Potential Harassment and Sidewalk Bullies

The women’s clinic was open this past Wednesday and, of course, was plagued with the outside presence of a couple of pro-birth men holding their professionally printed anti-abortion signs out in the cold. I was perched in the café room of the library across the street researching credentials of RN’s and medical directors that were listed with some of Wisconsin’s crisis pregnancy centers. Occasionally, I glanced out the window to watch the two men conversing with each other while ensuring that their signs were in full view of the public.

I’ve been too afraid to stand up to them since a picture of me with a couple women was printed in the opinion section along with an unflattering pro-life letter because we had dared to counter-protest their pro-life event last October. It took me a long time to come to terms with the fact that it shook me. With my anxiety and fear of retaliation, I’m surprised I even managed to stand up to them at all. It hasn’t stopped me from coming to the library every other week to observe them outside the clinic and occasionally checking the pamphlet holders in the entryway to see if Faust has left cards for a local crisis pregnancy center.  But when I have to go to the clinic for birth control, I rush past them like a scared mouse to avoid any interaction.

It was another typical bi-weekly Wednesday: Zealots with signs that read “Abortion Hurts Women” and “Abortion Kills Children” while I watched from afar and typed away on my laptop.

Or I thought it was going to be.

I looked out the window to see the two men with a young woman carrying a small child. Faust was standing towards the back of her while Brian (aka. “Dicktator) was standing in the middle of the sidewalk facing her. Brian looked like he was scolding her rather than speaking to her, empathizing with one hand while his other hand held his sign so that it could be seen. To be fair, he’s always looks mean, but he earned the nickname “Dicktator” for being the most aggressive of the protesters. I couldn’t see the woman’s face as she spoke with him. I’ve seen women approach the protesters to speak with them, usually to tell them off, but Brian blocking the sidewalk concerned me. Maybe she was being polite and putting up with their nonsense. However, I assumed she was just speaking with them so I snapped a photo on my phone and went back to typing.

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I basically had the mindset of a BBC nature documentary photographer: Don’t get involved and only observe and document. But something came over me. I didn’t feel right just being an observant bystander with the assumption that she was willingly talking with them. I wasn’t really sure if my assumption was correct and the uncertainty bothered me enough to take action despite whatever anxiety I felt. I finally quickly gathered my things, strapped on my heavy backpack, and strolled out of the library with a brazen determination that felt wonderful yet foreign.  As I crossed the street, the men took notice of me, but I didn’t care.

“Miss…are these men bothering you?”

It seems like a simple thing to ask, but approaching a complete stranger for any reason is not simple when you have a lack of social skills and an abundance of anxiety. No amount of confidence and determination could have stopped my heart from beating rapidly as it was when I walked up to this woman. I wouldn’t have been surprised if my heart violently beat itself out of my chest and plopped right onto the sidewalk.

She explained to me that she had conversed with some of these protesters before she had given birth to her child. She was open to understanding different views so she was just talking to them. Turns out my initial assumption had been correct after all, but asking if she was okay was still the right thing to do.

Before I could feel better knowing that she wasn’t being harassed (or at least didn’t feel like she was being harassed) and tell her “I wasn’t sure and wanted to check if you were okay”, Faust opened his mouth.

“This is Sam. She accuses us of being bullies in the paper.” (I haven’t written anything for the opinion section of the paper for several months).

Brian chimed in, but Faust’s comment had thrown me off guard so all I heard was “She’s a Satan worshiper”. (During our second interaction a couple years ago, he learned I had donated to the clinic and scolded me of continuing to live in ignorance as our previous conversation obviously hadn’t turned me into a God-fearing Christian. I responded by telling him I found Satan because I knew it would get a rise out of him.)

I find it ironic that Faust chose to bring up my accusations of pro-life bullying considering the men’s behavior towards me at that moment. There was a number of ways Faust could have introduced me to this woman, but he chose something that sounded negative and belittling. Brian felt the need to point out to her that I was a “Satan worshiper”, a trait he most certainly finds undesirable being the religious fanatic he is. Introducing someone with insults…well, that sounds like bullying to me.

I decided to bring up something someone had told me they had seen while picking up his daughter at the bus stop near the library.

