The Right to Lifers
By Connie Paige
Publisher: Summit Books
Review Author: Juli Loesch
The dust cover — big red sans-serif headline letters, splashy endorsements front and back from satisfied customers — makes it look like one of those pulpers advertised in The National Inquirer: “YOU CAN LOSE 60 POUNDS OF FAT — WITHOUT DIETING!” I don’t think that’s exactly the image Connie Paige wanted to project.
And I can’t avoid the suspicion that this isn’t exactly the book Connie Paige wanted to write.
The Right to Lifers (“Who they are — How they operate — Where they get their money”) has a well-worn thesis. It is that cynical New Right operators and their big-money cronies — whose true agenda is anything but “prolife” — hooked up the Right to Life movement in order to herd traditionally Democratic voters (viz., Roman Catholics and Southern fundamentalists) into the conservative political corral.
I first encountered this theme around 1978. Even then, commentators (like Michelle Megar) noted that the New Right takeover of the Right to Life movement was no fait accompli, and was unlikely to become so in the future, largely because of basic incongruence between the priorities of the two groups.
In some way, the New Right/Right to Life link resembles that between the Far Left and the anti-nuclear-weapons movement. The hidden-agenda people lust to control the grassroots movement; they attempt to do so, both through overt steering-wheel-grabbing and covert manipulation; but they in fact do not control the movement. Never have. Never will.
Early in her research, Paige apparently discovered this. She admits that prolifers are “politically diverse”; that abortion “has almost nothing to do with the politics of the New Right”; and “abortion was only an incidental part of the agenda of the [New Right] coalition as a whole”; and that, in all honesty, “there is almost nothing in the record about any coordination between the right-to-life movement and the rest of the [New Right] coalition.”
So her New-Right-Bad-Guy thesis turned out to be basically off-target. But a little thing like that was not enough to deter Paige. She had her heart set to write an expose; therefore, an expose she would write.
How does she do it? Mainly by the old con technique known as “bait and switch.”
For example: she serves up five pages of intriguing details about the political activities of conservative wheeler-dealers in the South; then admits, rather inconspicuously, that, “if anything, conservatives, particularly those from the South, then actually favored legal abortion.” George Wallace’s 1968 running-mate, Gen. Curtis LeMay, is a figure just begging for the liberal lampoon. But he also (sigh) “supported legalization of abortion.”
She piles on seven juicy pages about Amway millionaires Richard De Vos and Jay Van Andel, their hefty Third Century political fund, and their congressional apparatchik John Conlan. Then she notes that the kind of people they wanted in government did not include prolife Senators like Harold Hughes and Mark Hatfield (both co-sponsors of the original Human Life Amendment). The deft investigative reporter again smacks her thesis in the nose.
She then shinnies up the Fundamentalist Money Tree to trace the cash flow through every branch and twig (from Christian Freedom Foundation to Campus Crusade for Christ to the Christian Embassy to Here’s Life, America). She chronicles the cultivation of the faithful and the harvesting of the funds by Dr. Ron Paul, Rev. Robert Thoburn, lobbyist Frank Wolf, and Rev. Robert Billings. Then she adds, almost offhandedly, “However, Paul, Thoburn, Wolf, and Billings did not show any particular interest in abortion.”
She tracks down Ed McAteer, a Bible peddler and Christian Freedom Foundation staffer who has many conservative interests. But he too (she dutifully notes) “did not mention abortion.”
Paige even pads the back of the book with two appendices showing corporate and foundation donors to fundamentalist and New Right causes — one expects to find the real stuff here, the lucrative links with capitalists creeps — but not a single Right to Life political, educational, or service group is listed!
So, what gives?
What gives is that Connie Paige, unable to document what she set out to prove — that the Right to Lifers sold their souls for money and power — must fill up pages by documenting something. So she proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that rich fundamentalists give to fundamentalism, and rich Rightists give to the Right.
A real eye-opener, fer sure.
Off-target as Paige is about the politics of the issue, she seems even more skewed about the merits of the issue.
For instance: she faults Dr. Joseph Stanton for testifying “mistakenly” in the 1973 Edelin abortion-murder trial that fetuses, once dead, were “homogenized.” Then with quirky precision, she gives us this footnote: “The New England Journal of Medicine article did use the unfortunate term ‘homogenized’…but these were fetal tissues, not, as Stanton implied, whole fetuses.” What does she want us to conclude? That if you cut the fetuses in hunks first, it isn’t nearly so tacky?
Again, she describes Dr. Carolyn Gerster’s miscarriage, which brought the Right to Life leader face-to-face with the humanity of her unborn child. “She retrieved the ‘baby,’” Paige begins, putting “baby” in skeptical quotation marks. She continues, “It was one of those eye-opening moments of stark reality. ‘I realized,’ [Gerster speaking] ‘My God, I’ve lost a baby.’” Well, what was the “stark reality”? Was it a “baby,” or a baby? Doesn’t Paige know?
She says Robert Sassone’s critique of population explosion alarmism has only “a germ of truth” to it, then gracefully summarizes it point by point, calling it “correct,” “accurate,” and “true,” and the related research “massive and painstaking.” Could the Right to Lifers have more than a “germ” of truth? Did Paige, albeit reluctantly, come close to recognizing their testimony as “massively” truthful?
There are some real, as opposed to illusory, connections between the Right to Life movement and the New Right. But Paul and Judie Brown’s ties with Richard Viguerie (the New Right’s direct mail wizard), Paul Weyrich (Committee for the Survival of a Free Congress), and others should have made a trenchant 15-page pamphlet, not a largely irrelevant $15 book.
And as for Connie Paige (whom I met at the 1982 National Right to Life Convention, and liked), we can only hope that her ambivalences will someday develop into something more authentic than this failed exposé.
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