Crude Photographs and Thin Skinned Fanatics

“Your ridicule is just typical antics. Spineless, mindless, tragic, fanatics.”—Otep

Wednesday turned out to be quite interesting when it came to the local newspaper.

To the surprise of no one, there was a scathing pro-life letter in regards to our presence at the Life Chain this past Sunday. Although, I did find it shocking that it wasn’t written by local pro-life leader, Pastor Samuel Faust. What was surprising was that the letter was accompanied by a photo of me and two of my pro-choice comrades holding the sign we dubbed the “Picket Rick”. I already knew public photography laws and how a newspaper can use photos, but I had never seen one in the opinion section of the paper so it caught me off guard.

The writer included all the English signs EXCEPT for “Abortion Kills Children”. Guess he didn’t want the readers to think the “protectors of life” had a sign that might be considered as “crude and offensive”. 

At first, it bothered me. I thought of how more extreme pro-lifers have put up pictures of pro-choice advocates or clinic workers with a frame to make it look like a WANTED poster. I used to think the only kind of pro-life activist that resorted to such tactics were the extreme ones that shout through mega speakers and write down license plates of patients. Those lines have been blurred and even silent sign holders are resorting to more of the despicable kinds of tactics.

Now I kind of find the whole letter and our picture being plastered in the paper to be hilarious. There were fifty-three individuals on their side. We had five on ours. They had almost 11 times as many people as we did. We were clearly outnumbered. With only a handful of us, we logically shouldn’t have had any effect  on them. Oh, but we did have an effect on them despite our small numbers judging by this letter.  I mean…why write such a letter about our horrible picket sign language against those who pretend that they care about life and include a picture of the offenders? I’d wager that it was meant to somehow shame those that stood up in the hopes that they’ll back down and give up. Are these pro-lifers so weak and thin skinned that a small gathering of fed-up people collected on a whim is enough to make them feel like they’re the ones that have been victimized? To quote an Otep song (“Feeding Frenzy”): “If there’s strength in numbers, why are you so weak?”

The Life Chain was nothing more than a larger version of the demonstration held outside the local women’s healthcare clinic every other week. Being that this special demonstration was on the bridge in order to obtain more visibility, the public didn’t witness what such a demonstration is like when it’s paraded a few feet away from the door of the clinic. There weren’t any female patients to intimidate or harass. There weren’t any women “of a sexually active age” they felt needed to hear the gospel and anti-abortion misinformation so badly that they’ll chase those women down the block, including a young woman on crutches who yelled back she was only received birth control from the clinic to regulate her menstrual cycle. They didn’t have anybody to ask “Are you Christian?” and then belittle and pick apart that person’s personal beliefs if they were even the slightest out of line with their own. They weren’t able to distribute a wealth of misinformation and lies to those that aren’t informed. That’s being a bully. Our sign was indeed crude, but what these pro-life protesters do is downright cruel.

Our crude Picket Rick had the precise effect on the protesters we were hoping for. I hope they felt intimidated and made uncomfortable by our presence. I hope they felt disgusted by our words. I hope they felt we were being invasive and intrusive despite that we were just standing there not personally bothering anyone. Because when the demonstration moves from the bridge and back to the front of the clinic, that’s how they’ll make women feel. The letter indicates they got a good dose of their own medicine, even if they’re so caught up in the belief that what they’re doing is righteous and pure that they don’t realize this is the effect they have.

Just as women that utilize Planned Parenthood or similar women’s clinics have had to accept that there will always be pro-life protesters flaunting their anti-abortion signs outside their healthcare provider, the local Life Chain participants will have to deal with people that are fed up with their bullying agenda showing up at their vigil.

I realize I could have used more “appropriate” language to demonstrate the frustration I feel towards this “pro-life” agenda. Except…I already did through my opinion letters.

In my first letter I wrote:

“Women shouldn’t have to call the clinic feeling uneasy about going to her appointment because of the protesters outside. Women shouldn’t have to feel that there are judgmental eyes on her when she walks in and out of the clinic. Women shouldn’t have to be anxious that she will be approached and be made to feel awful about themselves, guilty, or embarrassed. It may not be the intent, but that’s the effect they’re having.”

A 12-year old pro-life protester had written to the paper and I wrote that although I found her desire to help people to be genuine, I thought that she should make better use of her efforts and reach out to organizations that directly help those in need to volunteer instead of unhelpful sidewalk crusading. In response to a letter reprimanding me for essentially daring to make such a suggestion, I wrote the following:

“A recent discussion with clinic staff revealed there are women who explain that the presence of the protester made them feel intimidated, and they come in when the protesters aren’t there. I have yet to have a discussion with anyone, including mothers and those who identify as pro-life, that didn’t feel negatively after witnessing their demonstration or speaking with them.

I don’t know how anyone believes the protesters are not judgmental or interfering with anyone’s lives when they’ll ram religion and their view on abortion and reproductive rights down your throat if given the opportunity. It’s these things that have led me and others to the conclusion that these people are not of help to women, but a hindrance to women, specifically those seeking help with family planning and reproductive health.”

Frankly, after several opinion editorials and discussion with pro-lifers that continue to harass and intimidate women while fawning over themselves through rose-colored glasses, I’m exhausted of more appropriate language. I’m exhausted attempting to argue with those that talk around in circles and throw stones. Therefore, I don’t intend on writing any more opinion editorials for the paper on this subject. I’m not even going to write a letter defending my actions or Picket Rick as we’re well past the point of polite diplomacy.  I don’t mean I have given up on standing up to this deceptive nuisance movement that calls itself “pro-life”. I’ll most certainly be counter protesting the Life Chain every year from now on (unless they give up on harassing women) and I’ll learn to fight through my anxiety in order to stand up to them when they chase women down the sidewalk. What it will mean is that I’ll be more focused on helping people in need and working with those that want all women to have access to healthcare without being harassed by these fanatical false-Christian bullies.