“So you’re not bullies?” I asked. “Would you explain to me why someone told me they witnessed you chasing a young woman in crutches?”

I expected they might say how absurd such a claim was and attempt to reassure me they would never do such a thing being the pro-woman champions for human life that they are (#sarcasm). Instead, they laughed in my face like I had told them the funniest joke. Getting laughed at was humiliating.

“A woman in crutches! Oh, that’s a good one! You ever hear of Fake News?” Faust asked me, still laughing.

I looked down at their signs feeling embarrassed. The protesters have favorite signs. Faust’s favorite is “Abortion Hurts Women”. Brian was holding his “ABORTION KILLS CHILDREN” sign and I saw it had been modified recently—it now has a printed cut out of a mutilated fetus pasted next to the word “KILL”.

“This…” I said, pointing to their signs, “This…is Fake News. I’ll make a donation to the clinic in your honor.”

I’d be lying if I said the situation didn’t make me feel flustered and put off guard. I’ve admittedly gotten rusty at standing up to “pro-life” protesters. I felt small and stressed after giving my retaliation donation and going back to the library café room, but also had a sense of pride having asked a complete stranger if she was okay and being prepared to get her out of that situation if she was truly being harassed.

Would I do it again even if it felt scary and overwhelming? Hell yeah, I would!

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For once, some peace and quiet

I had an appointment at the women’s clinic today. There were two older ladies outside with their anti-abortion signs (I know one said “Pray to the end to abortion”.) I nearly slipped on the ice trying to rush past them in case they decided to try and make contact—I was not in the mood for potentially being approached with conversation.

I’m done with my appointment almost half an hour later. Before I head out the door, I prepare myself for being greeting by the presence of protesters by playing Lady Gaga on my headphones.

…except no one was out there. The sidewalk was empty. There wasn’t anybody holding their large anti-abortion signs to watch me as I headed across the street to the library to research and write.

But I know it won’t last long. I’m familiar with the local anti-choice schedule: typically, an older couple or two old ladies are there for the “first shift” while Faust and the ‘Dicktator’ take over to cover the rest of the clinic’s operating hours. I figured I had exited the building in-between rotating shifts. I peek out the window from time to time expecting the next shift to take over and parade around with their signs.

…but no one comes for the remaining hour and a half the clinic is open. It was…pleasant.

I hope for the day when things go back to the way they were almost two years ago. Women not getting harassed by those who think its their business to tell women their twisted version of the truth because they disagree with abortion. Women not having to rush past protesters as they head into their appointments and be confronted on their way out with anti-abortion propaganda pamphlets. This is how its supposed to be: a sidewalk not clogged with opinionated zealots and the front of a reproductive health care and family planning clinic.

In the meantime, I’ll take the second shift not showing up and enjoy it while it lasts.

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I can’t remember the last time I seen the clinic like this for a long period of time during business hours.

 

Baby steps and not being an activist bad ass

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Not all harassment towards women is of the sexual-type as I’ve seen outside the women’s clinic every other Wednesday.

My husband recently went to an Anti-Flag show and came back home with free reading materials given to him by a band called Sharptooth that were about being supportive of women. One card was about how to stop harassment with “Badass Bystander Moves”. In the earlier days of my activism, I would converse with the local protesters, mainly Faust. After a while, the political, religious, and abortion-related debates got draining because of the way pro-lifers go around in circles to get people to back off. Being the anxiety ridden person I am, it just got to exhausting for me.

I realized much later that those conversations were probably helping as it distracted the protesters from engaging with patients because they were focused on me instead, but I never had any motivation to get back into it. Seeing this card my husband brought home, listing “Distract” as one of its bad ass bystander moves, re-inspired me. “YOU HAVE THE POWER TO END HARASSMENT” it said.

