This weekend I went to a pro-choice rally. Well, technically it was a counter-rally – a local church protests abortion outside one of the hospitals on the last Saturday of every month, and the local feminist group holds a “Disco for Choice” alongside them.
I have to admit, I was a little nervous going into it – I didn’t really know what to expect. I’ve been reading a lot about buffer zones and the controversy surrounding them, and the horror stories reported by women trying to enter clinics for their doctor’s appointments, mammograms, and abortions have left me kind of shaken (these occurrences are so common that even Cosmo has reported on them!). I’ve only been to my local Planned Parenthood in NJ a few times, but I’ve thankfully never encountered any kind of protester.
If you haven’t read about it, these “buffer zones” are 35-foot protective zones outside of abortion clinics where protesters are prohibited from standing. Besides ensuring the well-being of patients trying to enter the clinic, the law was enacted in response to the fact that anti-choice terrorists have killed abortion providers, clinic escorts, receptionists, and security guards. They’ve also attacked clinics with arson, bombs, cars, and Anthrax threats (source). However, anti-choice groups are claiming that the buffer zone law infringes on their freedom of speech (which is apparently more important than other people’s right to not be killed, injured, or harassed?), and have taken the case to the US Supreme Court. One of their main claims is that they just want to “quietly counsel” women, in order to persuade them not to get abortions.
This claim, in many ways, epitomizes what angers me about anti-choice protesters. They act as if they’re coming from a place of care and respect, and claim the moral high ground, when in fact they’re hugely hypocritical and often dishonest. (As a side note, some of the most mind-blowing examples of their hypocrisy that I’ve seen actually occurred as part of situations where an anti-choice person chose to get a safe, legal abortion, and managed to hold on to their beliefs that abortion is murder and wrong).
But back to my point – the fact that this “quiet counsel” defense might be seen as legitimate is making me terrified, disgusted, and angry. First of all, it is not some random person’s RIGHT to “counsel” someone who does not want to be counseled about a decision she has already made (and I have to wonder, to what extent does targeting someone to persuade them of something actually fall under “free speech”?).
Further, do they REALLY think that their “counseling” will cause her to change her mind? Will it miraculously uncover an extra paycheck every month that will allow her to afford another child? Will it provide affordable childcare so that she has somewhere clean, safe, and caring to send her children while she goes to work? Will it fix her shaky, abusive, or ended relationship, turning it into one that could welcome and nurture a child?
Obviously, it will not. All it will do is distress, patronize, and/or insult the woman so that the harasser can feel self-righteously superior. Let me be very clear about this; people who participate in this kind of sidewalk protesting do NOT care about the women they berate, harass, and “counsel.”
Because if they ACTUALLY wanted to help these women, if they ACTUALLY wanted to reduce abortions, they would be volunteering at centers that provide affordable childcare to working mothers, lobbying to raise the minimum wage, working to fight rape culture, and advocating for accurate, comprehensive sexual and relationship education in all schools (since abstinence-only education has been shown again and again to be ineffective). They would be volunteering at support lines for women in abusive or unhealthy relationships, they would be supportive of the ACA’s copay-free birth control and access to various kinds of contraception, and they would be fighting for the rights of gay couples to marry and adopt. Also, considering that abortion rates are lower in states where it is easier to obtain safe, legal abortions, they would also be fighting for abortion rights.
If they really respected life, their viewpoint wouldn’t engender the claim that pregnant women are nothing but “hosts” to a fetus; they would respect the mother, along with her partner and/or children if they exist, to the same, if not greater extent than the hypothetical child. They wouldn’t want to ban abortion, since doing so is proven to endanger women, and since “highly restrictive abortion laws are not associated with lower abortion rates”.
The group that we were counter-protesting was, thankfully, not confrontational. They prayed loudly together on the street corner (ironically, even the Bible says that that’s what hypocrites do) and held up signs that said “Two Victims: One dead, one wounded,” “Pro-Life: Because there’s always a better answer than abortion,” “Abortion Kills Children,” and “One Pregnancy, Two Heartbeats”. Some of the signs had ultrasound pictures of fetuses on them.
You know what? If you’re pro-life, that is fine by me. If you think abortion is wrong and that it is murder, I respect that. Don’t have an abortion. Don’t sleep with anyone who would have an abortion or who would ask you to. Pray for the end of abortion. As someone who is pro-choice, I respect all of those choices (see how that works?). However, the minute you step over the line to try to restrict other people’s access to safe, legal abortion is the minute you lose my respect.
Have you ever had an encounter with anti-choice protesters?