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Abortion clinic protesters are there to harass, not “counsel”

By Amanda Marcotte
Wednesday, July 9, 2014 17:30 EDT
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One of the bits of bad faith that allowed the Supreme Court to justify ending a 35-foot buffer zone law that protected abortion clinic patients and staff is this notion that the protesters are there to “counsel” people. Using a veil of compassion as a thin cover for shaming people is a standard bit of dishonest hatefulness people who think of themselves as all pious and moral do—I love watching Christians throw a fit when I remind them that I’m from Texas and know that “I’ll pray for you” means “Fuck you, you harlot”—but it was still really gross seeing the highest court in the land feign gullibility to the claim that the efforts to “help” are sincere. Particularly so since the premise of the “help” that harassers at clinics are offering is offensive on its surface: They are operating under the assumption that women entering an abortion clinic, by virtue of our gender, are simply too stupid to know what an abortion is. Often they wave pictures of babies at women as if to say, “Did you know you won’t get one of these soon if you do this?” No shit, assholes. It’s the point.

The idea that anti-abortion protests could “work” by convincing women not to abort is laughable on its surface, but I was still happy to see Think Progress do a little more digging to show how much of a feint it is. They caught Ann Schiedler of the Pro-Life Action League admitting to Vocativ that sidewalk counseling does not accomplish its official purpose.

What is your success rate?

It’s very low. I will readily admit that, but like I said, every life matters. If you’ve saved only one child in your life, that’s a person who wouldn’t be here otherwise. It’s much more difficult now, partly because of things like the escorts, but also because abortion has been legal long enough that of the women who are coming to have abortions, at least half of them are on their second or third or fourth. And trying to convince a woman not to make that choice when she has made it before is much more difficult.

It’s more honest than most of them, but she’s still telling lies to cover up her true purpose there. This story that she had more success 15 years ago than she has now should be a big red flag, especially since she claims it’s because of something she has no way of knowing, which is how many abortions the patients going in have had. She is just making shit up. My guess is she admitted a little truth—that “counseling” doesn’t work—buried in these other lies—such as implying that it’s the fault of those abortion-loving harlots instead of the fact that the “counseling” is not actually counseling—because she was afraid that the reporter who was hanging outside the clinic might start to notice that women were not being turned away. So she invents some magical time in the past when “sidewalk counseling” did work, but I’m going to bet a lot of money it never worked.

Think Progress also linked Time story about clinic harassment that shows that it doesn’t “work” how “sidewalk counselors” claim they want it to work.

A 2013 study published in the journal Contraception found that protestors affect the emotional state of women entering abortion clinics. The study, by researchers at the Bixby Center for Reproductive Health at the University of California, San Francisco, included interviews with almost 1,000 women who had abortions and were asked whether contact with protestors affected them emotionally. Of the women who saw protestors outside clinics, 41% reported feeling upset because of it. In addition, the more contact women had with protestors, the more upset they felt. But asked if the protestors impacted their feelings about actually having abortions, the women reported their feelings were the same regardless.

“Protestors are upsetting, but they don’t have an effect on women’s long-term feelings about their abortions,” says Dianna Greene Foster, the study’s lead author. “A woman’s reasons for having an abortion are much more salient than the brief yelling or talking from protestors.” Earlier academic research reached the same conclusion.

They add that while some clinics have seen women run away because of protesters, they aren’t actually “talked out of it” by compassionate people so much as intimidated and frightened. Some call and try to reschedule.

Let’s be clear: The reason people show up at abortion clinics to harass women going into them has nothing to do with talking them out of it and even less to do with compassion. If it was about talking women out of it, they would have given up long ago in frustration. You’d have to be superhuman to endure as low a hit rate as they do and keep going. It defies everything we know about psychology.

No, the better explanation is they are is to achieve the reaction they are getting: They are there to upset women. If making women feel sad and afraid gets you off, then going to pester them at an abortion clinic is going to be really gratifying. You’ve got a population to abuse that you know for a fact is composed of women having a bad day, meaning that it’s going to be much easier to get the sad or angry reaction you crave. Many of the women going in are, on top of the stress of getting a medical procedure, are feeling bad about themselves already. Maybe they’ve absorbed abusive religious messages about how sex is dirty and are worried they deserve to suffer. Maybe they are having relationship problems. Maybe this pregnancy is an ugly reminder of their economic problems. For the abortion clinic harasser, the main thing is that they’re women who are emotionally vulnerable and therefore easy to abuse.

Of course, like good abusive fuckwits, they’ve got the gaslighting act down cold, pretending they’re there to “help” while they’re really there to hurt and terrify. But we shouldn’t buy the story. If you go to the store and claim you’re there for oranges but all they sell are apples, and you come back day after day to buy apples, eventually your little story about oranges is going to start looking fishy.

Especially if there’s other ways to get oranges. And there are other ways they can prevent abortions they are ignoring, ways that work. Volunteering at a Planned Parenthood or handing out condoms would be a good start. Pushing for better sex education or donating to family planning clinics would also work. But they’re ignoring the orange store and going to the apple store. That’s because they want apples.

Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte is a freelance journalist born and bred in Texas, but now living in the writer reserve of Brooklyn. She focuses on feminism, national politics, and pop culture, with the order shifting depending on her mood and the state of the nation.
 
 
 
 
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