The Irritating Sand at the Life Chain

These last few months have been a bit rough, resulting in my depression and anxiety hitting me with maximum force. Thus, I haven’t been doing much of anything—let alone amateur activism work. The Wednesdays I had spent observing protesters from across and researching for blog posts I never ended up writing are now spent shopping, eating, and playing Pokemon Go with a good friend before slipping back into a depressive funk that leaves me wanting to take a four hour nap. Until recently, I hadn’t written any opinion editorials for the paper in months (which I may touch base on in a later post), but that was mostly due to not having anything new to add to the abortion/women’s rights debate. The most I’ve really done in terms of activism lately is the occasional post on local organizations and things they are in need of (money, items, volunteers) as I believe practical assistance is more helpful than signs and preaching beliefs ever could. Mental illness is a strange thing saps any energy or motivation for the things you care about and forces you to struggle to accomplish even the basic of personal needs.

Regardless of the state of my mental well-being, there was one thing I wasn’t going to miss out on: counter protesting the Life Chain. Held on the first Sunday in October, the Life Chain is an annual nationwide pro-life demonstration where anti-abortion protesters stand in a line—a “chain”—for an hour or so along the roadside with signs like “Abortion Kills Children”, “Pray to End Abortion”, and “Abortion Hurts Women”. This is just one special pro-life event on top of the normal daily pro-life harassment committed outside abortion providers and women’s healthcare clinics. Other special events include the 40 Days for Life, March for Life, and the various Walk for Life events typically held by crisis pregnancy centers.

A while ago, I chose to not counter protest the pro-life crusaders outside my women’s clinic thinking that it would only further intimidate patients seeking reproductive health care services and deciding that abortion and healthcare providers shouldn’t be the battlegrounds for the reproductive rights debate. However, the local Life Chain is always held on the bridge, far away from the clinic that wouldn’t be open on the weekend anyways. If you ask me, it’s fair game for opposition.

My mental health and natural ability to procrastinate caused me to put off making signs for a counter protest. But through the suggestion and motivation of a new found friend, who decided to join me, I made what we believed was the most epic sign: Rick Sanchez from Rick and Morty next to the words “S.T.F.U. ABOUT YOUR ANTI-ABORTION AGENDA!” (A variation of the quote “Shut the fuck up about moon men!”) A bit blunt, I must admit. But what else can you say? I’ve tried open discussion. I’ve debated. Fact checked. Suggested better ways to help. And at least tried to be somewhat appropriate for all of it. But they don’t listen to reason. They don’t care about facts. They don’t want to put the effort into things that would actually benefit the women they claim they want to protect from the “horrors of the abortion industry”. They just want to crusade against abortion even if the tactics and end result hurts women while trying to shut down anyone that disagrees. When you’ve watched these people continually stand outside a reproductive health clinic and try to shame, intimidate, and deceive women for a year and a half….it’s frustrating and infuriating. It has whittled me down to “Oh, just shut up already! Enough!”

“I turned myself into a counter-protest, Morty. I’m PICKET RICK!” 

Last year, I had stood alone with my sign with the George Carlin quote calling pro-life supporters “anti-woman”. It irked Faust enough that he let down his overly fake polite persona and snapped at me, asking if George Carlin would think the women that were there were anti-woman. This year, I managed to gather a handful of people to join me this year. We were certainly outnumbered. It was five of us up against forty or fifty. Four of us stood together while another was brave enough to march up and down the bridge with the other sign I made. We watched Faust pacing up and down the sidewalk, occasionally stopping to chat, while the rest stood stiffly and silently. If looks could kill, we would have been dead on the spot as we garnered some dirty glares from the pro-life protesters. They seemed bothered by our presence. I hope they were as women all over the country are regularly bothered by the presence of pro-life protesters outside of their healthcare providers. I told my friend, “Our numbers may be few, but judging by the looks we are like sand in a vagina.”

As I predicted, Faust came over to us. I had tried to describe he acted with a sort of politeness that wasn’t genuine before we set out and the girls finally understood what I meant when I called him a Stepford Wife. He introduced himself to the others with a programmed kindness. Even thanked us for being there despite the fact we were on the opposing team. Mentioned it might be confusing to tell which cars were honking for whom, but that we’d “sort it out later”. When we left an hour later, he greeted us and thanked us again for coming. “Oh, you girls should submit letters to the editor! Sam can even tell you what to write!” We laughed at the absurdness of it. I always felt that some of the pro-life letters written by other authors were very similar to what Faust wrote and pondered if he had some sort of hand in them. His words to us makes me wonder if he somehow hinted that he tells people on his side what to write. In any case, I feel that the women that joined me can formulate an opinion to write a letter on without my involvement. I’m predicted he’d be quick to submit a letter of his own, perhaps referring to us as “pro-abortion” as he did when he wrote a letter immediately following last year’s Life Chain.

Earlier I mentioned that I joked that we were like sand in a vagina: small, but irritating as Hell. I hope that we’re more like sand in an oyster. The oyster is irritated by the grain of sand and does it best to get rid of it by covering it up. But eventually the grain of and will grow into a beautiful pearl that will be worth far more than the oyster. My friend and I are already discussing plans for next year’s Life Chain and hopefully more women will join us.