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University anti-abortion rally misrepresented

– Monika M. Rodman
Friday May 03, 2002

aTo the Editor: 

Perspective Journalism is always an interpretive act, even when undertaken with most sincere intentions of “accurate reporting.” The Planet’s front-page coverage of last Friday’s Celebrate Life Rally on the Cal campus is a case in point. The story represents one reporter’s laudable, though ultimately unsuccessful, effort at unbiased reporting of a controversial matter on which it is commonly thought there is no hope for productive dialogue. 

As a Berkeley resident present for the entire rally, I was intrigued, though not surprised, by the article’s title, “Abortion activists face off at UC Berkeley.” This title, and the article’s content, made a positive, pioneering event sound like the same old ho-hum in an already decided abortion debate. 

The event was actually quite remarkable, if for no other reason than it challenged the pro-choice orthodoxy Berkeley residents normally accept as unquestionable truth on abortion. While the Planet chose to use a photo showing lots of Sproul Plaza’s concrete flooring, few pro-life participants and many pro-choice posters, this lively event in fact drew far more listeners than an abortion rights rally one week prior. And it was marked by a remarkably respectful dialogue between the speaker and her opponents. 

Several other facts give a very different picture than that portrayed by last weekend’s story. 

Though unreported, the rally’s theme, “Celebrate Life... because life is precious!” was visibly communicated by a large banner, on leaflets and on the T-shirt worn by numerous student organizers. 

The rally was sponsored by the ASUC-approved Berkeley Students for Life, an on-campus group with dozens of supporters. The group’s impressive mission and positive outreach have included active support of the UCB Student-Parent project and successful lobbying for ASUC-funded of diaper-changing tables in campus restrooms. Women comprise at least half of BSL’s membership. On the day of the rally over 20 more individuals of diverse ethnicities and lifestyles “came out of the closet” with their pro-life views, adding their names to BSL’s growing list of supporters.  

Rally speaker Serrin Foster, who presented “The Feminist Case Against Abortion” is indeed (gasp!) a “pro-life feminist.” That the Planet reporter could not bring himself to denote her as such without quotation marks indicates the narrow thinking of Berkeleyites who, sometimes wrongly, pride themselves for revolutionary open-mindedness. Pro-life feminism is not an oxymoron; it’s the dirty little secret of women’s studies departments and 1960’s pro-abortion rights feminism. Those ready to have their dominant paradigm subverted can check out 

Imagine the surprise of finding recognized feminist foremothers speaking of the right of children yet unborn to be born, the rights of the fetus, and so forth. Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s challenge is perhaps most provocative: “When we consider that women are treated as property, it is degrading to women that we should consider our children property to be disposed of as we see fit.” Yikes! Didn’t hear this in Women’s History 101! 

The Planet’s reporter twice asserted that rally speaker Foster’s goal was to “outlaw abortion.” No mention that her repeated message was one of inclusion and expanding protection of the vulnerable, i.e., pre-born children and their mothers under pressure. Pregnant women and their yet-to-be-born children are not mortal enemies, and it is a disservice to portray them as such. Foster openly invited pro-choice students to work with BSL to expand on-campus supports such as prenatal care and housing for those seeking to choose life over abortion. 

In short, UC Berkeley’s Celebrate Life Rally was more than a shouting match or “stand off” between opposing activists. It positively challenged pro-choicers and pro-lifers to work together in offering women and children choices better than abortion, which the ERA’s original author, Alice Paul, called “the ultimate exploitation of women.” Such an event is indeed worthy of a fair and accurate portrayal. 


– Monika M. Rodman