I had to go to the clinic anyways to get more birth control pills and to schedule an appointment for a minor problem I’ve been having, intending to sit on the sidewalk the protesters were making their rounds on afterwards instead of across the street within the comforts of the library. I was a determined badass ready to tackle whatever was

 

…until I saw the three protesters across the street. In that moment, my anxiety issues kicked in. I’m surprised with my anxiety issues that I even made it this far these past almost-two years. It wasn’t the kind of anxiety that I could easily calm down by listening to political rap metal on my headphones, though I thought that would do the trick. My cowering heart felt like it was trying to heavily pound its way out of my chest and I wouldn’t have been surprised to find it pathetically plop onto the floor at any moment. Whatever sort of bravery I felt had dissipated upon the sight of three old people holding signs like “Abortion Hurts Women”…the very same signs they held at the Life Chain I counter protested.

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The protesters usually work in shifts. The first shift (shown here) usually involves two others joining Faust (in middle). Those two will leave Faust around mid-afternoon and then Brian shows up to take their place, sometimes bringing his wife and kids along (especially during the summer).   

I didn’t want to admit it, but the pro-life opinion piece condemning our counter protest had shaken me to my core. Actually, it wasn’t the written piece itself, but the accompanying picture next to it of us holding the sign that was described as vulgar and inappropriate. It felt like they were putting up a Wanted poster. It was just one “pro-death” label and death threats shy from being like the times I heard of extreme activists plastering the picture of a pro-choice activist or abortion clinic worker somewhere. Is taking an unflattering photo and publishing it the worst they could do or would they go to further extremes? It had scared and embarrassed and my resurfaced depression probably added to these negative emotions I felt. I stopped going to the library for a while and only went to the clinic when I had to pick up more pills, trying not to make eye contact as I rushed inside while blasting my music so I couldn’t hear Faust attempts to greet me in that genuine politeness of his. Fearing that it might turn off people to the possibility of ever taking on women’s rights activism, I never told anyone that the aftermath of the Life Chain counter-protest wasn’t something that I easily brushed off.

It was embarrassing and humiliating and still is. But you know what? Its okay to be scared. Its okay to feel uncertain. Its okay to have an activist plan only to chicken out because my anxiety sucks and the plans were too much to handle right now. Its okay if I’m not exactly a badass motherfucker like the political rap metal artist that inspires me to defy those pro-life tyrants in front of my healthcare provider. And its probably okay for me to take tiny baby steps away from the comfort of the library window and onto the same sidewalk I watch those tyrants parade on with their signs every other week.

In the meantime, I have a crisis pregnancy center online chat to log onto and pretend I’m several scared women experiencing an unplanned pregnancy. (More on that later).

Some random thoughts on yet another anti-abortion opinion letter.

Faust submitted another one of his pro-life letters to the paper. I don’t find it coincidental that he wrote and submitted one right before the annual pro-life event “March for Life”.

“Regrettable and Avoidable”

On this 45th anniversary of the SCOTUS Roe abortion opinion, there is ample evidence that child killing is regrettable. First are the nearly 60 million lives that have been snuffed out. Second is the collective accumulation of regret by the very women abortion was touted as helping. If abortion is so liberating and positive, why do most women seek other alternatives and use abortion as a last resort? As we converse with women outside the Essential Health Clinic about the dangers and risks of abortion, the most common response is, “That’s why I’m here, to get my contraceptives.” If abortion is so beneficial, contraceptives would never be used. If you get pregnant, simply have an abortion.

The second most common response is, “I would never have an abortion.” This is also why we point them in the direction of real, tangible help without killing the baby should plan “A” fail and they become pregnant. The fact that women change their mind outside clinics moments before they are scheduled to abort is more evidence that they want to avoid it. When help is offered, many women choose life. Even among those who would consider abortion, no one looks forward to that day. It is puzzling that if abortion is so liberating and positive a choice, wouldn’t young girls dream about having one? How absurd. At best, it is a necessary evil which most girls hope they never have to experience. Doesn’t that tell you what the true nature of abortion is like?

To counter this reluctance (and regret from post-abortive women), Planned Parenthood promoted the “Shout Your Abortion” campaign, inviting young women to share their stories. The campaign barely registered a whisper, let alone a shout. The stories are sad and women don’t want to share them, which is more evidence that abortion is regrettable.

Thankfully, abortion is also avoidable. The best resort to assure never having to use the last resort of abortion is abstinence until marriage. Though constantly maligned, abstinence proves itself over and over as the surest way to avoid both the physical and emotional fallout of sex outside of marriage. Those practicing abstinence need never worry about pregnancy, STDs, or the emotional meltdowns that accompany sex outside of marriage.

