It’s time to confront conception-obsessed Bible-believers on their own terms, with language they understand.
Imagine if anti-abortion protestors found themselves confronted with the Bible and Christianity’s highest values.
At regular intervals throughout the year, the most conception-obsessed members of the Religious Right gather at Evangelical and Catholic churches, load teenagers into busses and cars, and surround Planned Parenthood with protest signs. Some will pray and sing church songs or shout Bible quotes or carry pictures of the Virgin Mary. But most will carry signs that say things like “Abortion Stops a Beating Heart” [So does oyster-eating] or “Aren’t you glad your mother didn’t have an abortion?” [Yes; glad also that she didn’t have a headache that night] or “It’s a baby!” [An acorn is an oak tree?] or “One life ended, One destroyed” [Actually, factually not]. Some may carry “fetal squish” pictures—not images of common early abortions but of the rare fetus that dies or is aborted late in gestation. In other words, they will try to sway the rest of us by speaking our language—the language of science, human rights and secular ethical values; and they will appeal to our moral emotions: compassion, love of life, and disgust.
Those of us who cherish the freedom to choose our own lives and families—and to live by our own moral values—could learn a thing or two from the more sophisticated of these protestors, both what they say and what they want to hide.
- They want us to think that it’s not about religion. Despite the smattering of non-religious opponents, it is. Ignoring this means we constantly fight a defensive battle on our turf, not theirs. Key take-away: Define this as a fight about theology, which is what it is. Use theological terms that are Christianity’s insider jargon and quote the Bible.
- They want us to think that they are on the side of women, that their stance against abortion comes from a deep place of love and concern. It doesn’t. Their conception obsession is deeply rooted in misogyny, and concern for women is a thin veneer. Here is what the anti-abortion movement would look like if it were driven by love. Key take-away: Expose the deep underlying religiously-motivated disdain for women. Quote degrading Bible verses, church fathers and modern pastors.
- By trademarking the term “pro-life,” abortion foes try to stake out the highest of the moral high ground. They don’t have it. Their crass indifference to the lives around them—to the wellbeing of both vulnerable people and even the whole web of life—shows their self-appointed title as defenders of “life” to be total bullshit. Key take-away: Shine a light on self-righteous hypocrisy. Expose the Religious Right’s indifference to Christianity’s own highest values, including compassion and reverence for life.
I said that abortion foes try to speak to us in language we understand, by appealing to our sources of authority, science and conscience. When we appeal to people who are on our side or neutral or secular, we should do the same. We must work to end abortion shame and stigma, to convey that abortion is normal and that family planning as a whole—including abortion until it becomes obsolete (we are headed that direction)—is a positive social good.
But when it comes to confronting and neutralizing abortion protests, we should attack the home turf of the abortion foes, not defend our own turf. We should speak in language of the protesters and convey that their position is a threat to their own core values. (Remember, this is what they do to move us.)
At the same time, they are playing to a broader audience, and we can, too. To outsiders, we can neutralize the tradition of incessant clinic protest by framing it as a theological dispute (most people want to keep theology out of healthcare), that is driven by archaic, ugly gender scripts (no thanks!), and that is being played out by people who have little moral credibility (everyone hates mean-spirited, self-righteous hypocrisy).
Here are a few examples of what the counter-protest signs might look like. *Some may make sense only to Christians and former Christians. **Thank you to all the former Bible-believers who offered suggestions on Facebook. ***If you have ideas of your own as you read the list, please add them in the comment section.
Define this as an insider dispute about theology
- God aborts 60%. Who are you to judge the Almighty?
- Fact checked: The Lord says he’s ok with it
- God prescribes abortion potion —Numbers 5:22-27
- Kill fetus, get fined – Kill woman, get death —Exodus 21:22-23
- Infant becomes person after birth —Leviticus 27:6
- Fetus fetish is idolatry
- This is what bibliolatry does to people →
- Conception obsession is a religious cult
- Don’t say you follow Jesus if stopping abortion trumps love, truth, peacemaking, compassion, feeding the hungry, caring for the poor . . .
- Life begins at ejaculation – Ask Onan
- If the baby goes to heaven And the doctor goes to hell If the woman gets forgiveness What’s the problem pray tell!?
- The Bible doesn’t define when life becomes “a living soul.” Don’t put your words in God’s mouth!
