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Published 16 April 1992 in the San Diego Union-Tribune. This page was adapted from a similar page from the Essays portion of the author's Writing Page. Copyright 1992, 2000 by Jim Trageser. All rights reserved. Used with the permission of the author.

The voice of the liberal, pro-feminist anti-abortionists is 'lost' in the debate

By Jim Trageser

As the abortion debate heats up in response to legal and political maneuvering, media coverage is again -- or should I say still -- presenting stories in terms of "liberal" pro-choicers and "conservative" (or even "right-wing") pro-lifers.

Lost on the mainstream media is the fact that there exists a large number of liberal, even leftist, pro-feminist activists and organizations opposed to non-therapeutic abortion.

In fact, so inexcusably poor has media coverage been, the existence of a large, well-organized leftist anti-abortion movement would probably be a surprise to many activists on both sides of the issue.

The reasons for the slanted coverage are all-too-human: Abortion is an issue which instills great passion; few of us outside Clarence Thomas have not formed an opinion on abortion, and this includes reporters.

According to an in-depth Los Angeles Times investigative series in 1990, the vast majority -- over 80 percent -- of newspaper, television and radio reporters favor legalized abortion. And, with almost an equal number considering themselves "liberal" or "leftist" it is natural that reporters' perceptions of the abortion issue are likely to be skewed toward their own experiences.

All of the above leads one to the conclusion that the existence of a leftist opposition to abortion would be troubling, if not embarrassing, to a great many reporters who then, perhaps subconsciously, avoid dealing with the issue.

But while the establishment Left, such as it is represented by the Democratic Party and its allies, imposes abortion loyalty oaths and litmus tests, groups such as Feminists for Life, the Pro-Life Association of Gays & Lesbians and the Seamless Garment Network, and individuals such as Ken Kesey and Nat Hentoff, continue to speak out against abortion from an authentically leftist viewpoint.

This leftist opposition is based on stripping away the euphemisms and recognizing abortion as an act of violence, the very taking of a life. As such, it is clearly incompatible with a philosophy which holds sacred all life, as manifested in the growing environmentalist and animal-rights movements of the Left.

Pro-life leftists believe that a legally sanctioned killing, whether it be the execution of an adult criminal or an unwanted fetus, violates the tenets of liberation and freedom.

It is a secular belief that legalized abortion is no more than Reaganomics incarnate, the ultimate manifestation of materialism and America's acceptance of Madison Avenue's vision of society: If you aren't a consumer, then you do not exist.

Leftist opposition to abortion recognizes that whenever the value of human life is lowered, there are invariably repercussions throughout society, leading to a lower value on each of our lives. The growing violence in our society, the increasing number of hate crimes, the wave of intolerance of gays and lesbians, and the seeming antipathy of many toward environmental concerns go hand in hand with society's devaluation of unborn human life. If not a cause and effect relationship, the above certainly reinforce each other.

In short, to capture the essence of leftist opposition to abortion as a form of birth control, one might say thus: A house of freedom cannot be built on a foundation of violence.

If the media's silence on leftist anti-abortion activity and thought is a crime of omission, the establishment Left's efforts are not so benign.

While many were shocked at the American Civil Liberties Union's support of police abuse of anti-abortion protestors, numerous efforts by other supposedly liberal/leftist organizations to squelch dissent went mostly unnoticed:

At a "Take Back the Night" anti-crime rally in Rochester, N.Y., this past October, the National Organization for Women told the local chapter of the FFL that it could not be a co-sponsor because of FFL's opposition to abortion. FFL marched anyway, 60 women strong.

This past year, the Minnesota Peace and Justice Coalition, in a closed meeting, expelled JustLife Minnesota, a local chapter of the Seamless Garment Network (which opposes all violence, including the death penalty, war, poverty and euthanasia). This despite vehement protest from several other Coalition member organizations and the Coalition's own statement of purpose, which includes a pledge to "challenge each other on issues of inclusivity ... and subjects controversial within the peace and justice community."

Perhaps the most egregious example of an establishment organization censoring dissent was the recent case of the liberal/left publication the Utne Reader refusing to run an ad from the FFL. The advertisement, which quoted early feminist opposition to abortion by leaders such as Matilda Gage, was refused on the grounds that "... henceforth advertising must reflect editorial views." (This followed a dishonest and failed attempt to claim FFL had quoted Gage out of context.)

In all the above cases, and dozens more like them detailed in FFL's (now defunct) quarterly magazine, SisterLife, the common tactic of the establishment Left is to claim that anti-abortion leftists are not true leftists. In other words, they are excommunicated as heretics.

What should be truly disturbing to all of us is this dogmatic approach shared by most members of the establishment Left: One is a liberal or leftist based (at least partly) on one's position on abortion.

A truly intellectual approach would, of course, be the obverse: As a leftist, how does my value system prepare me to deal with the question of abortion?

Without such a non-dogmatic approach, we are susceptible to sociological schizophrenia, condemning the violence of rape, domestic violence, militarism and capital punishment on one hand while denying the violent nature of abortion on the other.

The anti-abortion Left offers a vision in which one may oppose the violence inherent to abortion and also support issues of gender justice and other progressive causes, and in which one opposes abortion not in spite of one's leftist value system, but as a result of it.

From this leftist viewpoint, opposition to abortion is not an aberration, but a natural, organic and logical outgrowth of one's leftist whole. In other words, we oppose abortion for the same reasons we oppose violence against women, gays and lesbians, or ethnic minorities. Our anti-abortionism is the only response possible with our dedication to and demand for social justice.

In the end, it is the establishment Left which is resorting to the tactics of extremism: applying dogmatic loyalty tests, employing exclusivity by branding all dissidents as disloyal or heretical, and using intimidation tactics to silence the opposition.

It is difficult to find anything much progressive about that.


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