Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Anti-Abortion Etiquette

Warning: rant to follow.

Sunday was the 33rd anniversary of Roe v. Wade. As is our local custom, the pro-choice community held a commemorative event, which featured a showing of the new documentary film, Sacred Choices and Abortion: Ten New Things to Think About. The film explores the pro-choice history and traditions of Judaism, Islam, and Christianity. It is a serious, thought-provoking, well-made film.

And the mistake that we made is that we didn't use the discussion guide, which would have helped to focus discussion for the pro-choice community. Instead, we allowed an open forum, so that the discussion was led, not by thoughtful reflection, but by scripted questions from a small percentage of antis who were in attendance.

Now, let me be clear. I think it's important for people on opposing sides - or in what Naomi Wolf would call the "mushy middle" of this debate - to educate themselves about the different perspectives on the issue as well as about the actual facts of abortion - when it happens, how it happens, why it happens, etc. And I generally don't have a gut reaction to seeing people whom I know to disagree with me on this issue at events that are pro-choice - unless they are there as protestors (and I really don't like that, but as they say, I'll defend their right to be there). I do have a few friends who are pro-life, even though I'm an activist for reproductive freedom (though this group of friends keeps getting smaller because they keep changing their position and becoming pro-choice - I wish they'd cut that out, as it ruins the diversity of my friendship group). I can respect the pro-life position, and I've more than once gone well outside of my comfort zone in order to try to understand this position and to facilitate thoughtful discussion. And I'll do it again.

But, I naively expect a few things in return. I expect not to be harassed (which I have been, and my stories are really piddling compared with those of the women and men I know who are more visibly associated with pro-choice politics). I expect to be treated with civility. And, I expect that when we hold an event, the people in attendance who are there because they disagree will not showboat and attempt to change our minds with feeble arguments. I can understand that they would feel upset and moved to speak, but there are times for that kind of interaction, and there are other times for listening quietly.

The antis at this event were not really disrespectful - certainly not in comparison with others I've encountered. When they prayed for us, they did so quietly in another room so that we only found out about it when we happened by after the event. They didn't put up those little white crosses that arrogantly assume that every fetus would have been born a Christian. They didn't display the doctored photos of first trimester abortions. But they were annoying because they came in with the intent of making their position heard - and I know this, because one of them was literally reading from a script. I suppose it makes sense, and they certainly had the right to be there. It's just that it's a pretty ineffective way to deal with the pro-choice community in this town, which is a pretty pissed-off community, too, given the way that abortion rights in SD have been eroded. So we were not only annoyed, but we were also grumpy.

"How many pro-choice people have had abortions?" This was meant to imply, I think, either that pro-choice people are only pro-choice because they themselves haven't been through an abortion, or that pro-choice people are only pro-choice in order to avoid feeling guilty about having had an abortion - you just can't win with these people. And this was the first comment made after the film, in what was supposed to be a discussion about the film itself.

"You have a choice whether or not to have sex." This suggests that pregnancy is a consequence of or even punishment for sex, and that those who have sex deserve to get pregnant. The immediate response, of course, is that many women don't actually choose to have sex but are forced to, but I think it's important not to give credibility to the argument that those of us who do have sex by choice are doing something we oughtn't, something we should be punished for.

I want to point out that, if I choose to have sex, I am educated about birth control and I have the financial resources and a car to get me to a facility (of which there are still a couple in my town) that will sell me birth control. I therefore have the ability to control my fertility, and my God, my religion, my doctor, my Constitution, and my mommy all support me in this. So I don't see pregnancy as a consequence of sex in some weird game of whose morals are the best and who is most open to what God is handing out. I see pregnancy as something that women can, if given the information and the resources, control. And the fact that the same people who are telling me that my choice lies only in whether or not I have sex are also telling me that I must remain abstinent until marriage and that children and teenagers must not be given any other sexual education other than this - well, that makes me see red.

Bottom line, folks. If you're heading over to your local pro-choice community event with the intent of registering your disapproval, keep in mind that we already know you exist and we already know what you think. If you really want to affect the abortion debate, then go with the intent of listening to find out what the other side thinks. Notice that we are concerned with the societal issues that affect abortion, and think about what you can do to address those. Facilitate dialogue to try to find common ground so that we can move beyond the polarization and try to find some way to work together to reduce the number of abortions.

But don't hijack the discussion, and don't make stupid comments. It really doesn't help your side, and it just makes us think unkind thoughts about you.

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