What a blessing it would be if 2018 was the last year for legalized killing of babies.

—Pastor Sam Faust

I promised myself I wouldn’t respond to anymore letters, but I’m sort of debating it. We’ll see if I actually do, but I will blog some thoughts on it in the meantime (it may or may not sound incoherent as I’m writing on the fly).

A quick argument to some of his points: most women aren’t traumatized by their abortion like he suggests (because…facts, studies, research, and a pro-life surgeon general not siding with pro-lifers because of this science), the Shout Your Abortion campaign was actually fairly successful having gone viral with tens of thousands of women telling their own abortion stories, and I shouldn’t have to explain that abortion isn’t supposed to be used as a form of birth control like Faust sarcastically suggests.

Faust is correct that women don’t look forward to abortion. Well, people don’t look forward to or enjoy chemotherapy either, but many chose it because they feel its right for their situation and the end result can be relief. Some don’t even chose cancer treatments because of their beliefs or they’re too far along in the same sense some women don’t choose abortion for the same reasons. These anti-abortion supporters telling a woman she shouldn’t be allowed to have an abortion because she chose to engage in sex is comparable to telling a lung cancer patient he should be denied treatment because he chose to chain smoke cigarettes for 20 years.

I believe abortion can be positive in the sense that it brings a sense of relief to most women and they go on to leave thriving lives they may have not had if they chose to carry to term.  I know this isn’t the case for every woman who has an abortion, which is why I’m highly supportive of access to accurate information and good resources so women are able to make informed choices they can live with (whether that be parenting, adoption, OR abortion) and to think about what they would do in case of an unplanned pregnancy before one possibly happens.

I can only make an educated guess on what Faust meant by his group pointing women in the direction of “real, tangible help” as he wasn’t specific on the details. Honestly, I would be interested in learning how many women they’ve assisted and what kind of help was offered. Regardless, I would like to point out that the Essential Health can legally confirm a woman’s pregnancy (being they are a legit health provider) and help her obtain benefits like WIC, Food Share, and Badger Care so that she is able to take care of herself and her child. Not to mention vital reproductive healthcare services, birth control options, and sex education and resources on parenting, prenatal care, adoption, and domestic abuse and sexual assault. Unlike the protesters, who are a part of a movement that relies on twisting the truth, the clinic provides medically accurate information on abortion procedures and its risks, which are quite minimal in reality despite anti-abortion supporters saying otherwise. However, the clinic staff had explained to me that due to the clinic’s efforts in greatly curbing unplanned pregnancy through birth control and sex education (which, yes, does include abstinence) only the tiniest fraction of what they do at the clinic is counsel pregnant women and give information and resources regarding pregnancy options. If you ask me, that fits the definition of being real, tangible help.

A real blessing would be if 2018 was the year that Faust and his anti-abortion group of ignorant sidewalk counselors stopped pretending to know the facts (they obviously have not done any sort of research outside what anti-abortion groups say) and left the local women’s clinic and its patients the Hell alone. For nearly two years, the protesters have paraded on the sidewalk in front of the Essential Health Clinic while claiming to be some sort of lifeline for women with a message of help and hope, but their presence at the clinic has not been a positive one. At the very least, the group tries to undermine the medical professionals working inside the clinic by presenting their own version of medical information that has been laced with inaccuracies, falsehood, outright lies, religious-based opinion, highly exaggerated risks, and references to biased studies that have been discredited. Based on my own experiences and the experiences and eyewitness accounts of others, they make women feel uncomfortable at best and harassed, judged, intimidated, and bullied at worst. The clinic staff has admitted there are women that wait until the protesters aren’t at the clinic to stop by, which is more evidence that their presence at the clinic is not positive. One person explained while he was picking up his child from the bus stop, he saw one of the more aggressive protesters chase a woman in crutches down the block while she yelled that she was just there for birth control to regulate her menstrual cycle. Anyone I’ve ever conversed with about this group, including those that are against abortion, has expressed confusion over why there are protesters outside a clinic that doesn’t offer the abortion services they are against and wants to reduce the number of unplanned pregnancies by making reliable birth control more accessible to all women. Plus, these sidewalk crusaders act like they’re the ones being victimized whenever any woman has decided she has had enough of being stalked and harassed outside her trusted healthcare provider and stood up to these people. If this pro-life group is as positive, helpful, empowering, and supportive of women as they believe they are, then why is the overall reaction to their actions negative and why are patients trying to avoid them?

