In 1998, Buffalo became a flashpoint in the abortion debate with the murder of Barnett Slepian, a doctor who performed abortions. But the conditions that led up to the conflict were in place much earlier, and abortion was only one of them, says Eyal Press.
Press, a New York City-based journalist, is the son of another Buffalo obstetrician who performs abortions, Shalom Press. Interested in the political aspects of the abortion issue he went to Buffalo and interviewed protestors, patients, and politicians on both sides of the debate for his book "Absolute Convictions: My Father, a City, and the Conflict that Divided America," which was released earlier this year.
Press will speak about the abortion debate at 7 p.m. Wednesday, May 31, at the FirstUnitarianChurch, 220 South Winton Road. The event is free and open to the public.
"I learned that it really is an issue that hinges first and foremost on that question of where does life begin," he said in an interview late last week. "Everyone has different views. I don't think it would be so heated of an issue if it were just that, just a debate about abortion. But it is connected to much deeper issues in our society, some of which don't get discussed."
By the 70's, Buffalo had become a city battered by job loss and economic downturn, making it ripe for working-class conservatives to aim their resentment at liberals, says Press.
"My book is about what is absent from politics," he says. "Issues like gay marriage and abortion have taken center stage in place of issues like the economy and class struggles. The book is about the decline of that era of politics and the rise of cultural politics."
Abortion for any woman, says Press, is an "extremely emotional, difficult, and weighty decision," though he says he seldom met anti-abortion advocates who were empathetic.
"There is a disconnect for pro-life advocates, and nothing can change that," he said. "To them, abortion is murder. But if they are really against abortion, then they also have to address the conditions that put so many women in the situation where it becomes a question in the first place. There's clearly a class issue linked to the issue of choice that doesn't get talked about."