by Helen Alvaré
February 5, 1999
Is pro-abortion feminism approaching the end of its appointed life-span? Partly from changes in society, partly from self-inflicted wounds? Are more people ending their romance with the hollow philosophy: "not the church, not the state, women must decide their fate. . ."? These are questions well-worth asking, particularly in light of a number of surprising admissions from pro-abortion feminist leaders in recent weeks.
Perhaps the most stunning information comes from a voice long familiar in the abortion debate: Faye Wattleton, former president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America. Ms. Wattleton now runs the "Center for Gender Equality (CGE)" in New York City. In an advertisement in the February third New York Times, Ms. Wattleton's group announced the results of a study it commissioned: "Seventy percent of women now favor more restrictions on abortion, including 40% who think it should be outlawed except in cases of rape, incest or to save a woman's life." (The group forgot to mention that its own study showed another 13% who believe it should never be legal, for a total of 53%.) The ad also reports that "the percentage of women who believe politicians should be guided by religious values has increased by more than 40%." (For a current figure of 46%, up from 32% six years ago.) Summarizing CGE's study, the ad says that women are growing stronger in their belief that religious values should influence politics. The tone of the entire ad is one of alarm.
And CGE should be alarmed. Kate Michelman of the National Abortion Reproductive Rights Action League (NARRAL) has recently been publicly lamenting what one might call the "graying of the abortion lobby." She told the New York Times and Mirabella magazine that the average age of NARRAL members is about 55, and that this causes the group great concern. She acknowledged at a January press conference that abortion in America is "increasingly stigmatized," and that the abortion lobby is losing ground in state legislatures around the nation.
This is confirmed by another voice in the pro-abortion movement, Frances Kissling. Ms. Kissling, a former abortion clinic administrator, now purports to speak for Catholics who are "For a Free Choice." (While the group has no actual members, it receives hefty financing from foundations and others who promote population control. It also gets a lot of media attention.) Ms. Kissling's complaint, according to the St. Louis Post Dispatch? "Most of the anti-abortion camp is getting younger. The abortion rights movement, she added, is not."
Sadly for her group, her intuition is borne out by cold, hard statistics. According to the Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA, support for legalized abortion among college freshman in the United States has fallen from 65% to 51% since 1990. And girls are more opposed to legal abortion than boys.
Ms. Kissling has an interesting spin on all of this: " To a certain extent, we're [the pro-abortion movement is] preserving the status quo, which tends to attract an older audience. The anti-abortion movement is the counter-culture movement. It's very easy for young people to romanticize life."
But what to make of all these admissions? Given how badly they reflect on the groups making them, I'm inclined to believe they're true. To be sure, their public disclosure is calculated to provoke abortion supporters into more action. But there are good reasons to doubt that this will work. Pro-lifers have sensed for a some time a cultural shift away from sexual irresponsibility, away from the "me, me, me" school of thought, and toward an ethic of the responsibility for all human life. You could get a strong sense of this in the reception given by the press and the public to the Pope's recent visits to St. Louis and Mexico. Even in 1993, when the Holy Father visited Denver for World Youth Day, news reports placed much more emphasis on the supposed chasm between the Pope and youth on matters concerning human sexuality and abortion. This year? Media coverage focused far more on his positive calls to youth -- and to everyone else for that matter -- to live chastely, act justly, and to protect human life.
To which can only say: "Go counterculture!"
Helen Alvare is the Director of Planning and Information for the Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops.