Finding Hope in the Madness of Anti-Choice Politics
It was by no means my first rally. At the tender age of 11, I had vehemently declared myself pro-choice and have been actively involved in political organizing and demonstrating ever since. My family, a fairly moderate group of people, never quite understood what the draw was for me, but it never really mattered. I can still remember my first rally vividly, the 2004 March for Women’s Lives held in Washington DC. I was instantly drawn to the magnetism and strength I found in women supporting each other and each other’s choices, and since then I have never wavered in my passion for securing women’s reproductive justice.
Having attended many pro-choice rallies and marches, I was used to the backlash I often received from the anti-choice protestors. I have been called a “murderer”, a “baby-killer,” and other terrible and hurtful names, but their name-calling only made me saddened…for them. For the people I encountered, this was their only way of scratching at the emotional side of abortion politics. I have always been proud to say I put my faith in science, where emotion does not even belong. Despite my varied experiences with political activism, arriving on the steps of the Supreme Court on Monday for the anniversary of the landmark Roe v. Wade decision, I felt overwhelmed and helpless.
I still don’t know if it was absolute thoughtlessness on my behalf, or because I only subscribe to pro-choice and feminist e-mail servers, but I had no idea that the vigil sponsored by the National Organization for Women (NOW) was held on the same day as the March for Life, the annual anti-choice march through the city of Washington. As I hopped off the bus and made my way to the Supreme Court, the sheer number of people involved in this march was enough to take my breath away. Witnessing all of these small children carrying signs around our nation’s capital with pictures of aborted fetuses on them was enough to give me a mild panic attack. Matters only became worse as somehow, I was pushed into the crowd of anti-choice protestors and began frantically searching for a way to get out. Tears began flowing down my face as I felt myself literally and figuratively surrounded by people who spend so much time and energy trying to take away my choices, my reproductive rights as a young woman.
Nearly a half hour had passed before I was able to make my way to a Capitol Policeman to ask for assistance. “Where are all of the sane people?!” I questioned him. I clarified by explaining I was not a part of the anti-choice movement and was looking for the people who were there to celebrate women’s lives and their choice of when and how to start a family. He said he didn’t know. I sighed.
I continued along in what I can only describe as a semi-crazed jog, hoping that I might be able to find pro-choice activists somewhere in the crowd. And then I saw them. There were only about 40 people, in a crowd of 400,000 anti-choice protestors, but seeing them was liberating. I immediately joined them, placed a “Keep Abortion Legal” sticker on my jacket, and grabbed the largest “Good women have abortions” sign that I could find. Finally, I could begin to breathe a little easier.
I was extremely quiet for the first hour or so at the rally, which anyone who knows me also knows this is very out of character. In fact, I had a few pro-choice allies comment that I was one of the quietest people there that day. It didn’t last long. Once I had regained my composure and felt at ease with the other feminists, I began listening to the conversations the pro and anti-choice people were having, and I couldn’t help but join. I wasn’t there to have an argument, but I also wasn’t going to sit back and watch these hateful attacks on women continue without contributing my input.
Surprisingly, I found that many of the anti-choice protestors there were interested in engaging me in conversation. I attribute this to the fact that I am a rational, sane and respectful individual. I made it clear before interacting with anyone that I was not there to scream, and I would not tolerate anyone screaming at me either, especially attacks directed at my character. Everyone I spoke to agreed and we ended up having very thoughtful and civil conversations. One young man I spoke to for about 45 minutes from topics ranging from abortion to spirituality and premarital sex. Clearly, our views were opposite on almost every subject, but I learned a great deal from him and looking back, I can reflect on that conversation with pride.
As the march subsided and anti-choice groups began to make their way back home, the pro-choice women and men emerged and united. Sometimes people may find it easier to unite around common hatred, but that day, we were united for a woman’s right to choose and that is nothing but love. Standing together in the cold January rain at the foot of the Supreme Court steps, it was hard to deny the joy the women, young and old alike, felt coming together for a common cause. It can be difficult, especially working at a women’s health organization, to witness the daily attacks on women’s reproductive and family planning services. Some days you feel nothing but defeat. But times like these are when I feel most alive, when I feel like I can accomplish anything and when I truly have hope for future generations and the future of our nation. I may have started the day feeling overwhelmed and powerless, but as I waited for my train in Union Station holding my “Keep Abortion Legal” sign, a woman cautiously approached me. She whispered “Thank you for standing up for our rights today” and walked away leaving me alone with a smile on my face from ear to ear.
She may never realize how much that small comment meant to me. But it was exactly what I needed to remember why I fight what sometimes feels like an endless battle with Conservative politicians over family planning services and reproductive health care. I do not stand and march at pro-choice rallies solely for my reproductive rights, or the rights of my mother or sister or aunts. It is for the thousands of woman across this country, who feel they cannot, or are unable to, advocate for themselves that I stand and rally time after time.