Wednesday, July 13, 2022

On Abortion

"The atmosphere is tense," said Robert Corlett, a spokesman for Planned Parenthood of Greater Cleveland. "But we are prepared."
- Washington Post, July 9, 1993  
Rich "Torque" Weiss & Shelly "Gooch" Bishop
The Plain Dealer, 7/14/1993
Photo: Roadell Hickman
Mainstream Democrats, those who have supported legislation to preserve abortion rights, have also contributed to the entirely unnecessary sense of shame that has long been associated with this vital reproductive health procedure.

“Safe and accessible but rare,” they would say. Why rare? As if it is something which should not happen. Safe and accessible and legal, now and forever. That was all that needed to be said. The rest is judgment.

I bristled in 1992, in 1996 and in 2000, as candidates Bill Clinton and Al Gore would firmly but dispassionately assert their support for a "woman’s right to choose.”

To choose what? A new bath mat? To choose the chicken tempura? How can you defend a thing if you cannot say it? They made it clear, the very word abortion could not be spoken. It was unspeakable.
unspeakable, adj.
1a. Incapable of being expressed in words
1b. inexpressibly bad: horrendous
Abortion is neither of those things. In words, abortion is the deliberate termination of a human pregnancy, and while you may ascribe negative feelings to that, that is entirely subjective.

So, not unspeakable. However, by ceding the definition of abortion to those who would seek to abolish it, those who would preserve it have waited until far too late to embrace it.

Twenty-nine years ago this week, during the summer of 1993, an organization calling itself Operation Rescue set out to stage protests in nine cities across the country, outside clinics that provided reproductive health procedures (including abortion) and also the homes of doctors who perform such procedures.

This was only four months after Dr. David Gunn, an OB/GYN and provider of abortion services, was shot to death outside of his clinic in Pensacola, Florida.

Members of Guerrilla Theater Co. joined a coalition of abortion rights advocates, attending seminars on ways to keep ourselves from getting arrested during counter-protests. Planned Parenthood and other organizations taught us to keep our cool, but put pressure on more radical groups, like Refuse and Resist, not to be confrontational. We were all instructed to make nice with the Cleveland Police.

We needed to keep close to the street, but never step into the street or we would be arrested. We needed to keep a clear path to the door and keep the sidewalk clear or we would be arrested. And most important of all, we were told not to face nor antagonize the opposition.

Each faction was expected to keep on one side of the street, facing the street, side by side. We could not look at each other, speak to each other, nor antagonize each other. We were to face the street, wave our signs, chant our slogans to the general public, but not to each other, and not towards the clinic. If the Police felt one side was confronting the other, we would be arrested.

We, the members of Guerrilla, met to throw around ideas for performance-based stunts, but didn’t think it was appropriate to attract that kind of attention to ourselves. It wasn’t about us. Besides, we had all been explicitly warned not to stir things up.

So, we just made sure we were on the line, bright and early. We held up signs that had been made by others and responded to passing, honking cars as though they were our supporters regardless of whether they were.

Things passed without incident for us on that first day. Early the second day, however, a tall, stocky, middle-aged man wearing a suit stood with his toes on the line facing our side of the sidewalk, and began addressing us. He was balding with a gray beard. Not a bad look.

He called out, "God sayeth blah blah blah blah blah!" or something to that effect.

"You're not supposed to be facing us, sir," someone said politely.

"God will blah blah blah the unrighteous," he called out -- he wasn't screaming or yelling, he was obviously used to projecting his voice long distances.

One of us went to a policeman and pointed out what should have been obvious, this guy was antagonizing us and that he shouldn't be doing that. The policeman walked over to the Tall Man, and asked him to please face the street. The Tall Man made a brief objection as re: freedom of speech, yadda yadda and faced the street again. For about five minutes.

Soon he was back to facing us. "God holds sway over the wicked," he yelled, "you cannot hide from the judgment of the Lord."

As this was the second day, our fear and adrenaline had subsided a bit. Our minds were clearer, but it was hot and we were tired ... and it was only noon.

"You cannot hide from the judgment of The Lord," he said again.

The Plain Dealer, 7/13/1993
Photo: Robin Layton Kinsley
Torque and I walked up to the line to face him. A few of our cohorts saw us making this bee-line towards him and tried to stop us, not knowing what we were up to.

We stood at the line, facing him, smiling a little. He looked us in the eye. He was taller than we were, and I am tall. We said nothing. The police did nothing.

"The Lord shall smite his enemies!” he said to us, so everyone could hear.

Then slowly, and with great care, standing side by side, looking straight at the Tall Man, we raised our arms and put our hands onto the domes of our own heads. He continued to stare at us.

In unison we moved our hands down onto our own shoulders. Maintaining eye-contact as long as we could, we bent down to touch our own knees.

