Occupying the Air: Banner Wave Truths about Abortion & Rights

Occupying the Air: Banner Wave Truths about Abortion & Rights

By Elizabeth Creely

January 19, 2012

On the first day of 2012, an abortion clinic in Florida was firebombed. The clinic is now out of business. The arsonist, a man named Bobby Joe Roberts, told police that he had a “strong disbelief in abortion.” Bobby Joe is a part of a nationwide anti-choice choir that is preached to frequently by the leading choirmasters of that movement. Like any well-trained choir member, when Bobby Joe is asked to sing a certain part, he will.

The clinic bombing felt like an exclamation point to the prodigious anti-choice activism of 2011, which saw the Right wing introduce 1,100 legal provisions intended to limit access to abortion and end funding for family planning. Their activism created an ever more hostile environment for women and their perpetually over-regulated, yet medically neglected, wombs.

Here in California, as the thinking goes, there is no need to preach to the choir. We live in a sunny, pro-choice oasis. We could, if we wanted to, simply watch as women in other states struggle to care for themselves and their families as they navigate a maze of mandated waiting periods and state-mandated “counseling” at Crisis Pregnancy Centers (CPCs), where they are given false information about links between abortion and suicide. That last lie is promulgated during the state-mandated “counseling” session women in South Dakota are forced to endure if they want an abortion.

Crisis Pregnancy Centers are faux-medical establishments with the trappings of a medical clinic — examination tables and somber individuals wearing lab coats — but none of the actual medical licensing that is traditionally thought to be desirable for any place that touts itself as a “clinic.” Needless to say, these centers of crisis do indeed create deep crisis, by preventing women from accessing abortions in a timely fashion.

Rallying for Reproductive Justice

But we do have our anti-choice moments here in San Francisco. There are several CPCs in San Francisco, and the largest anti-choice march in California, “The West Coast Walk for Life.” On January 21, 2012, thousands of anti-choice activists will attempt to turn Market Street into a modern-day Via Dolorosa, a street that must inevitably end in tragedy and death until abortion is stopped. The message of the march is “Women deserve better than abortion,” a phrase that is crazy in its inversion of logic and rhetoric and as manipulative as the false advertising employed by Crisis Pregnancy Centers.

A counter-protest will be held on the same day, “The West Coast Rally for Reproductive Justice,” organized by the Bay Area Coalition for Our Reproductive Rights (BACORR), a coalition of reproductive rights activists. Prior to organizing the counter-protest, BACORR was part of a larger effort that forced CPCs like the Alpha Pregnancy Center, on Mission Street in San Francisco, to start telling the truth about what it is they actually do in their “clinic.” Supervisor Malia Cohen authored an ordinance that prohibits CPCs in San Francisco from “making false or misleading statements to the public about pregnancy-related services the centers offer or perform.” BACORR rallied fellow activists to lobby the Board of Supervisors in support of the ordinance. Our choir responded with alacrity.

The ordinance passed on October 25, 2011. CPCs in San Francisco can no longer masquerade as women’s health centers, nor can they use the word “abortion” as a lure, to entrap and manipulate women. Sadly, they can still tell women who receive “counseling” from them that abortion causes breast cancer and is linked to suicide, statements that have both been proven factually untrue.

The Incredible Importance of Preaching to the Choir

In December, the Trust Women/Silver Ribbon Campaign spearheaded a reproductive health visibility campaign. Banners with images specific to BACORR, Catholics for Choice, NARAL Pro-Choice California, Planned Parenthood Shasta Pacific, and Trust Black Women/SisterSong will hang above the heads of the anti-choice marchers.

It’s a gratifying image: the banners silently and graphically rebutting the assertion that abortion is a tragedy. The banners have created a stir, which is no surprise. Such visibility campaigns are rare. The Life Legal Defense Foundation, enraged at the audacity of the campaign, filed a complaint with the San Francisco Department of Public Works on January 9, 2012 accusing the department of non-compliance with its own codes and claiming that the banners improperly advertise the missions of the other organizations. They assert that the banners are displayed for no other reason than to promote abortion. This is a rich irony indeed, coming a community so reliant on euphemisms and so recently rebuked by the city for using false advertising to confuse and mislead women.

The banners also confused the local media. Ellen Shaffer, co-director of the Trust Women/Silver Ribbon Campaign, was asked by a reporter from the San Francisco Chronicle if she didn’t think the banners were useless. Since the banners were hanging in San Francisco, the reporter assumed, all they could do was preach to the choir.

Preaching to the choir is, in some circles, simply called “organizing.” It’s sad that the admittedly iterative nature of protests and counter protests irritate the press so much. What are we to make of a question that — after a year of hostile legal provisions and firebombed clinics — doubts the value of women talking to each other about their health and the status of their reproductive rights Shaffer’s answer to this silly question was succinct and on point: The choir, she said, was looking for ways to pipe up more effectively.

Choirs, after all, like to sing.