She must have been in her mid-40s. The lines and depressions in her face testified to a life that had not been easy to live, or comfortable to live with. Her clothes -non descript.
Heroine of the working class.
Her hands filled with pictures of bloody images ("Hail Mary, full of grace").
It was raining lightly, but she had no protection... as if in defiance of the natural elements.
Her faith would shield her.
She was Mary, protecting Jesus.
She was Joan, tied to the stake.
She was Woman Protector.
She was a single Right To Lifer standing guard in front of CHOICES at 11:00 a.m. on a Saturday morning and she would prevail.
Now stopping a young black woman, her hand on her shoulder, her voice importuning "There is another way ... choose life... let your baby live... don't murder your own child!" The girl, shaken, frightened, pulls away and walks quickly into CHOICES, to culminate an already difficult and tortured decision.
Now a man and a woman approach. She stands squarely in front of them, eyes blazing, fingers furiously working her rosary. Your baby must (MISSING WORD) how can you murder your own child?"
"Get out of my way, lady! I have a nine year old at home that drives me crazy... you want to take her?"
This remark serves to ignite our heroine's passion even further. They brush her aside. She moves on. Now - tugging at another woman's sleeve, physically trying to stop her from entering.
It is time for this extraordinary exercise to meet some reality. A CHOICES' staff member dials 911:
A young cop, very Irish, gentle yet knowing, informs the woman that she is not to physically harass patients. Her rights are limited to picketing and verbal abuse. Her political and religious passions are now limited by the law.
The cop turns to the CHOICES staff member, "Hey, you should see them the way I have... the kids no one wants ... burned, scalded with boiling water, thrown out of windows."
But that reality never touches the woman or the millions like her, the people, the women who, turning towards the rights of fetuses, turn against their mothers who carry them.
"There is no conviction without action" - Carlysle.
These stirring words appear on top of a little pad of note paper in a conference kit. An Australian priest is speaking to a hushed and diffident audience. He, too, is a martyr... fasting for 10 days in a public square to "get in touch with the helplessness and defenselessness of the fetus." A slide show begins... a funeral, a small casket, hundreds of marchers carrying one rose, tears, speeches, an interment. Mary Elizabeth... posthumously named and celebrated... a four month fetus rescued from a garbage can... victim of the "abortion holocaust."
I move through the crowd slowly... stopping at booths; just like any other conference ... only its not. Another reality. Another world. I am a stranger in a strange land. Fetuses in bottles of formaldehyde. Mother of pearl pins on lapels. I look closer. It is their logo . . . tiny feet ... fetal feet... mother of pearl fetal feet... $3.00.
Feminists For Life engage me in debate.
You, they charge, are oppressing women. I am likened to Hitler . . . they call me the Great Murderess. But Jesus loves me. I, too, can be saved.
Woman against woman, but God is on their side. Their banner is pure. They are saving babies. They are saving America from the national sin of abortion.
From the halls of this Right To Life convention to the streets of America in front of abortion clinics, through the media, the press, the white ducks of Pat Boone to the White House itself: the movement swells and demands answers.
Because the Right To Lifers have not been able to stop legalized abortion have not gotten constitutional or legislative change they have taken matters into their own hands out into the streets. The Clinic Defense Project has compiled statistics:
The total number of reported incidents at abortion clinics in this country including picketings, harassments and violence rose from 39 in 1982 to 123 in 1983. As of March 8, 1984, 59 incidents had already been recorded.
Between 1982 and 1984, estimated cost of damage done by arson to clinics was well over $1 million.
Besides trespassing, groups are staging mock scenes in waiting areas, such as a mother insisting that her daughter have an abortion while the daughter pleads and protests against it.
