Synopsis of the Abortion Struggle Using Lewis Coser's Functions of Conflict
1999 Karen Papastrat
Kelvin93@aol.com
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1. Connection

Within the groups, the conflict over abortion serves to bring the members of a particular side closer together. Anti-abortion or pro-abortion proponents become enraged and more unified with each subsequent incident of retaliation or attack. It seems to invigorate both sides equally. Among the groups, as their internal connection becomes greater, their hatred for the other side increases accordingly.


2. Definition

Among the groups each episode of conflict defines more clearly the boundaries of the group. With the anti-abortion, the latest issue of partial birth abortion served to define further what those boundaries are. They clarified the fact that the health of the mother does not impact on the decision regarding abortion. The boundaries rather than being softened, have become sharper, more black and white, right and wrong, in the rhetoric of both sides.

Within the groups we see ranks and leaders on both sides. Particularly with the anti-abortion side, the issue of rank has been seen in the honor attached to harming a pro-abortion member. Placing doctors' names, and addresses on the Internet served not only to frighten the other side, but to notify their own members that we approve of and even sanctioned this type of aggression. By harming one pro-abortion member, an individual would gain the group's approval, respect, and be rewarded by an increase in rank as the result of his aggressive actions.


3. Revitalization

Among the groups revitalization strengthens norms and traditions. The issues of having pro or anti-abortion rallies, carrying placards decrying the actions of the other side, and demonstration of strength all serve as methods of revitalization. Having thousands of people march on Washington created the image of a unified group, dedicated to their beliefs and actions.

Within the groups, revitalization cause people to recommit to their values. Demonstration, submission to physical force of law enforcement, or going to jail are some ways that a member can publicly profess his beliefs. They can hold him up as a hero, who will not back down even in the face of legal retaliation and personal jeopardy.


4. Reconnaissance

Among the groups it is the collection of information, by spying on each other's activities. Pro-abortion members attend the rally's and public discourse of the anti-abortion side, as do the anti-abortion members. They attempt to gain information and disrupt the activities of the other side. If an anti-abortion rally is planned, the other side will have a demonstration countering their claims. This often escalates into physical confrontation and riots.

Within the group the reconnaissance activities center on their own members. Do they conform to the values and beliefs of the group? A good example of this is when a previously pro-abortion member becomes anti-abortion. One side will alienate the prior member, berating and dishonoring him, showing others that they too will be alienated if they do not conform to the values. However, the other side will parade him as a new convert, a follower of the side of righteousness.


5. Replication

Among the groups, I feel both sides have replicated the tactics of rallies, aggression, and harm to the other side. While anti-abortion, with their right to life rhetoric have been open in their attacks on abortion clinics, and abortion proponents have also broken laws for the sake of their cause.

Within groups the conformity of behavior serves to allow the group to gain membership and continue its mission. The Catholic Church provides the greatest source of membership for the anti-abortion side. In the Catholic high school, where I am currently doing my practicum, the students are encouraged actively to participate in rallies and demonstrations. Given time off from school and relief from school assignments, they sanction participation and encourage indoctrinization. Even parents and church officials encourage young children to participate in rallies, this ensures a young and committed population ready to join the cause as they become young adults.


Symbolic and Substantial Benefits

The controversy over the issue of abortion is so acute because this fight is not over substantial benefits such as jewels or gold, but over symbolic issues which each group intrinsically values. For the pro-abortion side, it is the symbolic value of "women's rights," or a "woman's right to choose." For the anti-abortion, it is "right-to-life," and the "sanctity of life." Negotiation theorists have said that only issues involving substantial benefits can actually be resolved. It seems true in this case, as the values of both sides are divergently different. There may be no common strand of agreement upon which to build any kind of consensus. The symbolic benefits in the case of pro-abortion include self-determination, personal freedom, and choice. The symbolic benefits of pro-life are commitment to one's religion, purity of the soul, sanctity of human life, and choosing the righteous course of action. The value of symbolic benefits will continue to create dissensus and will serve to perpetuate the abortion conflict in this country.

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