Roe vs. Wade: 29 years later

Some might say I’m living out the American dream. I am a young, idealistic person on the road to a degree from Williams College. Over the coming decades of my life, I am almost guaranteed prestige from various organizations and schools, loads of money, a wife, kids, a house in the suburbs – all there for the asking.

We have all been exposed to these cliches about Williams students over and over again, and at this point one might ask what point I am trying to make that we haven’t already heard from a large number of people. So to be up front, allow me to introduce myself: my name is Graeme, I am from New York City and I recently attended the annual American Collegians for Life conference. Today, tens of thousands of my fellow pro-lifers will march through our nation’s capital to the Capitol steps, commemorating what we strongly believe to be a sorrowful decision in our nation’s history. While I would have loved to march this year (as I did last year), obligations in Williamstown force me to cut my trip short.

Who are we? What do we believe, and why do we believe what we believe? Why do we risk needless derision and hatred to stand up for these beliefs? Are we not merely a bunch of spiteful fundamentalists who bomb clinics and harass women?

To address the first question of “who we are,” I admit I cannot characterize the “average” pro-lifer. Perhaps it is myself, or my many pro-life associates on campus, who drink coffee, play tennis, kiss our younger siblings and check our mail once a day, just like our pro-choice friends. Perhaps it is Norah Vincent, a libertarian lesbian columnist, Williams College class of 1991. Perhaps it is Father Frank Pavone (whom I had the honor of hearing speak this weekend), a theologically orthodox Catholic priest and founder of Priests for Life, who has been so admired by his unlikely allies at the Pro-Life Alliance of Gays and Lesbians that they asked him to speak at their conference. Perhaps it is Mary Dean, a now-elderly founder of North Adams’s crisis pregnancy center. Perhaps it is Nat Hentoff, a politically liberal Jewish atheist or Serrin Foster, who was kicked out of the National Organization for Women (NOW) in the seventies for her anti-abortion beliefs and then proceeded to found Feminists for Life. Jerry Falwell and Pat Buchanan may make the news, but do you see much of Kathy Ireland, Mel Gibson, Doris Gordon, Patricia Bainbridge, Bernard Nathanson, Patricia Lyman or Kim Alexis? What about Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, the strong-minded founders of the American feminist movement? Or Norma McCorvey, “Jane Roe” in Roe v. Wade, now a pro-life activist? You can run a search for any of these people using Yahoo or Google – the resources and testimonials are endless.

What do we believe? Everyone has their own socio-political reasons for supporting the movement, which I will discuss later, but they all stem from one scientific fact: at conception, a distinct being with 46 chromosomes is formed. The heart begins to beat 21 days after conception, and before the end of the second month of pregnancy brain waves can be detected. The brain controls 40 sets of muscles at this point, and the stomach begins to produce digestive juices. These scientific facts have convinced many pro-choicers to rally themselves with the pro-life movement. I mentioned Bernard Nathanson earlier. Nathanson was a co-founder of NARAL, which was then the National Association for the Repeal of Abortion Laws in pre-Roe v. Wade days and is now the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League. Nathanson is now a national pro-life advocate and the author of several books.

So what else motivates pro-life advocates besides knowledge of embryonic and fetal development? Contrary to what we have been told, pro-lifers are not anti-woman, pro-rapist, anti-sex, anti-feminist, puritanical, authoritarian religious fundamentalists who sit on their fannies unappreciative of the drop in crime and child abuse that legalized abortion is purported to ensure. (As a side note, rates of crime and child abuse have skyrocketed since 1973.) Just ask the founders of the Internet’s “green ribbon” campaign to promote birth control and school sex education programs while maintaining pro-life values. Similarly, ask the women of Feminists for Life, who see abortion as a form of oppression of women. Their chief inspiration, Susan B. Anthony, said of abortion, “When we see that women are treated as property, it is degrading to women that we treat our children as property to be disposed of as we see fit.”

The pro-life feminist view, in a nutshell, states that the ability to bring forth new life is such a wonderful gift, so tied up with a healthy sense of womanhood, that it follows that abortion is in no way pro-woman but fundamentally diminishes that very gift that makes women unique. Pro-life feminists assert that abortion after rape intensifies the trauma and helplessness felt by the victim, citing cases where women have given birth to children conceived by rape and felt an intense sense of healing and empowerment afterward. They also cite cases where women have sought abortions in vain attempts to appease abusive husbands, surveys where women have felt regret and depression following abortion, and studies linking abortion to breast cancer and infertility, among other cases.

Feminists for Life also runs campaigns against other forms of exploitation of women, such as prostitution and pornography. Similarly, many pro-lifers are so deeply concerned about the desperate state of many young mothers to the degree that they devote much money and time in crisis pregnancy centers. Although Planned Parenthood is quick to denounce these centers as dispensers of false information on abortion, the vast majority of the pro-life information that workers at these centers offer clients are based on solid research. Additionally, crisis pregnancy centers will provide adoption counseling, parenting education, baby supplies, baby clothes, maternity clothes to any and all clients who choose not to have abortions, regardless of background and personal beliefs. But don’t take my word for it – run an Internet search now, or call up your local CPC the next time you’re at home. You may be pleasantly surprised.

A final word: clinic bombers and murderers of abortionists are considered outlaws and are much hated in the pro-life movement. Every mainstream pro-life organization draws a clear distinction between lawful and unlawful means of helping the cause, and does not mince words in condemning murderous crimes. If you do not believe the official statements made by National Right to Life, Feminists for Life, Rightgrrl, and other organizations, then listen to us, the many pro-lifers on campus, your friends, roommates, and intellectual colleagues. We condemn these acts, because ultimately we are not motivated by arguments. We are motivated by people – not only unborn children, but anyone whose life has or may be touched by abortion – for a respect for the unborn can hardly be isolated from a greater compassion for all humans.