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Reflections on “Conversations with Anti-Abortion Protesters”

I seem to possess an insatiable urge to know, to understand, to feel and yet go unnoticed if possible. I’ve been awestruck by the human condition. So often I find myself slightly removed, as if watching a Discovery documentary on the tele. I can’t help but notice their habits, choice of words, how one reacts in the context of the situation at hand. I’m eternally studying.

I sought them out without knowing what I’d unearth. Waking up late, I assumed it’d be trying to find protesters out in midmorning, but there were the Gardners on a congested street corner next to a Burger King and Carta bus stop. Kathy pushed baby dolls in a stroller, and John toted a laced bonnet plastic baby across his chest. At the sight of them, I felt compelled to know them. It didn’t matter that I’m Pro-Choice. There was no intent for debate or quarrel. Something in me wanted to be witness to their story, and if they had not wanted ears to listen, surely they wouldn’t be such public advocates for their beliefs. So I grabbed a small notepad, pen and my camera, and walked to Kathy to shake her hand. And so the hour began…

John is the fire, all consuming is his passion for this cause and his lord. Kathy the quiet woman of few words that concedes the spotlight for him. She’s heard these stories for years. Seen John trial and error for seventeen years. And he barely stops for breath as he speaks, trying to get out the stories and memories as if time is dying away. They stand in the heat, and drivers honk in concurrence to their signs or yell for choice. And now I’m seeing the documentary from another perspective, I have treaded on the ground of the other, and to strangers, I am automatically affiliated with the Gardners.

My plight, my purpose in this was to expand my horizon of knowledge. I no longer wanted to stop at the black and white line of Pro-Life and Pro-Choice, two sides that speak through painted signs. I wanted to crack the visage of stereotypes and propaganda from all facets in this complex social issue and see those that hide beneath the umbrella terms of these stances.

What I found was a man of dedication and passion. He is no couch potato advocate, cursing at the socio-political world through the safety net of a house and a glass fronted box. Three days a week he is out, he is active, he hopes to change the minds of a world he thinks is lost, even if it’s one person at a time. I was more concerned of Kathy, who’s short history of active participation with her husband surprised me. I waited thirty minutes for John to rest his tongue so I could delve into her story. Where had she been for fifteen years while he attended protests, wrote letters, and stood on town corners? Why so invisible for so long? But I could get so little from her. All she spoke of was killing babies is wrong, and the pictures, and the women who changed their mind, her family. She told me that she has a niece who is addicted to drugs but decided abortion is wrong and had her children, though they no longer speak to a mother whose bond is best with alcohol and highs. It seems her mission stops at having the babies, but who helps raise those babies up to women and men? What resources are they promised and actually given? There is so much entailed with the idea of not just “giving” life but “sustaining” life, “nurturing” life.

I tried to play with that idea awhile, hoping she’d bite. Why no other avenues for this activism? But she only cited counseling onsite at clinics, hoping women changed their minds at the last minute. I thought, “What about pregnancy prevention? Free birth control for women?” It seemed the only prevention of importance was abortion prevention, as I found adoption is somewhat looked down upon as well, though still preferable to the alternative.

And the Feminist in me was wanting to shake her. I wanted her to think beyond John, beyond biblical. What do you, as Kathy Gardner, think of this situation? But asking a person to strip herself of the contexts that link to her identity and thus, analysis and understanding of the world, is somewhat impossible. She organizes her cosmos around her marriage and religion, and it is the functions of her life, it is the story she is a part of, and I wonder if she realizes she could write another tale to be protagonist of.

When my friends asked what I did with my Saturday, I got various reactions to sharing that I interviewed and photographed anti-abortion protesters. My Pro-Life friends seemed surprised, but I think more so in the fact that I didn’t debate especially since I’ve likely debated the issue with these friends. And I do not deny that I get quite impassioned…excessively analytical…irked…loud…sometimes resorting to name calling and hanging up the phone. Other friends have enjoyed being audience to me in full debate mode, never seeing me more on point and countering with well thought reasons. My Pro-Choice friends were equally surprised and more so perplexed. I did get some automatic detesting responses directed at the protesters, but like I’ve stated, the point was the go beyond the idea of them being the “other” and seeing who they are, putting names to the faces, hearing the lives of the people that hold the signs.

I will say that this is likely territory that will never be resolved though. There is so much diversity in both the Pro-Life and Pro-Choice worlds in regards to advocates and people. I barely dabbled into the schisms within Pro-Life activists and groups when Kathy discussed her disappointment with another group in Columbia. But what is likely the decisive factor is the perspective in which both sides come from. Pro-Lifers usually take their view based on religious beliefs and texts. Pro-Choicers, I think, attempt to remove religion as a “rational” framework to determine if things like abortion are right or wrong.

Personally, I believe all social issues are not conducive to a black or white mentality. There is too much room for the gray, too many variables that cannot be controlled. I made the decision to be Pro-Choice because I believe there should be options, especially to be more adaptable to the myriad of scenarios that can result in pregnancy. I think about what rights I feel I deserve, and why would I deprive anyone of those rights? The answer is, I wouldn’t. And I dislike that often it is misconstrued that Pro-Choice is Pro-Abortion because it’s not. Pro-Choice just has to heavily advocate for an option that Pro-Life denies, but in the end, each choice should be considered thoughtfully, and each choice deserves equal consideration. And each choice will lead to a series of consequences and emotions that often aren’t focused upon with birthing, adoption, and abortion. I fear that it is to often considered the end of the situation when the choice is made and executed, but in reality, the choice made is only the beginning to whatever that decision entails. And that is a part of the process that seems seriously neglected after all this time.

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