Taking a course in ethics can be a terrifying experience for a student since it carries with it the possibility of conversion.  It can be a painful experience, psychologically, to admit that one’s attitudes towards other human beings I philosophically defective and in need of remedial attention.  Thus, a teacher of ethics knows very well the defences, denials, and dodges that students often employ in order to immunize themselves against the possibility of having to change their minds.  And in some cases, a student tries to avoid the whole process of moral education by converting the teacher before he has a chance to teach.

Recently, and after but a single class, one student sought to straighten me out on the subject of justice.  At our break, she came up to my desk and handed me some Xeroxed pages that were stapled together.  I thanked her for her thoughtfulness, but my disposition soon changed to disappointment when I began to examine them.  Included in her gift was a page that appeared in my book The Shape of Love.  There, on the page, she had encircled a paragraph with a bright red marking crayon next to which she drew an angry question mark with a dot so huge that it covered five lines of type.  I pondered the point that it was not necessary for her to resort to graphic violence in order to call my attention to something I had written.  The paragraph which she singled our read:

Some pro-life people may be annoying at times.  They may even be impatient, insistent, and obstreperous (personally, I have never found any of them so, but I cannot entirely discredit the reactions of others).  Yet, they are not fanatics.

It was an honest statement I felt, and recalled my mood when I wrote it.  I honestly have never encountered any pro-life people for whom the “fanatic” label would be a fair description of their character.  Nonetheless, I do know some pro-life people, for whom I have great respect, who tell me a different story.  But I reject the term “fanatic.”  A fanatic, as a scholar Richard Weaver has pointed out, is a person who redoubles his effort after his aim is forgotten.  But the pro-life person has never lost sight of his aim, which is simply justice for the unborn.  In this regard, he comes closer to the ideal of “purity of heart,” which the philosopher Kierkegaard described “willing one thing.”

Yellow journalism

The rest of my student’s offering was a feature article that appeared in the Jan/Feb 1985 issue of Family Planning Perspectives.  The title, spread over the full face of the magazine’s cover, virtually screamed out at me: “Baby killers – your clinic will be bombed.  The Army of God.”  The words were pasted patchwork-quilt of dissimilar letters scissored from a variety of publications, the kind that a hardened criminal pieces together in order to cover his tracks.  On page six, a red arrow directed my attention to the fact that in 1982 a “pro-life” person kidnapped someone.  “I had no idea this was going on,” my student exclaimed.  She marked out the appropriate passage for me to read, a single sentence on the kidnapping event: “Hector Zevallos medical director of the Hope Clinic for Women in Granite City, Illinois and his wife were kidnapped and held hostage for eight days.”

My student was concerned about how I could possibly remain so naïve about pro-lifers when they were involved in such nefarious activities as kidnapping!  I was familiar with the case and marveled at how this piece of yellow journalism, in a magazine that identifies itself to the world as conscientious – even scholarly – and pro-family, could blithely ignore all the essential facts.  (Ed. Family Planning Perspectives is published by The Alan Guttmacher Institute, the research arm of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America).  A single sentence to cover the “kidnapping” was itself a travesty of justice.

Seven children – 30 years

“Medical director,” Hector Zevallos is an abortionist who, according to reports, performs 75 to 100 abortions per week.  “Hope Clinics for Women” is an abortion clinic.  The alleged kidnapper, Donald B. Anderson, was not charged with kidnapping.  There was no ransom and Zevallos was released unharmed.  The “hostage” charge seems purely gratuitous.  Anderson was charged and convicted on two counts: “attempting to interfere with interstate commerce” (Granite City, ILL is on the border of Missouri, adjacent to St. Louis, Mo. Where the abortion traffic flowed between two states) and “conspiring to interfere with interstate commerce.  “He received sentences of 18 years on the former charge, 12 years on the latter.  He is currently serving his 30 year sentence in Memphis, Tenn., and will not be eligible for parole until he has served 10 of those years.  He had no previous criminal records.  His wife mentioned that had he killed Zevallos, he probably would have received a lighter sentence.  Anderson’s purpose in detaining Zevallos against his will was to convince him that performing abortions is morally wrong.

Anderson and his wife have seven children, the youngest being three years of age at the time of the arrest.  Needless to say, his incarceration has had a devastating effect, both personally and financially on his family.  Nevertheless, his faith in God remains very strong.  “My chief goal in life,” he says, “is to do the will of God.”

I found myself wondering what kind of perspective Family Planning Perspectives must assume in order to ignore the family of Donald B. Anderson in the interest of sympathizing with a man whose job is to eliminate members of the family.  The opening paragraph made no bones about where FPP’s sympathies lay:

By day, anti-abortion demonstrators who describe themselves as ‘sidewalk counsellors’ scream epithets and wave posters of bloody fetuses in the faces of abortion clinic patients and staff; by night, inflamed zealots are using bombs, torches and sledgehammers to bring their holy war against abortion to the facilities where abortion is performed.

Ministerial escorts?

