response to abortion! Thanks for the Encouragement Steven Watsky Before I get to the point

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* response to abortion! Thanks for the Encouragement Steven Watsky Before I get to the point of this, I'd first like to say thanks to each of you who took the time to respond to my article on abortion. I was urged by the sysops of two Baton Rouge BSS's to allow the story to be sent up, and I agreed. The story you read was published in the Baton Rouge magazine Gris Gris. It was a gift to my friend, John Maginnis, the publisher of the magazine on the occasion of his debuting a new statewide political magazine. I get the feeling from the tone of some of the responses I've read that a few of you don't understand who I am, or what I did for a living since 1972. I was, until last month, a reporter. For the past four-and-a-half years I was employed by United Press International, the world's second-largest newsgathering organization. For those of you with a strong belief that the media is liberal and pro-choice, I'm very sorry. I oppose MOST abortions, with good reason, but that's not the point here. I have never been accused by any of UPI's estimated 50 million readers that my articles were one-sided or favored one position over another. In writing the story, I approached the issue in the only way I knew how -- it was a spectacle from Day One until the last night of the 1990 session. It was calculated to be spectacle, by both sides, to maximize media impact. If the story offended you, good. It should have. Such an emotional and philosophical issue belongs on a higher plane than retail politics at the state level. I was the president of the Capitol Correspondents Association this year, the organization that oversees the activities of reporters in the Louisiana State Capitol. In that capacity, I was liason for countless national print reporters and network crews that descended on Louisiana to watch the debate on banning abortion. I was asked by ABC's "Nightline" program to moderate a debate between two of the key players in the Louisiana abortion debate because I was recognized BY BOTH SIDES on the issue as being an unbiased and knowledgable source. I also was interviewed by National Public Radio's "Morning Edition," and was interviewed by CNN for a piece on how the Louisiana Legislature turned a bill dealing with beating up people who desecrate the flag into the "Crime of Simple Battery of Abortion." All that being said, let's get to the point. The abortion debate in Louisiana this year WAS a spectacle, not matched in this state since the bitters legislative arguments over right to work laws in the 1970s. There's an old saying that there are two things you never want to see being made: sausage and politics. Truly, the abortion debate -- on both sides -- proved that statement 100 percent true. I have never seen behavior like I saw this year from the pro-life lobby. Yes, the article does pick on them more, but for a simple reason: they overran the State Capitol in such numbers that it was virtually impossible to move from one place to another, much less get any work done. The pro-choice lobby had its act together more than people realize; they simply sat back and let the pro-life forces destroy any chance they had of passing a restrictive abortion bill. The failing here, I think, has to do with the church's role in turning abortion into a political crusade. The problem with that approach is that once you threaten a legislator, vow to campaign against him in the next election, you've lost him for life. He'll never vote for any other piece of legislation you support. In mid-June, a very much pro-choice black lawmaker from Baton Rouge was called out of the House during important debate by an insistent citizen. This citizen proceeded to quote scripture to the legislator about why abortion is murder. The legislator patiently listened, thanked the citizen for the input, then returned to his seat on the House floor. Moments later, a second citizen called out the same legislator, who also quoted scripture to the lawmaker. He again patiently listened, thanked the person for the input, then returned to his seat. A third message came to him requesting he meet a citizen outside the chamber. This nice clean-cut young man threatened the lawmaker, then shouted, "Repent, you asshole!" before he was led away by state troopers. A couple of weeks after that shouting incident, a woman who owns several pro-life pregnancy shelters in Louisiana testified in committee on the bill to ban abortions. She assured the panel members she could place each child in a good home if the mother wished to give up the infant. Under Louisiana law, a person who spends some measure of time lobbying on behalf of a bill is banned from also possessing a press credential. The theory, as legislative aides say, is that a member of the media could exert undue influence on lawmakers by virtue of their position. Well, this woman at about the same time got hired by a Christian radio station to report on the abortion goings-on. She was granted a State Police media I.D. -- the credential we use at the Capitol to verify that a reporter really is a reporter and will be given special priveleges in covering all types of legislative hearings. This woman was warned she could no longer lobby the bill because she was now a reporter. She said she understood. She then walked into a Senate committee, signed a form saying she wanted to lobby on behalf of the abortion bill and sat in the area reserved for press. The board of the Capitol Correspondents voted to immediately file a protest against her action. The chairman of the committee, Sen. Mike Cross -- a staunch foe of all abortions -- chewed the woman out for the breach of security and refused to let her testify on behalf of the bill. This woman promptly whined that her constitutional rights were being violated by the "devil-worshippers on press row." She continued to lobby behind the scenes, but at this point, we ignored her. By the way, we didn't ignore some of the female reporters who wore purple, the abortion-rights color -- during some of the debate. One was evicted from the chamber for the day on my orders. Our friend with the Christian radio station probably won't be back next year. On the second-to-last night of the 1990 legislative session, she told several sergeants-at-arms in the House the 20 women with her wearing the "Abortion is Murder" stickers on their blouses were actually reporters and authorities had run out of press passes for them. I'm not real sure what this woman had in mind trying