Rosaries and Ovaries: Standing for Planned Parenthood in Philadelphia
Well, that did not go according plan.
I was sitting in Planned Parenthood, waiting for my annual exam and even though I had a great new novel in my purse, I couldn’t focus. This was partly because they were playing Maid in Manhattan in the lobby but mainly because I’d passed 5 people on my way into the clinic: first, a homeless man sitting outside of a cafe, second, a group of anti abortion protesters.
It’s not the first time they’ve been there and it certainly won’t be the last. (I wrote about another encounter several years ago in my first legitimately viral blog post, “Do I look like a baby killer?“) I usually just walk past them, keeping my head down, wishing I looked a bit more badass and cursing myself for being the sort of person who always says “thank you,” automatically and politely, whether it is deserved or not. I wish I was the sort of person who had the guts to turn around and talk to them- not yell, just talk.
As I sit in the waiting room, however, I get to thinking that perhaps today might be the day. I run through a variety of scenarios in my head, one of which I post to Facebook (“Maybe I should tell them to f*ck off and go feed the homeless instead?”) But this doesn’t seem very Gandhi-like, and despite my love of 4-letter words, I have never once actually told someone to “f*ck off” out loud.
(I my head, yes, plenty of times, but never out loud.)
I think maybe I should be the one to buy the homeless man a coffee, but I’ll buy some for the protesters too to lead by sample and you know, demonstrate my superior Christianity.
Then I think why the hell should I buy these wingnuts coffee when it’s really the Planned Parenthood staff I’d like to buy coffee for? They’re under a lot of pressure right now, and if anyone deserves a little pumpkin spice in their life, it’s the women who work the front desk at Planned Parenthood.
But then I’m thinking how am I going to pay for all of those coffees, and how am I going to carry them and how many would I need exactly? Would the shop give me a few of those little cardboard trays that carry 4 coffees each? And if I could carry 4 coffees in each hand, would I have enough? Are those carry out trays stackable?
Then again, maybe instead of buying coffees for a bunch of office workers and a bunch of strangers I don’t even like, I should just buy one proper meal for the homeless man?
But I don’t have time to decide because I’m distracted by two growths that may-or-may-not-be-hemorrhoids in my nether regions and thanks to Google, I now have myself convinced that I’m probably dying of colon cancer, and, while I’m at it, I should probably update my emergency contract from my dad to my fiancé (because that’s what you do when you get engaged, right?)
As the exam finally gets underway, I’m distracted by other issues of the newly-betrothed, including don’t collect your urine sample with your left hand even though you are left handed and you have always done it this way because you’ll pee on your engagement ring if you do.
And then there’s the question that always accompanies every birth control refill: are you planning a pregnancy within the next year?
I used to say “No!” automatically, but now? Now I have to think about it and I find myself saying, “One year? Probably not, but after that… Yeah.”
When the nurse leaves me to undress, I find myself still rather flummoxed by this, well, this and the fact that I now weigh 153 pounds. I have never weighed 153 pounds in my life! I’m guessing it’s probably just my boots. They should really let you take your shoes off. But then I remember the growths and tell myself it doesn’t matter how much I way because I’m going to probably die of colon cancer before I get married anyway…
I imagine breaking the news to PIC and I picture him telling me, “We’ll get through it. We’ll get through it together” because he is that kind of person and would say exactly that. Before I know it, I’m sitting there half naked in that paper gown getting all teary eyed at the thought of not living long enough to marry PIC and trying to figure out if I could ask my friend Katie to make sure that someone (at least my mother) gets to read all of the half finished novels sitting on my various flash drives…
There’s a knock at the door.
I snap out of it, spread my legs, and am relieved to find that I’m not dying of colon cancer. I have one hemorrhoid and one “skin tag” (which, according to the nurse, is simply something that can happen if you have skin). I get my prescription, pay my co-pay, and head out the door. The women are still there, and they’ve multiplied.
