The recent fusillade of abortion clinic bombings has set me pondering why these violent incidents have occurred so frequently only in the last couple of years or so. After all, abortion has been legal in America since 1973.
It is difficult to escape the parallel that the violence has occurred as the country has shifted to a more conservative course and during the administration of President Reagan.
But travel back with me over the last couple of years as I try to recount some of the events that may have brought us to the point where misguided people have bombed 30 abortion clinics, including the one in Southeast Washington on New Year's Day.
President Reagan has made no secret of his opposition to abortion and he has gone out of his way to state unequivocally that he disagreed with the Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion, Roe v. Wade, and thought it should be overturned.
As early as 1982, in a filmed address to the National Right to Life Convention, he made it clear that his administration would not put the issue on the back burner. "It is a problem that cannot wait," he said. "It must be confronted." During those years, both in his appointments to strategic positions and in numerous statements, President Reagan vowed to continue his fight for antiabortion legislation and endorsed an act that would permanently prohibit federal funding of abortions.
Of course the president has the right to decide that the moral tone he will set in his administration will be an antiabortion tone, even if, according to the latest Newsweek poll, a majority of Americans still support abortion under certain circumstances. But in a couple of instances, to my mind, he went overboard in his zeal, to wit:
In 1983, when he became the first president to publish an article on abortion, "Abortion and the Conscience of the Nation," he exhorted the antiabortion forces not to lose heart, and went on to state passionately:
"The abortionist who reassembles the arms and legs of a tiny baby to make sure all of its parts have been torn from its mother's body can hardly doubt whether it is a human being. The real question . . . is whether that tiny human life has a God-given right to be protected by the law -- the same right we have."
While I respect anyone's right to his or her opinions, even the aforementioned, it is inappropriate for a president of the United States to publicly contribute to an already heated atmosphere with such fiery emotional outpourings.
I think it was also a questionable action to inject abortion into a State of the Union address, as he did for the first time in January 1984, an election year. This had the effect of placing the issue on the table alongside some of the nation's crucial economic issues. In that same month, he spoke out against abortion to leaders of "March for Life" and in an address to the National Religious Broadcasters.
Meanwhile, in the spring of 1982, when the rash of abortion-clinic bombings began in various parts of the country, several prochoice and civil libertarian groups sent out calls to the White House to condemn the bombings, but there was only silence from 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.
What these groups wanted from the White House was not support for abortion, but for the law. They wanted the Reagan administration to let the antiabortion people know there are better ways than violence to reach their political goals.
Later, at about the same time that Geraldine Ferraro was under siege because of her prochoice abortion position and the list of abortion-clinic bombings was growing, these same groups called upon the country's highest officials to speak out against harassment.
But it was not until the recent Christmas and New Year's bombings brought to 30 the number of charred abortion centers, prompting Mayor Marion Barry's challenge to the Rev. Jerry Falwell, that President Reagan finally condemned the violence, calling them "anarchist activities."
Every statement and gesture by a president has unparalleled symbolism and real meaning behind it. Those charged in the bombings so far say they feel abortion is so sinful that their actions were justified.
After much consideration, I've been forced to conclude that by certain statements and by refusing to condemn the violence early, the Reagan administration may have had an indirect role in contributing to the incendiary climate that produced the sense of righteousness with which a few people went on to break the law.