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Monday, April 03, 2006

Religion, Politics, Abortion, Media: an Alternative Approach

I've personally never known a woman who undertook abortion lightly or without great trepidation. Although I've never had one, I have known and loved many who have, beginning in college -- a friend who at the time was (also) a very religious, southern baptist fundamentalist, church-going good girl from a similarly religious 'good' middle to upper middle class family. I was the working class 'good girl' from the same denomination who drove her to and from the clinic 90 miles away in a different state and helped her into her bed for the healing many long hours after it was all over. We never spoke of it again.

I've certainly never known any man who has been pregnant, much less had an abortion -- only a few have seemed to have a grasp of just how difficult a decision it really can be -- although to be fair, I've heard a few (very few) 'pro-choice' women who have spoken of it with no clue and no more concept of the challenges than having a hang-nail removed. This is not a characteristic of the pro-choice movement I find very endearing or appealing or empathic.

And, while very much a believer that children should be wanted, not the consequence of desperation or force or no - remaining - alternatives, I don't think the decision to have an abortion should be treated lightly or flippantly -- although the actions which result in abortion are sometimes undertaken far too lightly as well as in complex moments of weakness, desire, human frailty, irrationality, magical thinking and love -- and intentional conscious choice.

In my life, I've known only one man who grew to a place where he simply would not have sexual intercourse with a woman with whom he did not want to create, raise and share the responsbilities together of a child. Wow. Is that ultra radical, deeply respectful of women, highly disciplined and cosmically spiritual, or what? One in a gazillion, definitely. He was a very cool, deeply spiritual guy, once married to my ex-lover and we became friends for a time while we were all still in lower SoCal.

Anyway, all that to share this from the NYTimes "The Abortion-Rights Side Invokes God, Too" by Neela Banerjee:

The Interfaith Prayer Breakfast has been part of Planned Parenthood's annual convention for four years. Most ministers and rabbis at the breakfast have known the group far longer.

Margaret Sanger, founder of the organization that became Planned Parenthood, drew clergy members in the early 20th century by relating the suffering of women who endured successive pregnancies that ravaged their health and sought illegal abortions in their desperation, said the Rev. Thomas R. Davis of the United Church of Christ, in his book "Sacred Work, Planned Parenthood and Its Clergy Alliances."

A parishioner (from a Presbyterian church in Houston whose minister, Rev. W. Stewart MacColl, worked with Planned Parenthood to start a family planning center) expressed concern about the anti-choice protesters they encountered:

"...you don't drive to church with a 4-year-old in the back seat of your car and have to try to explain to him when a woman holds up a picture of a dead baby and screams through the window, 'Your church believes in killing babies.' "

Mr. MacColl said of the abortion protester: "She would, I suspect, count herself a lover of life, a lover of the unborn, a lover of God. And yet she spoke in harshness, hatred and frightened a little child."

Mr. MacColl quoted the theologian Reinhold Niebuhr: " 'Sometimes the worst evil is done by good people who do not know that they are not good.' "

And a powerfully contextualized, re-imagined, re-purposed bible quote by the Rev. Susan Thistlethwaite, president of Chicago Theological Seminary:

"Human existence as a materialistic quest for power and dominance, a crass manipulation of fear and intolerance for political gain, drives us apart both from one another and from God," she said. "For what does it profit you to gain the whole world and lose your soul?"
Lots of pious folks out there endeavoring to gain the whole world and fashion it in their image. Entire NYT article here.


I'm just guessing, but I would have to conclude that this article is in DIRECT response to very recent criticism (and a study published in March 2006) of the NYT regarding its paucity of coverage of abortion, pro-choice political actions, reproductive rights, women's rights and overall family planning articles, particularly by women reporters and from a perspective that acts as a counterpoint to its overwhelming negative coverage of those topics reported overwhelmingly by men with an obvious anti-choice tilt (my sense is that is true during the past 10 or more years -- since the rise of the radical religious right and the silence of progressive believers and churches of faith), although this study covered the two years just passed.

According to the American Prospect's study, between February 2004 and February 2006, women wrote just 17 percent of Times op-eds mentioning abortion, and only seven of 67 writers who touched on the subject were female. Maureen Dowd was responsible for almost half of women contributors? few mentions of abortion, but in her ten years writing for the op-ed page she has never dedicated a column to the subject of women's reproductive rights, according to the Prospect. Pro-choice advocacy groups such as the National Organization for Women, NARAL Pro-Choice America, and Planned Parenthood Parenthood Federation of America have been totally absent from the Times' opinion pages over the past two years.
Above blurb from Feminist Majority Foundation's news wire; original American Prospect 3/20/06 web study/article by Senior Editor Garance Franke-Ruta here. Alternate posting of the article here at Alternet.

May also be of interest: A FAIR.org (Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting) archived piece similarly documenting 1500 (two years worth of) abortion-related news articles covering 1989-1990 in which Tiffany Devitt writes:

.. as is the case with other social policy issues such as civil rights or welfare, abortion is more often covered not from the perspective of those most affected by the issue, but from the standpoint of Washington politics.

...
What is striking in the coverage of abortion in mainstream media is the lack of opportunities that U.S. women have to speak for themselves and articulate their concerns. Although stories regularly carried the soundbites of abortion-rights representatives and anti-abortion spokespersons, the women affected by specific restrictions were rarely cited as sources in abortion stories.

Wonder how much that's changed in 16+ years?


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