Into the heart of an activist

This post is not your standard SF fare. I’m going to veer on to a different track for this one to get a bit personal to talk about the mechanics of our work.

Last week we posted “Why we’re pro-choice” in honor of the 34th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision. There were a lot of great comments posted on this important commemoration.

I posted this:

“The anti-choice messengers regularly remind me why I am pro-choice. Usually, those who are against us on reproductive freedom are white men, and when I see them, one word comes to mind. Patriarchy.” – Andy, Harrisburg

I’ve been thinking about this all week. In two years with the ACLU of PA and more than six years in the anti-death penalty movement, I’ve had the pleasure of meeting and working with a lot of great people, people who are working for justice in a wide variety of ways. And some of them happen to oppose legal abortion.

Now, I am pro-choice because I believe that a woman should have the right to control her body without interference from the government. And I am deeply concerned that attempts to stop abortion are rooted in patriarchy. It might not even be conscious for some, but the foundation of anti-abortion fervor could very well be in the ancient desire to control women or the belief that men have a right to control women, which, as we all know, was quite prominent until only very recently.

But I kept thinking back to what I said and to those whom I’ve befriended who happen to be anti-abortion. These are folks who work hard every day to protect civil rights, including not only for racial minorities but also religious minorities and lesbians and gays. They’re standing up for immigrants and willing to speak out in favor of treating newcomers to our country with dignity and respect. They are working toward a more just criminal justice system, which is too often plagued by discrimination and other problems that border on atrocities.

And they happen to oppose abortion. I respect these folks and consider them my friends, and when I thought back to my own words, I wondered what they would think if they happened to read them.

Then on Saturday, I came across this passage in Barack Obama’s book The Audacity of Hope:

The reason the doctor was considering voting for my opponent was not my position on abortion as such. Rather, he had read an entry that my campaign had posted on my website, suggesting that I would fight “right-wing ideologues who want to take away a woman’s right to choose.” He went on to write, “I sense that you have a strong sense of justice and of the precarious position of justice in any polity, and I know that you have championed the plight of the voiceless. I also sense that you are a fair-minded person with a high regard for reason…Whatever your convictions, if you truly believe that those who oppose abortion are all ideologues driven by perverse desires to inflict suffering on women, then you, in my judgment, are not fair-minded.”

Again, I thought back to my comment from Monday’s post and of those I’ve worked with who happen to be against legal abortion.

I believe that we can make great progress toward a more just society if we open ourselves to working with those with whom we sometimes agree and sometimes disagree. If we do this from a place of mutual respect, we can make tremendous strides.

Andy in Harrisburg

5 thoughts on “Into the heart of an activist

  1. If those who oppose abortion rights win, then (legally) the choice is prohibited.

    If those who favor abortion rights win, then those who oppose abortion are not compelled to have one.

    It doesn’t matter what the motiviation of opposition is, nor how sincerely the position is heald. What matters is that closing off the choice closes it off for everyone, while permitting choice does not compel those opposed. The situation is not symetric.

  2. Andy, you have a point. I’ve noted over the years, at least since the early 70’s, that in national polls the majority of Americans support access to abortion in some form. But state legislatures, dominated by males, have overwhelmingly voted, when the issue is before them, to outlaw abortion or severely restrict it. A recent case in point is the disconnect in South Dakota between the male dominated legislature that voted to ban abortion and the electorate who opposed them. And that was in a very conservative state.

    But then in my weekly stint as a Planned Parenthood escort, I encounter screaming protesters who are about 90% women. Of course, that disparity may be a function of who works full time and who doesn’t. But it’s interesting to watch.

    As for dialogue being desirable, I couldn’t agree more. Since I started escorting I’ve tried to strike up civil conversations with most of the protesters (we see mostly the same people year in and year out), but have succeeded with only two people out of, perhaps, 100 or so. Most are too bent on throwing Jesus or God in my face, making any conversation impossible. But then protesters probably represent the extreme. I’d love to see more dialogue between people on opposite sides of the fence, believing that only good can come from it, but how one starts it on a large scale presents a real challenge.

  3. To give a little more detail, we’re doing some work on other issues with some who are anti-choice. Through that work, I have built positive relationships with them, and after I wrote that, I started to worry that speaking poorly about this issue could torpedo our work on other issues.

    We’re lucky here at ACLU-PA that we have some leaders who know how to talk about these issues in a way that makes our point without throwing bombs. I’m still working on that.


  4. “after I wrote that…”
    The original post on Jan 22, that is.

    And the irony is that when we are measured in the way we discuss issues (I’m speaking in general now) we actually are more likely to win people over. Yesterday a few of us were in a meeting in which a House committee hearing from a few years back came up in discussion. A witness at this hearing who is against us on an issue said something so over the top that even her supporters were left in shock. When that happens and when we speak wisely, we leave the impression that we are the ones who are reasonable and mainstream.


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