people arguing that trees have rights and that embryos have rights."

Ingrid Newkirk, Executive Director of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, then responded: "Art, wouldn't you rather err on the side of giving out too many rights rather than too few?" The leader of America's largest animal-rights organization (400,000 strong) is thus open to the possibility that embryos have rights.

Likewise, opponents of abortion should be open to the possibility that other sentient species may have rights. It may be tempting for us as humans to consider only the possible rights of the human unborn and exclude all others because they are not part of our "human family," but Newkirk argues that our laws should not be based upon such anthropomorphic prejudices: "If a building were burning and a baby baboon, a baby rat, and a baby child were inside, I'm sure I would save the child. But if the baboon mother went into the building, I'm sure she would take out the infant baboon. It's just that there is an instinct to save yourself first, then your immediate family, your countrymen, and on to your species. But we have to recognize and reject the self-interest that erects these barriers and try to recognize the rights of others who happen not be exactly like ourselves."[55]

To many the thought of giving rights to fully grown animals is as absurd as giving rights to the human unborn. Cambridge philosopher Thomas Taylor actually tried to refute Mary Wollstonecraft's A Vindication of the Rights of Women by arguing that if women could be given liberation, then so could animals, and that since this is "absurd," giving women liberation must be equally absurd. He entitled his parody A Vindication of the Rights of Brutes.[56]

Movement Connections

In an article in Harmony, a journal devoted to the consistent-life ethic, Jean Blackwood wrote:

"Prolifers, even 'consistent ethic' ones, are oddly silent about the ozone hole, the greenhouse effect, the slaughter of whales, the cruelty of factory farming and lab research . . . Animal rights and environmental supporters do not tend to recognize the inherent value of unborn humans. My membership in PETA got my name on the mailing list for Planned Parenthood!"[57]

One of the leading proponents of animal rights, Peter Singer, is subject to widespread criticism from abortion opponents. Singer contrasts the unborn or newborn and severely mentally incapacitated humans with fully grown animals, and finds them less worthy of having their lives protected. He concludes that the interests of these humans need not be taken into account when determining social policy. This view has offended many abortion opponents, and it interferes with the goal of explaining the importance of animal rights to those in the right-to-life movement. Conversely, however, the reasons for opposition to abortion could be most effectively conveyed to animal-rights activists by those who are also sympathetic to animal welfare.

In her article "Animal Rights and the Feminist Connection," Ingrid Newkirk writes:

"Inherent in feminist ideology is the basic philosophy of freedom from oppression for all living beings. Many feminists, however, . . . are guilty of the same kind of supremacy clung to by males in our society. . . .

"How many feminists realize (or want to realize) how much violence, oppression and suffering they support at the meat counter, the dairy case, the leather goods store, the fur shops and the cosmetics counter? Do they know about crated veal calves, caged and de-beaked chickens, 'super-ovulated' dairy cows, trapped or 'ranch-raised' fur animals and blinded rabbits? . . .

"Feminists should recognize that their attitudes to members of other species are a form of prejudice no less objectionable than prejudice about a person's race or sex. Early American feminists from Lucy Stone, Amelia Bloomer, Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton . . . and others have condemned animal slavery. Let all true feminists -- women and men -- join their expansive feminism and we'll make a substantive move away from all exploitation and oppression."[58]

The early American feminists, of course, also opposed abortion as a form of violence and as a tool of the patriarchy. In a 1995 interview on the Dennis Prager Show in Los Angeles, Newkirk admitted that the animal-rights movement is divided on the issue of abortion.

Where should an animal-rights activist stand with regard to abortion? Mohandas Gandhi, India's great apostle of nonviolence, once wrote that "it would seem to me clear as daylight that abortion would be a crime."[59]

To all animal-rights activists, it would seem to be clear as daylight that animals have rights, just as children, women, Blacks, or the mentally handicapped have rights. Any leanings the animal-rights movement may presently have in favor of abortion will change if abortion opponents get involved with the struggle for animal rights.

Because of the great divisions over the abortion issue, for animal-rights activists to align themselves solely with pro-abortion people may prove suicidal in the long run. The abortion issue will not go away. Animal-rights activists may thus find it in their best interest to begin networking with the liberal wing of the right-to-life movement.

A popular liberal bumper sticker reads: "No one is free when others are oppressed." Whether we talk about extending "human" rights to animals or to the unborn, we are still talking about expanding our sphere of moral concern to embrace a disenfranchised class of beings.

Animal-rights activists and prenatal-rights activists should, if anything, be sympathetic toward each others' causes, because similar moral principles are involved. If animal-rights activists can imagine a future in which all forms of animals exploitation have been abolished, it should not be too difficult to imagine a world in which abortions are not practiced.

The anti-abortion movement seeks to extend human rights to the unborn, recognizing human rights from fertilization until death. Yet it fails to recognize the rights of other sentient creatures. The animal liberation movement seeks to extend "human" rights to all sentient creatures, but often fails to take their development and potentiality into account. A broader secular, political movement, encompassing the rights of all sentient creatures at every stage of development, will undoubtedly attain great success.


