The wrong wing

Anna Quindlen

March 25, 1993|By Anna Quindlen

SOMEONE looking out for the sorry state of my soul sent m "The Spirit of Jezebel," a religious tract originating with a pastor in Texas that takes a kind of seamless-garment approach to the problems of the United States. It's all women's fault. Equal opportunity, the wearing of slacks, women in the military and on the bench, feminism, even bobbed hair -- all have contributed to the disintegration of American society.

And the solution is clear: "Women were never made to be in the work force outside the home, but to marry, bear children and guide the house. The young women are not exhorted to become professional business women, to be some man's boss or submit themselves to another head, but are under the father's authority until marriage, when the husband becomes her only head and authority and her provider."

To say that if this pamphlet had been written about the proper subservient role of black Americans, it would be the most flagrant form of racism is to state the obvious. To say that it inveighs against legal abortion is probably stating the obvious as well.

But the obvious has now become news, ever since Dr. David Gunn was shot in the back outside a Florida abortion clinic. The alleged assailant was a protester named Michael Griffin who was so committed to the well-being of women and children that his wife once charged in court documents that he'd been violent with her and their two young daughters.

The man leading the protests at the clinic where Gunn was killed was a former Ku Klux Klan member who once broke into a clinic and slammed an administrator into the wall.

None of this came as much of a surprise to anyone following the course of the anti-abortion movement in this country.

For what the murder of Gunn illustrates has been obvious for some time: The anti-abortion movement is being steered largely by its right wing, by the reactionary and the enraged.

With their retributory rhetoric, their harassment of patients and their "wanted" posters for doctors that contain everything except the line "Dead Or Alive," the zealots have created an atmosphere at dozens of clinics across the country in which an act like the murder of Gunn was the obvious next step.

And what has become increasingly obvious as well is that, like the author of the Jezebel tract, those who have hijacked the anti-abortion movement from its more moderate players come with an agenda that goes far beyond ending a pregnancy.

Anti-abortion hotlines now include information on how to protest homosexuals in the military and sex education in the schools. Judie Brown of the American Life League will inform you that the IUD is an abortifacient, and Randall Terry of Operation Rescue says that women belong at home.

"He should be glad he was not killed the same way that he has killed other people, which is limb by limb," said one anti-abortion advocate of Gunn's murder, her compassion extending only in utero. "If we really believe they're child killers, it may be justified," said a former police officer who is now in training to become an anti-abortion commando, jamming clinic phone lines and picketing doctors at their homes.

I know that there are others, thoughtful and empathetic. I've listened to the voices of Helen Alvare, the intelligent and articulate woman who speaks on this subject for the American Catholic bishops, and Nat Hentoff, the friend of the First Amendment who tweaks the notion that abortion opposition is synonymous with fundamentalist Christianity by describing himself as a Jewish atheist.

I was heartened when the president of a Texas anti-abortion organization reviled the shooting of Gunn. "You don't win a moral war through force or coercion or intimidation," he said. "You win through reason."

But those who talk in a heartfelt way of abortion as the taking of life are being overwhelmed by the zealotry and tactics of those who consider criminalizing abortion the first step toward eliminating the ascendancy of the offending Jezebel. For years they have talked about valuing life when what they really value is a way of life long gone.

It's not only time for advocates of legal abortion to oppose this zealotry. It's time for those who are opposed to abortion and who shrink from putting bloody pictures in the mail, noxious acid through the clinic keyhole or a bullet in a good man's back to

speak out, too. Those whose ethos is a seamless garment of respect for life, not one of subjugation and control, must speak loudly if their cause is to have any credence.

Anna Quindlen is a columnist for the New York Times.

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