I take a deep breath. I decide that I’m just going to tell them that there are plenty of homeless people around, that they should think about feeding them instead of standing here all morning, and I’m not going to say “f*ck” or anything rude because they’re just little old ladies who think they’re doing the right thing (even though targeting women emotionally vulnerable at Planned Parenthood with their “free speech” is about as tasteful, in my opinion, as protesting war at a soldier’s funeral) but I’ll be passive aggressive enough that I’ll make my point.
They stop praying once they realize I’m talking to them and their ringleader looks at me, all benevolently and grandmotherly like, and says, “Well that’s a good suggestion, we’ll consider it.”
What I should have said was, “Oh really? You hadn’t noticed them before? You haven’t noticed them anywhere else in this city? Are you kidding me?”
But instead I find myself saying, “And look, I just want you to know that I was only here for my annual exam. That I’m not here for an abortion, because Planned Parenthood doesn’t just do abortions, and anyway I would never…”
What the f*ck just happened? Why am I about to say “I would never have an abortion?” That’s not even true. I mean it’s true now– I’m engaged to a great man, who I love very much, and I own a house and he has a good job. We could totally do this and we want to do this, just not right this second– but it hasn’t always been true.
I’ve always been grateful that I’ve been spared having to make that choice, but not knowing what I’d choose doesn’t mean I’m against having a choice.
I’ve been thinking about these sorts of things for a while but that doesn’t mean I’m anymore adept at articulating my thoughts to this firing squad of rosary wielding grandmothers, and even though I’m great at playing devil’s advocate and facilitating fairly meaningful dialogues with my anthropology students, I’m failing miserably this time around. (It’s a good thing I’m not an official spokesperson for Planned Parenthood because frankly, I suck at this.) It’s all so frustrating that I find myself crying (again), right there on the sidewalk, and The Ringleader gives me this look that falls somewhere uncomfortably between genuine compassion and condescending contempt.
When she tells me she’ll pray for me, I get it together long enough to say, “Look, I know I’m getting all emotional but I pass people like you all the time, whenever I come in here, and I thought I ought to at least stop and talk to you, as a fellow woman, to have a conversation.”
She nods. The same could-be-condescending-but-could-be-compassionate-nod. Her cohorts are muttering under their breaths and several won’t look me in the eye. Either way, we go through the usual arguments.
Her: What about the babies?
Me: What about the mothers?
Her: We will help them.
Me: What about rape?
Her: Abortion adds further violence. And violence doesn’t solve violence.
I spend a good ten minutes standing there, too upset to formulate a complete sentence most of the time, knowing full well that Ringleader’s sidekicks probably think I’m a lunatic and that I’ve probably had an abortion myself (perhaps this is the reason I feel the need to assure them that I am, in fact, a Christian, and that my fellow Christian fiancé and I are having a Quaker wedding next spring? That he volunteered for the Pope for crying out loud!) but really my heart is just breaking because even though the firing squad keep telling me it’s not a political issues and they have “no idea” of each other’s political leanings, I know that this is bullshit.
Reproductive choice should not be a political issue, just as climate change should not be a political issue, but it has become politicized and I don’t know how or if this country will ever recover from this damn 2-party system.
All I know is that by the time Ringleader says “I’ll pray for you” (for the second time) and I snap back with “I’ll pray for you, too” (two can play this game, lady!) the homeless man is gone.
Which is, I suppose, then entire point. Keep us busy squabbling over basic human rights and we won’t realize that this system is failing all of us.
21 Responses to “Rosaries and Ovaries: Standing for Planned Parenthood in Philadelphia”
Oh, I would have left my “nice girl” behind and told them to fuck off. These are sick, sick people who believe in “pro-life”, but only when the baby is en utero. Once the child is born, they could care less. If they cared, they would be picketing gun stores…don’t even get me started on this one. There’s no *cough* “christians” like faux christians……
Yeah, I struggle with leaving my “nice girl” behind, which is, I guess, good in some cases. But I agree with you. One of the women said her daughter had adopted children but only because she couldn’t have any of her own. In my head, I was like, “Okay, do you want a prize for that?”
