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Barbara Walters Has Cloudy View of Women and Reproductive Justice

gfeldts Icon Posted by Gloria Feldt

June 27th, 2007

Last week, I noticed The Catholic League’s scurrilous ad attacking Barbara Walters in the New York Times. Since I have often had to go up against the organization’s garrulously sexist, anti-Semitic, and homophobic president, William Donohue, in the media, I was moved to drop Barbara a note of support. She responded to it warmly.

Imagine, then, my shock when a couple of days later, June 19, on The View (it’s my husband’s favorite program (!), so he called me in to see this) Barbara did something that to me is as morally wrong as the bigoted ad that attacked her.

It happened at the top of the show, when Walters was introducing guest host for the episode in question, Star Parker. Here’s how Walters described the guest host: “Four abortions, drug addict, felon…”

I’m paraphrasing from memory — the words might not have been exactly these — but they were spoken in this order as though they were similar offenses. I was shocked and outraged that Walters led with abortion and equated it to drug addiction and felony crimes.

[Editorial note from WIMN’s Voices: Walters’ introduction is certainly problematic, but it is also important to note the political positioning of this “View” cohost: Star Parker is a Scripps-Howard columnist, a conservative Christian, African American anti-welfare activist and the author of the books, Pimps, Whores and Welfare Brats: From Welfare Cheat to Conservative Messenger and Uncle Sam’s Plantation: How Big Government Enslaves America’s Poor and What We Can Do About It. She called Bell Curve eugenicist Charles Murray “my hero” while participated in a panel discussion, sponsored by the antifeminist Independent Women’s Forum, blaming the poverty suffered by Hurricane Katrina victims on African Americans’ poor moral choices, family breakdown and lack of interest in working were the real causes (“There is no excuse for poverty” because people who practice “self-government” are not poor, Parker said). In an op-ed for USA Today, she used September 11th as a news hook to equate women who have abortions with terrorist suicide bombers who she describes as “ indicative of a festering moral problem in the Arab world.” The link, Parker wrote, is this: “The claim that ‘I own myself,’ that I am the ultimate arbiter of life and death, defines the common ground of the suicide bomber and the abortionist. This is not a matter of defining at what point a fetus is a human being. This is a question of the attitude of the mother-to-be who says what is most important is that I choose, and not what the choice is… The same politicization of human life that produces suicide bombers has crept into our own society. More than 1.3 million fetuses are aborted each year. Seven out of 10 black babies are born to unwed mothers. Many marriages end in divorce.” That The View gave Parker a guest host stint is telling. – Jennifer L. Pozner, editor, WIMN’s Voices]

Walters’ framing of abortion as equivalent to felony crimes and drug addiction is just wrong. Like Parker’s rhetorical link between suicide bombers and women who have abortions, this sort of language perpetuates the shaming of women who choose to end pregnancies for all sorts of good and moral reasons, not the least of which is that they value children so much they want to have them under circumstances conducive to giving their children good care and nurturing.

As is a favored tactic of some anti-abortion women activists, Star spoke about her own abortions, as a way of pointing to moral breakdown. But women like Star who have numerous unintended pregnancies and abortions in close proximity are often acting out their own general lack of control over their lives, which in Star’s case she describes as involving promiscuity with little regard for the consequences.

The choice of abortion is not only not an evil like felony theft. It is often a positive decision for the lives of the women and families involved. Sometimes it is quite literally a life saver.

Women faced with unwanted pregnancies need support, help, professional counseling, and access to health care. And health care access must include access to birth control, to prevent unwanted pregnancy in the first place. They need respect for themselves as human beings. And they need economic justice because the social and the personal are always connected.

Seems to me that Star didn’t get any of that and so was vulnerable to the appeal of a fundamentalist religion that absolved her of her pain and guilt and of responsibility for the choices she made (and one whose political wing provided her with a career bashing and shaming other women facing the situations she faced in her past). Fine, if that works for her. It is not my intent to argue religion–Joy Behar fills that role quite admirably on The View.

The real issue is not Star; it is how Barbara framed abortion in a way that disparages and diminishes all women’s moral capacity to make their own childbearing choices. She then proceeded to allow Star to spout anti-abortion screed without being challenged. The good news is Star showed her extreme stripes by also claiming birth control should be rejected because the Bible says we should be fruitful and multiply. That made her so far to the right that even The View’s conservative co-host, Elizabeth Hasselbeck was incredulous.

I understand the value of controversy to boosting television ratings. I don’t get Barbara’s willingness to give someone an extremist anti-women’s equality position as Star a respected platform. But The View is about hashing out diverging viewpoints among women, so having Star on wasn’t Walters’ worst offense – it was her willingness to play along with Star’s script by equating abortion with crime and drug addiction that really offends.

Reproductive justice is or at least should be a fundamental human right of the highest order. If women don’t have that, we have nothing. And then we are back to the days when Barbara Walters could not have even thought of being a talk show host, let alone the television icon that she has become.

So, I wrote her again to say that she owes women an apology for this one. Stay tuned to see whether this pandering to the anti-choice right continues or whether justice and balance will prevail on The View.

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