I remember the day we went to the clinic. We prayed and parked across the street. We took our signs and joined the sidewalk litany in front of the clinic. We walked and prayed. One middle-aged man sang hymns off-key as he plodded along. Behind him a mothe r rolled her baby and hummed lullabies. In stony silence, a young republican student marched along. An elderly woman crossed herself and prayed softly. We were there to protest the abortions taking place in that building.
The sun bristled and the heat beat down. Then they came. The pro-choicers. They sat on the steps hurling slogans and obscenities at us, seasoning it with potshots at religion. One of their men stood near us, and his eyes fixed upon me with a hostile gaze. Cars honked as they drove by. It was a horrible place. Trying to ignore the distractions around me, I put one foot in front of the other and tried to focus on what I had come to do, which was to pray for the women having an abortion that day.
But I found my mind wandering. I almost began to weep that day, not because I stood in front of an abortion clinic, but because I stood on the razor's edge of the great abortion divide, and because there seemed to be no common ground. No place for dialogu e, no place for compromise, and definitely no place for a religious woman like myself in the women's movement. It's hard to place your feet on common ground, when all you have to stand on are circular arguments, belittling epithets, hollow rhetoric, and r udeness — it's not just the pro-choicers who behave abominably on the picket line, lest we forget the violence against abortion providers. The violent actions of a few were quickly apologized for by the mainstream pro-life movement. But its hesitancy to t ake responsibility for fostering an atmosphere which is likely to provoke violence, is what prevents them from washing the bloody stains of Brookline from their own hands.
The abortion debate has ground to a hostile stalemate on the clinic doorstep. Clinic workers fear that another gun-toting Salvi, nourished on the gory rhetoric of protest, lurks behind the placards of peaceful protesters. Abortion rights protesters fear t hat their right to protest a perceived moral evil will be trampled by legislation, their message about God loving everyone is peppered with the bullet holes of violence.
The stagnating polarization of the abortion controversy is painfully obvious. Its origin lies shrouded in stereotyping, dogmatic ideology, heartfelt emotion and deeply-held conviction. Both sides are responsible for the polarization of the debate. It's ti me to build a bridge across the great abortion divide. Despite their differences, the opposing camps share a concern for women. Encouraged to "do it all," women are trapped between the competing demands of motherhood and professional life with little supp ort and heavy responsibility. Abortion gives men a means of denying responsibility for fertility, shackling women with the obligation to "take care of it." Lax laws allow deadbeat dads to avoid child support, while lower wages for women force single mothe rs to struggle. Improved contraception for women, funding for day care, tax cuts for working families, equal pay for equal work, deadbeat dad pay-up plans, improved adoption services, and foster care reform, are all potential issues for common ground.
It is time to begin a respectful dialogue that encourages communication and cooperation. Both sides must renounce rhetorical stereotyping. Antiabortion rights supporters should stop caricaturing its opponents as bra-burning liberal sluts out to vacuum eve ry womb dry. Likewise, some in the pro-choice camp needs to stop depicting their enemies as ignorant buffoons overcome by religious fanaticism.
With 1.5 million abortions per year in the United States, both sides need to engage in a dialogue about the circumstances that lead women to choose abortion. It is tragic that women get pregnant because they are lack birth control. It is tragic that teena gers get pregnant because they think that a baby will provide them with unconditional love.
Although they will continue to disagree on many things, both sides agree that reducing the need for abortions is a worthy goal. Sex education, self-esteem building for young people, and community mentors are among the strategies that can help to reduce th e number of unwanted pregnancies, and as a result, the abortion rate.
I never went back to that clinic, although I attended other pro-life demonstrations over the next couple of years. My thinking began to change about the abortion issue, and I now support a woman's right to choose abortion.
However, feminist talk of liberation and celebration of the right to abort "just cells" still evokes a reprehensive shudder in my soul, because abortion is about loss. If we can begin a dialogue, and learn to place our feet on common ground, then we will find a way across the great abortion divide.
Part of this essay was printed as, "Abortion: Finding Our Common Ground," in the Independent Florida Alligator, September 5, 1996.