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.
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!
Whenever Faust submits one of his anti-abortion letters to the paper, more letters echoing the same ideology are likely to follow so I wasn’t surprised to see this letter in the paper last week:
Here are some tidbits of information regarding Planned Parenthood (PP) and Crisis Pregnancy Centers in Wisconsin. According to Planned Parenthood’s own report from 2014-2015:
*PP’s non-abortion services (birth control, cancer screenings, etc.) have decreased over time.
*98% of American women never visit a PP facility in any given year.
*.08% of women of reproductive age went to PP for a breast exam (none received a mammogram).
*PP performed 323,999 abortions in 2014 nearly one-third of the nation’s abortions.
*Their revenue in 2014 reached almost $1.3 billion dollars, and they received $553.7 million in taxpayer dollars that year.
There are eight Crisis Pregnancy Centers within 50 miles of Black River Falls. There are four-plus centers in La Crosse, one in Eau Claire, two in Marshfield, and one in Necedah:
Apple Pregnancy Care Center, Eau Claire 1.800.712.4357
Agape Pregnancy Resource Center, La Crosse 608.784.4966
Birthright of La Crosse, La Crosse 1.800.550.4900
New Life Resource Center, La Crosse 608.785.2377
Gerard Hall La Crosse (Maternity Home) 608.392.3985, 24/7 helpline
Birthright Marshfield, The Hannah Center, Marshfield (Maternity Home) 715.387.6300
7 Sorrows of Our Sorrowful Mother, Necedah 608.565.2417
These dedicated centers do not receive tax dollars but are helping women over the long haul.
This list does not include help provided by Catholic Charities and Lutheran Social Service.
Black River Falls
I had seen the report she was referring to some time ago and I remember wondering what factors could be contributing to these decreases in healthcare services. Were they affected by new guidelines recommending pap smears be performed less often? Were women getting longer-term birth control like IUDs, which may result in fewer visits as women only need these types of birth control replaced every few years? Did some low-income women gain access to insurance through the Affordable Care Act and now gets reproductive healthcare through a regular doctor? Could Planned Parenthood performing nearly 1/3 of the nation’s abortions be the result of anti-abortion groups and lawmakers lobbying for Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers (TRAP) laws that have forced many independent providers to close down?
Anti-abortion supporters don’t ask questions as to why healthcare services are decreasing. They see reports like this and automatically declare that it’s proof of their beliefs that Planned Parenthood is nothing more than a “murder mill”.
Planned Parenthood did indeed receive $553 million in tax dollars that year. HOWEVER…A legislative provision called The Hyde Amendment bars the use of federal funds to pay for abortion services except when it’s medically necessary to save the life of the woman or in cases of rape or incest. Seventeen states use state funds to provide medically necessary abortions—Wisconsin isn’t one of them. Title X, a grant program that helps provide family planning and reproductive healthcare services to low-income women, strictly prohibits its funds from being used towards abortion services. Translation: TAXES DON’T FUND ELECTIVE ABORTIONS!!!
The writer neglected to describe the services crisis pregnancy centers have to offer, but the letter seemed to imply that they were somehow better alternatives to Planned Parenthood and were more beneficial to women. Luckily and somewhat ironically, I’m currently researching 64 crisis pregnancy centers in Wisconsin—here’s a quick run-down of their services:
*21 claim to have medical staff. Yet 56 offer pregnancy tests. This could mean that, for a majority of centers, pregnancy tests aren’t being administered by medical professionals or the tests themselves are self-administered (three centers admit their tests are self-administered. From personal experience, Apple PCC does self-administered tests—they didn’t state they did, however).
*50 provide material support—diapers, formula, etc. —to mothers. 20 of those centers state material support is through an Earn While You Learn program where women earn points through classes and/or Bible study to be able to “buy” items.
*All 64 offer options information. In general, centers insisted on an appointment to receive information, but some had some information on their website. 18 centers had information on their website that was inaccurate or exaggerated (abortion causes breast cancer, miscarriage rates being as high as 40%, etc.)
*35 perform ultrasounds. 18 describe their ultrasound services as “limited”, half of which describe “limited” means only confirming a heartbeat and gestational age. Only six of those centers claimed to have medical staff. There could be 29 centers operating ultrasound machines without people that aren’t trained to use them and/or the guidance of medical professionals. In Wisconsin, women must undergo an ultrasound before obtaining an abortion and Wisconsin law states that abortion providers have to perform this ultrasound themselves or arrange for a qualified person to perform it. This didn’t stop three crisis pregnancy centers from suggesting they do ultrasound imaging for the purposes of receiving an abortion. They do this as a tactic to delay or prevent women from getting abortion services. Women seeking abortion services are promised a free ultrasound only to find out at their appointment that their free ultrasound image is medically worthless and doesn’t meet state abortion requirements.
