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Yesterday I made a woman cry

October 28, 2012

Yesterday I made a woman cry and I don’t feel bad about it.

At the clinic defence yesterday twenty or so anti-choice activists were in attendance, dwarfing the  handful of defenders and Friends of the Fertility Clinic.  One anti-choice woman repeatedly offered the abortion rights activists her propaganda.  Each time she was politely refused and she left, only to return and offer her material to another.

By the end of the defence I was talking to a young woman from RMIT who is filming a documentary on abortion rights and pro-life groups.  The same anti-choice woman approached to offer us her material and I politely refused.  She then engaged the RMIT student to discuss men who are experiencing grief.  In doing so she used the phrase “women who kill their babies.”  I couldn’t hold my tongue at that moment and asked her why did she feel the need to use that language, explaining that I feel such language is used to guilt and shame women.  I went on to espouse my view that we need to end the stigma of abortion and ending the use of language to shame women is a great place to start.  She asked me for an example of a better term and I suggested “terminating a pregnancy.”

She went on to ask me that if woman or man asked for a recommendation to a pro-choice counsellor could I name one.  My response was probably not what she expected.  I explained I don’t agree with the use of the phrases pro-life or pro-choice counsellor and that I would never recommend anyone to a counsellor with a bias.

At this stage I noticed a tear running down the anti-choice woman’s face.

At that time it felt like my mind flashed through a dozen thoughts.  I clearly recall thinking I was raised never to make a woman cry and that if I did I should stop whatever I was doing and apologise.  I also recall thinking that my previous thought was patriarchal and I should treat everyone equally.  I also then realised the RMIT student was recording the conversation and her camera might capture the tear.  But I also thought that despite the tear the anti-choice woman might need to hear a view that disagrees with hers and that I should continue with respect to her but diligence to my own views.

I continued on to say I would recommend anyone experiencing regret over an abortion to see their GP.  Their GP could then recommend a professional counsellor or psychologist and if needed begin a mental health plan.  I repeated my objection to recommending anyone to amateur faith based counselling that is designed to shame women.

I then noticed a second tear clearly falling down her cheek.

At this point the anti-choice woman chose to leave and return to her group.

My colleagues were leaving for a debrief which I also had to attend so I bade a quick farewell to the RMIT student, wondering what would be recorded on her tape.  (Memory is a funny thing and her recording will probably differ from my memory. I’d be interested to see it.)

At the debrief I spoke to my colleague Debbie about my doubt at making the anti-choice woman cry, but Debbie told me not to think too much of it.  Like me she thought the anti-choice woman needed to hear what I said.

I don’t know the name of the anti-choice woman.  I don’t know if my tone or body language could have been threatening.  I do know I tried to speak calmly and respectfully at all times.  I don’t feel good about making this woman cry but at the same time I don’t feel bad about it either.  It may be that she needed to be challenged about how her use of language can hurt others.

  1. S L McCoy permalink

    Based on your description of the event, it seems that the woman’s tear emerged when you said you did not like the terms pro-life and pro-choice and would never recommend a biased counselor. I’d wager that she was very shocked at your even-handedness. Many anti-choicers have been brainwashed into believing that abortion clinics try to convince every pregnant woman who comes in to have an abortion because they want to make money. They do not know that abortion doctors make much less money than ob/gyns with childbirth-oriented practices or that PP clinic personnel advise women clearly unsure of what choice they want to make that they should think about it more. That woman had probably assumed you to be a monster only to discover that her assumptions were wrong. The response of fanaticism to reason and impartial compassion is inevitably guilt.

  2. Jane permalink

    “I was raised to never make a woman cry” – certainly you should always be mindful of the feelings of others regardless of their sex/gender.

    Given the moment at which the woman’s tears occurred, I would have actually begun to wonder whether she herself has had an abortion in the past and still struggles with the emotional fall out. Sometimes, the only way people can cope with the guilt of making a choice that sits at odds with their own personal values is to judge and belittle those around them who make the same choice, hence the anti-choice crusade. I think pro-choice supporters (of which I am one) need to be more mindful that anti-choicers have personal and private histories too and perhaps offer them someone to talk to. Clearly it wasn’t just the person who originally caused the tears in the first place who needed the debrief and I doubt this woman would find fair and impartial counsel from her crusading friends. I have a feeling that you missed a perfect opportunity to offer not only comfort to someone who was clearly experiencing pain, but to also help her make sense of her past. You never know, she might have been asking for a pro-choice counsellor for her own personal reasons.

    But then, this is all pure conjecture – it’s just that after years involved in a helping profession, my spidey senses started tingling on this one.

  3. Lisa permalink

    I just don’t understand why an ‘abortion clinic’ has to exist in a country where abortion is a normal legal medical procedure. Why can’t it just be handled by the major public hospitals, then the protesters would never know which women were getting abortions or any other medical procedure. Though I understand a catholic hospital like St Vincent is probably reticent to give abortions.

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