Eyal Press’s Absolute Convictions (03/02/06)

On the way to the library, I was listening to Fresh Air‘s program, “The Abortion Debate Through a Son’s Eyes”  , an interview with Nation  and American Prospect  writer  Eyal Press    about his first book, Absolute Convictions.  (Henry Holt and Company, February 2006, hardcover, 304 pp, ISBN  0-8050-7731-6) . 

Press tells the story of his father practicing medicine in Buffalo, New York and his determination to continue providing abortions to women shaken by the demonstrations of Operation Rescue.   The family is Jewish and his mother a Holocaust survivor, so they were especially bruised  by comparisons of abortion to the Holocaust.  Press, a journalist, had never wanted to cover the divisive issue until the 1998 murder  of Barnett Slepian, another Jewish  Buffalo doctor providing abortions.   In the book, he explains, 

Naturally, I’ve thought often about why my father has persisted in doing something that so many other doctors in his line of work have for good reason given up. I’ve thought as well about what I would do in his shoes. My father insists his decision to remain an abortion provider is not a political act but a function of his professional responsibilities. But are those professional responsibilities worth risking his life for?

To know that one’s parents will not live forever—that they are mortal, like everyone else—is part of what it means to be an adult. To imagine they might be targeted by an assassin on account of a commitment to some abstract principle is quite another. Theoretically, such a thing ought to fill one with pride. But who among us would like to see a parent become a martyr?

In a way no abstract situation could, my father’s experience has forced me to think hard about the tension between remaining true to one’s convictions and

the practical necessity of surviving in the world. This is something that has always fascinated me, perhaps because, as Dr. Slepian’s murder would reveal, it touches on a rift within my family: between the defiant Israelis on one side, and those with a vivid memory of surviving the Holocaust on the other.

A longer excerpt from the book was published by the New York Times Magazine on January 22, 2006, under the title “My Father’s Abortion War.”  To see other Fress Air programs, check its  archive.

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