Does the author not know how the fetuses got to be Bloody?  Does she think that pro-abortionists are models of civility who would never sink to the level of destroying private property?  I picked up a copy of the Catholics United for Life Newsletter, published by a group, located significantly in New Hope, Kentucky, whose chief apostolate is to save unborn babies from abortion.  A recent issue of their Newsletter carries these words:

The abortionists provide ‘escorts’ for their customers.  Some of these escorts claim to be ministers!  The escorts push us, knock us down, tear our pro-life literature from our hands, and destroy it…

The FPP article went on to cast aspersions at Joseph M. Scheidler, director of the Pro-Life Action League.  Scheidler is perhaps best known of all activists involved in sidewalk counseling.  The author of the article, Patricia Donovan, a contributing editor to FPP, makes some very serious accusations that certainly make it appear that Scheidler is a fanatic.  She charges that he tries to “frighten patients with false claims that 10 per cent of women become sterile after an abortion and that an abortion significantly increases the risk of tubal pregnancies, miscarriages, premature births and deformed babies in the future.”  This is a strange charge since these “claims” were well substantiated in the early seventies in Great Britain by the government-sponsored Wynn Report.  Moreover, no subsequent medical studies have repudiated them.

But Donovan went on to make two other charges against Scheidler that were more personal.  She accuses Scheidler of “making up stores that ‘girls have been brought out of the clinic on a stretcher’ and that the clinic’s doctors are being sued for practicing medicine without a license.”  Secondly, she remarks that “Scheidler contends, with apparent satisfaction, that the complication rate for abortions increase by four to five per cent when demonstrations are going on outside the clinic.”

If these accusations were correct, then it would certainly appear that Scheidler had become a fanatic since he had lost sight of a universal regard for human life that would include women undergoing abortions as well as the abortion physicians.

I had read Scheidler’s book Closed: 99 Ways to Stop Abortion and gave it, a favourable review.  Moreover, I had met the author, though very briefly, in Washington, D.C., this past summer. My strong impression was that this is a man of integrity who was genuinely pro-life and not a fanatic.  In his book, he lists some of the hazards of sidewalk counseling.  In his own case, he has been struck, spit on, pushed, and sent innumerable death threats.  He has suffered warnings, insults, and crank calls,  He has had his sight damaged, tires slashed, office windows cut with glass-cutters and broken with rocks, and his office painted with roofing tar.  But he consistently preaches a “programme of non-violent direct action.”  And he is forgiving toward his enemies.  “If God loves the abortionists,” he writes, “we must love them too.”  “People are fighting us today who will be pro-life leaders tomorrow.  We love them when they join us.  We should love them before they join us.  “these words do not sound like the voice of fanaticism.  At any rate, I decided to call him and question him about the FPP charges.

Accusations will backfire

I reached him at his home in Chicago.  He was most cordial and eagerly discussed the matter at hand.  Concerning the first charge, Scheidler said it was “not at all true.”  He went on to explain that he cannot fabricate anything, given the fact that his adversaries are so eager to catch him in any inaccuracy or misstatement of fact.  It is imperative that he not say anything he cannot substantiate since his credibility is on the line and without credibility, his work would lose its effectiveness.  He also dismissed the second charge, calling it “an absolute lie.”  Nonetheless, he knew something about how that particular distortion got started.

Scheidler was present at the National Abortion Federation convention in New Orleans.  At that time, a woman presented a paper in which she reported evidence that the complication rate goes up for women who undergo abortions when their clinics are being picketed (the range of increased complication is anywhere from 1 to 7 per cent).  Scheidler reacted at the convention upon hearing these figures, but his reaction was misinterpreted.  Scheidler’s point is that it is unconscionable for abortionists to go ahead with their abortions when picketing is taking place (sidewalk counseling) since they are personally convinced that abortions done under such circumstances are more dangerous to the woman.

His opponent’s contention is that sidewalk counselling’s is unconscionable since it contributes to a higher complication rate.  Scheidler insists that he is not pleased about the complication factor, but does contend that its reality bolsters the pro-life argument and is an embarrassment to pro-abortionists because it does not prevent them from going ahead and performing abortions under adverse circumstances.  He wants the complication factor to drop to zero, but understands full well that by not picketing, women who undergo abortions will still suffer the “normal” complications and the unborn babies will still die.  It is not Scheidler who is indifferent to life and health, but the promoters and practitioners of abortion who have set in motion a succession of mortality and morbidity.

Scheidler said to me that his brother, who is a surgeon, would not operate unless he was assured of ideal conditions.  The abortionists, he added, are resurrecting the back-alley abortion.  They care very little about the woman who is being aborted and are willing to gamble on her health when they know (and even publicize) that they are subjecting her to unnecessarily higher risks.

Scheidler also made reference to the fact the Ellie Smeal, president of the National Organization of Women, has accused him, during debates with him, of being “happy” about the increased complication rate as well as of condoning the bombing of abortion clinics.  Scheidler made it clear to me, however, that he does not and has never condoned the bombings.

We spoke briefly of Donald B. Anderson’s situation.  Scheidler has visited Anderson in prison and had just sent a check for $50 to the Anderson family so they could pay their electric light bill.  But there was also a ray of hope.  That very week, Scheidler and a few others had an audience with President Reagan.  The matter of exorbitant prison sentences for pro-life “criminals” was discussed and the President offered that he could possibly consider the matter on the case by case basis.

I brought all these matters to the attention of my student, though she did not seem particularly interested in continuing and developing the discussion.  But I was grateful that she brought up this issue about pro-lifers, justice, and fanaticism.  It led not only to a refutation of much of what the FPP article had to say, but it provided a curious lesson that should be a continuing source of consternation for pro-abortionists.  If they set out to expose what in their minds are the worst deeds and the most fanatical people in the pro-life movement, their very accusations will backfire in their own faces.  It is not the Andersons and the Scheidlers that are creating problems for the world; it is, rather, their detractors.