I don’t stop and talk to every person that protests outside an abortion clinic, let alone other places. But in this case, I was genuinely curious about what this group hoped to achieve. After all, they had to know that everyone attending this party was staunchly pro-choice. So did they really think that they were going to accomplish anything?
The protestor I spoke with thought abortion was so horrible that his morals impelled him—and presumably the other protestors—to show up. He seemed sincere about this, if overly reliant on anti-choice catchphrases. But it still seemed like a waste of time and energy to protest an event where you knew you wouldn’t change anyone’s mind. They weren’t offering assistance to women that might want to continue their pregnancies but not have the resources or support network to do so. They weren’t protesting to increase grants for medical research that could address terrible fetal abnormalities, or funding for programs that help children and support families. They were standing outside a holiday party for an all-volunteer organization so they could tell themselves they did something good by telling complete strangers that what they think and feel is wrong.
It’s their time and energy to waste, of course, but it’s a shame that they couldn’t cease with the rhetoric and have an actual conversation. Some of the most thought-provoking conversations I’ve had about reproductive rights have been with people whose beliefs are diametrically opposed to mine. Whether it’s in-laws, acquaintances, or strangers, the conversations have usually been polite and sincere, and they’ve given me greater insight into how certain views are formed. And that knowledge has helped better focus my own arguments and given me a much deeper understanding about why people are against abortion rights, contraception, and reproductive rights as a whole than I would have gotten just from my own environment.
Some time ago, during a talk I gave, a woman shared a moving story about her pregnancy. The fetus had a severe abnormality, but she chose to continue the pregnancy, even though the outcome was tragic. Her story has stayed with me in part because of the passionate way she told it, and in part because she knew I had a young child. She mentioned this not as an accusation, but in a way that made it plain she was speaking to me as one mother to another.
I told her I was sorry for her loss and glad she’d been able to make the choice that was best for her. Our conversation was brief and I wished that I could have talked with her longer. I had the feeling that she had thought very deeply about pregnancy and choice, and would have some interesting perspectives. But as soon as our conversation ended, one of her companions berated her for talking to me, much less politely.
Why? Because both women were part of Feminists for Life. I find this group incredibly problematic; I know feminists can be against abortion personally, but forming a group with the express purpose of telling, not asking, other women what choices they should make seems particularly anti-feminist. And I have no doubt that there are many other topics that this woman and I would disagree on, not just reproductive rights. But in a country where so many cultural, social and political debates seem to bring out the worst in people, and where our government seems perpetually bogged down by lawmakers who can’t see past their own self-interest, any willingness to discuss different viewpoints and perspectives is welcome.
But back to those protesters outside the DC Abortion Fund party. They had an impact too, albeit not the one they wanted. Their presence encouraged more donations to the organization—and more women being able to access the healthcare that they need.
Sarah Erdreich is the author of Generation Roe: Inside the Future of the Pro-Choice Movement. She lives with her family in Washington, D.C.