Like a brewing storm cloud, the issue of abortion hangs over the North Arlington home that Anne Van Steenberg shares with her daughter Kirsten Ball. It threatens to divide the prochoice mother and her antiabortion daughter in much the same way that it has divided the nation since the Supreme Court ruled 12 years ago today that women have a constitutional right to choose abortion.
Today, Ball and her husband, Thomas, with 11-month-old Benjamin in tow, will join with thousands of others to protest the court's decision, and despite temperatures in the low 20s will listen to President Reagan address them at noon on the Ellipse through a loudspeaker hookup from the Oval Office. After that speech and others, the Balls and their baby will join other antiabortionists in the "March for Life" to the steps of the Supreme Court.
"Bringing babies on a march like this is an excellent symbol," said Ball. "It tells the world this is what's at stake, a human life born or unborn."
Ball said she plans to wear layers of wool socks, thermal underwear and a heavy down coat. As for Benjamin, "he'll be right up on my chest and he'll be warm enough."
The Balls' daughters, Rachel, 5, and Elizabeth, 3, will not march with their parents. But their education has already begun.
"My older daughter prays every night that the abortionists will stop murdering babies," Kirsten Ball, 30, said yesterday. "It's pretty awkward trying to explain any reasons to the children why anyone would kill babies. They don't know that their grandmother is in favor of it. We've never told them because we know it would upset them."
Kirsten Ball, who believes any abortion amounts to murder, said her mother's view of abortion as a constitutional right creates an unspoken barrier of mistrust between the two women.
"This is such a point of contention that I never talk to her about it at all. It's a very taboo subject," Ball said from her mother's home, where the Balls have lived for four years. "It really makes me sad and frustrated that one of the things that's very important to me in the way I run my life, I can't communicate to her about at all. It makes our relationship a lot more superficial than it should be between a mother and a daughter. If there weren't this between us, I would feel a lot closer to her."
Van Steenberg, 63, said she feels the barrier too: "I just keep my mouth shut and things go smoothly. I just roll with the punches. I don't want to think about this thing for the sake of my blood pressure. Maybe that's what I am -- an escapist. Maybe it will just go away."
But the issue of abortion is not likely to go away. In the book, "Abortion and the Politics of Motherhood," sociologist Kristin Luker of the University of California at San Diego argues that the national rift on abortion is not likely to heal because it is a conflict between diametrically opposed world views.
Based on extensive interviews with 200 prochoice and antiabortion activists in California, Luker wrote that the abortion debate is essentially a "referendum on the place and meaning of motherhood."
Prochoice women she interviewed tended to have only one or two children and worked full time outside their homes, Lukas found. Women who opposed abortion tended to have three or more children and did not work outside the home.
The division within the Van Steenberg home is not unlike that among many Americans.
According to a Newsweek poll released earlier this month, 58 percent of 757 adults polled said they would support a ban on legalized abortion except in cases of rape, incest and danger to the mother's life. Like earlier surveys on the question of abortion, the poll, conducted by the Gallup organization Jan. 3 and 4, showed that less than one-fourth of the public supports an absolute right to abortion.
Nellie Gray, organizer of the march, said yesterday she could not estimate how many people would be there today. Last year's march drew 35,000, according to police estimates.
Reagan gave a hint of what he will say to the marchers in his inaugural address yesterday. " . . . A growing economy and support from family and community offer our best chance for a society where compassion is the way of life, where the old and infirm are cared for and, yes, the unborn protected . . . ," he said.
Prochoice groups expressed concern about Reagan's speech yesterday. For example, Faye Wattleton, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, called on Reagan to refuse to meet with the group and to "lend his considerable influence to toning down the volatile climate of hostility and controversy" surrounding the abortion issue.
Neither Ball nor her mother can see an end to their personal stalemate over abortion. "Actually we get along very well, we cooperate well and we communicate well except for this one thing," Ball said. "It's a very nice living situation and if it weren't for us, she'd be by herself . . . .