Changing the Abortion Conversation–A Biblical Aikido Strategy

Akido Self DefensePicture this: A group of abortion opponents stand outside a women’s clinic holding pictures of fetal remains. As they stand there, calling and offering pamphlets to people entering the clinic, a trickle of pro-choice activists also arrive. Instead of lining up on the opposite side of the sidewalk, they position themselves beside the first group in silence, holding posters of their own.

The signs have words—not their own words but words from texts that inspire the anti-choice movement. Some quotes are from modern church leaders or ancient patriarchs. Others are from the Bible itself. They read:

  • I fail to see what use woman can be to man, if one excludes the function of bearing children. –Saint Augustine
  • In sorrow thou shalt bring forth children and thy desire shall be to thy husband and he shall rule over thee.  –Genesis 3:16
  • Women will be saved through childbearing. –1 Timothy 2:15
  • The word and works of God is quite clear, that women were made either to be wives or prostitutes. –Martin Luther
  • If a woman grows weary and at last dies from childbearing, it matters not. Let her only die from bearing; she is there to do it.  –Martin Luther
  • If no proof of the bride’s virginity can be found, she shall be brought to the door of her father’s house and there the men of her town shall stone her to death.  –Deuteronomy 22:20-21
  • Her feelings drive woman toward every evil, just as reason impels man toward all good. –Saint Albertus Magnus
  • When life begins with that horrible situation of rape, that is something that God intended to happen. –Senate candidate Richard Mourdock
  • Women will be saved by going back to that role that God has chosen for them. –Pastor Mark Driscoll, Mars Hill Church, Seattle

The anti-abortion protesters are confused—Are these new people on our team or not? They lean and shuffle so that they can read the signs more clearly. A couple even ask, “Who are you?But the sign bearers just smile politely and decline to engage. Patients, staff, and passersby who read the words are offended. In fact, they are even more offended by the quotes than they are by the dead fetus pictures. And that is the point.

Aikido is a Japanese martial art that makes use of the attacker’s own momentum as a defensive strategy. Rather than trying to oppose force head-on, an Aikido practitioner—who may be small and weak—leverages her opponent’s own strength and energy, nudging the attacker’s move in one direction or another, or exaggerating it slightly, rendering the assault harmless.

The above scenario describing a clinic protest is an Aikido move. The abortion opponents hold up signs of fetal remains in an attempt to elicit disgust; the counter-protesters simply take that disgust and in a non-confrontational, nonviolent way, amplify and redirect it.

Why do words from the Bible and Christian authorities have Aikido potential? Because they are the driving force behind the dead fetus signs that have plagued patients and providers for two generations, and they are morally repugnant.  Abortion opponents may talk about babies and medical science; they may say falsely that abortion causes cancer or induces a psychological trauma syndrome, and that contraceptives render women infertile or that birth control pills turn your blood serum green. They may fight in court using legalese or pose as medical caregivers themselves, but behind and beneath it all lies the relentless drive of Bible belief and powerful religious traditions that lend the weight of absolute divine authority to gendered scripts.

As futurist Sara Robinson has said, in a century that included both the first automobile and the first man on the moon, the pill may well have been the most disruptive technology of them all. Every prior cultural or religious system, including Judeo-Christianity was scripted around one immutable biological fact: Women had no control over their fertility. This was the defining reality around which whole civilizations structured roles and obligations. It is why early legal codes, like that in the Bible, treated women as chattel—literally, the property of men. In cultures obsessed with patriarchal inheritance and sacred bloodlines, the only way to get around “mama’s baby, papa’s maybe” was for men to control the sexual behavior of their daughters, wives, and slaves.

One of the functions of religion is to elevate the status of cultural scripts, making them more durable, less subject to question and revision. “Why?” asks the curious or frustrated child. “Because I said so!” answers her parent, as if that settled the question. Later in life, faced with contradictions, frustrations, suffering, or self-doubt, the child (now grown) calls upon an introjected parent of divine proportions, and the answer echoes, “Because God said so!”

Many abortion protesters, though deeply religious, honestly believe that they are saving babies. They honestly believe that family planning hurts women. They have no idea they have been manipulated and are spending their days on the picket line in the service of an archaic script that served our Iron Age ancestors. Such is the power of rationalization.

Some do know that the secular arguments against abortion are philosophically tenuous or that family planning has tremendous power to lift families out of poverty. They know that the fight really is all about theology, but they would still prefer to make their case in universal terms. “Because my God said so” has less and less weight in modern society.

