A few months ago, I was at a big rally for reproductive rights. Unsurprisingly, both sides of the debate were represented. The rally was about birth control coverage, but the anti-choice crowd had brought along gigantic, graphic posters of bloody fetuses. (Of course they had. It’s what they do.) Never mind that access to birth control reduces the need for the invasive, surgical procedure they showed up to protest. Never mind that we should have all been there on the same side, advocating for contraceptive coverage, which would meet the purported goals of both sides.
Their confusing, contradicting stance on contraception is de rigueur. There’s less rational thought put into each anti-choice individual’s stances than there is unbridled passion and a fear of not being as passionate as the protester next to them. I respect their devotion to their cause, even if I don’t always think they know what their cause is about.
Like our side of the rally, theirs had a raised platform and a speakers on a rotating schedule who were leading chants. Our side had nurses and presidents of various organizations; theirs looked like a lot of clergy people and be-suited men. I like events like this because I get to make new friends, yell about things that usually make me feel like yelling when I read about them anyway, and feel like I’m making some sort of difference, even if it is small. Also, I usually get a free t-shirt or something. I was surprised, though, when I heard someone on my side of the rally hiss to a friend, “What could they possibly have to talk about?”
These people had brought disgusting posters and kept trying to sneak across our barrier to hold their signs up alongside ours. One of them had tried to start a hostile, condescending conversation with me about Jesus and, unsurprisingly, he only got more unhinged when I declined to speak with him. Why shouldn’t we regard them with some vitriol? At the same time, I was shocked to see that my fellow pro-choicers viewed the anti-choice side through such a narrow scope – as narrow as the anti-choicers view reproductive rights. The anti-choice side may have a view that isn’t necessarily informed by science or practicality, sure, but why diminish them like that?
Why was I feeling so protective? Because I used to be one of them. My friends, my family, my old classmates and coworkers, my neighbors, and almost everyone else I knew back home still is one of them. I was raised in a home, church, and culture where abortion was synonymous with murder. I knew nothing about the procedure, or about science or medicine. I knew that “babies” were being “killed” and somehow our government was letting it happen. I based endless tirades and prayers off of that one idea. Babies were being killed.
There is one clinic in my state that provides abortions. The stigma surrounding even the simplest road trip to the city that houses the clinic on days when it is known that abortions are happening is incredible. It was a dream of mine in high school to ride on a bus with people from my church to stand outside of that clinic and shame women. I imagine, had scheduling conflicts and my parents not intervened, I would have been there, overcome with emotion, crying for those “babies” being “killed.”
When I turned 18, I left my town. I moved to New York. It was just like a cheesy movie wherein the main character finds herself. I lived on a dorm floor where girls I liked and respected were having sex with boys they’d just met at orientation. I got a part-time job at a local store where five of my coworkers were gay. I got to know people whom I would have blindly hated or believed were damned to hell for no other reason than that I was told that growing up. I interacted with them and saw, firsthand, the way ideas like that can ruin their lives.
I value my position, now, as someone who has been actively engaged in the debate from both sides. My upbringing gives me a unique perspective and empathy. At the time, when I was liable to start talking about the “mass infanticide” that our government didn’t want to address, I truly believed I was doing the righteous thing, just as I believe I am fighting for the righteous thing now.
I know exactly what speakers at anti-choice rallies are saying. This in no way means that I believe in it, at all, as it only took a little bit of education and research for me to realize how absurd the entire movement is from a practical standpoint, but I can’t fault them for being emotional, being passionate, being dedicated. Their investment in their cause is no different than ours. They have their rising stars in the movement, they have their publications and blogs.
They’re not unknowable, mysterious monsters with no brain or heart. To assume that they are and to treat them like they are is to give credence to the caricatures they paint of us. We are not heartless murderers bent on destroying life, but we look heartless when we behave that way. We need to lead by example and spend less time tearing them down and more time listening, just like they need to. That is the only way we are ever going to make any real progress.