Expose deep underlying misogyny
- Wife is man’s property —Exodus 20:17
- Girl babies twice as unclean as boys —Leviticus 12:1-8
- Women should keep silent —1 Cor. 14:34
- Sell raped daughter to rapist —Deut. 22:28-29
- Female? Cover your head or cut off your hair —I Cor. 11:6 [with picture of hijab]
- Women will be saved through childbearing —1 Tim. 2:15
- Women make men dirty —Rev 14:4
- Woman is a temple built over a sewer —Tertullian
- Woman, you are the gate to hell —Tertullian
- Man alone is the image of God —Saint Augustine
- I fail to see what use woman can be to man, if one excludes the function of bearing children. —Saint Augustine
- Woman has a faulty and defective nature —Saint Albertus Magnus
- The production of woman comes from a defect —Thomas Acquinas
- Women were made to be either wives or prostitutes —Martin Luther
- The second duty of the wife is constant obedience and subjection —John Dod, Puritan
- Women are made to be led, and counseled, and directed —LDS Apostle Heber C. Kimball
- Every single book in your Bible was written by a man —Mark Driscoll
Shine a light on self-righteous (religious) hypocrisy
- Pro-guns, pro-greed, pro-Trump = “pro-life” Hmmm.
- ”Pro-life” Trump Hypocrites =“False prophets, ravening wolves” —Jesus
- Woe to you Pharisees, hypocrites! —Jesus
- Pharisees →
- Take the log out of your own eye —Jesus
- Judge not that ye be not judged —Jesus
- [picture of immigrant child] – Let the children come unto me —Jesus
- Jesus focused on real people
- Pro-fetus, against Child Protection
- Pro-fetus, oppose rights for children
- Pro-fetus, defend parent right to hit kids
- Pro-fetus, against UN Convention on the Rights of the Child
- I was hungry and you did not feed me —Jesus
- If a man says ‘I love God’ and hateth his brother, he is a liar —1 John 4:20
- Jesus supported healthcare for women
- Jesus cared for women, no matter what [echoes Planned Parenthood motto]
- The screwed-up priorities of “pro-life” Christians kill real children
- Trump Voter? Don’t talk to me about choosing life
- Voted for Trump? Maybe that’s not the voice of God you are hearing
Planned Parenthood doesn’t organize counter-protests, because they don’t want to escalate conflict and because they have a job to do providing contraceptives, cancer screenings, STI tests, abortions and other basic healthcare for their patients. They have no desire to get involved in theological disputes. But I think it’s time for the rest of America, meaning religious moderates and non-religious Americans, to go on the offense against the Religious Right. For decades now—really, ever since Roe v Wade—we’ve been playing way too nice.
At some point in the future, pregnancy almost always will happen by mutual consent of two people who want to co-create a child. But we’re not there yet, in large part because patriarchal religious conservatives have opposed sexual health literacy and better birth control every step of the way. Simply by improving prevention, we could make elective abortion virtually obsolete within a decade if the Religious Right had any interest in doing so. They don’t. That means, for now, the only way that young men and women can live the lives of their choosing and form the families of their choosing and stack the odds in favor of flourishing children—is to have access to abortion so they can end ill-conceived pregnancies.
The Left has been squishy and apologetic about abortion care—leaving providers unprotected, and allowing brave, prudent young women to be shamed for making the best decisions they could under difficult circumstances. We’ve let the Religious Right bully all of us, including moderate Christians, into doubting our own moral convictions.
Sometimes, the only way to stop a bully is to hit back. In the spirit of courageous, unflinching, nonviolent resistance, we need to figure out together what that means. So, don’t forget to share your thoughts.
Oh, and if you decide to counter-protest, remember that while you are taking a stand on behalf of women and families, Planned Parenthood employees will be serving them. Don’t interfere with traffic, stay away from the entry, keep off private property, and silently let your sign do the talking for you. Don’t distract from the ugly behavior of the Religious Right by engaging in ugly behavior of your own. You are a role model for any children and teens who have been dragged along; be the change that fundamentalist parents don’t want their kids to see in the world.
Valerie Tarico is a psychologist and writer in Seattle, Washington. She is the author of Trusting Doubt: A Former Evangelical Looks at Old Beliefs in a New Light and Deas and Other Imaginings, and the founder of www.WisdomCommons.org. Her articles about religion, reproductive health, and the role of women in society have been featured at sites including AlterNet, Salon, the Huffington Post, Grist, and Jezebel. Subscribe at ValerieTarico.com.