Globally, secularism is on the rise thanks in part to the Internet, and the United States is experiencing an unparalleled shift toward secularism. The New Scientist magazine recently took stock of the trend lines:

A decade ago, more than three-quarters of the world’s population identified themselves as religious. Today, less than 60 per cent do, and in about a quarter of countries the nones are now a majority. … Even in the US – a deeply Christian country – the number of people expressing “no religious affiliation” has risen from 5 per cent in 1972 to 20 per cent today; among people under 30, that number is closer to a third.

In Christian-dominant cultures, the violent and contradictory passages of the Bible are becoming more known, as are the roots of Abrahamic religion in the earlier cultures of the Ancient Near East. Exposed to sunlight, ancient idols crumble, both literally and metaphorically, especially when they are held aloft by religious fanatics who are seen as judgmental and out of touch. Each of these is a trend-line that provides reproductive rights advocates with an Aikido opportunity.

Recently deceased Baptist pastor Fred Phelps was master of what I now call “The Phelps Effect,” in which a person makes his own position so repugnant that he moves public opinion in the opposite direction. Caught in the tangle of biblical literalism, Phelps quoted chapter and verse to back up his conviction that “God hates fags.” He became the face of homophobia, and he helped to make it repulsive. In doing so, he also undermined the authority of the particularly noxious scriptures he claimed as his own.

Like Phelps, most abortion opponents perceive themselves to be on a divinely appointed mission. Unlike Phelps, they may seek to downplay the biblical imperative that drives them, to deflect the debate onto topics like when life begins or fetal pain. They may use prenatal photography selectively to activate our protective instinct toward anything that looks big-eyed or remotely human. They may labor to blur the distinction between a fertilized egg and a baby or child. What they try to avoid is exposing the deep seated misogyny of their worldview. This year, the Republican Party has held trainings for national candidates on how to talk about women. Their goal is to try and avoid a repeat of the “rape Tourette’s” phenomenon that plagued the party two years ago. You can think horrible things about women, but just don’t say them.

This is where Aikido comes in.

Abortion opponents, on their own, may not go far enough to trigger the Phelps Effect. But we can. The clinic scenario that opens this article is one hypothetical example, but the opportunity is broader. I recently wrote about five religious leaders who are prone to saying awful things about women and LGBTQ people. I could have written about 50, each of whom provides ample opportunity to expose the long legacy of misogyny behind the man.

When we spotlight what drives the anti-choice movement, we expose a set of archaic imperatives that demand female submission and tell young women they will be saved though childbearing. And ordinary Americans don’t like what they see.


Published at RH Reality Check under the title “Using Akido to Change the Abortion Conversation” May 16, 2014.


The Difference Between a Dying Fetus and a Dying Woman
Abortion as a Blessing, Grace, or Gift–Changing the Conversation About Reproductive Rights and Moral Values
My Abortion Baby

About Valerie Tarico

Seattle psychologist and writer. Author - Trusting Doubt; Deas and Other Imaginings.
This entry was posted in Christianity in the Public Square, Reproductive Health and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

16 Responses to Changing the Abortion Conversation–A Biblical Aikido Strategy

  1. Gary Tribble says:

    This is a brilliant strategy, and presented with clarity and passion that gives the writing power to inspire — and empower — its readers. Well done, Valerie. Even better than your normally excellent work.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Martin says:

    This one really resonates! Excellent analogy…


  3. hedonix says:

    This is what I’m always looking for and seldom find– practical information that can go to work straight from the page. I will reblog it with your permission, on wordpress. Spread the light!


  4. The Christian pro-lifers are held back by their misogynistic bible and god. This is why they will not succeed.

    I completely rejected the Christian religion because it is based in a book full of hatred.

    This however does not change the fact that abortion is still the murder of babies. Now that I am a pro-life atheist, I don’t have the same limitations that I used to.

    Your post is very educational and it does explain why pro-lifers are seen as women haters. Not all pro-lifers are Christians and not all hate women. The world needs to know that.


