Social convention

"Social convention" Continued...

Issue: "Reassessing the genome," Oct. 6, 2012

Accusations of extremism began early at the convention. While pro-abortion and pro-life demonstrators clashed on a street corner the first day, an unfolding Planned Parenthood rally offered glimpses of that group’s political strategy.

Planned Parenthood CEO Cecile Richards ignored the central concern of Republicans and conservatives who oppose federal funding for Planned Parenthood: The organization is the nation’s largest abortion provider.

Instead, Richards asked the crowd: “Can you believe we’re fighting in 2012 over the right of women in America to get birth control?” She declared: “That’s exactly what this election is about.”

To underscore the point, the rally’s emcee wore a costume that looked like a package of birth control pills. Volunteers distributed condoms to the crowd (and in the surrounding streets) inscribed with the message: “PROTECT YOURSELF FROM ROMNEY & RYAN IN THIS ELECTION.”

In the nightly meetings at the nearby Time Warner Cable Arena, a parade of speakers each night included remarks that carried implicit or overt references to abortion. 

Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick declared: “We believe that freedom means keeping government out of our most private affairs, including out of a woman’s decision whether to keep an unwanted pregnancy and everybody’s decision about whom to marry.”

Nancy Keenan of NARAL (National Abortion Rights Action League Pro-Choice America) praised Obama and warned that Romney would “overturn Roe v. Wade and sign into law a wave of outrageous restrictions on a woman’s ability to make decisions about her pregnancy.”

Richards of Planned Parenthood used her podium time to warn again that Republicans want to restrict access to birth control. And in a primetime speaking spot, pro-abortion activist Sandra Fluke called a future with Republicans an “offensive, obsolete relic of our past,” and said that Romney won’t stand up to the “extreme, bigoted voices in his own party.”

Meanwhile, back on the streets of downtown Charlotte, extreme voices of pro-abortion activists abounded. At a mid-week pro-life demonstration at the city’s central intersection, nearly 40 pro-life activists carried signs with pictures of a baby in the womb, and the statement: “I am a person.”

As they began a simple program with a handful of reserved speakers, a group of pro-abortion supporters surrounded the group to block passersby from seeing the demonstration. They chanted and carried signs that declared: “Keep Abortion Legal.” Two women sang an offensive song about female anatomy. One man shouted: “I’m rallying to save all life—not just white fetus life.”

Nearby, a 29-year-old woman from Portland, Ore., who identified herself as an anarchist named “John Doe,” explained her objection to the pro-life position: “No one should be forced to carry another human being to term.” She added: “By medical definitions, a fetus is actually a parasite that lives inside a host.”

Another activist, Sarah Shanks, helps pro-abortion protesters form barriers around pro-life sidewalk counselors at abortion clinics in Washington, D.C. She called pregnancy “nine months of a life-threatening issue,” and added: “To ignore the fact that women have to be the vessels to carry these babies—or fetuses—to term is offensive.”

Shanks—who is white—said she helps women facing poverty and other difficult situations. She pointed to the pro-lifers: “These white, middle-class people have no idea what that kind of situation would be like because they’re too privileged.”

A few feet away, Erika Barnes, a 19-year-old black woman from Charlotte, stood on a small stool talking about how she nearly had an abortion earlier this year. Today, her round belly shows she’s eight months pregnant.

Barnes says a pair of pro-life supporters outside a local abortion clinic asked if she was sure about getting an abortion: “My answer was no.” An ultrasound made her choose life: “I was able to see his face.”

Now, a few weeks before her son’s delivery, Barnes said she’s thankful for her decision: “I can’t say I have everything figured out, because I don’t. But I know what I’m doing is right. In a big way, I feel like my son has saved my life.”

Andrea Hines—a local pro-life activist who planned the event—talked about her deep regret over an abortion she had in 1977. (Later, when I mentioned my age to Hines, her eyes looked sad when she replied: “My daughter would almost be your age.”)

Despite the intense counter protest, Hines said the event’s message was simple: “A person in the womb needs to be identified as a person, and have their rights protected.”

The Democratic  platform doesn’t embrace that view. Instead, the party’s document declares that it “strongly and unequivocally supports Roe v. Wade and a woman’s right to make decisions regarding her pregnancy, including a safe and legal abortion, regardless of her ability to pay.” Though the platform once said that abortions should be “rare,” this year’s document excludes that word, just as it did in 2008.

This article has been edited to clarify that the children accompanying pro-life activists in the beginning of the story did not speak through a megaphone. Only one activist declared: “Unless you repent, you will be cast into hell.”


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