*13 perform STD testing. Only 4 offer treatments for the STDs they test for.
*2 offered prenatal care—in the form of prenatal vitamins.
*Only 1 center performed pap smears.
*None dispensed birth control or performed mammograms.
I wonder if services were intentionally left out of the letter as crisis pregnancy centers have a mixed bag of services and are mostly not medical. Planned Parenthood doesn’t perform mammograms, but neither do crisis pregnancy centers—well, Wisconsin’s crisis pregnancy centers anyways.
Based on the services alone—not including the misinformation crisis pregnancy centers spread and deceptive tactics they have employed—crisis pregnancy centers aren’t a better alternative to Planned Parenthood as most don’t provide medical services and when they do those services are extremely limited. Planned Parenthood may not provide mammograms, but neither do crisis pregnancy centers—well, Wisconsin crisis pregnancy centers anyways.
Perhaps the only real benefit of crisis pregnancy centers would be its material support to women that carry to term and need help obtaining baby items, but I’m not entirely sold on it. There was one crisis pregnancy center–the Alpha Women’s Center–that actually provided a breakdown of how their version of Earn While You Learn works.
Lessons are 2 points each while verse to memorize are 1 point each. The amount each baby item costs varies, but the larger the item the more points it costs. Consumable items cost less points, but the center limits how many of these items can be earned per week, per child. This is assuming the items are in stock as there’s a disclaimer stating they cannot guarantee the availability of the item as most of the items are donated. This is also assuming women are comfortable participating in this particular Earn While You Learn program as it’s completely based around Bible study. (I personally find it to be an attempt at religious indoctrination in exchange for baby goods.) I don’t doubt this can be helpful to women that need a little help rounding out their consumable supplies, but I do debate that it helps women “for the long haul” when its required that women complete a potentially large number of tasks for a small amount of items that may not be in stock.
Contrary to what the opinion letter claimed, tax dollars do help fund crisis pregnancy centers. A lot of tax dollars that has gone towards crisis pregnancy centers has come from federal programs for abstinence-only education. A center in Wisconsin petitioned the city of Madison for low-interest loans to build a maternity home, which could have come from the city’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund and Community Development Housing Reserve Fund had the city council not withdrew support over concerns about the crisis pregnancy center’s misleading medical information. While governor, Mike Pence took $3.5 million from the state’s Temporary Assistance For Needy Families and gave it to Real Alternatives, an anti-abortion group that helps open, finance, and direct women to crisis pregnancy centers. Seven states have used TAFN dollars to fund crisis pregnancy centers, apparently giving $30 million over the course of 4 years. The Bush administration gave $60 million in federal tax dollars to crisis pregnancy centers. These numbers seem small in comparison to the tax dollars Planned Parenthood receives in order to give women access to reproductive healthcare and family planning services. However, its a lot of tax dollars to be giving to anti-abortion groups that have used deception and inaccurate information to misguide women about their options.
This isn’t including money generated from the sales of Choose Life license plates or fundraising events like the various Walks for Life that are tax free because these crisis pregnancy centers are non-profit organizations. Again, money that goes to anti-abortion groups that lie to women and, at best, offer a couple healthcare services that may or may not be provided by licensed medical staff.
Of course, the deception or the lack of essential services doesn’t stop anti-abortion supporters like Katie Edwards from praising crisis pregnancy centers and making them out to be valuable alternatives to women’s healthcare clinics regardless of whether they actually provide any medical services or if they’re known to be untruthful to the women they claim to want to help.
In 2003, Heartbeat International and Care Net joined forces to create Option Line, a pro-life contact center designed to reach out to women seeking answers about pregnancy options. Care Net president, Melinda Delahoyde, stated about its website upgrade, “When a young woman suspects she might be pregnant, she often goes online for help. We’ve designed our new Option Line website so that it’s one of the first places she visits. By putting her in touch with a local pregnancy center, Option Line is connecting her to life-saving support for her and her unborn child.”
A feature the website promotes is its 24/7 Option Line live chat:
“If you are wondering whether or not you’re pregnant, your mind is probably racing with questions. It’s common to feel confused, scared, or overwhelmed. Option Line live chat is available any time, day or night. We offer free, confidential help, information about pregnancy signs and symptoms, information on all your options, and we can quickly connect you to the local assistance you need. Call our pregnancy helpline at 1-800-712-4357 or chat with us now!”
I decided to see what the chat service is like. I tried it three times, posing as different women with different pregnancy situations. Here are the results along with the conversations, which had to be screen shot in sections and put together.
Maya. Age 21. Los Angeles. Missed a couple periods.
After answering the initial automated message, I waited for about three or four minutes before I got a response. This would probably feel excruciating if I had been a woman seeking help for a pregnancy scare.
