Written by Editor-in-Chief Jodi Jacobson for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.
I want to say a huge personal thanks to the many people from more than 18 states who came to Germantown to help defend the Germantown clinic throughout the week, and to the organizers, whom I will not name, but who have individually spent upwards of 14 hours per day on site defending the clinic. They are there on behalf of all of us. Likewise, I think it is critically important to thank the Montgomery County, Maryland Police Department, which did an excellent job of assisting in clinic defense and in making sure that all stayed peaceful. Finally, thanks go to Dr. Carhart for his courage and determination in providing urgent care to women in need.
Yesterday and this morning, I spent several hours assisting with clinic defense in Germantown, Maryland, where Dr. LeRoy Carhart comes several times a month to see patients who need late abortion care.
Sunday (August 7th) was the last official day of “Summer of Mercy 2.0″ spearheaded by Operation Rescue and other anti-choice groups. During the last week, anti-choice protesters remained at the far end of the office park from the clinic where Dr. Carhart practices, while pro-choice clinic defenders remained at the front of the driveway leading directly to the clinic and on both sides of the street near that driveway. That changed today, because Dr. Carhart was seeing patients, and so anti-choice protesters stood immediately mixed in among the clinic defenders directly across the street from and right at the entrance to the office park. A woman standing directly behind me was praying the rosary for much of the time I was there Monday morning, holding a portrait of the Virgin Mary and asking God to shed light on these “misguided women who know not what they do.”
Overall, the anti-choice movement’s showing in Germantown was paltry, though there were a large number of people on the last day, and Operation Rescue or some other group hired an airplane to do a fly-over photo op, for publicity purposes I am sure. Nonetheless there were are are sufficient numbers to make their presence known to women and their families dealing with crises pregnancies and seeking care from Dr. Carhart.
Three things struck me about the anti-choice protestors who were there. First, their misogyny was on full display. Second, they have apparently brainwashed untold numbers of “young crusaders” spouting unsupported ideology about all manner of issues, some of whom were present at the protest. And third, there was a profound level of invasiveness in the tactics used by anti-choicers that might have been comical if not there were not such a violation of basic dignity.
Consider, for example, the white male anti-choice protester walking down the street, with his three young daughters in tow, who, as he moved among clinic defenders spoke disparagingly about “these defiant women” and “how can there be so many defiant women?…”. Since I did not speak to him, I can not say precisely whom he felt women were defying, but it was pretty clear from the scene writ large that to him, women who were taking their reproductive lives into their own hands were defying [his] God and his notion of patriarchal order.
Across the street and down the block, both male and female anti-choicers held up signs declaring in no uncertain terms: “Women do regret their abortions.” [Emphasis in the original]. I have not spoken to every single woman who ever had an abortion so can not say some do not or have not regretted terminating a pregnancy, though many of us regret lots of choices later in life that we may have made earlier and there is no widespread data backing up the claim that women writ large regret their abortions. But this was not a conditional or “perhaps” statement. It was a statement of indisputable “fact,” by anti-choice protesters about women, all women, who have ever had an abortion. If you had an abortion, you regret it, whether you know it or not. So a person like me, a woman who has in fact had an abortion and never regretted it, is actually in denial, a misguided soul, unable to know my own feelings, unable to really know what I really think, unable to sense or live in or create my own reality, because that reality is not really true, according to anti-choicers. Only what they tell me to think and feel is really true.
If I am defying what they believe to be right and natural, I can not be a whole person. If I do not have independent thought and if what I believe to be independent thought diverges from their ideology, it isn’t independent thought at all. This is misogynistic brainwashing at its most basic because it puts into question any sense that women know what they are doing or can think freely at any time. According to this view, only men and the patriarchal structures of religion and ideology can define what women should think or do, and those who don’t adhere are indeed deviants.
On the theme of patriarchy, another few men held up signs saying “Men Regret Their Lost Fatherhood.” In other words, a woman who has an abortion is denying the right of a particular man to become a father. If you get pregnant and don’t give birth to this man’s child, whether or not you love him, whether or not you are ready, whether or not that man is going to support you and this child for the rest of your and its life if you do give birth to his child, you are denying his right to become a father.
If that is not control over women, I don’t know what is.
Yesterday and again today, anti-choice protestors had used chalk to write “messages” on the sidewalk in front of the office park where Dr. Carhart sees patients. Among these were “Condoms Kill,” and “Only Natural Family Planning Works.”
