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Protesting for Privacy

By Beth L. Pinsker

Operation Rescue is in Boston today planning to harass women outside abortion clinics around the metropolitan area. There are posters up around campus telling people how to participate in the counter-protest.

But attending these demonstrations might not be the best way for us to show support for a women's right to choose or to show our abhorrence of Operation Rescue's message and tactics.

Surely we must do something to stop Operation Rescue from disrupting and damaging abortion clinics around the country. Our strategy, however, should be a long-term attempt to stop Operation Rescue from garnering national attention with its tactics. Without media attention, their blocking of clinics will have no force.

Despite Operation Rescue attacks, Bill Clinton's administration will focus on legislation to secure abortion rights. Our task now is to convince groups like Operation Rescue to stop trying to force their brand of morality on the country. And we can convince people who might be swayed by Operation Rescue that women have a Constitutional right to make decisions about their own bodies.

In the coming years, Operation Rescue will most likely become more desperate. Their attempt to stop abortions will become more violent--while they profess to be a pro-life organization trying to protect children from being killed, they are perfectly willing to humiliate and inflict physical and psychological harm on women who are already living.

The job of pro-choice advocates is to make it clear that these blockades won't work. Or at least, we have to force them to protest without harassing individual women or violently attacking abortion clinics.

People feel compelled to protest against Operation Rescue because it is one of the scariest right-wing organizations in the world today. Counter-protesting at their demonstrations, however, invites confrontation. That's what the Operation Rescue people want--confrontation invites media attention. News coverage opens a free forum for pro-lifers to try to scare women from having abortions and to preach to anyone watching the news that abortion is immoral.

The pro-choice groups attend Operation Rescue blockades to counter the message and to support women trying to enter the clinics. Their message also gets heard and also gets aired on the news. But when footage shows protesting groups waving signs at each other and shouting, the public has to choose which side sounds more reasonable. In an angry crowd, this is sometimes hard to decide.

Pro-choice groups should make this very clear. They are not extreme. It is the pro-life groups that hold a radical position in this age.

Opposition demonstrations to Operation Rescue also call into question a key element of the right-to-choose position--privacy. In essence, the counter-protesters are also supporters. They are there to make sure women aren't intimidated by Operation Rescue--to be a friendly face instead of an angry crowd. They are also there to insure free access to the clinics by making sure the police enforce the law.

To have to opposing groups confront each other, however, is not very friendly. Even if the pro-choice groups do not shout and yell, they will no doubt be provoked by the pro-life groups. They will be called "baby killers" or worse. And it's difficult to resist responding to that kind of epithet.

Above all, however, the pro-choice groups should consider the interests of the women trying to enter these clinics. While it is beneficial to have friendly forces in the crowd, these women shouldn't be subject to a protesting frenzy. They shouldn't be put in the middle between these two groups who are fighting over their future.

The pro-choice groups have the responsibility to make life as unobtrusive as possible for these women. Their choice to have an abortion is not the government's business or Operation Rescue's, and it is not a pro-choice group's business either.

The last thing the women going into these clinics probably want is millions of people standing outside protesting while their every move is recorded by the news media's cameras. The decision, and the abortion itself, should be private.

There should be some way for people to support a woman's right to choose without "protesting." We should hold silent vigils on other property. Operation Rescue can stage a protest, and the police can scoop them up one-by-one and arrest them for breaking the law.

Or, if the police do not adequately protect the clinics, pro-choice groups should form a Red Beret-type citizen protection league.

But we should not play into Operation Rescue's hands by turning their protests into media events that publicize exactly the choice we want to keep private. The less attention we pay to them, the smaller their forum will be--and the more they will have to resort to illegal means that will land them in jail and will also paint them as the extremist group that they are. They will have trouble persuading people to their viewpoint, and they will matter little in the future legislation of abortion.

If Operation Rescue were holding a parade in downtown Boston today, I would probably be out there with a "Keep Choice Legal" sign. And I would march on Washington to show my solidarity to the legislators and justices who are responsible for keeping our legal right to abortion safe from groups like Operation Rescue.

But today, I am choosing to show my respect for the choices made by the women who will enter those clinics with silence.

Beth L. Pinsker '93 is editorial chair of The Crimson.

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