I respect people who have strong convictions and are willing to express them. I have demonstrated for peace recently on Main Avenue, and elsewhere, during the Viet Nam war. I also walked in the largest demonstration ever in Washington D.C., the “March to Save Women’s Lives”. The Religious Society of Friends (Quakers), of which I am a member, does not have a stand on abortion. I was brought up in this religion and attended 14 years of religious school. Standing up for our beliefs is part of our heritage.
However, I cannot agree with the tactics used by the people who demonstrate outside Planned Parenthood. If you wish to communicate with me, please don’t yell; there are better ways to get your point across. My e-mail address is at the end of this article. If you have something to say, please address me (and the Planned Parenthood patients) with respect. This is what my mother taught me, and I am sure that your mothers taught you the same.
Reverend Joachim Blonski, the Roman Catholic pastor at Saint Joseph Church in Aztec, NM, was courteous in the way he corresponded with me. He wrote a polite letter accompanying a book on post-abortion emotional problems. (I don’t believe that they occur frequently, but that is another subject.)
Another example of positive communication took place in Boston. The Public Conversations Project started with a small group of women, some strongly against abortion and others strong supporters of abortion rights. Over years they discussed their beliefs, got to know and appreciate each other, and found some common ground—as well as differences. Wouldn’t it be good to have a similar discussion group here?
Opposition to abortion is basically religious. Although some people may be against abortion on purely ethical grounds, most of the antiabortion arguments I have heard are based on religion. Some religions (such as Roman Catholicism) are officially against abortion, while many take no stand on the subject.
I have two observations on the effectiveness of religion on controlling this aspect of women’s lives. Catholic women have about the same number of abortions as other women in the United States, according to a 2002 study (www.guttmacher.org/pubs/journals/3422602.pdf). Furthermore, I have observed that many formerly Catholic women have given up this religion because of its stand on reproductive issues.
The first amendment to the Constitution of the United States guarantees the right to picket outside Planned Parenthood. This same section of the Bill of Rights starts:
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof….”
I interpret this to mean that each person can live by her own religious beliefs, and that no one has the right to impose her beliefs on me or another person. Until you convert me to your religion, please do not try to force your beliefs on me.
Until the Renaissance, power and knowledge were in the hands (or heads) of a few men. With Gutenberg’s invention of moveable type, more people had access to written material, helping literacy and education to spread. This permitted a more sophisticated populace, and aided the development of democracies. Today, with almost universal literacy and wide access to libraries, Internet and other sources of knowledge, we rely less on single authoritative sources. It seems to me that the sort of yelling that I’ve heard at the entrance to Planned Parenthood comes from the old-fashioned era of authoritarian domination. This attempt to dominate is antipathetical to respect for individuals. Many of the women who go through those gates have agonized over difficult decisions and deserve loving care. They don’t deserve to be told that they have made a bad decision. Remember, too, that I am happy to care for women who decide to continue unplanned pregnancies.
From years of listening to women who come to me for abortions, I am convinced that most of them have thought hard about their decisions before calling to make their appointments. Few will be dissuaded by confrontation at the clinic’s gates, although some might be intimidated. On the other hand, I hear compliment after compliment for the Planned Parenthood staff because they lovingly treat women as thinking people.
So, friends, if you want to communicate, please don’t yell at me or at our patients. If you want to help prevent the need for abortion, join me in trying to decrease the number of unplanned pregnancies. Surely, one of our country’s greatest shames is that half of pregnancies conceived here are unintended.
© Richard Grossman MD, 2007
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