I took a class called “advanced mentoring” a few years ago. At the time I was mentoring an intern at work during the summer (plus he lived with C and I), I was mentoring a 6th/7th grader (first year of three together), and I was helping others with their interns at work. The instructor talked about figuring out how many mentees what you can handle, and doing one less. Up until that point, I was doing everything I could to help everyone, because I didn’t want to say “No” to anyone.
I applaud you for wanting to do it all. You’re right Planned Parenthood employees and volunteers deserve respect and probably a pumpkin spiced coffee. You’re right the protesters could use a coffee to see what kindness is, rather than constantly trying to berate others into sharing their point of view. And you’re right that the homeless person could use a helping hand. But you’re also right to think how can you do all that. It’s a lot to ask of anyone.
So, what I heard from the instructor and what I share with you is: do the most good you can do, where you can do it, when you can do it. If you try to do more than you can do, you may end up not helping anyone.
You’re a good person.
Such wise words!
Agreed. I definitely needed to read this today. I felt (to quite my favorite British rom-com) like a “prize idiot” this morning for the way I handled everything but you’re right: one thing at a time.
I was hoping you were going to post about this, but did not expect this outcome…however I’ve been there and get it! When confronting people who are fed and trained party lines (whatever the issue) they have learned to answer in such a way that they are not really engaging with you, they just repeat things and leave you trying to respond logically which is impossible because they are on auto pilot. I have had to learn, and believe me it takes practice on the front lines, and every new issue, is back to square one for me.
I did find that one time I was able to get this bit in: I explained to the woman (who called me a baby killer as well) that although I would hope that my children would never have to make this difficult choice, that MY children were lucky enough to be born into a family that was educated, solidly middle class incomes, fairly stable and open minded, where discussions about sex and birth control were discussed ad nauseam (don’t snort, I know I didn’t get it right and screwed up your head somewhat, but it was the only way I knew) as well as discussions about their education and finding a career that was fulfilling, and about dating, and more discussions on just about anything else that could lead to an unplanned pregnancy. At this point I was out of breath and finished up with, “NOT everyone has that background and/or support system in place and even if they do, unplanned pregnancies can still happen, have been happening since time began, and when it is illegal, only the rich have access to safe procedures, which is surely not what any God I pray to would approve of.” She continued to talk over me and I kept cool, and kept saying, I can discuss this with you further, if you truly want a dialog, but if you aren’t going to engage in a meaningful way, I’m done.”
Would I have willingly raised a child of yours or Tech Supports??…I would have probably supported the decision to have an abortion…but the real point is, this is REAL LIFE, no one does know how they would react when in this situation, but ONE MUST HAVE THE CHOICE. It is hypocritical to call an embryo a life and then not support this “life” afterwards. There are so many emotional issues and other factors that are not considered after this “embryo” is actually a life, not everyone will be able to give up their child, cultural, socio economonic, and stigmatic barriers, as well as the age of the “mother” all go into play once the baby is born, and who is there to help, NO ONE.
This is the part that gets my goat, and my mom was one of them when she became brain washed, oh they’d have little gifts to give the new moms and throw little parties to congratulate them– what good is that going to be when in 6-8 months that baby is growing, needing more food, shelter and all the rest of it and the mother is at her wits end, because she was never prepared for this in the first place????
ABORTION IS NEVER GOING TO GO AWAY, NEVER! Of course if they have their way, it can become illegal again and then THEY will have to live with the blood on THEIR hands when women are either maimed or killed by going back to the streets to find a way out of this COMPLETELY PERSONAL DECISION.
Yeah, I realized halfway into our “conversation” that they had rehearsed their responses a million times before and that I was way out of my element. When I came home and told PIC, he said, “Why did you do that? By yourself? With six of them?” It’s not a fair fight (and it shouldn’t be a fight anyway).
