“So what’d you do today?” I asked my friend last Sunday.
Her face perked up when she said, “I went to a pro-choice picnic at a park near Laurier metro!”
A pro-choice picnic! It rolls off the taste buds, doesn’t it? I didn’t think such a contentious issue could possibly sound so delightful and delicious. A pro-choice picnic in the park on a beautiful spring afternoon makes the Quebec Life Coalition’s 40 day vigil sound so very drab.
When I think about the pro-life versus pro-choice issue surrounding the topic of abortion, I automatically generate stock images of angry pro-this-pro-that women standing off in front of an abortion clinic. All of this, while the women entering the clinic to meet their appointments duck for cover from assaulting slogans and the sharp covers of picket signs. I couldn’t be more wrong about this particular social mobilization and abortion debate.
I spoke with Danielle Lewis, a core member of the group that has been mobilizing at Parc Lahaie (St- Joseph and St-Laurent) several days a week for the last month. This group, which sits on the “organized mass” part of the mobilization spectrum, has gathered as many as 150 pro-choice advocates during their stay at this park, which happens to be across the street from the Morgentaler abortion clinic.
The group’s general consensus dictates an aversion to being framed within a particular label, especially that of an “organization”. Lewis clarified that this group can, in its clearest interpretation, be considered a mass reacting to an otherwise one-way public dialogue. Despite the group not having any leader or rules, their presence abides by the law and peace-keeping guidelines. They’re not “reactionary” or “up against” pro-life protesters in the sense of being confrontational; in fact, they avoid engaging with the other group. They simply demonstrate their common opinion by being present.
“It’s about creating a positive presence of support for people at the clinic and for passers-by,” Lewis said. This, to me, is the kind of social action that gives protesting a good face: where little action is necessary and simply being present is the source of countering a negative presence.
Experiences with the “pro-life” group, which seems more appropriately named “anti-choice”, tell me how much Lewis and her friends put effort into avoiding conflict. I cringed at Lewis’s anecdotes as she told me how her group had been called “advocates of murder”, accused of being “pro-death”, and have been sprayed with holy water to cleanse them of their pro-choicer (aka evil) ways. Even if my convictions didn’t sit where they do (pro-choice, if you didn’t get that clear impression yet), I’d be absolutely embarrassed to side with these people and their drama-tactics. Their actions speak louder than anything they could say to convince me that abortion is wrong.
And, by the way, what’s with the dudes picketing for the pro-life side? I drove past Parc Lahaie yesterday and immediately scowled at what I saw, a lone man with Pro-life cardboard sign going about his business as if it was valid for him to do so! As if getting an abortion would be his decision to make, if it ever came down to it! I actually got quite frustrated when I saw this, without knowing exactly why.
Lewis pinpointed exactly what I was unable to put into words at the time. On the issue of men acting as pro-life advocates, she suggested that I reacted strongly at the thought of “men trying to institutionally take away [our] choices and autonomy”. In my mind, not only is it inappropriate to have men single-handedly represent an issue that concerns womens’ bodies, but like Lewis said, “[it’s] threatening to have men tell us what we can and cannot do.”
You can call me a beginner at the pro-choice versus pro-life debate, but I definitely have my priorities straight. Any organization that seeks to take away my options is not one that I could ever support.
So, what’s the best way to tell people where I stand? By showing up at Parc Lahaie any day of the week (starting at noon) or join in on the feast by bringing some crackers, dip, and celery sticks to the upcoming pro-choice potluck!
Check out the Pro-Choice Support Facebook page for updates and details on upcoming events.