Protesting in DC, like in many cities, is not unusual. In a politics-saturated community the telltale signs of a protest–pamphlets, signs, and strangers earnestly approaching passers-by–are nothing new. There are different yet distinct kinds of protesters outside of DC’s Planned Parenthood on Saturdays although nearly of the protestors seem to identify as Catholic, and operate from their religious worldview. Interestingly none of these individual label themselves as protesters. I’ve heard: sidewalk counselor, truth speaker, and ambassador of love.
They may pray for the patients, the souls of ‘the babies’, for the escorts, for the staff, or the closing of the clinic. The most affected was a young man who looked as though he was suffering some kind of stomach cramp as he genuflected outside of the clinic door. Some show up for an hour, and others spend their entire Saturday morning in a public display of their faith.
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A little less skilled than the sidewalk counselor the truth speaker often wears a home-made sign and shouts things like ‘women regret their abortion;’ ‘Abortion is violence against women!’ or ‘let me call a doctor.’ Their drive-by style of advice never garners any real conversation with the patients entering the clinic.
Exchanging pamphlets with each other (between waves of patients) like so many baseball cards this motley crew exchange stories of saves and loss and swap theories about any woman leaving the clinic. Any woman saying ‘I didn’t get an abortion today’ is of course counted as a ‘save.’
‘Ambassador of Love’
Like their cohorts this protestor might be armed with rosaries, or a vessel (previously a jug of orange juice) of holy water. They are more excited about preaching in general. On a recent weekend their message was primarily about the effect of witchcraft on the G20 protests, and how one can lose weight by doing the rosary.
Unlike the ineffectual sidewalk counselor in the movie Juno, the effect of all of these protesters (while often socially awkward) is intimidating. Even with the highly-publicized fence at the Planned Parenthood in Washington they surround cars, block sidewalks, confuse patients and those walking on the street. They might shun the label protester and offer loudly that ‘they are just offering the truth the clinic won’t give’ but their literature is not vetted by any medical community and their praying serves as spiritual bullying.
Those who interact with anyone going into the clinic rely a lot on sexist assumptions of the gender binary. Men are told to ‘be the man’ and ‘save the woman.’ Women are told that motherhood is rewarding, and worth ‘whatever sacrifice.’ Many of these protesters think that either their message, or the insertion of the words ‘love’ and ‘jesus’ should buffer them from patients anger, frustration, or brusqueness. Thos of us volunteering outside of the clinic are told ‘well we are going to be out here together for a while, so lets be friends.’
I don’t do clinic defense to make friends (though I have made a lot of great friends through this work). Hell, I’ve had patients confuse me for a protestor and share a few choice words with me. Whether or not those outside the clinic praying, holding signs, or screaming are misguided, or ‘have the best of intentions’ is beside the point. The reality of their actions is that they do not think enough of any woman to think the woman has made the best, most educated decision for herself.