It's time to expose anti-choice protesting for what it really isBy Marissa Cornelius | 10/04/2016 6:21pm
It is early on a September Saturday morning, the coolness of the dawn already fading fast with the advent of Alabama heat. On Jack Warner Parkway, two groups are congregating at an unassuming business center near the McFarland onramp. Though the Ole Miss versus Alabama football game is just a few hours away, a different conflict is brewing outside of the West Alabama Women’s Center.
Every week, a group of anti-choice protestors stand in the one designated strip of public parking near the West Alabama Women’s Center, one of only four abortion providers in the entire state of Alabama. They have signs equating abortion to the Holocaust, with glaring red swastikas clear for every woman entering the clinic to see. They shout aggressively at the women arriving to their appointments, entreating them to come talk to them. This group of mainly older white men also decide to insert race into the conversation: they yell at an African-American couple walking towards the clinic: “I thought black lives mattered?” Needless to say, the presence of these protesters is deeply upsetting to women entering the clinic for what should be a personal and private matter.
A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of volunteering with the West Alabama Clinic Defenders. This dedicated group of individuals wears bright vests emblazoned with the words “Pro-Choice Clinic Escort,” and help walk women, couples, and families from their cars to the clinic.
They let the patients know that although protestors are present, they are not legally allowed to leave from the area from where they are protesting. The escorts attempt to engage the patients in light conversation, hopefully distracting them from the garish signs with highly triggering images of fetuses and the ever-present shouting. In what is often one of the most vulnerable and emotional moment in many women’s lives, the clinic defenders attempt to provide the compassion that the cross sitting proudly in the anti-choice camp is actually supposed to represent.
One vivid memory from my time working with the escorts will forever be emblazoned in my mind: a woman dropped off by her boyfriend while he went to go find parking. She had her sweatshirt hood drawn tightly around her face, her eyes downcast and her body language defensive. The car stopped in front of me as they read the all-capital “PRO-CHOICE” on my vest. She got out of the car, and as I walked her to the door of the clinic, she looked at the protestors and said to me, “I’m already so scared and nervous. Why do they have to stand here and shout at me and make it that much worse?” Of course, I had no answer for her. What rationale can you provide for people who warp Christianity into justifying the harassment of women?
Perhaps I can understand (though I disagree with) the belief that life begins at conception and should be protected. What I do not, and cannot, understand, is how yelling at vulnerable women and exposing them to horrific images will help to end abortion. If these protestors truly wanted to lower abortion rates, they would fight for expanding free contraception and better sex education in high schools. A Washington University study done in 2012 proved that providing free birth control to women reduced unplanned pregnancies and abortions anywhere from 62 to 78 percent compared to the national average.
Of course, they then may argue that if abortion is illegal then it will not occur at all. This has been proven false. The Guttmacher Institute estimates that there were nearly 200,000 and 1.2 million illegal abortions in the '50s and '60s before the passage of Roe v. Wade.
Additionally, illegal abortions were responsible for nearly one-fifth of all maternal deaths in 1930. Criminalizing abortion does not prevent it. All it does is ensure that more women will die. Thus, if these protestors are so committed to life, their time is clearly better spent lobbying state and local governments for expansions to programs like Planned Parenthood, which helps low income women receive contraception.
Many anti-choice protestors know these facts, though, and continue to stand outside of the West Alabama Women’s Center, and clinics just like it all across the country, and harass women. If this is the case, their anti-choice views have mutated from a belief in protecting life into one that exists solely to control women and prevent them from exercising full authority over their own bodies. It is time to expose their protesting for what it truly is –– not filled with love for unborn children, but rather, with a hatred for women.
Marissa Cornelius is a junior majoring in secondary education. Her column runs biweekly.