The most interesting thing about Faust’s letter is stating that the top two responses he and his group gets from the patients they converse with are “That’s why I’m here, to get my contraceptives” and “I would never have an abortion.” It’s sad that women feel the need to explain their visit with their trusted health care provider to judgmental strangers that have no business being there, but these responses are a huge sign that women are perfectly capable of avoiding abortion without the assistance of sidewalk counselors. Either women are controlling their fertility to greatly lessen the chance of an unwanted pregnancy or women wouldn’t get an abortion if she found they were pregnant regardless of whether they’re taking birth control to prevent a pregnancy when she’s not ready for one. Women who are unsure about what to do in the event of an unplanned pregnancy have access to a wealth of accurate information and resources inside the clinic in order to make informed decisions, lessening the chances of making a choice they’ll come to regret later on.

Seriously, Faust and his band of sidewalk counselors need get a clue and realize that their presence is neither wanted nor necessary. It’s time they started leaving women alone and trust them to make their own decisions…in fact, its been long overdue.

Possible Pro-life Intimidation (and Disney analogies!)

As mentioned in “The Irritating Sand at the Life Chain”, crippling depression and anxiety has greatly affected my ability to do activist work.

One aspect that wasn’t affected by my emotional struggles was writing opinion letters for the paper. Faust is perfectly content with constantly beating a dead horse when it comes to the pro-life agenda, continually recycling the same language and phrases to the point where all his letters sound alike with subtle variations. For me, there wasn’t much point in continuing to write. Facts and statistics don’t matter to a movement that believes they are helping women by lying to them and shaming them in front of healthcare providers and feel their actions are justified by religion. I didn’t have anything new to add so I stopped writing following my last letter earlier this spring.

New subject matter to write about came in the form of Apple Pregnancy Care Center, a pro-life crisis pregnancy center out of Eau Claire, advertising on the high school sports calendar. I am against crisis pregnancy centers due to them presenting themselves as women’s healthcare clinics when they’re actually pro-life ministries with false information and zero medical services. This crisis pregnancy center in question was (and still is) discreetly advertising in the paper and now they were blatantly advertising on a free poster that anyone could pick up, including business owners that would want to display the sports schedule in their establishments. It had the potential of ensuring that these sorts of places continue to dupe women facing pregnancy scares or an unplanned pregnancy.

I struggled to write it for a couple of weeks, but finally managed to submit something to the paper towards the end of September:

“Bad Apple Part of Spoiled Bunch”

Those who picked up the Black River Falls (BRF) Tigers sport schedule poster may have seen the sponsored advertisement for a crisis pregnancy center (CPC), a type of faith-based non-profit established to counsel women against abortion. I suspect it went unnoticed by most due to the way it presented itself

If you thought Apple Pregnancy Care Center was anything but a religious anti-abortion organization, you fell for the questionable advertising tactics crisis pregnancy centers often employ. I was fooled, too, while researching Option Line. Eleven of the fifteen places listed for Wisconsin appeared to be reproductive health clinics. However, the “pro-life” protesters outside Essential Health began distributing business cards for Apple PCC, praising their anti-abortion views despite its website stating that it discusses abortion as an option.

Option Line is run by the two biggest CPC networks in the country, Heartbeat International and Care Net. All the “clinics” were crisis pregnancy centers, most having secondary donation websites explaining they were anti-abortion organizations (example: friendsofapple.org)

Apple PCC’s poster ad is a perfect example of how most CPCs don’t disclose they are an anti-abortion organization in their advertising, official websites, and other media. They’ll use keywords like “options”, “choices”, and “informed decisions” in order to sound neutral or pro-choice. When presented alongside “free and confidential” services like pregnancy testing and all-options counseling in a “non-judgmental environment”, it subtly creates the illusion they are a hospitable women’s clinic that advocates for choice. Because of this, there are countless stories of women that went into these places assuming they were trained medical professionals that offered accurate information and resources only to leave feeling duped and mislead.

