A few weeks ago, a friend and I were talking about the intersection of personal beliefs and independent thought. Specifically, she was wondering if buying a onesie that said, “This is What a Feminist Looks Like” for her infant son would be expressing her beliefs through her child’s clothing or if it would just be cute. (We agreed that it would be both.) I was reminded of this conversation recently, thanks to a situation that caught me totally off-guard.
As part of our seemingly endless quest to find reliable daycare for our child, my husband and I set up an appointment at a small, local center. I did some research on the facility before our meeting, and came across information that indicated that one of the directors worked at a crisis pregnancy center (CPC). Since it’s not uncommon for online searches to turn up misleading information, I decided to keep the appointment, and was impressed with the facility. Yet my concern lingered, and further conversation with the director revealed that she did, in fact, work at the CPC.
This wasn’t just any CPC—it was one that I had researched while writing my book, and in my office I had a collection of pamphlets and brochures that this organization gave out to its clients. These materials were full of misleading information about birth control and abortion; they vastly exaggerated the failure rate of birth control and practically promised that abortion would cause depression and breast cancer. That the center offered this “information” under the guise of supporting and helping women was infuriating and troubling.
CPCs do more than mislead individual women. There is a long history of CPC volunteers harassing and threatening clinic staffs and patients, and a number of violent anti-choice extremists have volunteered with or run crisis pregnancy clinics. Scott Roeder, the man who murdered George Tiller, was a “sidewalk counselor” for a CPC near Dr. Tiller’s clinic in Wichita; James Kopp, who murdered Dr. Barnett Slepian and is suspected of attempting to kill four other doctors, founded a CPC in San Francisco. For years, Operation Rescue has urged its supporters to volunteer at their local CPCs, some of which take a very active role in targeting abortion providers. A 2010 clinic violence survey from the Feminist Majority Foundation found that 57 percent of abortion clinics reported proximity to a CPC, and that 32 percent of clinics that are located near a CPC experienced higher rates of severe violence, compared to 11.3 percent of clinics that are not near CPCs.
While the volunteers and staff of CPCs avow that their only goal is to provide assistance for pregnant women, there is absolutely nothing redeeming about organizations that blatantly lie to make their point. There is nothing admirable about facilities that deliberately mimic the names and locations of reputable health clinics in the hopes of preventing women from getting sound medical advice and unbiased assistance. And there is nothing moral about scaring or shaming women.
My husband and I like to joke that our child’s inevitable rebellion will take the form of embracing conservative politics or becoming an investment banker. It’s even more likely that we will make decisions that our child disagrees with, or finds embarrassing, or doesn’t understand. And for all I know, the decision that we could not entrust any part of our child’s care to someone that worked for a CPC, could very well fall into that category.
But that’s a risk that I’m willing to take—not to be self-righteous, or to prove some point to this daycare director, because I doubt that our reason will make one bit of difference to her or cause her to think differently. That kind of arrogance seems to be the province of anti-choicers that really think that yelling at, or lying to, women will change their minds.
No, this decision about my child is also for my child, who doesn’t yet know what it means to live your values, or how important it is to look at the big picture. Who has no idea what compromise is, much less which compromises make sense and which just diminish you.
Several years ago, I interviewed Emily Lyons. We were discussing her early nursing career, which included caring for a woman that was having an in-hospital abortion. “It’s a choice, just like everything else in the world,” she told me. “Everything is a choice. You choose to get up in the morning … you know, people say it’s not a choice it’s a child. No, it is a choice. It is a decision that you have to make.”
Everything is a choice, up to and including not making a choice. One day my child may choose to not be a feminist—that wouldn’t make me happy, but that’s also not my decision to make. All that I can do is foster a loving, supportive, and truthful environment—and maybe buy this onesie, too.
Sarah's first book, Generation Roe: Inside the Future of the Pro-Choice Movement, will be out March 2013. For more information, follow her on Twitter @saraherdreich, or check out saraherdreich.com.