With this chat, she almost immediately directed me to a crisis pregnancy center, which she basically got from putting the zip code I had given through the “Find A Center By Zip Code” on their website and copied and pasted the information on it in the chat. She insisted on their “free and confidential” services, but at the the same time didn’t know anything about it because “every center is different”.
While I was glad to know that she was upfront with me about the center not being like a doctor’s office, I wondered if it was because I had asked. What bothered me was her saying “It is not a doctor’s office” and then going onto say they may have medical staff, they may have me fill out medical paperwork, and its helpful to bring an ID. They’re not a doctor’s office, but I might have to fill out medical paperwork and ID information for medical professionals working there? She repeatedly noted the confidentiality of the center, but by her own words they’re also not a medical facility that would have to be required by law to safeguard patient information.
The conversation abruptly ends because…well…she stopped responding! I waited for ten minutes on information about the kind of resources the center would offer and eventually assumed I wasn’t worth her time. From her perspective, I was experiencing a pregnancy scare. I thought I could get information from the actual chat, but it seemed like she was pushing me to go to this center to get all my questions answered.
As far as the crisis pregnancy center she gave me, it looks insanely medical. Calling itself “a licensed medical clinic”, it apparently offers pregnancy testing, options counseling, proof of pregnancy, limited ultrasounds, facts about abortion and risks, STD information, post abortion counseling, information on natural family planning, and a ton of referrals. But there are little hints that it’s a crisis pregnancy center like emphasis on miscarriage and scheduling an appointment to get abortion information and a total lack of reproductive health care service like pap smears, cancer screenings, STD testing and treatment, and birth control despite claiming to be a medical clinic for women. The center is listed with a few pro-life groups including the National Institute of Family and Life Advocates (NIFLA), a “faith-based Christian ministry that seeks to glorify God by proclaiming the sanctity of human life, both born and unborn” that also helps equip crisis pregnancy centers with legal counsel. A couple Yelp reviews commented that they were pushy about religion and marriage, one noting that she didn’t find the prying into her personal life and relationship appropriate or desired.
Shiloh. Age 19. Madison. Looking for abortion clinic
I conducted this chat the next morning to see if it would be any different from the experience I had the previous evening (I did the chat from my phone instead of the laptop). Again, I waited several minutes for a response after I answered the automated question. I was transferred to “Stephanie”, the same support agent who took my previous chat.
Again, she immediately promoted a nearby pregnancy center with “free and confidental” services.
When I read the description of the chat services, it sounded like it was staffed with pregnancy experts that would talk women through their options in addition to connecting me with one of their centers. (In fact, Google “pregnancy experts” and Option Line is the third search result). I assumed there would be at least some exchange of information, even if that information was based on pro-life propaganda. So far, there wasn’t exchange of information other than addresses to these crisis pregnancy centers that would discuss the answers I was seeking. She did state without any prompting that “We do not perform or refer for abortion”. Yet she was still trying to get me into a crisis pregnancy center to get more information on that option.
This chat reminded me of a NARAL report that references a documentary called “12th and Delaware”, quoting a CPC director training volunteers on how to answer phone calls and get abortion-minded women through the doors:
If you don’t hook her right away, she hangs up on you. When she calls and says, “Do you do abortions?”, I say “Are you calling for yourself or are you calling for your friend?”…and we engage in conversation. Because if she calls and says “Do you do abortions?” and I say “No”…click! [The CPC director pantomimes hanging up the phone] I’m trying to get her in the door. Take control of that conversation. I don’t mind the criticisms of taking control. “That doesn’t sound fair.” Well, too bad!
That scene seems to match perfectly with what happened in this chat. I explained I was looking for an abortion clinic. The support agent could have just stated they don’t help with abortion. Instead, she went, “Well, we don’t perform or refer to abortions. Butour pregnancy centers have a lot of good information on abortion that you may find useful and they would be happy to discuss it with you. Oh, look! Here’s one in your town! Did I mention services are free and confidential?”
I felt like sticking it to her by telling her that I would look elsewhere for abortion information. It didn’t seem like she was willing to give me any information beyond contact information for a crisis pregnancy center, anyways.
The crisis pregnancy center she pulled up is one of many Wisconsin-based crisis pregnancy centers I have researched. When I first researched it about a year and a half ago, it went by a different name: Care Net of Dane County. It used to be more open about being a pro-life organization, but it has since removed all the pro-life and Christian references and made its website look and sound like its a legit women’s clinic. It still goes by Care Net of Dane County in its secondary donor website, which includes its real mission statement and all the other Christian pro-life things the organization removed from its client website.
Ellie. Age 19. Eau Claire. Pregnant and scared.
Note: Two replies either weren’t screenshot or accidentally cropped off when assembling the conversation together and didn’t realize this until after saving everything.
Finally, a different support agent!
