Neither advocate aims to change opponent's mind


December 04, 1991|By Susan Baer | Susan Baer,Washington Bureau of The Sun

WASHINGTON FHC C — Washington -- On the issue of abortion, there is perhaps only one point upon which they agree:

They both believe Roe vs. Wade, the landmark 1973 decision that gave women a Constitutional right to abortion, will soon be undone by the Supreme Court.

That, of course, is where any similarities end between Sarah Weddington, the attorney who argued for that right before the Supreme Court 18 years ago, and anti-feminist leader Phyllis Schlafly, a fierce opponent of abortion rights.

"We don't much care for one another," says Ms. Weddington, who will share the stage with Mrs. Schlafly tomorrow night at the University of Baltimore for a debate on the issue. "There's nothing we can say to each other. We've asked to be picked up in separate cars, and sit at separate tables. While we try to respect the rules of debate and decorum on stage, neither of us has any desire to spend time with the other off stage."

No argument from Mrs. Schlafly, president of the conservative Eagle Forum and chairman of the Republican National Coalition For Life: "We don't agree on anything," she says of her pairing with Ms. Weddington. "She's got a great interest in Roe vs. Wade, and I think it was the worst decision the Supreme Court ever handed down. We don't have anything in common."

Neither advocate holds out any hope of changing her opponent's mind. That, they say, is an impossibility. But they both hope to rally college students to their corner of the ring.

Ms. Weddington, noting that today's college student was about a year old when her famous case was decided, believes young men and women are just now waking up to the issue of abortion since the Supreme Court is likely to re-examine, and possibly dismantle, the 1973 ruling within the next couple of years. "I really believe Roe vs. Wade will be a mere shadow of itself."

College-aged women, she says, "have grown up thinking if they really did need an abortion, it was their choice. They have always taken it for granted. Now, there's a new sense of a threat there."

Indeed, students at the University of Baltimore came up with the idea for, and put together, tonight's debate, an unusual show of interest and initiative for a generally quiet student body, says University spokesman Harry Bosk. "This is not the kind of place where there's a lot of student activism," says Mr. Bosk. "In the '60s, the only thing students here ever protested was the lack of parking."

For her part, Mrs. Schlafly isn't sure what kind of reception she'll receive on the campus. In the '70s, the heyday of the women's movement, taking her strident anti-feminist message to students across the country was "pretty rough." The '80s, she says, "pretty good -- audiences were polite and well-dressed."

These days, she says, she's battling the forces of the "politically correct" -- forces at odds with her anti-working women, anti-affirmative action and anti-abortion rights platform. "The PC movement has gotten rather ugly and intolerant," she says.

But don't expect a shoutingmatch tomorrow night -- at least not between the two ardent and opposite voices on the stage. "We're not friends and we don't socialize," says Mrs. Schlafly. "But we're polite."

The debate is Dec. 5, 7 p.m.-9 p.m. at Langsdale Library at the University of Baltimore. It is free to those with university I.D and $3 for others. For information, (410) 625-3099.

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