By Bill Baird, cross-posted from On The Issues Magazine.
My wife Joni and I were the only ones protesting in front of the National Right to Life Committee’s annual convention this year, from June 29-July 1 in Washington, D.C.
I’d just turned 80, and this year’s event was the 37th time I had been there to greet them. As always, I came with an eight-foot cross inscribed with the words “Free Women From the Cross of Oppression – Keep Abortion Legal.”
The convention’s organizers knew to expect us. I’ve been there nearly every year since 1973. They’ve even featured me in their newspaper as an “abortion entrepreneur” — for the free birth control referral services I started in 1964, for the abortion clinic that was burned to the ground by an anti-abortion terrorist in 1979, and most of all for the 1972 Supreme Court decision, Baird v. Eisenstadt, which secured the right to contraception for all women. Eisenstadt, which I won after a five-year fight and a jail term, is well known to be a cornerstone of 1973 ‘s landmark Roe v. Wade, which the Committee is sworn to overturn.
This year, that goal may have seemed closer than ever to the Committee, given the victories achieved in so many states. It felt more essential than ever to come to the Hyatt to neutralize the anti-choice propaganda they were feeding the media, and to try to guess their next steps.
The day the conference began, the Supreme Court decision on health care was issued by Chief Justice Roberts, to the shock of organizers. “Bill did you hear the news about the Supreme Court?” Ernest Ohlhoff, Religious Outreach Director for NRLC, asked me in the hotel elevator. “[Chief Justice John] Roberts turned!” Others denounced Roberts as a “traitor” and “turncoat.”
An early speaker was Sue Thayer, who worked at Planned Parenthood as manager of Iowa’s Storm Lake and LeMars Planned Parenthood clinics for 18 years. After she was laid off as part of a regional PP downsizing last year, Thayer began a 40-day prayer ritual outside of the Storm Lake clinic; after its pre-planned closure, she proudly proclaimed that she and her allies had “prayed it away.” Since that time, Thayer has worked closely with anti-choice forces, most recently by accusing Planned Parenthood of Medicaid fraud.
Thayer closed by telling workshop participants, “God’s people need to rise up. I think God’s people are sick of [abortion.]” She was echoed by Kansas Governor Sam Brownback, who bragged that his state is now a total “pro life state.” This was more than three years after the brutal murder of abortion provider George Tiller, MD, killed in that state by an anti-abortion terrorist while attending Sunday services at his own church.
Saying that as a politician he only has “one constituent” – God – Brownback complimented NRLC for its “very strategic legislative agenda,” calling them very “tactical” (because they have sliced away at reproductive rights bit by bit, or what I call the “bologna method”). Brownback said, “The place you change America isn’t in Washington, it’s in the states.”
Both confirmed what I’ve been saying for decades: that the pro- choice community must recognize we are in the midst of a “holy war” and change our tactics accordingly. Because in many ways, they’re winning.
And right now their goal is the Presidency. While the convention attendees seemed demoralized by the Roberts decision, I have a feeling there will be a backlash that will find them rallying behind Mitt Romney even stronger.
“There’s one way of turning back Obamacare and it is who you vote for as president,” Brownback said. Calling Rick Santorum a great hero of the pro life movement and a personal friend, Brownback stressed the ‘need’ to elect the nominee who defeated him: There’s a guy in this race that’s pro life and there’s a guy in this race that is not. I’m going to push hard on Senate and House races too,” he added, stressing swing states.
The man they’ve chosen to support was ironically once a supporter of Roe v. Wade. When he was governor of Massachusetts, he endorsed the state’s long-established Right to Privacy Day in honor of Baird v. Eisenstadt. “It is appropriate that all Massachusetts citizens recognize the importance of the Supreme Court’s ruling in Baird v. Eisenstadt,” read Romney’s 2003 proclamation, “a decision that was quoted six times in subsequent cases including Roe v. Wade.” But by 2005 Romney had deleted the Roe v. Wade reference from the proclamation, and the following year, 2006, refused to issue the Right to Privacy Day proclamation at all, withdrawing his support from birth control.
By then, Romney was already preparing for his 2008 presidential bid, but he might as well have been revving up for last month’s convention. That increased emphasis on restricting birth control was worse than we’d seen before.
The National Right to Life Committee leadership pretends to not take a stand on birth control, but its mostly-Catholic members individually tell you they believe only in abstinence or rhythm (which I have called Vatican Roulette for decades). They believe that the pill, IUD and anything that prevents a fertilized egg from attaching to the uterus are abortifacients: thus no RU486, no morning-after pill.
This past March, the 40th anniversary of Baird v. Eisenstadt, was greeted by a blistering editorial from Janet Morana, Executive Director of Priests for Life. “The Catholic Church forbids the use of artificial contraception,” she wrote before reeling off a set of distortions about “increased risk of cardiovascular disease, cervical and liver cancer [....] decreased desire and sexual dysfunction and stroke.” She finished with, “Is a contraception prescription with every paycheck such a good idea? Clearly the answer is no.”
That was a message dutifully repeated by the young people we met at the convention, some of them teenagers.