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Monday, April 2, 2012

How hard is it to have the courage of your convictions?

A woman, in the passenger seat of a car that passed by the clinic, yelled “women’s rights, women’s rights” at the seven or so pro-life bullies protesting on the sidewalk of the clinic, and then kept on driving.  Maybe she was late for another errand that day and we should all be grateful she at least spoke out, but just how courageous is that?

Escorting at a women’s clinic, with all its inherent external dangers and, at times, overwhelming sadness, isn’t easy.  You’re surrounded by mostly white, middle-aged protesting men and women who think they know best how women, pregnant or otherwise, should behave.  They articulate that “divine knowledge” by yelling degrading, compassion-less remarks at patients and their companions while traipsing in front of the clinic every Saturday morning and sometimes during the week.  It’s the insanity of their convictions they display, not courage, but how much less courageous is a drive-by shout-out for women’s rights?

When patients arrive at the clinic, the onslaught of religious compassion begins in earnest:  “You’re still going to be a mom; you’ll just be the mother of a dead baby.”  “What kind of a man [companion or driver] are you?  You lock your car to protect it but you won’t protect your child?”  “What kind of man won’t protect his own child?”  “There’s blood on your hands, how much are you paying the executioner today?”  “You’re murdering your baby.”  On mother’s day weekend, a smug almost mocking truly religious expression of “Happy Mother’s Day, is it a boy or girl?” replete with Happy Mother’s Day balloons and free children’s teddy bears. 

The hideous, technically-altered picture of a full term-dead baby from 20 years ago, is blown up on a huge sign, and the protesters add “this is your baby when you leave.”  It’s a lie, but lying never stopped a committed religious protester.  They can reduce patients to a pile of crying agony in the parking lot, after looking at that picture of a lie and listening to the spew of religious compassion.  It’s always too late to tell patients that it’s a digitally altered photo and is definitely NOT what happens at this particular clinic.  It takes all anyone can muster sometimes, including humor, to bring these women back from the edge of such despair and horror just to walk to the front door of the clinic.

And leaving the clinic isn’t any easier:  “Where’s the baby?  You left your baby in the garbage.  What kind of mother sentences her child to a painful death?  Get right with jesus or you’ll be back”  That’s what these protesters do, they kick the emotional guts out of women, and their companions, because that’s what religious people do.

The love and compassion escape me.   

It took about six months of escorting to finally figured out why these protesters stand outside this clinic.  Because it’s easy.  It’s not about the procedure or saving babies; abortion is just an introductory subject to them, a convenient way to try to engage vulnerable women, at an incredibly emotional moment, to accomplish what REALLY needs to happen.

It’s always, always, always, about religion, and specifically THEIR religion.  It’s about converting to their one, true RIGHT religion.  Whether it’s catholics or fundies (it’s never muslims, jews, wiccans, pastafarians, buddhists or anyone else), they both want the same thing, control of everyone’s reproductive freedom.  They pretend to offer counseling or alternatives like help applying for welfare, food stamps and free diapers for a month.  All of this “help” comes with the religious “catch” of changing your life for jesus’ sake.  If it were any other type of clinic, any other subject, I’d say let the listener beware.  But fundies and catholics pick this subject, this clinic, these women in crisis on which to prey.  After all, when was the last time you met a protester at the dentist?

I warn clients as they arrive at the clinic now:  talk to the protesters or don’t; we’re all adults out here, you decide.  But no means no, even if you say it to protesters about abortion or to protesters about religious matters.  That darn First Amendment lets the protesters stand on the sidewalk and annoy you; but it also protects patients from having to constantly hear it.  A simple “NO! Do not talk to me about this subject” is all patients have to say, firmly, loudly, with determination.  After saying that, anything a protester says to them could be harassment.  Stop letting that southern, genteel attitude get in your way.

Protesters are BULLIES, in the truest sense of that word.  You don’t put up with Bullies on the school ground, at the theater and restaurants, why put up with it at a legal clinic?  It’s none of their business, they’re bullies, for pete’s sake, bullies trying to force their version of religion on women exercising a legal right. 

They’re pregnancy rapists; they want to force pregnant women to have a baby, no matter the conception circumstances or any other circumstance for that matter.  It really is NO ONE’S business, including god’s or jesus’. 

Find the courage of your convictions and express them – it is a constitutionally protected right, you know.  Stand up to bullies, stand up to religious zealots who try to force their religious convictions on law-abiding Americans, in violation of every civil liberty principle we (including those pesky protesters) are all supposed to defend.  It’s not easy, as defense of liberty never is, but, damn, is it worth it.

It’s absolutely indecent for these protesters to bully at such a time, at such a place, and this must become as socially unacceptable to everyone just as school yard bullying is now.  Where are the voices of religious women for Choice?  There are none on this sidewalk.  Where are the voices of religious leaders for Choice?  They aren't facing down the priets on this sidewalk.  Where are pro-choice defendants, religious or not? 

They’re yelling out the window of a passing car, “WOMEN’S RIGHTS!!” but don’t want to find the courage of their convictions right now because that’s hard.

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