What CPCs offer is worse than how they lure unsuspecting women into their establishments. CPCs have consistently touted falsehoods about abortion and reproductive health based on poor research and outright lies. Examples of false hoods include “condoms are porous”, “birth control are abortifacients”, and “abortion causes breast cancer, infertility, and/or psychological damage.” Though their advertisements imply they’re medical, the most CPCs offer in terms of medical services is a basic urine-based pregnancy test that is self-administered. As HIPAA laws only apply to actual medical facilities, CPCs aren’t required to safeguard any client information, which may include contact information, S.S. numbers, and medical history. Not surprisingly, there have been instances where CPCs have harassed women considering abortion at home and work, even going as far to reach out to her friends and family to expose her personal information with them.

CPCs typically do offer material items to women that decide to parent, but only on a one-time emergency basis unless enrolled in an education program (“Earn While You Learn”) where points to purchase items are earned by participating in classes and/or Bible study. Despite its potential benefit, it does not make up for the shady tactics and spreading of misinformation.

Yes, parenting and adoption are both legitimate options and its perfectly acceptable for women to choose either of those options. The thing that is completely unacceptable are organizations that exploit the vulnerability of scared and uncertain women in order to promote those options while discrediting the third legitimate pregnancy option through negative propaganda.

Women deserve to have access to accurate, unbiased information and resources; not be misled and lied to.           

Looking back on it, I shouldn’t have been surprised when Faust popped into my workplace a couple days after the letter was published and on the day his pro-life group was having a bake sale across the street. Maybe I didn’t think anything of it since he’s left me alone these past few months. He hasn’t been appearing in front of my counter at work or going out of his way to greet me in public like he was before. The only time I’ve been truly bothered by him these past few months was when the occasional Planned Parenthood donation made in his honor resulted in mail being sent to my personal address, either in the form of a copy of a letter he wrote to the president of Planned Parenthood or a thank you card informing me he donated Bibles in my name. (Currently, eight Bibles have been donated in my name and I have three copies of letters he supposedly wrote to Cecile Richards). Aside from the random donation and swiping all the Apple PCC cards he leaves at the library, I’ve been mostly inactive. I suppose he wouldn’t have any reason to go out of his way to see me.

Writing that letter for the paper gave him a reason to visit. It doesn’t seem like an accident that he would appear almost immediately following the publishing of my letter when he hasn’t bothered to show up in months.

Between my major depression and the overwhelming workload that day, I was already distressed even without Faust coming over to carry on awkward conservation. He spoke with that programmed politeness that has earned him the name “Stepford Wife”. He thanked me for, as he put it, “coming out of retirement”. Odd that I write a letter condemning the kind of organizations he supports for being dishonest and he thanks me for it like he was an adoring fan of my work. I felt like he was mocking me under that polite facade that sounded like he was reading a scripted speech from a teleprompter. I wasn’t in the right state of mind to deal with him and certainly was in no mood for his presence, but he approached me while I was on the clock at my workplace. I just stood there and was forced to listen. What else was I supposed to do? If I told him off at work, I have no doubt he would go straight to management outraged by the employee that was rude to him. I think he knows he backs me into a corner by approaching me at work and that I’m powerless to stand up to him without potentially risking my job for it.

Then he pretended that he remembered something he was supposed to tell me as if it weren’t the main reason he stopped by out of the blue: Melinda Gardner, director of Apple Pregnancy Care Center, was going to be speaking at their annual youth pro-life meeting and apparently wanted to meet me, extending an invitation for me to come.

Everything else is kind of a blur. With that unwanted conservation piled on existing stress, I think my brain shut down manual mode and started running on auto-pilot. I vaguely remember a co-worker who was standing by asking what that was all about and then going to the bathroom to wait out a small panic attack.

