My first anti-Choice Rally

by Thea Lavin on January 25, 2005

Last Saturday, I attended my very first anti- choice rally. Normally I don’t pay attention to such events, instead sniffing coolly at the chopped up fetus posters and rosary circles outside of Planned Parenthoods. But when the San Francisco rally, called the Walk for Life West Coast, was advertised as a “feminist affirmation of life,” I couldn”t help myself.

True to the hype, the rally’s theme strayed from the
standard anti-choice “Abortion is Murder” mantra. In
an attempt to appear supportive of women’s
empowerment, Feminists for Life, the organizers of the
event, printed their own motto “Women Deserve Better
Than Abortion,” on thousands of glossy placards.

But beneath the shallow allusion to women’s liberation
was the same old mangled fetus paraphernalia and
anti-feminism from before.

In the spirit of repackaging, I decided to also shed
my old protest gear for a softer, more reasonable
look. Instead of sporting coat hangers, buttons and a
“Bush Get Out of Mine” poster, I opted for a
conservative jeans and lilac top combo. Eager to see
how our new images might change the polemic dialogue,
I slipped inconspicuously into the rally.

Despite the few women on stage and loads of pro-woman
signs, the only protestors I encountered at first were
men, including a lanky white guy who walked towards me
with a pile of handouts. “Hello,” he said. “Would you
like one?”

“Sure,” I answered quietly, unsure of how I would
respond to any other questions. Smiling back at me, he
pressed a modest looking blue pamphlet in my hand
titled, “What they never told you about the facts of

“O.k.,” I wondered, slowly opening the pamphlet to a
full- page picture of a bloody fetus.

Feeling like I had just been served a cheap trick, I
walked further into the protest that by that time held
around five thousand participants.

“Abortion is a reflection that we have not met the
needs of women. Women deserve better,” Feminists for
Life Vice President Sally Winn said into a microphone.
“Like Susan B. Anthony, we must systematically
eliminate the root causes that drive women to

Much of what Winn told protestors was similar to what
one might hear at a pro-choice rally. Women are in
poverty and can’t afford more children. Single moms
need more housing support and educational
opportunities. Women should not have to choose between
pursing a career and child rearing. Yes, yes, yes.

But what Winn and the other Feminists for Life missed
was that in addition to a more child friendly and
economically just society, women also have the simple
and unattended right to choose. Period.

The lack of choice in women’s lives has always been
the impetus for feminist action. Choose to have an
abortion or choose not to. Choose to attend business
school or write a novel or bake cookies all day.
Choose without the need to explain or justify.

The Walk for Life’s form of feminism offers a default
value system in which women’s options are limited. By
the determined look of the hawkish Dominican priests
surfing the protest alongside literature toting
grandpas and husbands, pro-life women are not the only
ones in charge of what options they can choose from.

“There are lots of women up there (on the stage)
because it is more powerful when it comes from a
woman,” said Zach Foremn, a 4th year theology student
at Berkeley and anti-choice protestor. “But abortion
is not just a woman’s issue. You don’t have to be a
soldier to fight in the war.”

This sentiment was reiterated by five male students
from Marin Catholic High school and members of the
“Respect Life” club (“We collect a couple of hundred
dollars for women who choose to keep their baby.”) One
student, a senior in his class, told me that making
decisions about women’s reproductive health is
everyone’s responsibility because “man or a woman, I
don’t think it really matters. Abortion is wrong under
every condition.”

At the end of the rally and heated march, I wandered
around the Walk for Life Info Tent, feeling depressed
and unresolved. Parishes were lining up in single file
nearby, waiting for their buses to take them home and
away from San Francisco. (Protest organizer Dolores
Meehan estimated that 3/4 of participants were bussed
in.) I stopped when I arrived at the Feminist for
Life table and asked a slight blond woman standing by
the email list what “Women Deserve Better than
Abortion” meant to her.

“It means that when you flip through the yellow pages
for a crises pregnancy, there are more options besides
abortion and adoption,” she responded. Like much of
the Walk for Life’s pro-woman packaging, increasing
women’s resources is an inarguably good thing.

But as I turned to walk away, she reached forward to
stop me. Smiling, she leaned across the table and
handed me a stack of pamphlets, the top one reading
“Abortion, the Murder of the Unborn.”

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