The Time An Abortion Protester ‘Counseled’ Me
Yesterday’s SCOTUS decision striking down a protester buffer ring around MA health clinics made me remember the time I got “counseled” by a man protesting Planned Parenthood. He yelled “MURDERER!” at me and waved a Bible. I was 25, scared, and fresh off a nasty surprise in the form of a broken condom. I blurted out, “Not yet!”
I wasn’t trying to be sassy, believe it or not. I was just being honest. I felt so guilty at having sex outside of a monogamous relationship. I’d never done that before, not really. I was 25 and had been having sex with boys for four years, more or less. I wasn’t particularly “good” at it, or so I thought (it took a few years before I realized sex was not a competition with some imaginary ideal). I had only begun drinking alcohol at 23, during my first year of teaching, and so I didn’t have much experience with what happens when a lot of booze combines with a lack of self-esteem and a determination to live life like women on that documentary series, “Sex and the City.”
I was new to New York City, new to “casual” sex (I’ve since learned that no sex is truly casual, at least not in my life), new to making choices that my 16-year-old anti-abortion, not-so-sure-about-those-homosexuals Catholic self would’ve abhorred. I hadn’t yet found a way to express myself through writing and stand-up comedy, activities that would make me stronger, happier, and an all-around better human being. I was meek and nice and sweet, and I was not skinny enough for my own liking, and I was sad sometimes about the boyfriend who had dumped me right before I moved to New York, and when I saw that broken condom gathered like the world’s grossest Elizabeth ruff around my gentleman caller’s member, I panicked.
“Don’t worry,” I said to the guy, who couldn’t have been 30 yet. “I have this under control.” I don’t think he was worried; I don’t think he cared one bit, to be honest, but I sure did.
An unplanned pregnancy had always been a huge, shameful nightmare of mine. And the thought of an abortion — the greatest possible sin, I was pretty sure — had terrified me since I first saw the photos of fetuses the “health education” lady from church showed us in catechism class. We were in eighth grade at the time. She told us that fetuses could feel pain from the start, even when some people wouldn’t even call them fetuses yet. There was a film called “The Silent Scream.” It was an abortion, 11 weeks after conception. I can’t remember if we watched it (I have an inherited habit of blocking really painful things out of my mind) or if we just saw stills from it.
I remember a poster with an aborted fetus beside a penny, for size comparison. That I do remember.
I went home and asked my parents if I could go to the March For Life, a big annual march on Washington to demand the end to state-sponsored baby murder. They said no, I could not take a day off from school to do this thing. I was very mad, because this was the Most Important Cause in the World, and their insensitivity spoke volumes.
Later that year, my mother told me she hadn’t been a virgin when she married my father (although she had only ever been with him). I called her a slut.
I got on the guy’s laptop (a heavy thing, if I remember 2006 correctly), and found that Planned Parenthood opened in a few hours. So I sat in his apartment and waited until then, patiently checking my cell phone every five minutes while he snored peacefully. I was pretty sure he would never call me again, and as it turned out, I was right.
I went on the street and hailed a cab. It took me to the Sanger Clinic, which probably has some name that’s fancier than that, but everybody I knew called it the Sanger Clinic. I was hungry and tired and anxious and I knew I needed to get Plan B, the drug that people said wasn’t as bad as an abortion really (the abortion drug was different), but it prevented a baby from being conceived and that meant it was at least some kind of evil.
And I got out of the cab, and a man in overalls with a big white beard stared at me, and I just wanted to have a nice interaction with a person, especially a man, and I said “Good morning” and that’s when I saw he was carrying a Bible, and I knew right away that was a bad sign, and then he called me a murderer. He shouted it so loud it almost wasn’t a word anymore. It was a force of nature.
I was rescued by two mid-2000s feminist hipsters wearing “Escort” vests. I looked at the vests and wondered if I had entered the place where sex workers and pro-lifers somehow mixed, which seemed like a very East Village thing, but they were Planned Parenthood escorts, and they were there to help me. They chattered at me about my “cool” clothes and earrings and smoothly walked me the dozen feet or so to the entrance, where a security guard took over. They promised me they would still be there when I left, and they were.
They knew how to talk to a scared young woman as if everything were normal, as if she weren’t being screamed at by the human embodiment of an angry Judeo-Christian sky-god, as if she didn’t already feel like shit. They knew how to make me feel human, and for that I was and remain enormously grateful.
It was too soon to tell if I were pregnant, I learned (I knew this intellectually, of course). I could take Plan B, or I could wait and see. It was up to me.
The escorts were there when I left. The screaming man had gone. I guess he just worked the morning shift.
Weeks later, sitting in class at Columbia University Teachers College after a day of student-teaching in an NYC public middle school, I felt something very tiny inside me snap like a brittle twig. I felt a wave of pain unlike anything I’d ever experienced, worse even than the cystoscopy I’d endured with no anesthesia when I was 15. I left class early so I could lay down on a public restroom floor and cry. It hurt to walk. I don’t remember the blood (remember, I don’t remember things that I don’t want to remember), but I remember crawling up the stairs to my apartment because walking was too difficult. The carpet on the stairs smelled like dogs and dirt. I figured I deserved that.
I took a bunch of Xanax and some Advil and fell asleep clutching my favorite thing in the world. It was a stuffed giraffe my great-grandmother had given me right after I was born. Its name was Mary.