It’s not something I bring up at parties. It took me three months to tell my first boyfriend, six weeks to tell my freshman roommate, and I still haven’t told my parents. I’m proudly feminist, loudly atheist, soundly liberal. I’m also marginally, quietly, blushingly pro-life.

There is a reason that I avoid telling people this. When I let anyone in on the secret, I am keenly aware of just how ignorant I appear. Upon mention of the word, neon signs flash above my head like cartoon lightbulbs – “fanatic!,”Religious Right!,”Julie from `The Real World’!,” while images of Jerry Fallwell and Pat Buchanan float in and out of focus. Although I don’t like it, I don’t think that the association of pro-lifers and religious fanatics is totally unjustified. The movement has done a spectacular job of marginalizing itself.

Why do I hang onto this single vestige of a Catholic upbringing? The reasons are simple, and you’ve heard them before. I’m troubled by the fact that the richest nation in the history of the world destroys one-third of its fetuses. As a feminist, I’m disturbed that, worldwide, the vast majority of aborted fetuses are female. The line we’ve drawn between humans with no rights and humans with full rights strikes me as excessively arbitrary. I think these are reasonable concerns for a thinking person to have, and it’s a shame that, in this political climate, so few liberals admit to having them.

That said, it’s awfully hard to have a fact-based, philosophical discussion about abortion. Search “abortion” on Google and you’ll have to wade through a bunch of fanatical religious diatribes to get anywhere near a single biological fact. As anyone brought up Catholic will know, the best way to end an intelligent discussion is to throw a Bible verse into the mix. The conversation will change from “this is why this argument is logical and consistent” to “this is why you are definitely going to hell.” It’s not a good way to convince a friend from the ACLU that abortion is wrong.

The religious right has hijacked the pro-life movement, and women are right to be concerned. When the suggestion of abortion restrictions is combined with specific religious doctrines, such as the Catholic prohibition on birth control, the movement turns sinister. To anyone without a belief system that specifically prohibits sex for the purpose of pleasure, the combination of restricted abortions and restricted birth control conjures images of round stomachs, bare feet and an endless succession of trailer parks.

Of course, it doesn’t have to be that way. A society that values the freedoms of its working women and the sanctity of life would inundate its young women with condoms, patches and pills, while providing a host of services for the rare instances when pregnancy occurs anyway. Representatives of the pro-life movement do a decent job of the second (though you might have to sit through a Bible reading to get a bit of pregnancy counseling) and a disgraceful job of the first. Why doesn’t the National Right to Life Committee support the dispersal of condoms to high school students? Because, in this country, pro-life means pro-dogma.

Recent research, as reported by The New York Times, suggests that the best way to reduce the total number of abortions is to provide birth control to low-income women. Ironically, this is a huge part of what Planned Parenthood does. What we have is a situation in which the nation’s largest abortion provider seeks the most effective way to reduce abortions, while the nation’s largest pro-life group claims to have “no position” on the issue of contraception.

Listening to pro-lifers rant, one might come to the conclusion that the women’s movement has run its course and exceeded its ethical limits. This opinion is hard to square with the fact that women still encounter glass ceilings at every turn, still earn 75 cents to every dollar men make, still don’t have their fair share of corner offices or board memberships. As a human being, I don’t believe I have the right to terminate the life of a sentient fetus, even if that fetus depends on me for survival. I understand, however, the reaction of women who don’t want more restrictions placed on their rights when they are still a long way from economic equality with the (mostly) men writing up those restrictions.

I’m not convinced that this country is ready for legislation that restricts the reproductive rights of its women, even though it seems to me to be morally appropriate. This administration, which so casually mixes political goals and religious beliefs, which invokes the name of God to justify war, which looks to marriage as a social panacea, is not going to be the one to convince women that their fundamental rights are secure. Before the pro-life movement is to gain acceptance into the mainstream, it must distance itself from fanatical religion, intellectualize the debate and convince women that there is a significant difference between believing in social equality and believing that anyone has the right to terminate a third trimester pregnancy. And then, maybe, I’ll be able to share my dirty little secret with the world.

Kerry Howley is a senior in the College. Infinite Regress appears every other Tuesday.

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