Last Friday, my friend asked for a ride to the Women’s Health Center in New Orleans (one of only two clinics in the city that offer abortion procedures). Unfortunately, Friday was also the pre-game event for Operation Save America’s annual anti-choice rally, which takes place in a different city each year. This year, they elected to darken the doorstep of the Big Easy.
Although the ‘festivities’ only began in earnest on Saturday, an advanced guard of the organization’s biggest, brightest, and loudest (including Pastor Bill Shanks, who heads a fundamentalist church in Kenner, and the organization’s national director, Reverend Flip Benham—Yes. Flip.) were out in force, waggling placards displaying badly photo-shopped pictures of deceased infants and generally making a nuisance of themselves.
Most of us don’t particularly want the gospel aggressively rammed down our throats at the best of times, least of all when we’re on our way to a medical appointment. But, fueled by years of keyboard warrior-ing and Facebook debates, and angered by the fact that this group were somehow permitted to protest right outside the front door of the clinic, I side-stepped their attempt to coax my friend into a gentle conversation about how she was a baby murderer, and volunteered as tribute.
If you’re ever similarly motivated to hurl your finely honed rhetoric at these people, let me give you a tip: don’t bother. I talked to them so you don’t have to! (And it’s an hour and a half of my life that I will never get back). What follows is a list of things you’re likely to hear an anti-choice protester say:
- “If that baby could talk, what would it say?”
This was first in a long line of baffling ‘arguments’ put to me by OSA. Even framed as a rhetorical question, this one still makes about as much sense as asking “If I were a dog, what kind of astronaut would I be?”. But I realized early on that the nuances of rhetoric are not OSA’s strong suit, and no, they actually expected me to answer this. Since this is a speculative fallacy, there is of course, no answer. My response of “But it can’t!” was met with “But what if it could?”
- “What if your mother had aborted you?”
This falls along the same lines as the first speculative fallacy, and is designed to makes you feel indignant and upset at the prospect of your retroactive termination. I guess I was supposed to feel wounded that in some parallel universe a little me never got the chance to ride a bike or fall in love or get high and play Mario Kart. Unfortunately, their follow up argument (“We wouldn’t even be having this conversation!”) just made me wish fervently that I had been aborted.
- “If they don’t want the baby, we will take it in!”
This was in response to my observation that many women are not in the emotional, psychological, or financial position to have a baby (I didn’t even bother raising the issue of babies conceived as the result of sexual assault, or women who cannot or should not carry for health reasons—I sensed the OSA’s response to such a query might make me guilty of actual murder).
On the surface, this argument doesn’t seem so bad. Perhaps there are women out there who would be willing to carry a fetus to term and then deliver it into the hands of an organization that burns the Qur’an, actively oppresses LGBTQ kids, and who, in 2011, stalked and harassed a medical professional. After all, the OSA members I spoke to presented this option to me as an alternative to giving the child up for adoption, when I noted that of the 449 thousand children under government care in 2012, only 52 thousand were adopted, and after I pointed out the numerous problems with the US foster care system.
When I questioned Pastor Bill’s ability to provide care for all of America’s unwanted children, he asserted, with a smile, that their organization had “unlimited resources!” When I asked how, his smile broadened, and he gestured to the sky.
So sure, why not! Go through nine months of physical and psychological exhaustion carrying a baby you do not want, and then give it to Flip Benham and his troupe of resource-rich spiritual warriors! Hoorah!
Only of course, while researching this piece, there’s no actual information on, or accounts of, Operation Save America ever formally taking in any unwanted babies. Ever.
- “A woman’s highest purpose is to bear children!”
Up until this point, the OSA hadn’t really personally offended me. Sure, I thought they were all completely wrong (and was somewhat agitated by their insistence on referring to a cluster of cells as a ‘baby’, which may or may not have prompted me to fist punch the air and yell “GO ZYGOTES!”). Sure, their arguments were weak, riddled with logical fallacies, and supported by a strong adherence to the kind of fundamentalist doctrine that I believe does more harm than good. But they were entitled to their opinions, and they were entitled to express them. I was even willing to hand it to them that perhaps they truly had provided spiritual counselling to women who were later happy not to have terminated their pregnancies.