  5. I’m a staunch pro-lifer. I simply hate abortion. BUT … Having said that, the pro life movement has done a piss poor job in communicating Christ’s compassion to those that find themselves in a mess. I have no kids by design. I felt like I would have been a lousy father. In 1973 I actually helped a close friend in college get two abortions. (Realized at a much later time they may well have been mine. Could also have been the football teams .. but I digress). Then in the 1980’s I decided to put leather to my beliefs and we opened our home to young mothers pregnant and thrown out of their homes on their asses in the streets to fend for themselves by “caring and loving” parents. We helped 9 women come to term, have their kids and place for adoptions. I learned so much during that time. It’s funny but after that, I was so mad at guys who couldn’t keep their d***s in their pants and then run off after they had their jollies .. that I almost went across the hospital bed after one of them. No more anti-abortion protests for me. Unless the pro-life movement wants to shoulder the burden of the mother and go after the a**holes who “cum and run” then they are missing the point. I am a Christian and I think the Word of God has been grossly misrepresented, especially by people like Fred Fag or what ever his name was. I don’t like abortion, but I’ll be damned if I will jump all over anyone in that position because they are having to make a choice I simply don’t have to make! If I’m not willing to help, then I sure a hell will not condemn them. Abortion is still and always will be a lighting rod. It’s just that these days, I’m more interested in the girl or woman who is in trouble and needs help than I am in scoring political points.

    Great read by the way!!

    Jekyll (sometimes Hyde!)


    • Tamara says:

      I think that your position as you describe it is one simultaneously held by many pro-choice people. They hate abortion but see no need to condemn women in the position to make that choice and work to provide solutions so that no one finds themselves there in the first place and the need for abortion is decreased. The need for abortion will never fully go away because sometimes fetuses die and need to be removed, or, even if they haven’t yet died, they will not be viable at full term or the woman was raped and the psychological trauma of having the child will be too great or she has pre-existing conditions that make pregnancy dangerous, etc. So while most people dislike abortions, they will always be necessary to some degree. This is why I am pro-choice. I want the abortions that are needed to be healthy and safe ones. I also want less women to feel like they are in a desperate place where they feel they have to abort, or their lives will be ruined. In the words of Ms. Clinton, “Abortion needs to be safe, legal, and rare.” So, Mr. Jekyll, I think if pro-lifers such as yourself and pro-choicers such as myself could realize just how much common ground we have, this conversation could move in a better direction which would be better for women and families overall. Major Kudos to your work with those 9 women. It’s a truly beautiful story.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Allan Avery says:

    (I’m Behind with Away Point, and everything in my life. So here, in behind Mr. Jekyll & Hyde. Who is obviously and truly a fine and compassionate person. But a larger point is missed First, Bravo, truely, for his and his household’s compassion and commitment. (I would judge that he does not subscribe to those listed, obviously cruel and inappropriate, Religious perscriptions for Women.) That said, the purpose of “pro-choice” movement is not to “come down” on any woman who would freely and knowledgably choose to bear her conceived child. Neither must a woman be denied the freedom to reason beyond the bounds of any particular religious dogma. More generally, I’ll assert that no “hard edged” Religious rationale for condemning abortion holds up either philosophically or scientifically. Because, to date, there is no apprehendable evidence to support the existence of God or a God-like “higher power,” beyond the forces of the natural world. As a result, and unless/until such evidence is dicovered, We’re on our own; to learn how to sustain our “ecosphere” and get along together peacefully, and survive. Mr. J’s compassion and humane commitment are obviously Among the values that must characterise such a surviving World Human Community. Our Human Species’ early evolving attempts to understand our place (on what turned out to be a planet), and their encoding into Gods and various religious dogma, are no longer a sufficient guide. It’s now a way bigger assignment, and it’s going to involve a whole lot’a mutual learning, listening, understanding, and compromise to get to a peaceful, surviving planet community. The “pro choice” movement plays essential, responsible and constructive part. (Pls excuse my misspellings and typos. :-)


  7. Missy says:

    One thing I will never understand is why pro-life people are against the use of contraceptives. Contraceptives prevent unwanted pregnancy and less unwanted pregnancy means less abortion. Contraceptives do not kill a fetus after an embryo is formed and neither does the morning after pill. The morning after pill merely decreases the chance of an embryo forming if one hadn’t already. My only response to these kinds of questions is that impregnation is God’s will and that a woman has no place deciding whether or not she has a child.
    Misogynistic arrogance at its best (and worst).

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I am pro life and I am not against contraceptives. I am puzzled by theological inconsistencies in screaming against abortion AND contraception at the same time.

    Jekyll (Sometimes Hyde)


  9. bewilderbees says:

    Thank you Valerie!
    Had to share this: “Hello Fred. Goodbye Fred” – St Peter


  10. metalnun says:

    LOVE this! You have expressed very clearly something that I’ve kind of been trying to do but had not yet managed to really formulate. Sounds like a plan.


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