To See Ourselves

Lon Newman

Most people see them as they are and most people disagree with their beliefs and with their tactics.

O would some power the giftie gie us to see ourselves as others see us. (O would some power the gift to give us to see ourselves as others see us.) Robert Burns, Poem "To a Louse" – verse 8
Scottish national poet (1759 – 1796)
 For almost a year now, Pro-Life Wisconsin (PLW) has maintained a protest campaign at our family planning and WIC clinics in Central Wisconsin. PLW activities have included a ‘verbal hijacking’ of our Raising Women’s Voices “Speak Out” on women’s health care so that those who wished to speak on issues unrelated to abortion or contraception were by-and-large unheard in the auditorium. Over the Lenten season, PLW and its local supporters participated in the "40 Days for Life" national campaign — conducting a ‘continuous’ prayer vigil outside our clinic offices.  When asked by local reporters why they were participating in this effort, they said it was to stop abortion.  We do not perform abortions at any of our facilities.  As the 40 Days effort has come to an end, we want to share what we have learned. The 10 Suggestions:

           I.      Publicly express sincere concerns about patient and public safety. We wrote an editorial which focused on traffic conditions near the clinic and how patients had been affected by the protestors. After the editorial was printed, the protestors stopped harassing patients and obstructing visibility for drivers.     II.      Leave the religious debate to religious organizations. We spoke with supportive local parishioners of many denominations and asked for their help. The Wisconsin Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice held a news conference that received front page coverage and many church leaders explained that their religious traditions do not oppose family planning or, in many cases, abortion. III.      Respect the rights as well as the responsibilities of the protesters. We consistently and publicly expressed our respect for the right to protest, but we also reported any obstruction of clinic entrances or exits (a violation of federal law).   IV.      Maintain Security and Surveillance. We used digital cameras and recorders to record video covering the entrances and exits at all time.  We also took routine photographs of the protesters. We reported the minor acts of vandalism, entrance and exit obstruction, and harassment to local law enforcement and were able to provide the computerized records as well.  

         V.      Act don’t React and have a sense of humor. We hung three large red, white, and blue banners with one word on each one: Condoms Save Lives. When the local newspaper took photos of the protestors, the banners provided a public health message. We also ran general awareness ads on television talking about the services we provide and the value to women’s health. I put up a shadow box with a stone inside, a mallet on the side, and had the glass inscribed “The First Stone – John 8:1-11.” Someone in a hooded sweatshirt stole the mallet, but they left the stone where it was.   VI.      Keep your eyes on the majority. Quantity matters in the political world, where public policy is decided.  Support for contraception and sex education is growing, even within the parishes recruiting protesters. There is no need to belittle our opposition or demean ourselves.VII.      Stay focused on facts, evidence, and your mission.We resisted temptations to be diverted from scientific evidence, provable facts, and the mission of our organization.  Ours is a health services mission of universal access to maternal and child health including reproductive care.  The mission of our opponents is theological and political, so we invited others to speak from those perspectives whenever possible.

VIII.      Follow the law and enforce the law.One of the opponents complained to city zoning officials that the “Condoms Save Lives” banners intruded over the public right-of-way. We moved them to comply and showed the officials photographs of protestor signs placed in violation of the same ordinance. We asked for equal enforcement.    IX.      Thank contributors and supporters. You can never express too much appreciation to your supporters, contributors, and your employees.  Use the opportunity to express appreciation and to network.

         X.      Let them speak!The opposition has been unsuccessful persuading even their parishioners on contraception and sex education. Since their position is fundamentally faith-based and authoritarian, it is unlikely to look rational from other perspectives. At the Women’s Health Speak Out, at our news conferences, in web-postings, in letters-to-the-editor, and even standing in front of our clinics, they communicate quite clearly.  Most people see them as they are and most people disagree with their beliefs and with their tactics.

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