Then Pastor Bill told me my sole purpose in life was to become a baby factory. Oh, and to love the husband that God would provide for me (“He’ll be the kind of guy who you can look up to—someone you’ll be happy to serve and to please—someone strong and honest. That’s the guy God has picked out for you!”). Thanks, Jesus! Where can I meet this mystery man? I can’t wait to pop out infants, shine his shoes, and make sandwiches for all eternity.
- “The unborn children have rights, too. We’re here to advocate for those that can’t talk. People in comas can’t talk: should we kill them?”
This sort of false equivalency is so batshit insane that I was not sure where to begin when trying to respond to it. See, there’s really no arguing with people who legitimately believe that a first trimester fetus displays the same brain activity as a coma patient. The development of the fetal brain during the first trimester is equivalent to that of a shrimp, and “is hardly a brain that could sustain any serious mental life”, according to this New York Times article authored by psychology professor Michael Gazzaniga. And regardless, to equate the value of a cluster of cells with no consciousness, no memory, and no autonomous form to that of a living, breathing person—with a history, with a family, friends, children of their own—seems utterly absurd, if not downright offensive.
- “If I was out here cutting up cats, people would have a problem with it.”
So, sure, their arguments were ridiculous. But barring the steely-eyed woman who screamed “MURDER IS A SIN! YOU’RE GOING TO HELL!” at a young lady attempting to enter the clinic, most of the people I spoke with directly were affable, friendly, and polite. They asked for my first and last name (upon finding out my surname is ‘Groom’, one elderly lady gushed “JESUS is your Groom! He’s grooming you for salvation!”), chatted with me about what I was studying and what I did for work, and shared personal stories of how they came to believe in God. Well, okay. Fair enough. That’s really quite sweet, isn’t it?
Until you realize that this is all an attempt to throw you off guard so as to railroad you into an impromptu baptism.
“You say you believe in God,” Pastor Bill said to me “But you and I, we’re not on the same level. Why don’t you let us pray for you? Why don’t you let Jesus Christ into your heart right now, here, with us?”
This is how OSA works: they ramble tirelessly about how much they care, how much they’re trying to help, so that they can blindside vulnerable people into sidewalk salvation. A cursory look at their blog is evidence enough that they have no real interest in the well-being of pregnant women or the children those women might bear: the women who give in, who agree to be prayed over, or who turn away from the clinic (for whatever reason—very likely because they don’t want to deal with actual insane people) are tallied up and used as statistical evidence of OSA’s ‘progress’. What they lack in logically sound argument, OSA make up for in denial so powerful and so strong that they can turn the hour I spent arguing with them into this:
One young lady with rainbow colored hair and tattoos heard the Good News from Pastor Bill. She spent a half hour asking questions about the nature of the Kingdom of God. Please pray for her salvation.
While the OSA are in town, the New Orleans Abortion Fund will be offering escorts (or as the propaganda machine of the OSA are terming them, “deathscorts”) for women attending the Causeway clinic, and the Women’s Health Center on General Pershing. NOAF are encouraging people not to protest in response to the OSA, since such displays may escalate quickly and put counter-protesters and patients at risk. Instead, their focus is on ensuring the clinics stay open this week, and that women are still able to safely access healthcare. Instead, they’re calling for folk to call their local legislators and councilmembers; a wise move since Governor Bobby Jindal signed off on legislation in early June that calls to block the opening of a new Planned Parenthood facility, and to close the remaining abortion clinics in New Orleans and Baton Rouge.
After declining their offer to bathe me in the blood of the lamb (or whatever), I made my excuses and attempted to get back to my car.
“Did you tell your friend to kill her baby?” one protestor asked me, completely straight-faced. She was unmoved when I pointed out that I don’t actually advocate for the slaughter of infants—or even embryos.
“That’s up to my friend,” I told her. “It’s her body, and her choice”.
Before I left, Pastor Bill shook me by the hand and slipped me his card.
“When we last held this rally in New Orleans, in 1995, there were 12 clinics abortion clinics in the city” he told me. “Now, there are two. What does that tell you?”
Once again, I was faced with a question to which I had no response.
Kia Groom is founding editor of Quaint and an MFA candidate at the University of New Orleans. She writes stuff and takes a perverse pleasure in arguing with idiots. Please pray for her salvation. She tweets @whodreamedit.