I had the distinct pleasure of walking past Planned Parenthood this week while protesters were in front of it. They were handing out pamphlets and carrying signs. All of this would have been fine, except one of the old white guys yelled after me, “Did you know they kill babies here? 22,000 babies are murdered every year.”
First of all, I have no idea where they got this statistic because I’ve done some research and the most recent numbers aren’t anywhere close to this. According to the Planned Parenthood Fact Sheet, they performed about 324,000 abortions in 2008. Of the 700 Planned Parenthood clinics in the United States, only 216 perform abortions. That makes about 1,500 abortions per clinic per year. I’m no math major, but — oh wait. I am.
Either the clinic on Commonwealth Avenue performs 14.7 percent of all abortions in the country, or these protesters have no idea how many abortions are actually performed every year.
Second, I really hate that these protesters choose to stand outside Planned Parenthood. I understand why they do it logistically, but they can be intimidating to young girls who are just trying to get some help. If 100 people walked into a clinic, only about three of them would actually be there for abortions. Think about that. The other 97 women (and men) are there for STI testing, pregnancy tests, breast cancer screenings and contraception. Not only are the protesters scaring away women who are there for abortions, but also those who are there for other medical procedures that I believe most of said protesters would support.
The American Cancer Society estimates that 40 thousand women will die of breast cancer in 2014. If Planned Parenthood can prevent even one of those deaths, that seems like pretty noble work to me. However, if a woman is going to be harassed or yelled at just for getting a mammogram, maybe she won’t get one. Maybe she will decide that she doesn’t need the preventative care and her cancer will go undetected.
The First Amendment protects the freedoms of speech and assembly. However, there is a limitation on freedom of speech. A citizen is allowed to say whatever he or she wants as long as it doesn’t infringe upon the rights of others.
I believe a woman has the right to a safe, legal abortion without fear of intimidation from others. Roe v. Wade was a controversial ruling, but it was definitive. Every woman has a right to choose. If there are half a dozen protesters calling her a murderer as she walks into the clinic, is it really a choice?
I’m not convincing you to agree with my stance on abortion, but is there any chance we can agree on this? Women don’t deserve to be harassed or intimidated on the way to see a doctor, regardless of why she scheduled the appointment.
I’ve tried to gain some perspective on this issue. I understand why these people protest and intimidate (perhaps unintentionally). If you accept the premise that abortion is murder, then how could you not do everything you can to save as many lives as possible?
The problem here is that legally, it is not technically considered murder during the first trimester. Almost all clinics explain all courses of action before deciding on abortion. They don’t need help from protesters on the street. Clinics want abortions to be safe, legal and rare.
I don’t have a solution or some overarching “Kumbaya” message. There’s no happy ending to this story. But, I wish there was. This has probably been the most difficult piece I’ve written since I started publishing three years ago. This issue is incredibly personal and complicated, and I’m not arrogant enough to believe that my opinion is the right opinion for everyone.
It doesn’t matter if people disagree with me, or scream “right on!” as they read this. For just one minute I want my readers to put themselves in the shoes of that 20-year-old girl walking into a Planned Parenthood. It doesn’t matter why she’s there. Just imagine how she must feel as she walks up to the door as some 45-year-old woman shoves a pamphlet in her direction and starts spewing facts.
It’s not like “Juno”, where she has a pleasant conversation with a classmate who casually mentions that her baby has fingernails. It’s a flurried moment of interaction where the other person attempts to intimidate and persuade in the five-second window before she gets to the door.
I don’t want to go through that. I don’t want my sister, best friend or future daughter to go through that. There’s a difference between protesting and intimidating. While I’m not a fan of either, one seems downright illegal. I’m not expecting consensus, just consideration. Women have the right to choose. Don’t take that away from them.
Sara Ryan is a freshman in the College of Arts and Sciences studying political science and math. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.