INSIGHTS

And He spake to them through a bullhorn, saying. . .

I was reading an article about the Dallas City Council vote to prohibit demonstrators from using bullhorns near abortion clinics. Up strolls my friend, an otherwise sensible guy who’s a whiz on the company softball team.

“Are you in favor of abortion?” he asked me. The determined glint in his eye let me know which answer he wanted.

I hemmed and hawed for a moment, then decided on the calm, philosophical approach. “Well,” I began, “that’s a really complex question that might be hard to answer with a simple yes or no. I mean, you have to consider different-“

He cut me off. “Let’s put it this way. Are you in favor of murder?”

I should have given him the answer he wanted. It was like a play, and I knew my lines. I say no, I don’t support murder. He says, okay then, you can’t support abortion. Bang. The syllogism snaps shut, and I’m trapped inside.

But he had started it, after all, and I guess I’ve never completely outgrown a smart-aleck, grad-school love of Baptist-baiting. Okay, you asked for it, buddy.

“In fact, I do approve of murder in certain circumstances. You can sure argue that the world would have been much better off had Hitler been murdered in 1941. In fact, some clergymen took part in the plot to kill him. And I don’t think I’d shed many tears if someone had knocked off Jim Jones, the Guyana messiah. Here’s a guy-“

“Wait a minute,” my friend said. “Let’s put it this way. Suppose,” (I could smell it coming: the Far-Fetched Rhetorical Question.)

“Suppose a woman’s husband could somehow just go in there at night, while she’s asleep, and abort the child without her knowing it. Would that be right?”

We were in deep water. I think I said that nobody was giving women abortions against their will, that like it or not, legalized abortion is the law of the land. (See Roe v. Wade, 1973, Sup. Ct. Yes, our Henry Wade, Mr. District Attorney, was on the losing end of that one, with six Republican appointees-hardly wild-eyed pinko liberals-sitting on the court.)

By now our discussion had ceased to be a meeting of minds and had become an exchange of lectures. We weren’t seeing each other as people but as symbols. To me, he was a book-burning, freedom-killing Jesse Helms right-winger. To him, I was a fuzzy-minded, socialistic, relativistic, godless secular humanist.

Perhaps it’s inevitable that such conversations end with an exchange of slogans and bumper-sticker logic. What else could happen in a debate so clogged with unreason that the two sides call themselves “pro-life” and “pro-choice”? If one camp claims the label of “pro-life” and sets up on the side of the angels, the other camp must be anti-life (or pro-death) barbarians worshiping the lord of the flies. We cannot think clearly about a complex subject when our language is so distorted, when one side declares itself the winner before it launches a single argument. The “pro-choice” label also claims far too much; it’s an umbrella term that includes not only the 16-year-old rape victim’s choice of an abortion, the impoverished mother of five’s choice of an abortion, but also the choice of an abortion merely as a belated form of birth control. If the anti-abortionists were saying only that they oppose this latter choice, I think they would be joined by many people who believe that an abortion should be an absolute, desperate (but legal) last resort-not a convenient way of uncompli-cating one’s life so that all energy can be focused on being a better Yuppie.

Many of the most vocal anti-choice people base their opposition to abortion on religious grounds. That’s fine for those who accept a religious explanation of life, but the religious Right forgets that our country -one more time, now-ensures freedom of religion and freedom from religion for those who desire it. Many Dallas women do not consult the Bible when making important life decisions; they don’t look for guidance in Jerry Falwell’s latest sermon.

While we’re on the subject of Christian teachings, try for a moment to imagine the Prince of Peace outside a women’s clinic, howling warnings and threats through a bullhorn at frightened, guilt-wracked women. I suppose it’s this ugly aspect of the debate that bothers me most. Do the demonstrators think that these women have never pondered the cost of what they’re doing? Surely every woman choosing an abortion has done her share of soul-searching and bears emotional scars, even though she may know that her choice is the only one for her. For these self-righteous moral policemen to set themselves up as judges and juries takes a special kind of gall and insensitivity that comes with believing they are the chosen instruments of God.

The city council acted responsibly in banning the use of bullhorns outside abortion clinics, just as they are outlawed near any hospital. The new ordinance in no way limits the rights of protesters to make their views known; come to think of it, the presence of a marching mob carrying placards and chanting slogans might give women entering the clinics some notion that they are not universally loved. The prize for the most ludicrous argument went to a woman from Garland, who told the council that the demonstrators used bullhorns only because they weren’t allowed to get close enough to “counsel” the women choosing abortion. (“Attention, sinner! Go no further! Put your hands on your stomach-out there where we can see them- and prepare to be counseled!”)

And then there’s the argument that theanti-choice movement is the contemporaryversion of the civil rights movement, readyto break society’s laws to serve a higherlaw. (We might ask how many of these protesters admired Martin Luther King Jr. 20years ago, but let that pass.) The pointis that the parallel won’t work. The civilrights movement came about because blackpeople, by virtue of being black, weredenied the rights and privileges enjoyed bywhite people merely because they werewhite. When blacks won their equality,nothing that rightfully belonged to whiteswas taken away. I do not have less freedomto vote and live where I wish because blackpeople have the right to vote and live wherethey wish. The abortion problem is muchdifferent. The protesting zealots want todecide something very important-shoulda woman become a mother?-for someoneelse. They don’t want to extend rights butto take them away. For surely, the most important right of all is a child’s right to beborn into a family where he is wanted andloved, where he will be a blessing and nota burden.

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