Other formats

    Adobe Portable Document Format file (facsimile images)   TEI XML file   ePub eBook file  


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Volume 37, Number 25. 25th September 1974

Editorial — The hysterical campaign of the so-called 'pro-life' movement

page 7


The hysterical campaign of the so-called 'pro-life' movement

The nearest I have heard to an accurate description of the so-called "pro-life rally" of the anti-abortionists said that it looked and sounded like a cross between a Nazi rally and a Republican Party Convention. I couldn't agree more. I have seen a large number of rallies and demonstrations, including a number of right wing gatherings, but never before have I been so disturbed by such a gathering as I was at the rally of the Society for the Protection of the Unborn Child in Wellington last Friday night. The atmosphere of hysteria would have made an impression on anybody present, whether pro or anti-abortion. The holier-than-thou demeanour of those in support of the rally, the look in the eyes of the middle-aged men I saw cheer-leading groups of similarly transfixed school children, the glazed-eyed change that had come over Catholic friends I talked to on the night, could not fail to disturb anyone who holds sanity in high regard.

To have a religious ceremony after the rally for such people was appropriate, and it certainly reinforced their feelings. I stood outside as they filed out of the cathedral, the conservative members of the middle classes of NZ. Fathers, almost every one of them a bureaucrat, chins firm, eyes looking fixedly ahead and upwards. Mothers, every one of them well fed and comfortable, so secure, so slightly out of touch with reality. Later, I walked Lambton Quay, and immediately noticed the change. Normal people look around them as they walk, sway their head a bit, have a far more casual demeanour than the SPUC rallyists.

There were a large number of young people in the rally. How many preteens, and how many teenagers, can make a reasoned decision about a subject like abortion? Mow many adults, for that matter? One group of youths, lounging by the doors were certainly uncertain. "Sucked," I heard one say to another after it was all over. "Yeah," replied the other, "sucked." Then they went back to bullying their girlfriends while they waited for their mate with a car. A few minutes passed, then a school-teacherly adult passed them and said: "You did a great job — thanks boys, well done" — and then he was gone. Earlier in the day a woman had rung a talkback show with evidence of Catholic teachers putting pressure on pupils to attend.

Throughout the service and after it, a lone woman stood outside the church, picketing. Her placard read "Who am I to condemn my sister to a back street abortion?" Few of the people filing past turned their holy heads to look at her or the placard. Those that did looked quickly away. I wonder how many of them genuinely searched their souls with that question — "who am I?"

The distortion of language and the use of ultra emotive propaganda is a revealing feature of the SPUC campaign. The very name "Pro-Life Rally" is a twister, implying that anyone who doesn't support the rally is anti-life. It also reinforces the illusion that participants genuinely are pro-life, of course. They aren't, but I'll come to that later.

Image of the venus symbol with a fist in it

It was a garish display of emotionalism that got the 'pro-lifers' along to the rally in the first place. In the Post the previous Thursday night a full page SPUC ad pictured a pretty little boy, and asked "Never to laugh or love.....nor taste the summertime?" Sob. Retch.

The ad begins with a choice piece of rhetoric, linking the pro-abortionists with killers of the aged and the maimed, dragging out the old 'vocal minority' bugbear and hinting at communists. Then the ad lies about the arguments of pro-abortionists, saying they regard the foetus as 'not really human', saying they avoid the world 'kill' and use 'terminated". Unlike the anti's the fact is that pro-abortionists do not have to resort to verbal deceit to get their point across.

"Clear thinking people have banded together to fight back" intones the ad, making a fresh change from 'right thinking people'. And that is what SPUC is, a rallying point for various shades of reactionary opinion and prejudice.

Are the so-called pro-lifers really any more pro-life than the pro-abortionists? It must be realised that no one actually likes abortion, not even the keenest advocate of the right of the mother to have an abortion if she needs it. The fight for the repeal of the abortion laws merely recognises that unwanted pregnancies and babies are still a fact of life, and something has to be done about it. What is being done isn't satisfactory — back-street abortions or self-inflicted abortions for the poor, flights to Australia for the not-so-poor.

The hysteria engendered by the 'pro-life' movement has hopelessly clouded and polarised understanding. Phillida Bunkle sorted matters out a little in Salient earlier this year when she argued that debates about when life begins are unanswerable and pointless, and the definition of 'life' depends on moral decisions which are in the province of individual choice, not group coercion or legislative control..

She went on: "Since it is not logical, the credibility of the anti-abortionist argument depends heavily upon the portrayal of the advocates of legalised abortion as immoral antagonists of helpless childhood. This characterisation as child haters rests I believe on considerable hypocrisy. Opposition to abolition comes generally from socially conservative groups whose claim to care deeply about the sanity of human-life must be evaluated in the light of their inactivity in doing anything to actually improve it. Neiether the two thirds of New Zealand MPs who belongs to SPUC, nor the Church, was voluble in opposition to New Zealand's participation in killing Vietnamese children. Their right to life was less clear. The Church bans the pill but not napalm.

"Clearly men who fail to speak against bombing children with anti-tank bombs from six miles up in the air have a poor claim to speak for the right to life."

And this sums up the recent propagandising of the anti-abortionists and their hypocritical parade last Friday. What are they really doing to build what we all want, a society where abortion is unnecessary? It has been well said, not only by women's liberationists but also by some enlightened sections of the anti-abortion movement, that often the motivation for a woman wanting an abortion is not health but due to social and economic factors. These factors were spelt out by Pip Desmond in Salient of April 24 this year. She pointed out "society must treat demand for abortion as a symptom of its own sickness and not as an individual problem to be solved in individual cases."

She went on to state the case that society must provide free and reliable contraception to all women. Secondly, society must give all the financial and personal assistance necessary for a (pregnant) woman to be able to make a real decision. Further, "Society must learn to accept illegitimate children and unmarried mothers, providing alternatives for those unable to keep their children, and realistic assistance for all solo parents. Perhaps the most important point:

"Husbands must be educated to accept equal responsibility for the care and upbringing of their children; high-standard creche facilities and day-care centres must be established; equal pay and equal opportunity must become a reality."

The campaign to repeal the abortion laws is a prominent part of the movement for women's rights and women's liberation. This movement is actively doing something to remove the physical, mental, social and economic motivations that compel so many women to desperately seek abortion. As such, it is a progressive movement, and should be supported and built. It will take us all forward, unlike the current campaign of SPUC, which a grave and disturbing step backwards.