(Note: The following story covers the joint statement issued by Fr. Frank Pavone and Bill Baird. It is not accurate that "fearing violence" was the reason Fr. Frank signed the statement; rather, the reason is that the common humanity of those who disagree require that they engage in respectful dialogue and not misrepresent one another.]
NEW YORK - Fearing violence surrounding next week's 30th anniversary of the Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion, two opposing groups yesterday renewed their call for an end to "inflammatory rhetoric."
Priests for Life and the Pro Choice League urged those on both sides to avoid physical violence and verbal attacks - such as calling each other "evil" - during events marking the Jan. 22 anniversary of Roe v. Wade.
Bill Baird, director of the Long Island-based abortion rights group, said his members are concerned about attacks aimed at abortion providers, but also worry that abortion rights advocates might retaliate.
"We have to live in peace with each other," Baird said.
The Rev. Frank Pavone, director of the Roman Catholic group Priests for Life, said the agreement is about respecting one's foes as human beings.
The joint statement does not say that either side accepts, or even recognizes, opposing viewpoints.
"This statement does not call for compromise, it does not call for an end to the debate, it does not seek to create a middle ground - both sides, in fact, see themselves as fighting for fundamental rights that cannot be compromised," Pavone said. "What our statement does address is the manner in which these causes ought to be pursued."
Sometimes, they even disagree about that - Pavone supports the right of activists to block entrances to abortion clinics, but Baird considers that "emotional violence."
Speaking at a news conference in Manhattan, the men were reiterating a position they announced last spring that they said has not been endorsed by other activists groups.
Both have criticized their own movements - Baird said he wishes he could "defuse some of the anger" among abortion rights activists, and Pavone last year offered a $50,000 reward for information leading to the conviction of anyone shooting a provider.
Officials with the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League, known as NARAL, said they endorsed the general idea of ending violence and verbal attacks, but said they wanted to see more action from anti-abortion activists.
"We would be happy to join with them if they could show us they're trying to make real progress in preventing the violence," said Kelli Conlin, executive director of the group's New York chapter.
David O'Steen, the executive director of the National Right to Life Committee, said the group had no problem supporting the agreement.
"We certainly believe that individuals should be respected," he said.
Among the anti-abortion events planned for next week is a Buffalo rally in support of James Kopp, whose trial begins next month for the 1998 fatal shooting of Dr. Barnett Slepian, an abortion provider.