Whereas “Stephanie” seemed to want a quick answer to the woman’s situation and immediately direct her to the nearest “free and confidential” crisis pregnancy center, “Ashley” seemed to want to have a better understanding of the situation and was more empathetic to what the woman was feeling. She gave sensible advice that I would personally give to a woman unsure what to do about an unplanned pregnancy: get information on all your options and carefully explore them before making a decision. If “Ellie” had been a real woman experiencing an unplanned pregnancy and was scared and uncertain, she probably would have thought she was helpful, understanding, and caring. But eventually, “Ashley” segued the conversation towards going to a crisis pregnancy center to re-confirm the pregnancy, discuss my options, and possibly get scheduled for an ultrasound.
I purposely picked an Eau Claire zip code knowing they would give me Apple Pregnancy Care Center. After our local protesters began handing their business cards in front of the Essential Health Clinic and leaving them at the library, I decided to go there for a pregnancy test to see what it was like.
“Ashley” said I could possibly get scheduled for an ultrasound. Except that Apple doesn’t list ultrasounds as one of its services. Ultrasounds were also brought up in the last chat as well. “Shiloh” was seeking an abortion clinic while “Ellie” was undecided yet leaning towards abortion, making both women technically “abortion minded”. Take a look at what “Ashley” said about ultrasounds: “It will also be helpful to do an ultrasound to confirm how far along you are and to determine that you have a viable pregnancy. [emphasis added].”
Many crisis pregnancy centers exaggerate miscarriage rates in order to convince women that they don’t need an abortion. By offering ultrasound services they can “confirm” whether the pregnancy is viable. Some crisis pregnancy centers, like Women’s Support Center, truthfully tell women that an ultrasound is required to receive abortion services and then promote their free ultrasounds services. But crisis pregnancy centers aren’t doing this to be helpful to women seeking abortion. They are fully aware that a woman will go to her scheduled abortion and find out that the ultrasound image she was given at the crisis pregnancy center is worthless, delaying her abortion (hopefully past the point she can get one) because she doesn’t meet the requirements. In Wisconsin, according to an actual abortion clinic, the required ultrasound must be performed at the abortion provider and their website warns of a nearby crisis pregnancy center that provides free pregnancy tests and ultrasounds.
Having been to Apple PCC for a pregnancy test, I found the comments on pregnancy testing to be quite interesting. “Ashley” explained the pregnancy tests at the center could be more accurate than the cheap, Walmart one I bought, mainly because they’re done at the center and someone can verify the results and make sure the test is working properly. “Someone” being a volunteer and not a medical professional, by the way.
Apple PCC’s super accurate pregnancy tests are nearly identical to this over the counter pregnancy test that you can buy at Walmart for a mere 88 cents:
Normally, when you go to a doctor’s office for a pregnancy test, you pee in a sturdy plastic cup with a nice screw-on top that you’ll never see again and the nurse gives you results in five minutes. At Apple PCC, I was asked a bunch of medical and moral questions for about twenty minutes before the volunteer even let me take a piss in a LITERAL DIXIE CUP. Then I was taken to a room with the Dixie cup-o-urine where I was instructed to use the dropper to dispense my own urine onto this cheap pregnancy test and the volunteer and I both confirmed there was only one solid line. It was the same as an at home pregnancy test, but with a pro-life volunteer asking questions about my sex life and religion.
Like the crisis pregnancy centers, the Option Line chat is designed to appear helpful to women experiencing unplanned pregnancies and offer guidance on a decision. However, crisis pregnancy centers are not about helping women navigate all their pregnancy options because “all-options” would include abortion and they’re not supportive of abortion. The Option Line chat is an extension of the pro-life movement, which is about restricting choice. Option Line’s goal is to get women through the doors of crisis pregnancy centers. Maybe the support agents are willing to admit that their centers don’t offer or refer for abortion, but they didn’t state that their centers are actually pro-life ministries. The centers that were recommended don’t state they’re pro-life ministries on their client website, but First Care Clinic and Apple PCC both have donor websites that do state a pro-life mission and Christian beliefs (in Apple PCC’s case, admitting they don’t refer or offer abortion or birth control). I feel like these agents try to get women into these centers, providing as little information as possible while asserting that these centers are to be trusted. The agent from the first conversation was singing the praises of crisis pregnancy centers, but wouldn’t offer an answer to my question about their resources. I imagine if I had gotten an answer she would have told me to call the center to schedule an appointment so they could discuss that information with me and remind me that their services are free and confidential.
In any case, Option Line’s chat service, regardless of how knowledgeable a woman using it is on crisis pregnancy centers, is more like the website’s “Find A Center By Zip Code” feature with an added sales pitch rather than a online chat with pregnancy experts that will answer all the questions racing through the mind of a woman experiencing an unplanned pregnancy.
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.
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).
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.
“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.
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.
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!”
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.