From ancient Greece and Palestine on through the Middle Ages and Renaissance, and all around the world, protesters have a long tradition of being unmanageable pests. Mohandas Gandhi and Martin Luther King help make protest more respectable. Labor, peace, civil rights, all kinds of topics have regularly challenged the establishment. The contemporary world has gotten use to this. The abortion clinic is one of the prime targets now.

Actually, a very small portion of the opposition to abortion is aimed at picketing clinics. Most prolifers are engaged in public education efforts, lobbying, campaigning for political office. The majority of the resources and efforts are going into providing one-on-one assistance to women with crisis pregnancies. All these activities aren't newsworthy, or only slightly so, and so the general public doesn't hear too much about them.

Those actions aren't what catches the attention of the abortion clinics. They may have their own lobbying and public affairs people who deal with debates with the opposition, and they would meet with opponents in political campaigns. That isn't too unusual for businesses. The crisis pregnancy centers may take some business away, or the clinic may refer clients reluctant to get abortions to them, but businesses are accustomed to competition and referrals.

The protesters are more common, more unusual, take up more of the attention of those actually working in the clinic, and are far more irritating.

Ironically, in some cases abortion staff have their own background of being protesters themselves. There are individuals in the abortion business who find it especially trying to think of themselves as actually being The Establishment.

What can the protesters do? They don't help the image of the business, and occasionally pull a client away from it. They provide a presence which makes the lack of consensus on abortion clear and unmistakable. They find out about health scandals, primarily from the former clients, and bring these to the attention of the media and authorities, who occasionally listen. They provide a support group for any staff that wishes to leave and needs that kind of help.

They do not cause the downfall of any clinic, unless that clinic gives them the means to do so by being sloppy or callous. Quite a few clinics, however, are affording them that opportunity.


A stereotype, by definition, is not true, but has some truth in it. It's an observation which may be true of some individuals, but becomes untrue when applied to the entire group. Quite a few prolifers really are Catholic, and quite a few prochoicers really are atheist, but it is neither fair nor accurate to assume that they all are. Believing in a stereotype means being out of touch with the truth, out of touch with reality. It may help bolster your philosophy, but such belief is bound to lead to foolish and counterproductive actions.

Stereotype-breakers among prolifers include the Pro-life Alliance of Gays and Lesbians, Libertarians for Life, Feminists for Life of America, the Professional Women's Network, and the Feminism and Nonviolence Studies Association. The Seamless Garment Network, a peace movement group, is made up of over 150 groups who believe in a "consistent life ethic." Many polls show that most prolifers do oppose capital punishment, and are twice as likely to do so as a member of the general population.

The stereotype of women prolifers can be especially vicious. The leadership of the pro-life movement is now and always has been female-dominated. Most leaders and members of boards are women. The service wing of the movement, providing crisis pregnancy support to women, is vastly female-dominated. These are not women that are doing it because their husbands told them to. These are frequently professional and articulate women who are subjected to more sexist behavior from the pro-choice movement and media than they would ever receive or tolerate from the pro-life movement.

At the 1992 Democratic convention, a delegate, Dr. Anne Maloney, was physically attacked and sustained bruises. This would normally be a headline story in a political convention. Few paid attention at all. This pro-life delegate not only had the nerve to be a Democrat, but was vice-president of Feminists for Life of Minnesota and a college professor. She didn't fit the stereotype well enough to allow much coverage.

The media has announced the death of the right-to-life movement many times over the years, but somehow, it doesn't seem to happen. If the movement were a bunch of sexually uptight men who just want to keep women in their place, along with "their" women who wanted to be kept in their place, then the demise of the movement would be a reasonable enough notion. If the movement were made up of uneducated religious fanatics who barely know what to do if someone isn't giving them orders, then it would indeed have disappeared long ago. If the stereotypes were true, the movement would have gotten completely discouraged and quit before taking all the many beatings it's taken.

On the other hand, if prolifers really mean what they say, and are not using it as a sneaky way of trying to do something else, then it's easy enough to account for their stubbornness.

Maintaining a stereotype will interfere with an ability to figure out what is really going on. Plans based on stereotypes are bound to go awry.

From Lysistrata, an ancient classic Greek comedy play by Aristophanes, produced in 411 B.C.E., in which the women of warring city-states go on a successful sex strike to get their men to stop warring:

Lampito: As for our own [Spartan] men, we can persuade them to make a just and fair peace; but what about the Athenian rabble? Who will persuade them not to start any more monkey-shines?

Lysistrata: Don't worry. We guarantee to convince them.

Lampito: Not while their ships are rigged so well and they have that mighty treasure in the temple of Athena.

Lysistrata: We've taken good care for that too: we shall seize the Acropolis today. The older women have orders to do this, and while we are making our arrangements, they are to pretend to make a sacrifice and occupy the Acropolis.

Lampito: All will be well then. That's a very fine idea.

Lysistrata: Let's ratify this, Lampito, with the most solemn oath. . . .

(After the oath, a shout is heard from off-stage)

Lampito: What's that shouting?

Lysistrata: That's what I was telling you: the women have just seized the Acropolis. Now, Lampito, go home and arrange matters in Sparta . . . We'll enter the Acropolis to join our friends and help them lock the gates.

Calonice: Don't you suppose the men will come to attack us?

Lysistrata: Don't worry about them. Neither threats nor fire will suffice to open the gates, except on the terms we've stated.

Calonice: I should say not! Else we'd belie our reputation as unmanageable pests.

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