Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Profound hypocrisy behind ‘pro-life’ label

    The convention center was a multicolored whirl of abstinence education — in every room — from teen girls learning about the exploitation that can come with a grown-up suitor, to adolescents making a reach into a purple velvet "grab bag" only to find a deathly dilemma in hand, like AIDS or syphilis.

    Every effort, every word, was about healthy decisions and the realities of growing up.

   And outside the convention center? "Pro-life" protesters screamed, waived placards, and condemned the gathering for promoting sex and abortion.

   An annual summer event in Waco, Texas, the event I observed was Planned Parenthood's Nobody's Fool, an amazing thing that involves an array of community organizations interested in making a positive difference (225 kids attending this year), and always a gaggle of protesters outside wanting to make noise. Both entities succeed, I might add.

    Noise, of course, is easy. Observe how effortlessly it comes from geese or farm fowl. Actually doing something about life's travails, like unintended pregnancies, sexually transmitted diseases and more is never easy.

    Now, observe how noisy segments of society conspire to make the matter even more difficult.

    In St. Lucie County, Fla., an innovative Planned Parenthood after-school program called Teen Time is making a difference. Far more than sex and abstinence education, it is about life skills for students in need. Over nine years it has helped many teens wrap their minds around college, with 90 students making that daunting leap.

    Next month, funding for Teen Time and two other Planned Parenthood programs — one that helps parents become better role models, one specifically geared to the Latino community — will come up for renewal from the area Children's Services Council. Protesters whose harassment resulted in the defunding of similar activities in neighboring Martin County hope to do the same in St. Lucie County.

     Yes, this is a program with a track record of success and public support. But the involvement of Planned Parenthood, say opponents, makes it illegitimate and, yes, evil.

     And why? We know why. Abortion. The fact that Planned Parenthood provides it at scattered locations nationwide (though not in Martin or St. Lucie counties), is used as a political cudgel against it, as if the agency were engaging in organized crime.

     Americans who support constitutionally protected reproductive rights should support the availability of abortion services loudly. These clinics' deeds are heroic. A right is a right.

     More pertinently, however, most of what Planned Parenthood does is prevent unintended pregnancies and, hence, reduce the possibility that women face the abortion dilemma.

     The political offensive being launched against Planned Parenthood at any number of assault points from local, to state, to federal, should infuriate most Americans and should cause centrist politicians to develop some spine against it.

      Unbelievably, one of the most clear-eyed expressions of common sense came recently from one of the least likely sources, religious-right giant Focus on the Family. Jim Daley, president of the Colorado-based organization, said that he wanted to engage, and possibly support, organizations like Planned Parenthood in ways that reduce unplanned pregnancies and therefore abortions. Since most of Focus on the Family's ideological kin find any such notion repugnant, hopes cannot be set too high.

     For decades I have written supporting reproductive rights and a holistic approach to curbing unplanned pregnancies — and abortion. I've never heard from a single "pro-life" individual who thinks similarly. The movement cannot look at birth control as part of the solution. The movement cannot look at comprehensive sex education as part of the solution.

   The same applies to today's Republican Party. It once had a place for centrists who agreed with then Congressman George H.W. Bush in 1969 when he said, "If family planning is anything, it is a public health matter.

"No more. Right, GOP?"

   In its zealotry and intransigence, conditions which now possess Bush's party, the "pro-life" movement is so far from the real-world solutions that can actually make a difference, it is the problem.

    Longtime Texas newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email: jyoungcolumn@gmail.com.  

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