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Report From the Right-to-Life Convention, Part 2: Young Women and Men Unite!
by Bill Baird
(In yesterday's installment, pro-choice pioneer Bill Baird reported from the stages of the Right to Life Convention. Now, meet the young troops RTLC is training — and why pro-choice men and women must join together to fight back. - Ed.)
July 18, 2012
Compared to other Right-To-Life Conventions I've attended over the past 40 years, this year the youth activists seemed quite a bit younger, and a tad more apt to talk instead of listening.
For example. one pair of young women approached my wife Joni and me, asking how we could ever justify abortion. They seemed unmoved when Joni responded by placing very real moral issues before them.
They didn't respond, hearing about the 76-year-old woman who could not stop sobbing as she told us that when she was eight years old her mother left home and never returned, having died from a botched illegal abortion. Nor were they moved hearing about Becky Bell, who in 1988 didn’t tell her then anti-abortion parents that she needed one. Joni read to them from a letter Becky's mother, Kim, wrote to me recently: “Becky died September 16, 1988, age 17, of an illegal botched abortion...Help others, Bill, for her and for all like her. She wouldn’t hurt anyone – she hurt herself.”
The young women didn’t answer when we asked how they would feel if that had been them -- if it was their mother, sister or aunt who had died. Their response was to repeat over and over that embryos and fertilized eggs should have the same rights as women.
They were so good at staying on message that I suspect the two young women Joni was speaking with were part of NRLC’s “Academy,” called by the Committee a “boot camp” for defending “life in any battleground.” They were training, as had one of this year’s speakers, Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ), who was groomed by the Academy’s forerunner, the National Youth Pro-Life Coalition.
The good news in all this: the birth control issue, especially the recent involvement of Rush Limbaugh, is also alerting people who thought our battle was near-won.
This past March, I gave an address at Skidmore College at the invitation of the school’s Feminist Action Network. The auditorium was filled with over 200 students.
I was delighted that many were males. Over the years, this hasn’t always been true of the pro-choice movement as women assumed leadership, but those young men gave me hope that we can join forces and work together, something that the anti-abortion side does very well. It’s women who run National Right to Life, working side by side with men also in a common goal to impose their religious dogma on the rest of the nation.
At Skidmore, I discussed with students how pre-Roe, desperate women would use knitting needles, chopsticks, ballpoint pens and other items in an effort to induce an abortion. Or they might have a boyfriend or husband punch them in the abdomen or throw them down a flight of stairs to cause them to abort. They were stunned -- and like nearly every college audience I have addressed in the past decade, they realized that they did not know about how birth control became legal (nor knew it was ever illegal).
While they knew little of the history of the pro-choice movement, the Skidmore students -- like many of my college audiences -- echo much of the language of the anti-abortion groups, such as saying “pro life” while not agreeing with them. We need to keep reminding them: We are “pro life.” Many women’s lives have been saved by protecting their right to control their reproductive decisions.
I admire these young women and men because I know they are overloaded with school and work, yet still want to make a difference. I think we as pro-choicers owe it to them, and to all the women we described to the young right-to-lifers, to step it up and do the same.
Bill Baird, head of the Pro-Choice League, continues to lecture to student audiences and the general public throughout the country and appears frequently on television and radio.
Mary Lou Greenberg, "Another American Tragedy, The Death of Becky Bell. Interview with Bill and Karen Bell." On the Issues Magazine, Winter 1990.
Ileana Jimenez, "Teaching Feminism in High School: Moving from Theory to Action." On the Issues Magazine, Fall 2011.
Merle Hoffman, "Abortion: More Than a Women's Issue." On the Issues Magazine, Vol. 13, 1989.
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