By Sara Kugler
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
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
"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.