And in Virginia, early one February morning, seven pipe bombs explode at the Hillcrest Clinic, which had already been seriously damaged by fire in 1983; in Dover, Delaware in January, arson damages the Reproductive Care Center; in Prince George County, DC: bombing closes the clinic temporarily with $80,000 worth of damage; in Florida, two clinics are riddled with bullets. Everywhere violence, intimidation. Picketing outside the homes of physicians and staff: automobiles smashed and defaced; clinic staffs afraid to open the mail because of the potential threat of letter bombs; Right To Lifers with cameras outside clinics, snapping pictures of all who enter: taking the numbers of license plates; following cars into clinic parking lots, pouncing on the women as they open doors, brandishing pictures of bloody fetuses ... and they call it "sidewalk counseling."
The Right To Life movement tries to make the word "choice" a word of shame: choice means "death" ... choice means "murder" . choice is all evil rolled into a word. Their Kafkaesque rhetoric tries to obscure the reality: no one wants an abortion. CHOICES conducted a nationally reported survey of 200 women to ascertain their reasons for having an abortion. Fifty three percent cited financial considerations as the most important factor in making their decisions. The age groups fell evenly between 18 and 39, incomes ranged from $11,000 to $20,000 yearly, 65 percent worked 35 percent were the sole support of their families 28 percent were married. Many had never believed in abortion, many saw it as killing . . . however, faced with the reality of economic survival, 35 percent said they had to change their value system. And so, these women who have suffered most from Reaganomics, who have been forced into a corner by financial considerations, who have made their decisions in pain, are accosted and frightened and verbally abused by those who would impose their own wills on everyone else.
The new Archbishop of New York likens abortion to the Nazi holocaust, a distinct analogy Jews and fetuses. Same thing with the blacks always quoting the Dred Scott Decision. They must liken fetuses to other known victims to give them personality... to make them more attractive as victims because women's voices don't count women don't count!
Recently, Southern Baptists denied women the ability to become priests because they held women "responsible for bringing sin into the world"
The ultimate female sin, of course, is power - sexual power. The ability to create life to control one's sexuality and ultimately, one's reproduction is the bottom line for women. It is also the bottom line of the Right To Life movement. And this is where they want to draw that line. Any arm chair, theoretical pro choice liberal must understand this reality. Power is at the crux of the abortion issue. To give rights to fetuses is to remove them from women. "A choice of victims." Woman against woman, woman against fetus, woman against child, woman against herself... divide and conquer. It's the old story.
Since the legalization of abortion in 1973 by the Supreme Court there must be at least 20 million American women who have had abortions. Add to that 20 million men, millions of friends, relatives and neighbors and you have an issue that touches nearly all Americans. What a constituency!
But it is, more than any other, a silent and tentative constituency. Abortion is the bloody end of feminism the front line of the movement, the bottom line. We must inspire and activate the people the women who have made that difficult and profound personal choice. They must see the connection, the collectivity of the issue for all women.
Women in their loneliest of times are in reality not alone. For each woman who has a legal abortion, there are millions like her who, before 1973, submitted to the horrors of illegal abortion and millions upon millions who contemplate the possibility of an abortion when periods are late or missed.
Now, the personal must once again become the political. No longer is there the luxury of putting one's pain behind, of silently and personally integrating. The Right To Lifers have made abortion an all too public act. Privacy, the constitutional issue that legalization was based on, is now invaded, desecrated and invalidated. Time for more courage - more commitment. Time to testify. Once again, women must be able to say strongly "Yes, I, too, have had an abortion. I am among the true heroines of the movement. By making my choice and acting on that choice with my mind and body, I have added my political voice."
These voices can no longer remain silent. "All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men [and women!] to remain silent." The words of Edmund Burke must now speak for women, their lovers, their husbands and friends. For in the vacuum of their silence, the danger and evil of the Right To Life evangelical movement will surely triumph.
And so Woman Protector stands guard ... making the sign of the Cross on CHOICES' door with her finger, trying to slip her pictures into unwilling hands.
Merle Hoffman is publisher/editor-in-chief of On The Issues magazine and founder/president of both Choices Women's Medical Center, Inc., and Choices Mental Health Center.