Gelf Magazine - Looking over the overlooked

Government

May 13, 2005

Roe, Wade, or Sink?

One pro-life leader tries to bridge the gaps in a movement he sees as more fractured than ever.

David Goldenberg

Douglas Scott is the president of Life Decisions International, a D.C.-based lobbying group dedicated to fighting Planned Parenthood. But he isn't your typical anti-abortionist. Sure, he's a religious white guy, but he has some leftist tendencies. He's for gun control, for example, and he says he's on his way to becoming a vegetarian (for now, he still eats fish). When he was in college at Western Washington University, he ran for school office under the banner of the Liberal Party.

Now that he's on the other side of the fence, Scott, 47, says that the anti-abortion movement has a lot to learn from the Left. As a former strike captain for the AFL-CIO, he recognizes the importance of grassroots movements and forged alliances, and says that anti-abortionists are failing their cause.

Instead of celebrating the Right's most recent gains against abortion—like the Child Interstate Abortion Notification Act that recently passed through the House of Representatives (Washington Post)—he worries that the movement is more divided than ever. Take the Unborn Child Pain Awareness Act, Sen. Sam Brownback's (R-KS) most recent attempt to limit abortion. Under the act, women having abortions 20 weeks or more into their pregnancies would have to sign a form acknowledging that they understand there is scientific proof that their fetuses feel pain. (Whether—and if so, when—a fetus actually can feel pain is a matter of intense and politicized debate in the medical field.) But if they back the law, the most ardent anti-abortionists in Congress (and Brownback certainly is one of them) would be tacitly acknowledging that abortions can occur legally. "I think it could backfire," says Scott. "I don't want children to feel pain, but I'm afraid it will make abortion more acceptable. It's a Catch-22."

As Scott sees it, there are two types of pro-life groups: Those who are willing to take incremental steps toward reducing abortions, and those who will accept nothing less than a constitutional amendment banning the practice. Scott himself sits somewhere in the middle on this debate, and is uncertain about supporting certain legislation. "It really depends how the bill is written. We should never put abortion into law," he says, but if necessary, "we should word it in the negative."

Despite Scott's own conflict stance on supporting certain anti-abortion legislation, he argues that groups need to work together if the anti-abortion cause is to move forward. "We've got groups way to far to the right of right," he says of the purists. "It's absolutely short-sighted." Using his union training, he has tried to bridge the two groups and get activists to work together towards certain short-term goals with the hope of someday overturning Roe v. Wade and getting their constitutional ban. (He also tries to bring other interested parties into the fold—Gelf previously wrote about one unlikely alliance pro-lifers have formed, with disability-rights activists.)

For now, though, Scott sees the pro-life movement as hopelessly fractured and unable to hold sway with the rest of the Republican Party. "I don't think we have the momentum at all," he says, adding that the groups with even the smallest of differences almost never join forces. Whereas pro-choice groups routinely work together to create coalitions, those on the other side rarely think in such terms, he says. "I think it's a question of kingdom-building," Scott says. "They're more authoritarian on the Left. On our side, any Joe Blow can come along and start a pro-life group."

Without a cohesive voice, it's only the loudest and most-radical groups that get heard, Scott says. That allows the current administration to pay lip service to their goals without having to accomplish them, because a constitutional amendment banning abortion isn't politically feasible. "We are to Republicans what the Black vote is to the Democrats," Scott says, in that neither group ever gets anything back from the politicians it helps to vote into power. "We shouldn't reward people who take us for granted." Scott also worries about the growing power of pro-choice Republicans such as Rudy Giuliani and Arnold Schwarzenegger, saying that he would rather have a pro-choice Democrat in the White House than a pro-choice Republican. (Giuliani appears to have an early lead over other Republican contenders, according to Polling Report.)

Until those in the pro-life movement learn to put away their egos and focus on certain goals, they will remain a traveling sideshow with no real impact on government policy, Scott says. He adds, "It would take divine intervention" for the groups to work together. "In the end, the only thing we can hope for is a good appointment to the Supreme Court."

David Goldenberg

David Goldenberg is the co-founder and editor of Gelf, and the host of Geeking Out, Gelf's monthly science speaking series.







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- posted on May 14, 05
Sen. Brownback's biggest fan

I wonder what the researchers responsible for the Senator's Unborn Child Pain Awareness Act say about the "scientific proof" for evolution.

Oh, wait a second--they don't believe in it. Right.

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Article by David Goldenberg

David Goldenberg is the co-founder and editor of Gelf, and the host of Geeking Out, Gelf's monthly science speaking series.

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