Sometimes I make ends meet by thrusting flyers at hurried people on street corners or wearing a cheesy smile while singing the praises of at major promotional events. I was in the middle of something like this when I crossed paths, or should I say intersections, with the Pro-Life Action League of Illinois this July.
They call it Face the Truth, “a bold [read: obscene] and effective [read: misleading] pro-life initiative that exposes the truth about abortion.” Larger-than-life posters of dead fetuses flanked either side of Adams Street in Chicago for an uncertain number of blocks. I was working and thus sternly directed to get the hell away from the abortion people, so I honestly can’t tell you where the anti-choice onslaught began and relented. But The Magnificent Mile of trademark anti-choice fetus gore, tiny mangled toes and bloody baby heads, seemed to go on and on and on.
My blood boils when I encounter anti-choice propaganda, but I realize that I’m on the feminist fringe when it comes to abortion rights. For me, life begins at birth. Not conception. Not implantation. Not when the fetus’ heart begins to beat or when it develops the semblance of human phalanges. Life begins at birth because I care about women.
But the mainstreamers, pro-choice readers, the mainstreamers! The mainstreamers cringe at these violent images, and cringing can’t be good for the pro-choice cause. We’re hanging out on the political peripheries with our metaphorical clothes hangers while the antis shove baby guts in mainstreamers’ faces on Adams Street! These people don’t talk about abortion like we talk about abortion. When you ask them about the A word, they rattle off a litany of qualifiers and circumstances that justify a woman’s decision to exercise her right to choose. IF she’s a rape survivor. ONLY when the procedure isn’t used as regular “birth control.” BUT they would never have one in that situation.
I feel like the infamous baby guts of abortion lore necessitate the use of IF, ONLY, and BUT in mainstream discussions about the issue. Because she who does not temper her pro-choice perspective with IFs, ONLYs, and BUTs is a heartless, unmaternal feminist in the most negative sense of the word. How can one be anything but a frigid bitch when she unapologetically supports abortion rights despite those agonizing images of dead fetuses?
I guess my point is that I want mainstreamers to care about women as much as they care about babies. Maybe they will when we’ve finally dismantled the patriarchy. Until that far-off and much-dreamed-of day, the pro-choice clothes hanger reminds mainstreamers (in a more visually tactful way) that hundreds of thousands of WOMEN have DIED because they couldn’t safely access abortion services. To a certain degree, this image is effective. But it lacks shock value, and, in the end, it doesn’t stand up to the anti-choice fetus carnage.
I’m not saying that pro-choice activists should resort to shock value to challenge anti-choice tactics. I’m not saying we should emulate any anti-choice methods, for that matter, since those methods include lying, endangering the lives of women, and assassinating innocent people. But I want to know this: How can we convince the public of the importance of women’s lives in the face Machiavellian anti-choice opposition? Because if mainstreamers unequivocally value women’s lives, the IFs, ONLYs, and BUTs will cease to exist.