Roos for Life: Group brings abortion controversy to campus

Nathan Zoschke

A campus like UMKC that prides itself in being progressive may seem like an unlikely place for the anti-abortion movement to gain traction.

But Roos for Life (RFL), a student group founded last year, hopes to do exactly that.

A showing of “Thine Eyes: A Witness to the March for Life” in the Student Union Theater last Monday centered on the 2009 March for Life in Washington, D.C.

The film followed students from Benedictine College in Atchison, Kan., John Carroll High School in Birmingham, Ala. and members of the Missouri Right to Life to the march, which drew more than 300,000 attendees, by an estimate of its organizers.

“Thine Eyes” was narrated by Jennifer O’Neill, a Hollywood actress who had an abortion before becoming a born-again Christian.

Religion is the motivation for many abortion opponents, including O’Neill, who cited Biblical evidence that sacred life begins at conception.

RFL President Dominico Nguyen said that for him, being pro-life is about “respecting all human life from conception through natural death.” Many of abortion’s strongest opponents, including Nguyen, believe an abortion is murder and should be banned regardless of circumstance.

“It’s not your choice to kill [the baby],” Nguyen said when asked if he supported abortion as an option for victims of rape.

Protesters at the march held signs with messages like “Jesus was a fetus” and “Stop the Obama abortion agenda.”

A truck at the march juxtaposed the word “choice” next to a graphic picture of an aborted fetus.

The march, two days after Obama’s inauguration.

“For all the historic value of his election, Barack Obama had promised to undo the progress pro-life forces had made in the last 35 years,” O’Neill said near the beginning of the film. “The marchers planned to get his attention.”

O’Neill’s Obama reference transitioned into analogies between anti-abortion protesters and slavery abolitionists. The documentary likened Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that struck down state abortion bans, to the infamous 1857 Dred Scott case, which ruled that African-Americans had no claim to citizenship.

A large “Personhood Now” banner carried by marchers reinforced themes of slavery, genocide and Civil Rights. Anti-abortion activists see fetuses in the same manner as other groups that have been denied human rights.

One interviewee described abortion as the “modern-day Holocaust.”

The handful of Jewish, African-American and other minority protestors didn’t seem to mind the comparisons drawn between fetuses and Holocaust victims and slaves.

The documentary was written and produced by Jack Cashill, a local conservative figure whose book “Deconstructing Obama” suggests the president’s memoire “Dreams from My Father” was ghost-written by `60s radical Bill Ayers, and that the president may actually be Jimi Hendrix’s illegitimate son.

Cashill was among the eight present at the screening, and vented about the media bias and poor coverage of the march, emphasizing the strong turnout and near absence of counter-protestors.

“Ten years ago, the mainstream media spoke and it was fact,” Cashill said. “You aren’t going to control the mainstream media any time in the near future. We must create other alternatives, and we must strike back.”

“A mass murderer” was Cashill’s catch phrase for the late George Tiller, a Kansas abortionist slain in his church months after the 2009 March for Life.

The cavernous feel of the nearly-empty theater contrasted with the large turnout for RFL’s screening of “Blood Money” last year.

Hoping to gain momentum for the anti-abortion cause, Nguyen said RFL will work with the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS), and both groups hope to attend the 2012 March for Life.

Contextualizing the abortion debate

UMKC does not have an abortion rights group on campus, although several professors have researched the issue extensively.

One is June Carbone, Ph.D., Professor of Law, who coauthored the book “Red Families vs. Blue Families,” which discusses the abortion debate.

During the `70s, Carbone said, abortion didn’t represent the partisan or ideological divide that it does today.

“The Christian opposition was limited primarily to Roman Catholics,” Carbone said. “The Southern Baptist Convention [now considered one of the most conservative] even had a pro-choice platform in 1972.”

Around the same time, the Title X Family Planning Program, mandating federal funds for abortion providers, passed the U.S. Senate unanimously and was signed into law by President Richard Nixon, a Republican.

It wasn’t until the early `90s that Gallup polls found a substantial difference in Republican and Democratic support for abortion rights.

Then, both parties were transformed in terms of rhetoric and ideology, Carbone explained.

“In moving to the right, [the Republican Party] staked out an uncompromising rhetorical stance,” Carbone said. “In rallying the base, abortion was a particularly useful issue, because the real debate isn’t yes or no, but between the absolutists who think abortion is murder, and therefore is always wrong, and the people who say, ‘You know I really don’t like the idea of abortion, but sometimes it’s justified.’”

Carbone referenced two highly different worldviews underlying the abortion debate outlined by Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor’s court opinion in Planned Parenthood v. Casey.

“In one, the child is a gift from God, and it’s the woman’s duty to accept the child,” Carbone said. “For women who don’t subscribe to this approach, the moral imperative is that she should not have a child until she is prepared to take care of it. An increasing number of women having abortions today already have children and feel that they are struggling to take care of the children they already have. Each is a completely different, highly ethical system of belief.”

This rhetoric, Carbone said, appealed to groups like fundamentalist Christians that tend to have a doctrinaire system of beliefs.

The ideological divide doesn’t seem to be shrinking. The Guttmacher Institute, a pro-choice research organization, found that a record number of state abortion restrictions have been passed this year, due largely to a sweep of the 2010 midterm elections by Republican candidates eager to appease their increasingly anti-abortion base.

“The mindset that every abortion that can be prevented is worth it has taken hold,” Carbone said. “In almost every state where Republicans control the governorship and the legislature there are a lot of measures that are probably unconstitutional if you can get a ruling on them deliberately made to prevent abortions. It is no longer just symbolic or political; they really want to stop abortions.”

But unless abortion is completely stopped, the protestors in “Thine Eyes” vow they will continue the March for Life.

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