In many respects, Gwen Lauterbach and Sue Komorowski are strikingly similar. Both are 44, have children and are in long-term marriages. Both are involved in their churches and teach sex education classes in the county. And both have been involved with local activities surrounding the issue of abortion.
But there the similarities end, for Lauterbach and Komorowski represent fundamentally opposing opinions on the best approach to teaching sex-related topics.
Arguments surrounding sex education and abortion are often volatile. So instead of a debate, we decided to present two separate profiles. Here, each woman is allowed to express her attitudes, her ideas and the driving force behind what she does.
Sue Komorowski sits on a worn sofa in the Life Center in Oxnard, her eyes making a quick sweep of the room.
There is the oblong glass case, filled with plastic replicas of a fetus in various stages of development, which she takes with her when she lectures. Tacked to one wall are snapshots of babies in various poses, some with notes of gratitude scribbled underneath. Beside her are the hundreds of brochures she practically knows by heart, their titles ranging from "Safe Sex Can Kill You" to "Save Yourself for Tomorrow and Your Future Family."
They are familiar items, ones that remind Komorowski constantly of what her work is all about.
"It's no secret that contraception is out there," she said. "But for teen-agers, if they are taught that it is an acceptable choice for them, then you are talking about a moral choice. Personally, I wouldn't want any teacher saying this is an acceptable option."
If Komorowski does the teaching, there is little chance of that. For the last six years, the Ventura mother of three has worked in various volunteer capacities for the Life Center, an anti-abortion organization affiliated until last year with Right to Life and now an adjunct of International Life Services.
A brochure for the organization lists its goals as promoting "the sanctity and respect for human life," providing alternatives to abortion and furthering the idea that "premarital chastity is a necessity for moral, spiritual, emotional and physical well-being."
In her latest volunteer position, she coordinates the activities of the center's speakers' bureau, a small network of local volunteers who talk about abstinence, abortion and fetal development at parochial schools and church groups throughout the county.
She also volunteers on the center's 24-hour hot line, a service set up for women who are confused about being pregnant, and has been active in anti-abortion activities with her Catholic church in Ventura.
"She is very knowledgeable about presenting abortion, and talking about our responsibility to ourselves and our own bodies," said Pat Lyon, coordinator of the high school program at Our Lady of the Assumption Church in Ventura, where Komorowski recently gave a presentation on abstinence.
"What I wanted to have said to them was not that abortion is wrong and is murder--which it is--and not that sex is bad," Lyon said. "But this is a special gift the Lord has given, and you don't do it for pleasure."
For Komorowski, who says that talking about morals and values is a vital component in sex education for young people, driving that message home is an important one.
"I suppose I'm not open to saying both sides should have a fair shot," she said. "At a certain age, they need to hear one thing. If they are given one side, they can make their own decision later when they're old enough to do so.
"I would hate to have my child taught by someone who is pro-choice," she added. "The person's philosophy does come out. They can be within the guidelines they have as a teacher, but it is human nature that we present things more favorably if we believe in them."
Because the Life Center supports natural family planning--such as the rhythm method--as opposed to "artificial" forms of contraception, Komorowski's presentations do not include discussions about birth control.
"It would be like saying, 'I know it's common to shoplift, a lot of kids are doing that,' or, 'Arson is OK. All we have to do is have you wear asbestos suits and then you can play with matches,' " said Pat Franz, the Life Center's president. "That's what you are doing when you give them birth control. It's not as responsible as our approach--that it is OK to say no."
Dressed on a recent afternoon in slacks and a sweater, her pearl studs peeking out behind stylishly cut brown hair, Komorowski, 44, is petite and soft-spoken. She exudes both competence and control; one easily imagines that hers would be voted the most perfect cake at the bake-off. Married to the same man for 20 years, her family is the most important thing to her, she said. She does not view herself as a particularly dynamic or confident speaker, but says she nevertheless has an intense desire to make a difference.