to get 20 of her friends down on the floor of the House of Representatives, but I can tell you that the action was a felony in Louisiana. But we ignored that too. Ironic, isn't it? A woman working for a Christian radio station who runs a string of pro-life shelters stoops to attempting to commit a felony to impress her friends, or perhaps to save the 15,000 fetuses that are aborted in Louisiana each year. One of the key players in the anti-abortion movement was the Eagle Forum, the same group that year after year vehemently opposes sex education in schools. They also support the death penalty and give the impression that they would not want the state to spend one extra nickle to support the children not wanted by their mothers. Every effort to include language that would make the state responsible for the childrens' welfare was blocked by the anti-abortion forces in the Legislature. Politics is the art of pragmatism. It is knowing what you have to give up to get what you want. It is not a knee-jerk reaction to an emotional issue. This was lost on the anti-abortion forces who failed to understand how banning abortion would lead to an increased number of people on the welfare rolls and would cost the state countless thousands of dollars each year. Until they address those questions, they will not win in Louisiana. It is also important to know a bit about some of the people who supported the anti-abortion legislation. Many were NOT in any way shape or form in favor of such a ban. But, and this is sad to say with such an emotional issue, they were in it for the money or the votes. Reporters and Capitol workers snickered when some of those "pious" lawmakers rose in support of the bill, knowing those same lawmakers were chasing the 16-year-old legislative pages and had led, shall we say, a checkered life. The lead author on the bill, Baton Rouge Rep. Woody Jenkins, sent a "questionnaire" out in August. It asked citizens across the state if they supported his abortion ban. It also asked them to send a donation -- apparently to retire Jenkins' campaign debt for a failed U.S. Senate bid six years ago. Nothing wrong with that, but the timing of the mailing was questionable. Jenkins, for his part, spent the better of 1990 telling every camera in sight that the majority of Louisiana citizens favored his outright ban. He told every anti-abortion rally -- and believe me, there were plenty -- that they were in the majority, not the liberal abortionists. What Jenkins forgot to tell his followers, and the cameras, is that the most recent survey on the subject that was taken after the high-profile session shows a whopping 6 percent of the people in Louisiana favor an outright ban. The sad lesson for a lot of lawmakers who got sucked in on the "everyone wants to ban abortions in Louisiana" ruse is that when they returned home after the legislative session, they were pounded by their constituents. While they were busy creating perfect soundbites for the national networks, the state began its fiscal year without a budget and left untouched numerous critical pieces of legislation that affect most of 4.1 million people in Louisiana. A year ago, ex-Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke -- now a Louisiana state representative -- said he supported abortions for welfare mothers. Duke is a master at veiling racism in the cloak of conservatism, and this was no exception. Fast forward to this year: Duke now opposes all abortions. Nobody wants to say this in the media. I would not say this in the media, but I will say it to you, the people who have a head on their shoulders: a good deal of the anti-abortion debate in Louisiana is a thinly disguised racist ploy. It's the poor black women who are getting pregnant and feel they need the abortion. Many get pregnant because they do not understand birth-control methods -- methods the Eagle Forum opposes. As sentiments continue to shift away from trying to achieve equality for all races, more and more creative ways are found to cover racism with a veneer of "conservatism" or "Christian beliefs." The predominantly white Louisiana Legislature didn't see a problem with banning abortions because it would not affect a majority of their constituents. During one of the rallies on the steps of the State Capitol, a woman with an adoption agency from western Louisiana tried in vain to convince some of the 1,000 "Christians" in attendance to adopt some of the unwanted children she must take care of. No one signed up. It helps to know the children were black. D. Rice's response in the latest issue of FidoNews about school prayer points up another angle of what I'm trying to get across. About 5 years ago, I was watching Pat Robertson on the 700 Club. He was urging his viewers to call Washington and convince their congressmen to support a bill to prayer in school. Robertson was incensed by this. He wanted the United States Congress to adopt a policy of verbal prayer "because we don't want the Hare Krishnas saying their own prayers." That statement, like some made in the Louisiana abortion debate, seems to say that if you're in a majority religion you have the right to decide the morals and convictions of everyone. The framers of the U.S. Constitution must be rolling in their graves. As the editorial in FidoNews 7-43 pointed out, my article was NOT about abortion. It was about the lengths that lawmakers and special-interest groups will go to in order to achieve their goals. These "lengths" include many not-so-Christian ideas such as playing white lawmakers against black lawmakers, and threatening and successfully bottling up the state's $8 billion budget because the votes could not be found to override the governor's veto. The night the legislative session ended, I vowed never to cover the abortion issue again if I could help it. I was accused by both pro-life and pro-choice forces of caving in to the other's demands of equal treatment. I carried out that vow a month ago. I am now the public information officer for Louisiana Attorney General William Guste. You might be interested to know that Guste was one of the prime movers in the 1990 effort to ban abortions in Louisiana. You might also be interested to know that Guste, like many of us, learned a painful lesson this year: it is an issue that leaves no middle ground and leaves no one without physical and emotional scars. Guste, like the rest of the players in this little drama will be back next year, Fighting the Good Fight to ban abortion. But perhaps they'll use a different tactic. One can only hope...


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