Apart from the obvious fact that neither one of these “messages” is true–when used correctly, condoms prevent both unintended pregnancy and the spread of sexually transmitted infections, and NFP has a high user failure rate–it was clear that young people among the anti-choicers had bought these messages wholesale.
As I stood alongside two other clinic defenders at the entrance to the driveway, I heard two teen anti-choice protesters trying strenuously to convince two pro-choice defenders that condoms were actually harmful, evil devices that led to multiple sins; that birth control and condoms, especially “those sent to Africa,” were the cause of the spread of HIV and of abortions; and that “babies have souls from the moment of conception.” I then listened further as both of these teens, a boy of perhaps 15 years of age and a girl perhaps 16, both then tried to tell a married mother of three children how easy and fulfilling marriage and childbearing were, and how women fit in the “proper” scheme of things. There were points where I honestly thought these teens were quoting directly from any number of speeches given by Congressman Chris Smith (R-NJ), the man perhaps most directly responsible for needless deaths among women denied care because of the Global Gag Rule.
All I can say is I marveled at the patience my fellow clinic defenders had to engage in this endless discussion that went nowhere. The sight of a couple of privileged white suburban teens telling a mom how easy it “is” to work and raise children was like a scene out of Saturday Night Live only not so funny when you consider that their goal is to make things harder for all women.
After the young people left the scene, an older, 30- or 40-something woman, herself pregnant, stepped in to try to continue battling the demons of the pro-choice contingent. She had previously been standing behind the curb where the teens were talking to my colleagues, listening in and discussing in whispered tones with a man who may have been her husband or a colleague what the teens were saying and “how” they were doing. It suddenly dawned on me that there was an orchestrated effort underway to try to convince the pro-choice mom, or perhaps someone else, to get “saved” on the spot and come to their “side.” They were coming in and reinforcing each other, but had clearly picked the wrong person to try to brainwash.
There’s not much about the anti-choice movement that isn’t invasive. Laws and policies that seek to intrude on women’s ability to exercise their rights to self-determination and to protect their own health and lives are invasive by definition. Think of invasions of your time and personal business, such as waiting periods and legally-mandated but medically-incorrect lectures by faith-driven crisis pregnancy centers, invasions of your ability to make health decisions, such as denials by pharmacists to fill prescriptions, or literal invasions of your body, such as forced trans-vaginal ultrasounds mandated by law.
In Germantown, I found yet another form of invasion. Right across the office-park street from where Dr. Carhart practices is a Crisis Pregnancy Center. As I walked back there to see the clinic, I passed by the CPC. Squatting in plain site in the bare window was a woman training a large pair of binoculars on the door of Dr. Carhart’s suite. It reminded me of a scene out of a war zone, in which someone is watching from the trenches with binoculars for any sign of movement. It might have been funny if it weren’t so ridiculous and potentially threatening. Who was she looking for? First of all, you wouldn’t need binoculars to see who was coming and going because the pass-through is very narrow, more so than your average neighborhood street. But to see someone there with binoculars is obviously intended to further invade any privacy that might be left to women entering the clinic, to further aggravate other people doing business in the office park, and perhaps to try to intimidate Dr. Carhart.
It’s part of the overall prurience of the anti-choice movement. Imagine for a second this was in fact your street and your home was Dr. Carhart’s office. If you had a neighbor directly across the street from you who stood at their window all day long with binoculars trained on your front door and/or windows, you might at least be forgiven for thinking the person to be some sort of pervert or a person with a mental illness. It would be and is a clear invastion of your privacy. This is no different.
And it doesn’t stop there. A male anti-choice protester, in sunglasses, a button-down shirt and tie, stood outside the doorway to the office suite just steps away from the door to the one where Dr. Carhart practices, facing toward his door and talking loudly at anyone going in and out. This would be a violation of the FACE Act if not for the fact that the landlord of that particular office suite is apparently also an anti-choice advocate who is allowing other antis to use his suite as harassment ground-zero. Next to the man was a teenage boy who had earlier been stopping cars going in and out of the office park to give them “some information,” which turned out to be a flier containing lies about Dr. Carhart and his practice, again meant to aggravate and intimidate other people coming in and out of the office park no matter their business. Do this enough, I suppose the anti-choicers figure, and others in the office park will become tired enough of this form of harassment to turn against Dr. Carhart.
This invasion of women’s rights and women’s privacy, the invasion of a doctor practicing medicine, and of a community trying to go about its business will take place every time Dr. Carhart is in town. The short time I spent there the past few days taught me firsthand just how critical is the work of those people who provide clinic escort services, week in and week out. They need all of our help and support on an ongoing basis.