A school bus stops in the middle of the block, letting children and adults off into a lane of traffic without red flashing lights. They run around the bus and jump the curb to safety. This being Portland, only one driver honks at their recklessness.
Cardboard stop signs with “Stop abortion now” are plentiful and a smattering of yellow helium balloons with “LIFE” printed on them hover over the swelling crowd. A group of young people seem to be smiling as they join the crowd, though it’s hard to be sure with red duct tape over their mouths.
A couple of students join me on the corner. Halley bravely chooses “Gay sex prevents abortion,” and Dylan takes the conservative “Contraception prevents abortion.” They move on into the crowd while I wait to see if anyone else arrives.
An elderly man arriving at the rally looks disdainfully at my “Condoms prevent abortion” sign, and I ask what he thinks. He continues slowly walking: “It perverts the sex act and is an abomination in itself!” he proclaims emphatically.
A man standing alone nearby holds “Stop abortion now” for drivers and pedestrians. He has no gloves so I offer a pair. “Oh, I’ve worked outside all my life, but thanks for the offer.”
A youngish man dressed in chocolate brown monk-like robes holds one of the pre-printed signs: “Women do regret abortion.” He reads my “Men do regret not using condoms” sign with a pleasant expression. “What do you think?” I ask. He may have taken a vow of silence, and simply maintains a benevolent countenance.
A group of middle school-aged girls and their adult chaperone pass out bags of literature along the sidewalk. One of the girls asks for a sign and I choose “Abstinence prevents abortion” for her. Later, one of her friends asks for one and as I dig through the choices, “Oral sex prevents abortion” passes by. “Not that one.” “No, here’s a better one.” I hand her “Sex ed prevents abortion.” Another friend accepts “Gender equality prevents abortion.” I ask if she knows what it means and she isn’t sure so offer a quick definition.
A half dozen people are across the tracks and seem to be the counter rally, but the most visible sign is “Women do regret abortion.”
I cross over the tracks to see that sign represents the counter-counter rally, though I can’t follow much of what she’s loudly proclaiming. A pair of cheerful young women hold a sign, “My body, my choice.” Sarah Mirk is texting and capturing images.
I offer signs. One of the women chooses “Masturbation prevents abortion,” and a man takes “Contraception prevents abortion.”
The Church Lady—nicknamed by Sarah—scolds me, “You know better than that.”
“I do?” I ask innocently.
“You’re old enough to know better. Look at how young these girls are and you’re teaching them this.”
They laugh at this accusation.
“It prevents abortion,” I counter.
“Maybe it should say ‘dignified masturbation’.” I point to the top of the sign.
“You know better than that!”
I head back to the Square.
A couple of men have set up shop on a trash can, passing out plastic Rosaries. One has engaged a man in full camouflage attire. “Why is there a law against rape but not against abortion?” he asks, but before his target can answer, he says, “You can see where I’m going with this.” His argument is well-rehearsed. His partner offers me a Rosary and I signal no thanks. I resist the urge to butt in with “The law hasn’t prevented rape, do you think it’ll prevent abortions?”
A ways away, I see Halley and Dylan getting schooled by a priest and his index finger. Later, Halley tells me “He was very misinformed.” Apparently he didn’t know about condoms.
“Well, he doesn’t need to,” I quip... erroneously.
One of the men working security comes over and tells me in a confidential tone, “I really appreciate what you’re doing. I’m donating everything I earn today to Planned Parenthood.”
“Wow! Good for you.”
The middle school group has had enough and they return their signs. “We gotta go. Thanks.”
A young man walks quickly past the Rally for Life people to tell me, “Glad to see you out here, Bro.”
“Thanks! Want a free bumper sticker?”
I hand him the sticker we’re offering:
On the west side of the square, I see a man I’d greeted earlier carrying a homemade, double-sided sign: “Right to choose? That’s a lie. Babies don’t choose to die.” and “Stop killing babies.” A couple of people coming out of Starbucks seem amused by his signs and ask to take his photo with a smart phone, which he readily agrees to. I step aside to avoid photo bombing, but he recognizes me and waves me over to be in the photo. I’m holding “Nip abortion in the bud, support condoms.” The picture takers are delighted.
“Instagram,” I encourage them as we all part.
One of the speakers on stage is going on about how bad Obamacare is, claiming that the money spent could give everyone the best health insurance there is. Imagine that. He says it’s a Trojan horse. If he means it’ll include contraception, he’s right about that.
An older man looks puzzled at my “Gender equality prevents abortion” sign.
“You know, treating men and women equally,” I explain. While he looks down, apparently pondering the idea, I turn the sign around to “Condoms prevent abortion.”
“Yeah, I know...” he looks back up and recoils at the new sign. “Oh, don’t show me that!” and quickly turns away. Apparently the word itself is an abomination, not just the unmentionable item.
Halley and Dylan return their signs and I’m about as cold as I want to get, too. As the walk to Waterfront Park gets ready to move, a MAX train pulls up and the relative warmth draws me in. Enough for this year’s rally.
Rallies were held all over the country, including Washington DC where demonstrators marched on the US Supreme Court as Pope Benedict XVI tweeted encouragement from the Vatican. Back east they march but we’re low key and walk instead.
Before the DC demonstration, Jeanne Monahan, president of March for Life said “Being pro-life is the new normal.” Al Jazeera reports that Monahan “cited a recent Gallup poll in which 50 percent of respondents identified themselves as being against abortion—in contrast to 41 percent who believed in a woman’s right to choose on the issue, down from 56 percent in 1995.”
The May 2012 Gallup poll Monahan cited shows that 50% identify as pro-life, which is not the same as “being against abortion,” and 41% identify as pro-choice, which is not identical to believing in “a woman’s right to choose.” Mainstream media, with few exceptions, misrepresent the American people’s opinions on abortion as evenly divided.
In reality, Americans from all political parties overwhelmingly believe a woman should be free to make her own reproductive choices. A survey in August 2012 found that 71 percent of Republicans, 80 percent of Independents, and 89 percent of Democrats said they “strongly” believe women have the right to choose an abortion.
Opinions about abortions are more complicated than polls indicate.
We are all anti-abortion: no one is in favor of unwanted pregnancies, fetal deformities, or complications in pregnancy which endanger a woman’s life. The vast majority of us are also pro-choice, though that label has become less popular.
Rather than wasting our energies on friction, we could unite and work to reduce the need for abortions. The choice every woman getting an abortion would prefer is the choice to not need one in the first place.
UPDATE: In Gallup’s May 2015 poll 50% said they were “pro-choice” while 44% said they were “pro-life”.