  1. J.P. Goodwin, "What More You Can do to Fight Fur," The Animal's Voice Magazine 7(2)(1994): 7.
  2. Carol J. Adams, "Abortion Rights and Animal Rights," Feminists for Animal Rights 6(1-2)(1991): 1.
  3. Ibid.
  4. B. R. Boyd, The New Abolitionists: Animal Rights and Human Liberation (San Francisco: Taterhill Press, 1987): 6.
  5. Tom Regan, The Case for Animal Rights (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1983): 243.
  6. Theodore Barber, The Human Nature of Birds (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1993).
  7. Letter to Henri Gregoire, 25 February 1809.
  8. Sojourner Truth, "Ain't I a Woman?," in Miriam Scheir, ed., Feminism: The Essential Historical Writings (New York: Random House, 1972): 95.
  9. Jeremy Bentham, Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation (New York: Hafner Publishing, 1948): 311. Because this book is a classic, it has been published in many editions by many publishers; the quotation comes from the first footnote to chapter 17.
  10. Quoted in Jeff Hensley, The Zero People (Toronto: Life Cycle Books, 1983): 142.
  11. Ibid., 143-44.
  12. Ibid., 152.
  13. Quoted in Patrick Kahler, "Fetal Pain Abortion: The Medical Evidence," Studies in Law and Medicine, 18, Americans United for Life (1983).
  14. Ibid.
  15. Ibid.
  16. Xenophon Giannakoulopoulos, "Fetal Plasma Cortisol and B-Endorphin Response to Intrauterine Needling," The Lancet 344 (9 July 1994): 77-81.
  17. Kahler.
  18. Rosemary Bottcher, "Pro-Abortionists Poison Feminism," in Pro-Life Feminism: Different Voices (Toronto: Life Cycle Books, 1985): 45.
  19. Tom Regan, "Religion and Animal Rights," The Animal's Voice Magazine 2(4)(1989): 25-26.
  20. Regan, The Case for Animal Rights, 348.
  21. Peter Singer, Animal Liberation (New York: Avon Books, 1975): ix.
  22. Quoted in Denyse Handler, "Pro-Life Liberals: What Effect Can They Have?," in Pro-Life Feminism: Different Voices (Toronto: Life Cycle Books, 1985): 71
  23. John Robbins, Diet for a New America (Walpole, NH: Stillpoint Publishing, 1987): 23.
  24. Quoted in J. Todd Ferrier, On Behalf of the Creatures (London: Order of the Cross, 1903): 82.
  25. Andrew Linzey and Tom Regan, eds,. Animals and Christianity (New York: Crossroad Publishing Company, 1989): 195.
  26. Ibid., 163-64.
  27. Marjorie Spiegel, The Dreaded Comparison (New York: Mirror Books, 1989).
  28. Merritt Clifton, "Who Helps the Helpless Child?," The Animals' Agenda, December 1991.
  29. Quoted in Regan, The Case for Animal Rights
  30. Gerald Carson, Cornflake Crusade (New York: Rinehart, 1957): 19, 53-62.
  31. Flora T. Neff, Letter to the Editor, The Vegetarian Magazine 10(12) (April 1907): 16-17.
  32. Quoted in Dudley Giehl, Vegetarianism: A Way of Life (New York, NY: Harper & Row, 1979): 132.
  33. Quoted in Spiegel, 14.
  34. Quoted in Spiegel, 62-63.
  35. Quoted in Carol J. Adams, The Sexual Politics of Meat (New York: Continuum Publishing, 1990): 45.
  36. Dick Gregory, Dick Gregory's Natural Diet for Folks Who Eat (New York: Harper & Row, 1973).
  37. Quoted in Rynn Berry, Jr., The Vegetarians (Brookline, MA: Autumn Press, Inc., 1979).
  38. Ibid.
  39. Quoted in Mary Krane Derr, "A Light to Let Shine," Harmony (December 1993): 6.
  40. Debra Blake Wiesenthal, "Colman McCarthy's Labor of Love," Vegetarian Times, 143 (July 1989).
  41. Ibid.
  42. Quoted in Mary Meehan, "Abortion: The Left Has Betrayed the Sanctity of Life," The Progressive (September 1980): 61-62.
  43. Ibid.
  44. Ibid, 62.
  45. Rosemary Bottcher, "How Do Pro-Choicers 'Fool' Themselves? Prolife Feminism: Different Voices (Toronto, Ontario, Life Cycle Books, 1985): 58.
  46. Keith Akers, A Vegetarian Sourcebook (Arlington, VA: Vegetarian Press, 1986):94.
  47. Frances Moore Lappe, Diet for a Small Planet, 10th Anniversary Edition (New York: Ballantine Books, 1982): 69. Conversion ratios from fig. 1, p. 70; statistics from USDA Economic Research Service, Beltsville, MD.
  48. Robbins, p. 350-381.
  49. Paul C. Christian, "Parallels Between Abortion and Eco-Abortion," The Church World, 31 May 1990.
  50. "Doctor's Abortion Business Is Lucrative," San Diego Union, 12 October 1980.
  51. Robbins, 57.
  52. "How Egg Industry Changed During the Last 20 Years," Poultry Digest (July 1978): 232.
  53. Farmer and Stockbreeder , 11 July 1961.
  54. "Just Like Us?," Harper's (August 1988).
  55. Ibid.
  56. Adams, The Sexual Politics of Meat, 106.
  57. Jean Blackwood, "The Prolife Movement, Animals and the Environment," Harmony (July 1993): 17-19.
  58. Facts for Activists , booklet published by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), unpaginated, undated.
  59. Mohandas Gandhi, All Men Are Brothers, Autobiographical Reflections (New York: Continuum, 1980): 150.

Originally published in Feminism & Nonviolence Studies - Fall 1995. 

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