Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Anti-Choice Protesters: "Freedom of Speech" vs. "Abuse"

A few weeks ago I drove out to Granite City, along with our newest seminary interns, Chris and Arik, to support the Hope Clinic during their morning appointments. For three hours, me and a bunch of seminary students stood in front of the clinic holding signs that said, “My Church is Pro-Choice,” “Women Deserve Compassion, Not Condemnation” and “Abortion is a Moral Choice.”

On the sidewalk outside the clinic, a crowd of at least 70 protesters gathered to sing and preach and scream at the women walking into the clinic. They told the women they hoped when they went to hell, they’d have to look into the face of the fetus they aborted and hear it’s screams for eternity. How horrible is that? Even worse, they were especially hostile towards the African American women walking into the clinic-- accusing them of being racist by aborting a black baby (yet this was not an argument they used for white women). They tried every tactic, getting as personal as possible in order to get the woman’s attention. Several times they got personal enough to hit a nerve, and the woman they targeted burst into tears. And when there were no women to harass, they started in on us.

When I woke up that morning I was feeling as emotionally strong as I ever have. Yet driving home from the clinic, I found myself feeling sad and dejected, and I didn’t know why.
I asked myself:
“Do I whole-heartedly believe in a woman’s right to choose?”
“Do I think the women coming into the Clinic were doing something wrong?”
Absolutely not.
“Do I feel like I was doing something good by being at the clinic and supporting the patients, staff and doctors?”
So why do I feel so bad right now?

The fact is, even when you whole-heartedly believe in your cause, being screamed at is awful. Even when you know the words that are being screamed at you are not true, having that much hate directed at you hurts. After three hours of being emotionally bullied, those negative comments do make you feel like crap.

This especially made me feel for the women there for an appointment. Honestly, I don’t know how I would be able to deal with all that hatred if I were already feeling emotionally strained from the stressful experience of an unplanned pregnancy-- a time when I know any unkind word would be especially hurtful and damaging to my ability to cope with the situation. It especially made me feel for the many women who grew up attending a church that spouted similar condemning rhetoric, but still found themselves needing abortion care.

As I watched woman after woman being yelled at, approached, and even getting her picture taken by the protesters, I kept wondering, “How in the world is this legal?” Many clinics have attempted to protect their patients with criminal lawsuits against protesters. But unfortunately, by invoking their first amendment, most of the protesters have gotten away with what I see as very un-American, intolerant behavior. I do believe in freedom of speech, but I don’t believe in freedom of abuse. And the words spoken by the protesters was nothing short of abusive.