And finally, breaking eye contact for a moment, we touched our toes. Then we stood up straight and stared at the Tall Man, and waited.

"The Lord --" he started, and as he did so, so did we.

Head, shoulders, knees and toes.

The police walked nearer to where a conflict appeared imminent.

"The Lord Our Father will save you from --"

Heads, shoulders, knees and toes. Knees and toes.

After it became apparent that that was all we were going to do, and that we weren't going to stop until he shut up, he wandered away, and so did we.

It was only perhaps five minutes before the Tall Man was once again standing perpendicular to the street, his toes on the line, facing our side, pontificating.

"God will honor the virtuous life!" he called. Torque and I exchanged a brief glance and sped back to our positions in front of him. But we had already discussed a change in tactic.

We touched our own heads, side in front of him, and then our shoulders. We touched our knees and our toes.

"The Lord sayeth I will be vengeful upon those --"

"YES!" we shouted together as we stood up straight. His mouth closed. We touched our heads.

Shoulders. Knees. Toes.

"The Lord Our Father --"

"YES!" we cried, orgasmically as we stood back up.

"YOUR STRANGE RITUALS WILL NOT SAVE YOU!" he yelled, and defiantly shrunk away from the line.

Our satisfaction was short-lived, however. It is impossible to know whether or not our confrontation embarrassed the officers who failed to act but very shortly a few members of Refuse & Resist were arrested for being a “traffic hazard during rush hour” as well as “taunting people and refusing the adhere to police rules” when all they were actually doing was crossing a side street, not the main thoroughfare, across from the protest.

We were once more tense and angry, our end of the sidewalk chanting “PEACE, officer! PEACE, officer!”

The next day Beemer, Torque and I brought our own signs, and stood with the crowd on the Operation Rescue side of the street. We had signs that read:



Leviticus. 22:24

Because everyone was facing the same direction, it took a while before anyone realized what our signs read. There were some murmurings and finally a young man said to me, “Hey, friend, you’re making us look bad.”

I said to him what so many evangelicals have told me throughout the years: “You’re almost there.”

The Plain Dealer, 7/12/1993
Photo: Roadell Hickman
Recalling the events of July 1993, it was clear even then that Roe was a house built on sand. (Matthew 7:26) Organizers from Planned Parenthood and NARAL Pro-Choice wrung their hands over the positive optics that were generated by Operation Rescue, and the more confusing message sent by activists like those members of Refuse & Resist.

The associate director of Greater Cleveland Planned Parenthood said that “some of the stuff (Refuse & Resist has done) is disgusting,” referring to stunts such as when one protester arrived as a crucified woman wrapped in a bloodied American flag. “It’s harmful to the Pro-Choice movement.”

Meanwhile the media was marveling at how passive and meek the Operation Rescue protestors were behaving while at the same time reporting on their protesting outside of the private homes of doctors, which in light of the recent murder of Dr. Gunn must have been absolutely terrifying to those inside.

Since 1993 Operation Rescue has branded itself Operation Save America and has expanded its efforts into harassing school districts into banning gay-straight alliance student groups and even ceremoniously burning non-Christian religious texts. 

Defenders of reproductive freedom were wrong to believe that a soft message maintaining the status quo could ever remain successful. With Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization effectively ending the national right to safe and legal abortion, we have shifted the language from “a woman’s right to choose” to one of “bodily autonomy” which is stronger and punchier, but we must also not be shamed from using the word abortion.

In the few weeks since Dobbs, and the implementation in Ohio of a law prohibiting abortion after the sixth week of pregnancy, we have already learned of a ten year old who has gone to Indiana to receive an abortion. A cancer patient who could not receive chemotherapy while pregnant who has gone to Indiana to receive an abortion.

I can only imagine my own wife, suffering from preeclampsia, our unborn child already dead, having to travel to Indiana to receive the abortifacient drugs to induce labor, drugs which quite possibly saved her life.

Also? Early in our relationship, my wife Toni I had an elective abortion. We have never regretted that decision, and we would have made the same decision today. Looking back, that decision made the rest of our lives together possible.

It was our legal right to do so, and it will be again.


“Operation Rescue to Begin Antiabortion Demonstrations Today in Seven Cities” by Gary Lee, The Washington Post, 7/9/1993 

“4 Arrested at Abortion Protests at Two Clinics” by Joe Frolik, Plain Dealer, 7/12/1993

“Anti-abortionists' burning of Quran called 'hateful'” The Jackson Clarion-Ledger, 7/20/2006

"Man Charged With Rape of 10-Year-Old Ohio Girl Whose Abortion Story Dave Yost, Other Republicans Called a Fabrication" by Vince Grzegorek, Cleveland Scene, 7/13/2022

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