Two Voices On Abortion
Women Are Victims, Says Right-to-Life Head. The battle between President Bush and Congress over abortion counseling is the latest phase of an intense national debate. For Wanda Franz, the new president of the National Right to Life Committee, the central issue is a baby's right to be born. For Faye Wattleton, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, it's a woman's right to control her body. In separate Monitor interviews, they describe their attitudes and how they came to them.
WANDA FRANZ'S odyssey to the leadership of the nation's largest anti-abortion organization began in post-Nazi Germany.While living there soon after World War II, says the new president of the National Right to Life Committee (NRLC), she saw what happens to a society when it chooses to eliminate an entire class of people. "It became pretty clear that when you lose respect for any life, you lose respect for life in general," Dr. Franz told the Monitor. "I think that's what we're doing today. We've chosen a class of people to eliminate, and it affects the whole culture." But, Franz says, her stand against abortion didn't crystallize until 1971 when, as a developmental psychologist, she was asked to address an anti-abortion group. Looking at information from countries where the procedure was already legal, she did research on the emotional, psychological, and physical effect of abortion on women who have had them. Her "intellectual decision," she says, was that "this is not healthy." Early in her own first pregnancy, 22 years ago, her doctor told her she was miscarrying. The diagnosis proved wrong, but Franz learned something: that she had already formed a strong bond with the baby, and that the thought of losing it was devastating. Yes, this was a wanted child - but, she argues, regardless of whether a woman wants to be pregnant, she knows that a new life is forming inside of her. When a woman decides to abort, "it's an intellectual decision she makes based on all kinds of issues, which is not necessarily in touch with her emotions and with the fact that she is a mother," says Franz. "I think we have got to start recognizing that we become mothers from the time we conceive that child." Thus, Franz builds her case against abortion not on a religious basis - though she says she is religious - but as a PhD in psychology. When a woman, even a teenager, is faced with a crisis pregnancy, abortion is the most psychologically perilous option she could choose, Franz says. Franz cites researchers who have concluded that some time after an abortion, often as long as five to seven years, a woman can suffer from something akin to post-traumatic stress disorder, an affliction usually linked to war veterans. As a result, a woman can experience nightmares, flashbacks, crying spells, depression, anxiety, and sexual dysfunction, which can result in substance abuse, according to Franz. Abortion-rights advocates vehemently dispute this conclusion. Franz herself acknowledges that not enough research has been done, exactly what C. Everett Koop concluded when he was surgeon general of the United States in the 1980s. Dr. Koop recommended a definitive study examining the psychological effect of abortion on women, but it hasn't happened. "Our opponents don't want to know," Franz asserts. "They're trying to put this under the rug." The financial and political power of NRLC's opponents comes up often in discussion with the new NRLC president. The media are on their side, she says, and are using their "biased terminology." The term "gag rule," for example, is an inappropriate way to describe the speech regulations in federally funded clinics upheld by the Supreme Court last May in its Rust v. Sullivan decision, says Franz. After Congress's failure last week to overrule Rust v. Sullivan, the speech regulations will go into effect. If a federally funded clinic wants to counsel on abortion, it must give up its federal money. "All Rust v. Sullivan said was that the government had the right to limit how it spent its money in a program specified for family planning," says Franz. After the Rust decision was handed down, Planned Parenthood launched a major media campaign that it said would cost between $3 million and $5 million to convince Congress to overturn the ruling. The right-to-life movement couldn't counter with that kind of money, says Franz. In addition, many Capitol Hill staffers support abortion, she says - a reflection not of the views of the majority of Americans, who she says oppose abortion, but of the "different culture" that congressional aides come from. "People on the Hill tend to get removed from what's going on out there in the real world," she says. But with a White House that is also strongly anti-abortion, NRLC doesn't need a majority of Congress on its side to win. It only needs more than one-third, to prevent the President's veto from being overridden. Last Tuesday's override attempt fell short by 12 votes. The vote to uphold the abortion-counseling ban is the latest in a string of victories for NRLC over the past 2 1/2 years. In 1989, the Supreme Court began to allow restrictions on the abortion rights it had established in its historic Roe v. Wade decision in 1973. That decision itself may be overturned as early as the court's next session, throwing it open to the states to decide how to handle abortion. NRLC would like to see a constitutional amendment banning abortion nationwide, except if the pregnancy threatens the life of the mother. To Franz, the readiness with which many women make the decision to have abortions is a symptom of a society that has been misinformed by the law. "The law educates, and you've got a law that says abortion is legal," she says. "And most people say if something's legal, it must be OK." In fact, she argues, the law does a disservice to women, because it allows society an easy out. A woman gets pregnant? Easy: Kill the baby. "Having an abortion helps everybody but the woman," says Franz. "It makes it easy on everybody: The boyfriend that doesn't want to deal with the baby, the parents that are embarrassed, the employer that doesn't want her on maternity leave, the society that's worried about welfare costs. "Everybody is served by an abortion, except the woman herself. Nobody asks her: What are your needs? What do you want?"