Oh my gosh. I completely agree!! I saw this after I had replied, but I was attempting to say this. I would stand and clap for you if I could. So well said.
Forgot to say, that I’m so proud of you for walking the walk, it is not, nor will it ever be, an easy thing to do.
I don’t think you should feel too bad about not calling out the protesters. It may have made you feel a little better in the moment, but ultimately it wouldn’t have changed the situation. One of the best (and most frustrating) parts of the US political system is that it encourages differences of opinion. It’s great that we can have them (otherwise we’d still have things like segregation, a lack of women’s suffrage, etc.), but it also allows people to dig their heels in at either end of the political spectrum.
True. Those women certainly weren’t at all interested in changing their minds on anything, and neither was I. My whole interest in talking to them was something that I’ve heard a lot in Quaker circles (Seek first to understand, then to be understood) but the site of sit of them standing there with their rosaries and there sandwich boards and their brochures made me really uncomfortable and I forgot all of my well-intentioned Quakerness by the time we started talking.
Excellent post today…. what your “Landlord no more” said,… Plus do not be so hard on yourself. The fact that you do not want to insult people and wish to consider their positions may disarm you a little but also shows your compassion and that is too often in short supply in the world today. Plus… it is not easy to confront someone, even if you are well versed on the topic at hand. When I was your age, I would have been nowhere near as good at this type of dialogue as you are, it is a growing thing that does not end. I am better now than I was 10 years ago and I will be better 10 years from now…. so do not be so hard on yourself.
I know you are a kind person with a large heart, intelligent and caring as well. Well done daughter, well done.
Thanks I am hoping that if I accomplished nothing else that I least showed them that I (and people like me, who believe in reproductive rights and a woman’s right to choose) am capable of civil dialogue and compassion and am not a total nut job (although I am sure they definitely thought I was, LOL!) And that at least if I stood there taking up their time for 10 minutes, that would add up to 10 minutes worth of Planned Parenthood patients who got in without being bothered.
I had a similar encounter last week. I’m in pharma sales and I call on OB Gyn doctors. I was trying to turn into the clinic but there were protesters. They were taking pictures of those walking in, saying hateful things, and assuming everyone was getting an abortion.
It made my heart heavy. I wanted to tell them to go away, that they don’t see the other side to their protest. Because they think planned parenthood going away will rid us of abortion? Really, all it does is take our attention away from the things that really do matter. That instead of protesting why not volunteer where you can help women make the right decision for them and walk with them through it. I am not firm in my stance on abortion, but I do believe that the majority of women who choose to get them don’t make that decision flippantly. I didn’t say anything to them because I didn’t think they would listen and I didn’t want to force my views on them like they were choosing to do. Maybe I should have though.
Thanks for your post.
Exactly, no one “wants” to have an abortion. Luckily the women I encountered were really just praying- it still felt intimidating but at least they weren’t taking pictures or saying anything really negative. Still though, you’re absolutely right: why not volunteer somewhere that really matters?
Exactly. No one WANTS to get an abortion. I hear you on the “forcing your views” quandary… There is such a fine line between “freedom of speech” and deliberately targeting people who are already in a vulnerable position…
Great post Kat! And many wise responses. Celebrate your achievement of saving a few women from being harassed on the way in and out. Keep your sense of humour too as it helps get things through better
I love this!
“Keep us busy squabbling over basic human rights and we won’t realize that this system is failing all of us.”— I can’t agree with you more. I find myself looking at these people as well and wanting to just talk with them. Working with vulnerable people every single day has allowed more opinions and thoughts in my mind than I ever thought I would ever have, yet I am curious to know why they stand there day after day and what exactly is their hope. What exactly to they think about everything else happening in the world… how do they view politics. Yet, no matter how far we get, we are still wrapped up in the failing system… All of us..
Yep… It’s sad. I was listening to an interview on NPR about gun legislation (as in allowing guns to be carried on college campuses) and I really was trying to wrap my head around that argument even though I fundamentally disagree but it left me feeling the same way 😦