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Jewish World Review/ Feb. 24, 1999/ 7 Adar, 5759

Linda Chavez

Linda Chavez Unsettling news about ‘feminism’ --- for the NOW gang

(JWR) --- (http://www.jewishworldreview.com) FOR YEARS, CONSERVATIVES HAVE CLAIMED that the national feminist organizations don't represent the views of most American women on issues ranging from abortion to women's role in the family.

Now, a new poll confirms how out-of-sync with the average women groups like the National Organization for Women really are. But what's most surprising is that the poll was paid for by the Center for Gender Equality, a group headed up by former Planned Parenthood director Faye Wattleton -- every bit a strident feminist in the Patricia Ireland mode.

Wattleton admitted during a press conference to release the study earlier this month that she "found disturbing the more conservative positions that women hold." So what were these disturbing views?

The study, conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates, set out to measure women's attitudes about religion, religious organizations and public policy. Among its findings, the study showed that women are quite religious and becoming more so. Three quarters of women said religion is very important in their lives, up from about two thirds who responded similarly to the same question just two years ago. But from its sponsor's viewpoint, even more unsettling were the study's revelations concerning women's attitudes toward conservative religious organizations.

According to the survey, women hold a very favorable view of religious groups and denominations, from the Catholic Church to the Christian Coalition. Overall, 76 percent of the women polled think religious organizations play a positive role in American life. When asked specifically, "Would the things this group stands for improve the lives of most women, or make the lives of most women worse?" by more than two-to-one, women said the Southern Baptists and the Christian Coalition would improve women's lives, and 48 percent of those surveyed said the Catholic Church would, as well.

Nearly half of all women want to see more involvement of religion and religious organizations in politics -- not less -- a marked change in attitudes from previous surveys, which showed two thirds of women believed that religion and politics don't mix. Even more troublesome for its sponsors, however, were the study's findings on specific public policy issues, especially abortion.

Wattleton has been a leader in the abortion rights movement for a generation. How galled she must be that the survey she commissioned reveals her own position is poles apart from that of most American women. The center's study isn't the first to confirm that a large majority of American women want to see more restrictions on abortion -- 70 percent in this poll. But the fact it was commissioned by a pro-abortion group makes it clear the numbers are real and haven't been manipulated by any pro-life language in the survey itself. What's more, 40 percent of those polled said they oppose all abortions, except those performed to save the mother's life or in cases of rape and incest -- a position identical to the Republican Party platform position -- and another 13 percent said abortion should never be permitted for any reason.

These results would seem to be good news for organized religion -- especially the more conservative denominations. The study shows women have been heeding their church's message. Or maybe not.

Surprisingly, the survey found that women's views on moral issues were little affected by their church's teaching or preaching. Only about one third of women said their own views of abortion, for example, were primarily influenced by their religion's teachings on the issue. And less than one quarter of women said their religion's tenets influenced their views about marriage.

The reason churches have so little direct influence may be that clergy today seem generally hesitant to speak out on controversial moral issues. The study found, for example, that a majority of women who attend church regularly reported their pastors either never spoke about divorce or spoke in its favor. And although church-going women are more likely to hear their pastors speak against abortion, even among Catholics, fully one quarter say they never hear any statements against abortion from the pulpit.

Maybe it's not just feminist organizations that are out of step with women's conservative views. It seems women may be more conservative than the eager-to-please, let's-not be-too-judgmental clergy who have gained such a strong foothold in many religious denominations in recent years.

Both the feminists and the clergy would do well to listen to what these women are saying.


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©1998, Creators Syndicate, Inc.