If Men Could Get Pregnant, Abortion Would Be a Sacrament

Florynce Kennedy? Gloria Steinem? Elderly Irish Taxicab Driver? Germaine Greer? Anonymous?

taxi01Dear Quote Investigator: An incendiary quotation on the topic of abortion has an uncertain authorship. The following words have been attributed to both Florynce Kennedy and Gloria Steinem:

If men could get pregnant, abortion would be a sacrament.

Could you determine who said it first?

Quote Investigator: The earliest published evidence located by QI appeared in an issue of the periodical “Off Our Backs” dated June 24, 1971 in which a speech given by the prominent activist Florynce Kennedy at a rally held on May 15, 1971 in Washington D.C. was described: 1

Florynce Kennedy, author of Abortion Rap defined the situation with her usual clarity: “If men could get pregnant, abortion would be a sacrament.” She also read parts of the Metropolitan Abortion Alliance’s statement on the media and urged a national boycott of the media sponsors.

The leading feminist Gloria Steinem also used the expression in speeches delivered in 1971, but intriguingly Steinem pointed to another person as creator of this saying. In her 1983 memoir “Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions” Steinem indicated that the statement was spoken to her and Florynce Kennedy by the “elderly Irish woman driver” of a taxi in Boston. Details are given further below.

So, the quotation was popularized by Kennedy and Steinem, but the origin can be traced back to an anonymous taxicab driver. Top researcher Ralph Keyes noted this fact in his important reference “The Quote Verifier”. 2

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

In August 1971 Newsweek magazine published a “Special Report” about Gloria Steinem which showed that the saying was included in her speeches. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 3

But for the past year she has been roving the country to raise money and consciousness for the still amorphous and revolutionary state of mind called the Women’s Liberation Movement, speaking in pithy anger (“If men could get pregnant, abortion would be a sacrament”) to college girls and welfare mothers, to young revolutionaries and however many tailored suburbanites will turn out to listen.

In September 1971 a letter printed in Newsweek responded to the profile of Steinem published a month earlier. The writer repeated the striking adage and credited the words to Steinem: 4

Gloria Steinem’s statement: “If men could get pregnant, abortion would be a sacrament” contains much poignant truth.

In November 1971 an article from the Associated Press news service described a group of 2,000 demonstrators marching down Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington D.C. The provocative statement had migrated from orators to placards: 5

They carried signs with such slogans as: “If men could get pregnant, abortion would be a sacrament.”

In the Winter 1971 issue of “Aphra: The Feminist Literary Magazine” a collection of quotations was published. This periodical provided the earliest evidence known to QI indicating that the famous phrase was pronounced by a cabdriver: 6

If men could get pregnant, abortion would be a sacrament.
—woman cabdriver to Florynce Kennedy and Diane Schulder, 1971

In March 1973 Ms. Magazine published “The Verbal Karate of Florynce R. Kennedy, Esq.” by Gloria Steinem. A variety of quotations were credited to Kennedy by Steinem including the following: 7

Reproductive Freedom
“If men could get pregnant, abortion would be a sacrament.”

In 1983 Steinem published “Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions”, and a section near the beginning of the work employed a stream-of-consciousness style. Steinem recalled a fortuitous encounter in a taxi: 8

Talking with Flo about her first book, Abortion Rap, in a Boston taxi and hearing its elderly Irish woman driver say the much-to-be-quoted words: “Honey, if men could get pregnant, abortion would be a sacrament.”

In a 2006 interview in the Boston Globe newspaper Steinem elaborated on the provenance of the quotation: 9

Steinem brightens. “You know who said that? Years ago, I was in a taxi in Boston or Cambridge. There was an old Irish woman taxi driver. Flo Kennedy, the civil rights activist, was my speaking partner at the time. We were sitting in the back talking about abortion and the taxi driver turned around and she said, ‘Honey, if men could get pregnant, abortion would be a sacrament.’ And I’ve always been so sorry that I didn’t get her name.”

The saying has sometimes been ascribed to other activist women such as Germaine Greer, but the quotation was not actually included in “The Female Eunuch”: 10

If men could get pregnant, abortion would be a sacrament.
Germaine Greer
Australian Writer
The Female Eunuch, 1970

In conclusion, QI believes that this quotation should be ascribed to an anonymous taxi driver in Boston. Florynce Kennedy and Gloria Steinem disseminated the saying and helped it to obtain an enduring spot in the cultural milieu.

(Great thanks to top researchers Ralph Keyes and Barry Popik for their valuable research on this quotation. Special thanks to the anonymous person who asked about this saying. Thanks to Ian Preston for helpfully pointing out a spelling error.)

Notes:

  1. 1971 June 24, Off Our Backs: A Women’s News Journal, Volume 1, Number 23, “bringing it home: if men could get pregnant, abortion would be a sacrament” by Chris Hobbs, Quote Page 20, Column 1, Published by Off Our Backs, Inc. (JSTOR) link link
  2. 2006, The Quote Verifier by Ralph Keyes, Quote Page 62, St Martin’s Griffin, New York. (Verified on paper)
  3. 1971 August 16, Newsweek, “Special Report: Gloria Steinem: A Liberated Woman Despite Beauty, Chic and Success”, Start Page 51, Quote Page 51, Column 1, Newsweek, Inc, New York. (Verified on microfilm)
  4. 1971 September 6, Newsweek, Letters to the Editor, (Letter from Brenda and John Zamary), Quote Page 4 and 5, Newsweek, Inc, New York. (Verified on microfilm)
  5. 1971 November 21, Seattle Times (Seattle Daily Times), D.C. marchers for, against abortion, (Associated Press), Quote Page A8, Column 3, Seattle, Washington. (GenealogyBank)
  6. 1971-1972 Winter, Aphra: The Feminist Literary Magazine, Volume 3, Number 1, APHRA-isms, Start Page 47, Quote Page 49, APHRA, Inc., New York. (Verified on paper)
  7. 1973 March, Ms., “The Verbal Karate of Florynce R. Kennedy, Esq.” by Gloria Steinem, [Author note at end of article: Irene Davall and Susan Margolis--writers and Feminist Party organizers from New York and California respectively--helped with the collection of these quotes], Start Page 54, Quote Page 89, Column 1, Published by Ms. Magazine Corp., New York, New York. (Verified on paper)
  8. 1983 Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions by Gloria Steinem, Quote Page 8, Holt, Rinehart and Winston, New York. (Verified on paper)
  9. 2006 November 24, Boston Globe, Hanging With Gloria Steinem by Stephanie Schorow (Globe Correspondent), Boston, Massachusetts. (Accessed at boston.com on September 11, 2013; Online Boston Globe Archive)
  10. Database: Eigen’s Political & Historical Quotations, Quotation Number: 20755, Name: Germaine Greer, Quotation: “If men could get pregnant, abortion would be a sacrament.” (The database lists “Germain” instead of “Germaine”) (Accessed politicalquotes.org in September 11, 2013) link