It sounds a bit strange, but all I could think about in the bathroom stall was the scene in “The Little Mermaid” after Ariel’s grotto gets destroyed. If the “Dicktator” is like Judge Frollo, then Faust is Ursula. Popping up at the precise time to seize the moment, both Faust and Ursula display kindness and claim to be sympathetic and helpful toward the “poor unfortunate souls”, but it doesn’t take much to realize that the compassion is superficial and part of a calculated act. He might as well have said, “Oh! And there is one…more…thing!” like Ursula did concerning the price for helping Ariel when he suddenly remembered having to tell me about the speaker at their meeting. I can’t rule out that his visit was possibly a means of intimidation or shame even though he halfheartedly acted like he was supportive of what I wrote. It doesn’t seem all that far-fetched when I consider what occurred following the counter protest of the “life chain” he was in charge of a couple weeks later: He approached us, thanked us for coming, and even encouraged us to write letters to the paper…then we found ourselves vilified in the paper by another pro-life supporter (and featured a picture of us taken by yet another supporter) because we stood up to them. Ursula was also encouraging and supportive of what Ariel wanted to do, but made every attempt to sabotage her because she didn’t want the mermaid to succeed in her goal.

Maybe it’s just a crazy thought from overthinking it too much. Then again, pro-life supporters have tried to silence pro-choice supporters through shame, intimidation, and even threats. It wouldn’t surprise me to find that Faust wishes to take my “voice”, so to speak.

Silly mermaid analogies aside, why on Earth would a director of a secretly pro-life crisis pregnancy center want to meet with someone that has spoken out against such places? An activist I’ve been speaking with for the past year or so provided a possible answer: “They really like to try to talk in circles and get people to back off.” She has a point. Every time I’ve written a letter and both times I’ve counter protested the Life Chain, a pro-life supporter has been quick to write a criticizing letter in response. Faust has appeared at work whenever I wrote a letter and was quick to approach us at the Life Chain. I expect thank you letters for Bible donations made in my name or copies of letters to Cecile Richards whenever I press that donation button on the Planned Parenthood website. Basically, I stand up to them and they go on the offensive. Honestly, I think the director of the crisis pregnancy center that I was overly critical of wanting to meet with me was another attempt by pro-life supporters pushing back against the lone pro-choice woman that dares to speak out against and question this movement.

Last year, Faust invited me to this annual youth meeting so I could learn what they were about and what they were teaching teenagers. “At the very least, it’ll give you more fodder for your letters,” he said, still speaking in that programmed politeness. At the time, I had just written a letter that had referred to these pro-life supporters as “anti-woman” and I swear the speaker looked straight at me when she explained to the teenagers that her pro-life beliefs didn’t make her anti-woman. I’m sure this year’s meeting would have been more of the same: pizza, annoying hymns, and adults giving teenagers misinformation about abortion and birth control while staring down the elephant in the room wearing the Butcher Babies t-shirt.

Obviously, I didn’t go this year’s meeting. I imagine the director of Apple PCC would wear that noble and righteous front like a mask and put on a show to try and convince me that they’re not the deceptive villains I’ve found they are. I found better plans for that night. While pro-life supporters pretended they were brave crusaders standing up for human lives by attending a meeting and eating pizza while planning on doing nothing else, I went to a meeting about domestic violence (which was unfortunately canceled) and a fundraiser for a local organization that seeks to help teenagers aging out of the foster care system.

My absence at the meeting was brought up a couple weeks after the meeting was held when I went to get a refill on my birth control. Faust was outside with his damned sign and was insistent on striking a conversation with me.

“Hey! We missed you at the meeting! But the director of Apple would still like to meet you and said you’re welcome to come and tour the place anytime you’d like.”

I’m certainly not going to take up that offer. A personal tour would probably be as dishonest and misleading as their official website. Plus I’ve already been through the place because I posed as a client experiencing a pregnancy scare (actually, I was experiencing a scare at the time as I hadn’t had a period for about seven weeks).

Maybe I was powerless to say anything at work, but I wasn’t in front of the clinic. I quickly and curtly told him, “Sorry, but I had a fundraiser to go to” and walked inside the clinic while he disappointingly said, “Oh.” Thus, ends this frustrating and weird chapter of my activism story.

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.

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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!”

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“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.