Today, the Supreme Court decided that Massachusetts buffer zone law that endeavored to keep abortion protesters 35 feet away from the entrances of the state’s abortion clinics violates the First Amendment. And, making matters worse, all nine justices agreed. The little folks with their worn out signs of aborted fetuses just got their second wind. Tonight, they’ll be buying new Thermoses to pack that morning coffee so necessary to get out on the street extra early to harass people who are already anxious and stressed. Sadly, this is what it means to some people to have a mission-driven life.
Many years ago when busloads of anti-abortion protesters flooded our city, I paired up with an older friend to be ‘clinic defenders.’ I’d get up very early, before dawn, pick her up at her house and we would drive in the dark to whatever local clinic was rumored to be that day’s target. The trick was to get all of the defenders on site, lined up, arms linked before the protesters showed up. This was difficult because sometimes they switched targets on us so we’d be redeployed to another site, hoping to beat their buses and take our places.
Our job was to be a wall of bodies. A lot of people did this. Businessmen in suits, businesswomen in suits, college students, high school students, and many, many women including me and my friend. I was there because I’d experienced illegal abortion and was absolutely irrevocably committed to reproductive rights and to the concept of abortion being safe and legal for every woman in the country. My friend, a very devout Catholic with loads of friends who were nuns, didn’t believe in abortion. She herself had a slew of kids and her kids did as well. There was nothing better in her book than a new baby, no matter if the mom was 16 or 46.
I asked her why she was doing this with me when she didn’t believe in abortion. “Because it’s nobody’s business, that’s why.”
As the sun came up, the protesters would begin arriving. Then we would be instructed to lock arms and just stand still, not say anything provocative and not make eye contact. We did this even though it sometime seemed overly dramatic because if we didn’t, one or two protesters would start worming their way through the crowd to get at the prime harassing spot next to the clinic entrance. So we would stand like Queen Elizabeth’s castle guards, feeling silly and a little scared, while protesters, almost always men, would stand right in front of us, yelling, cajoling, singing.
One of them started in on my friend, standing so close to us that I could smell the Cream of Wheat on his breath. He told her that she had to know that abortion as a sin, told her that God would judge her for being there protecting the baby murderers. He went on and on for several minutes until she said this:
“You’re an idiot. Shut up.”
I may have never loved a friend as much as I loved her that moment. She was defending the right to do something she would never herself do. She didn’t believe in abortion but she believed in women. I loved that. Take that to the bank, it was precious and right and rare, as it turns out.
So when I first read about the Supreme Court’s decision, I was just disgusted and infuriated even though I believe in the First Amendment more rabidly than the NRA believes in the Second. Great, I thought, now abortion protesters see the green light to just crawl up into people’s uteruses with their stupid signs and chants. Will a woman going to an abortion clinic for what is still a legal medical procedure have to dial up rent-a-cop to have some muscle to deter the crazies? Why should she have to do that?
And then I started thinking about the psychological damage that these protestors inflict on women, but then started to wonder if I was giving the protesters too much credit. Are women so weak and vulnerable that strangers yammering at them will seriously harm them? As it turns out, someone has researched this very question. An article entitled “Effect of abortion protestors on women’s emotional response to abortion” reports that of women who encountered anti-abortion demonstrators at their abortion clinic, 28% reported being moderately, quite a bit, or extremely upset but there was no connection to their later feelings about the abortion itself. In other words, what is the point? If women are not deterred by anti-abortion demonstrators and are upset only in the moment with no lasting impact, where is the benefit for the anti-abortion movement?
Much like the Westboro Church’s bizarre demonstrations at the funerals of military personnel, anti-abortion protesters are acting in their own private passion play, believing that God will love them better if they stand on the sidewalk with their signs and utter their catechism over and over and over and wave to the occasional driver who honks his horn in support and tell each woman entering that she doesn’t need to kill her baby. Then they can go home and feel worthy of God’s love and safe from hell.
It doesn’t work that way but I’m not the one to tell them. It is a free country after all, right?