“What are they doing out there?” is the question I am most often asked about the picketers standing in front of our family planning clinic.
What they are doing by holding signs that say “The Pill Kills” and “Stop Chemical Abortion,” is misinforming and misleading the public. They give the misimpression that we provide abortion services; or drugs that terminate a pregnancy; or that using hormonal birth control is a deadlier health risk than unplanned pregnancy.
Sometimes, what they are doing is intimidating our clients – especially the young women and children coming for WIC services. The most dangerous picketers have physically blocked entrances and exits and pushed literature at people walking past or driving through.
But “What are they doing out there?” isn’t really a question about effects, it’s about motivations -- and I’m giving up mind-reading and name-calling for Lent, so I won’t interpret or judge them. Still, I have questions about whether the picketers are reasonable. Many of our neighbors have lost their jobs and their health insurance. Many have seen their income reduced or lost their bargaining rights as workers. Some are in danger of losing their Medicaid and Medicare benefits and we are all losing environmental protections and the constitutional right to see the Wisconsin legislature when it is in session. Around the world, people are struggling to win the right to elect their leaders and they are too often killed, imprisoned, and beaten. Our world neighbors and friends have been lost to earthquakes, tsunamis, to floods and storms; and in nearby Haiti, cruel and corrupt dictators return triumphantly to the crime scene in the midst of catastrophic events and an election.
That’s why I am troubled and unsettled by what the self-styled ‘prayer warriors’ are doing. There are so many struggles for freedom, social justice, and disaster relief right now, that I do not think it is justifiable to be blocking access to health care for our uninsured neighbors who want to delay childbearing so they can finish school or take a new job or even wait to have children until they can afford them.
Publicly-funded family planning saves millions of taxpayer dollars while improving public health, yet the picketers demand to know why their tax dollars should pay for STD testing, birth control, and cancer screening. They oppose hormonal contraception to prevent a high risk pregnancy or even (maybe especially) a teen pregnancy. The picketers disagree with these services and even sexual health education, so they demand that others be denied them (if only this argument would work for oil company subsidies or middle-east military interventions.)
Recently, former State Senator Walter John Chilsen, in a statewide radio program said; “The use of contraceptives does not prevent unwanted pregnancies. I think you could even make the argument that it increases them.” The program’s host quickly changed the subject – leaving the claim unchallenged.
The scientific truth and the medical fact is that contraceptives prevent unwanted pregnancy. The primary cause of abortions is unwanted pregnancy and both the abortion rate and the unintended pregnancy rate have been falling for a generation. FPHS changed our banners on our main office building from “Condoms Save Lives” to “Birth Control Prevents Abortion” because the persistent campaign of misinformation puts our services and our community’s health at risk. It’s time to be more direct.
It is within the rights of the picketers to argue that birth control and reproductive health care should not be available, but I believe it is unethical and wrong to do it.
This post was originally published at RH Reality Check, a site of news, community and commentary for reproductive health and justice