Printer Friendly

Bombing feminism.

The twelfth anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court's historic decision on abortion, arrived to the sound of exploding dynamite. Thirty bombings in two and a half years and countless other acts of vandalism and harassment have threatened many clinics' ability to provide services and have shaken many young women's nerve in seeking them. There attacks are a serious escalation in the antiabortion war.

The bombs have also exploded the public discourse on abortion, shifting its center of gravity to the right. The "armies of God" have achieved what President Reagan, Archbishop John J. O'Connor and Senator Jesse Helms together could not. They--and the media that quote them at length--have defined the abortion debate as one between the holy warriors and the "moderates" who seek legal means to restrain women's reproductive freedom.

Most stores about the abortion terrorists don't even ask whey the debate has escalated to warfare. The answer lies not in born-again fanaticism or in compassion for the unborn but in sexual politics. Feminists have long recognized that preserving the fetus is not the right-to-lifers' chief concern; if it were, they would call for increased funding for prenatal and infant care. Recently journalists seem to have found another explanation: the abortion debate pits traditional housewives with several children against professional women with few or none.

That theory, which Newsweek's January 14 cover story propounds, omits the principal protagonists of abortion politics: the young (16 to 25), single, largely nonaffluent women who have abortions; and the older white conservative men who lead and finance the fight against them. It ignores the dimension of power in the struggle, and it does not explain why abortion clinics are being bombed and who is bombing them.

Changing sexual patterns among young unmarried women during the last fifteen years result from a variety of broad social trends, including late marriages, high rates of college attendance and employment, and the impact of feminism. But abortion and birth control have made that changed sexuality visible--and apparently independent of marriage, paternal authority, even men. In that respect, the clinic--the main provider of abortion services in this country--threatens patriarchal control over women's sexuality. That is why the men of the right make it a target.

Indeed the abortion debate is less about motherhood than about manhood. Consider Matthew J. Goldsby, 21-year-old white construction worker and proud bomber of four clinics in Pensacola, Florida. The Village Voice's characterization of Goldsby and his cohorts as "naive, distraught individuals who are deeply religious" leaves out the cultural and political context in which those young men came of age. Their "mounting anger and frustration" was nurtured over a decade by rantings against feminism, abortion, homosexuality and communism, first from radio and television evangelists and then from the politicans of the New Right. If Goldsby had been born twenty years earlier, he would probably have jointed the Ku Klan with John Burt, Pensacola's senior antiabortion activist, to save the white race from Martin Luther King Jr. Today, Goldsby's vision of manhood involved rescuing fetuses from murderous women.

But Matt Goldsby is only the shadow of the big men who are his leaders: the Joe Scheidlers, John Burts and others in the antiabortion crusade who advocate direct action and cheer his "heroism"; the fundamentalist preachers in his community and around the country; the Catholic bishops who threaten to expel nuns who support a woman's right to choose; the director of the F.B.I., who says the bombings are not "true terrorism" because they don't attack the government; and Ronald Reagan, who refuses to order a national investigation and who on the anniversary of Roe v. Wade assured a right-to-life rally of his "great solidarity" with people who call abortion baby killing.

The assertion of manhood through verbal or physical attacks on abortion betrays desperation. After all, the courts continue to uphold abortion; and Congress, to leave it alone. More than a million women a year persist in having abortions. And popular opinion remains ambiguous on questions of abortion morality. When asked whether they would "approve of" abortion "for any reason," as many as 60 percent of adults surveyed have said no. When asked, however, whether " a women should have the right to decide whether she has an abortion," more than 80 percent have said yes. A police sergeant who supervised the evacuation of a New York City clinic after a bomb threat epitomized that ambiguity when he told a reported: "To see what goes on her bothers me. But at the same time, it's their bodies, their decision."

The hold of this practical view of abortion on American politics has driven the opposition to violence. Although dangerous, the clinic bombings can also be understood as a reaction to the continued presence of democratic and feminist values in everyday morality.
COPYRIGHT 1985 The Nation Company L.P.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1985 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Title Annotation:why abortion clinics are being bombed
Author:Petchesky, Rosalind
Publication:The Nation
Article Type:editorial
Date:Feb 2, 1985
Previous Article:Right's reaction.
Next Article:Minority report.

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2019 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters