Open or closed? His question hung in my head, a mental metronome undulating. Open or closed? It did not serve as a mantra used to focus the mind. No, the attendant’s question precluded focus and only intensified mental molestation as it required an answer. One would think we could agree upon an answer with relative ease. For me, though, still reeling at the thought of another funeral, the question hung weightless. I knew before asked I preferred closed; yet, there was my mother and sister to consider as well as those only a few months ago dad shunned after the nuclear Thanksgiving not yet four months past but who were certain to come, understandably, to bury their boy. Open or closed? After mom decided we would have a “proper” funeral, after struggling with the patriarchal Gunns on the funeral’s location, and after, against my wishes, a cremation was vetoed, open or closed was the last pressing question. We already viewed the casket show room, kicked the tires if you will, and settled on a practical and accommodating model. We perused the menu of services and opted for the large chapel as we anticipated a crowd. Though dad was not religious, I did not object too harshly when my maternal grandmother offered up her preacher to perform the service. It was yet another peace offering of sorts to the other family who would most assuredly object to a more secular service. Open or closed, though, remained unsettled. My steadfast closed opinion was due to the ghost of funeral’s past. I still remember the first time I touched a dead body, a husk of what was. I was seven or eight years old at my great-grandmother’s funeral. I was intrigued by death as the too young often are, and my cousins and I dared each other to touch her one last time. I remember only cold. Over the intervening years, I attended other great aunt’s, uncle’s, grandparents, and eventually friends’ funerals with some regularity. Coming from a small town as I do, when a teenager dies, you know them even if you don’t, and you attend the funeral in any event as you would any other social or church function. There is no question. You go. When I was 15 a friend shot himself with a .22 caliber rifle ending his relatively young life—he was 22, coincidentally, I believe—and I vividly remember his lifeless body and how obviously different he looked. I cannot see his animated face for the memory of his death face and the obvious attempts to mask the bullet in the head. Four years later after other suicides and drunk driving tragedies, at another open casket affair after my 20 year old friend killed himself and his girlfriend in a drunken single car wreck, I watched his father wrench his carcass from the coffin attempting to shake him back from Tartarus or wherever. I was a pallbearer and even at 19 understood this father’s grief at the loss of his son though I was unnerved by this large and strange man’s sudden grief-epiphany. Closed. I am decidedly closed. My mom and sister both want to see dad, to say goodbyes, to grieve in their own way. I am sure others want the same. Who am I to selfishly deny others what may bring some peace? We reach a compromise. Visitation for family and close friends is open, but the funeral itself is closed. I attend the visitation, but my last vision of dad remains the day he left my apartment three days before his murder, and I never see him lifeless and still. Closed. The visitation and funeral itself could have been one like any other but for the facts of dad’s death, the media frenzy which followed, and the freak southern blizzard of 1993 which significantly impeded what otherwise promised a SRO funeral. In fact, many people I later met and subsequently befriended told me they fully intended to come to Tennessee for the funeral but were snowed out. Before we even confronted the impish funeral director’s open or closed query, the media landed, a harbinger of the coming real storm. Back in ’93 I still had some fairly strong illusions of privacy, and we were amazed at the speed with which the press located us in Winchester, Tennessee when dad was killed in Pensacola, Florida, and my sister, mom, and I lived separately in Birmingham, Alabama. Yet, they sherlocked us down looking for the human interest angle to a controversial and promising long term story. They started calling, obviously, the day the assassination occurred. It did not relent as we prepared for a memorial and funeral. Open or closed, indeed. Press from all over the country flocked to the Moore-Cortner funeral home. People magazine grabbed mom, Wendy, and I for photos and an interview on the funeral home steps. Print reporters mingled with the visitors looking for us and others to quote hoping for bi-lines and copy. I do not recall video cameras at the visitation though I spoke with as many of them as I did friends and family or so it seemed. The media presence and my heightened stress at seeing the patriarchal Gunns lent a surreal air to the proceedings. As if out of ether, they were in the home. I spoke but do not remember what was said and whether it was comforting, remorseful, or cold. Now it seems I felt only a sense of sadness bordering on pity for the parents who lost a son twice before his time: once while alive after the prior fall’s Thanksgiving fiasco and once more with violent finality this time. As the visitation spectacle continued, the family stress mounted, and weariness turned to exhaustion. A caravan of friends from Birmingham was staying at my grandmother’s. We retreated to her house where the proper adults congregated upstairs and the “kids” (we were 22 and younger) hit the finished basement as we had on so many reunions in the past to comfort each other with our company and contraband, “Drink! for you know not whence you came, nor why: Drink! for you know not why you go, nor where…” Snow covered the new spring grass and fresh oak tendrils on the day we buried my dad. The freakish blizzard almost postponed the burial, but we soldiered on through the real and metaphorical storm inside and out, open and closed. I have almost no memory of the chapel service. Hollow words and “only God knows” pedestrian rationale from a holy man I did not know held no meaning for me whatsoever. All I knew was my dad was gone; the world as I knew it ended, and beyond there seemed nothing. My mom asked me to deliver a eulogy of sorts, but I was steadfastly closed and refused this request. It may be my one regret from those two days which seemed a lifetime. Of course, the carrion crow cameras flittered about as we were graveside. I laid a last rose on the coffin which was now firmly forever closed. We said graveside goodbyes to those who were not snowbound and stranded and returned to grandmothers for more comfort of one sort or another. In a paper somewhere is a photo of my then partner and I sharing a graveside embrace. The next morning I received a call from a woman I’d never met but who seemed warm enough. She explained she owned the clinic in Columbus, Georgia. This clinic was about sixty miles northeast of my second Alabama home town, dad worked there for years, and it was the first clinic I visited with him. That shared bond gave trust to the conversation. She explained how a friend of her and she were invited to appear on the Donahue show to discuss dad’s murder. She relayed the producer’s interest in having a family member attend as well. I had mixed emotions about discussing such a private matter in public, but also felt a responsibility, a naïve one perhaps, to share dad’s story in hopes no other family would be forced to answer the riddle of open or closed as a result of anti-abortion hatred, fear, and moral superiority. On this point, I opted for open and an ending proved a beginning.
December 4, 2013
October 26, 2013
Sudden violent death creates concentric ripples which spread ever wider washing and crashing over the immediate family on to extended family, friends, and colleagues. Those ripples ebb back to the deceased’s family. Sometimes, what rolls back is sympathy and genuine compassion. In other instances, a dangerous rip tide threatens to pull the family back into gothic familial deep water where the recently aggrieved find themselves struggling to maintain their footing and keep from drowning in those passive aggressive human voices whose motives are more self-centered than benevolent, more angry than comforting.
The men from my dad’s side of the family met each Thanksgiving weekend at a hunting cabin in Pickens County, Alabama. It is in actuality an old farm house adjacent to the Tom Bigbee River surrounded by grazing land for cattle and a combination of pulp and hard wood trees unique to the south. What started as a weekend of hunting and drinking two generations prior was now an occasion for the patriarchal Gunn family to meet, enjoy supposed fellowship, watch football, talk politics, and share a few meals—the drunken part of the weekend long banished once my grandfather became the family head. He and his eldest son, my uncle, devoutly subscribed to fundamental Christianity of the hair shirt variety so drunkenness was soon off the weekend’s agenda.
My history with my dad’s side of the family was strained at best due in large part to events prior to my birth. My grandfather expected his children to remain close in proximity and obedient to his will even in adulthood. Most of my aunts and uncles never left Benton, Kentucky a rural western Kentucky town that remained segregated as late as the 1980s which was the last time I had any reason to visit where they were born and either entered into the family insurance business or started other business ventures funded with grandfather’s wealth. Though his parents pushed dad to take up medicine as a career, I always felt they wanted him to return home to practice after meeting the right woman (meaning one they approved), marry, and live their idea of an idyllic Christian American lifestyle.
While an undergraduate at Vanderbilt, my dad met my mom. It was an odd relationship bordering on taboo in that they were distantly related and even shared the same last name. As if out of some stereotypical Appalachian folk tale, their father’s knew each other, had grown up together in rural Tennessee, and dad’s grandfather and father fucked my mom’s dad in a business deal which haunted my mom’s dad and tainted his relationship with his cousin/future in law for the rest of his life. I do not know when the respective parents found out about the illicit relationship, but I know neither side approved initially. My mom had to tell her parents when she found herself pregnant in the late 60s with what was to be my older brother. Her father, looking out for his daughter’s welfare, concerned what people would say (about the relationship generally and a child out of wedlock specifically), and distrustful of the paternal half of the relationship, offered her a way out of the pregnancy. Though abortion was illegal, he knew people and offered to arrange one for his young pregnant daughter to save her the embarrassment of single motherhood in 1968 and to prevent a stigmatized union with a family he strongly mistrusted.
Ultimately, mom and dad married and opted to have Chuckie. My mom’s parents accepted the marriage and though dad’s family feigned happiness, looking at how events developed over the years, I believe they never accepted or supported the marriage and looked on their children—and future grandchildren–as abominations. When my older brother died in a car crash as an infant, I think dad’s family secretly hoped it would end the shameful marriage that compromised their beliefs and socially embarrassed them. I also believe they felt it was the result of some divine justice for a sinful relationship. Chuckie’s death, though, kept my parents together, and as my dad finished medical school at the University of Kentucky, I was born in the fall of 1970.
After entering into what his parents considered an incestuous relationship, dad broke the unwritten family code by moving his family out of Kentucky via Nashville, TN to south Alabama upon completion of his residency at Vanderbilt University Hospital in 1977. For an old southern patriarch with deep religious convictions, this decision, I believe, solidified the rift between son and father: a rift my sister and I would suffer though we had no part in its creation but because we were the embodiments of dad’s sin and betrayal.
The Faulknerian twists of my family took years to unravel and now that most of the principals are gone, I still have only a fraction of what I can only describe as something resembling understanding; yet, I realized by early adolescence I wanted limited interaction with my paternal grandparents. After turning away from their faith at an early age and in light of their distance toward my sister and I, my summer visits stopped just before I turned 13 leaving the Thanksgiving get away my only regular contact.
By the Thanksgiving trip of 1992, I attended college in Birmingham and was dating a woman who asked that I spend the holidays with her family. Dad called me on Monday Thanksgiving week and asked that I go with him to the cabin. I refused and told him I had plans, adding that I did not want to see those people (his family) anyway. He asked again to the point of telling me I was going whether I liked it or not. Our relationship was strained, at best, since he and my mom divorced when I was 13, but we were making in roads toward piecing it back together. Due to his persistence and despite my reservations, I agreed to meet him in Aliceville with the intention of spending the long weekend with his family.
This year’s trip was mere days after Clinton defeated Bush 41 and with that victory came the hope that 12 years of harsh, trickle down conservatism was at an end. Conservatives nationwide were shell shocked and angry to the point of histrionics similar to what our current president experiences. Anti-Clinton propaganda and conspiracy theories were rampant even before he took office. The country was seriously divided then—almost foretelling how it is now, and the anti-big government conspiracy theorists’ tales only heightened a pejorative Clintonmania. In this atmosphere, my dad and I drove up to the cabin where our bathed in blood Christian Conservative moral majority relatives waited.
The first night went well enough. Sons, brothers, and cousins exchanged some slightly barbed jabs but the conversations remained civil enough, and we shared some laughs. I went to bed that first night thinking maybe I misjudged my relatives. It had been a year since I last saw them, and I thought this trip could be different.
By lunch, the next day, I could feel antipathy as clearly as I could smell the beginnings of Thanksgiving dinner—that recognizable mix of celery, carrots, and onion. I noticed my dad mixing a drink early from the back of his car, and thought how odd that a 47 year old man had to hide a mixed drink, and there was palpable disapproval in the air. It was not necessarily disapproval of the drink, or the current political developments, but a morally superiority that tinted and tainted the air as the Jack Daniels darkened the water in my dad’s glass.
I stayed outside most of the afternoon avoiding the heated political debate going on indoors. As night came on, the conversation grew louder and more heated. I walked back into the cabin where my dad was seated in a recliner obviously buzzed if not just plain drunk. His father and brother were on his left, and his cousin and brother-in-law were on his right. It looked as though he was holding court, but besieged on all sides. Everyone around dad described how Clinton would destroy the country, how more regulation would kill small business, and how a pro-baby killing president would ensure the country’s damnation.
I realized it was time to leave as voices got louder and it looked as though things might get physical. I remember my dad saying something derogatory about the Pope, at which point his brother had heard enough. Though he was no Papist, my dad’s defense of abortion outraged my uncle. As I continued to pack, he approached my father as though he intended to hit him. There existed between them an odd brotherly rivalry which bordered on sadism. Dad had polio as a child which limited and stunted his physical development and also, I think, impacted the brothers’ relationship. Instead of violence, he looked into his brother’s eyes with hatred and told him, “if you keep talking this way, there will be no one to bury you.” I was done at this point, told my dad we were leaving, and we spent the night in a hotel away from the abuses of his closed minded family.
Four months later, an anti-abortion protester named Michael Griffin assassinated my father. According to dad’s side of the family, they were unaware he performed abortions though he performed them for the better part of two decades in part or exclusively. After years considering his motives and silence, I think I finally have some degree of understanding. If his family was willing to write him off over a presidential candidate and some offhand remarks about the pope, then they clearly would have disowned and damned him to hell for murdering babies. He hid the abortion portion of his career, not out of shame or fear, but as some perverse familial life preserver. He wanted and needed that familial connection and feared he would lose it if his family knew the truth. Ironically, they disowned him over vagaries as opposed to the issue that took his life.
He never spoke to or saw his family after that November night in Aliceville. Though my mom and dad had long ago divorced and he was remarried, he opted to spend his last Christmas with us at my maternal grandmother’s house in Tennessee. Whether he was too proud to call his brother and father, or whether pride held back their hand makes little difference: he was dead to them and they to him.
My first conversation with any of my dad’s family was later in the afternoon of 10 March 1993 when my uncle called to ostensibly see how we fared. I do not remember him expressing any sympathy for the loss; rather, he wanted to tell me how we (meaning he) would arrange the funeral. He wanted to control all arrangements and return the prodigal son, in body only, to his old Kentucky home. I was initially dumbfounded that my uncle, the supposed adult in the room, was more concerned about a dead body than his niece and nephew. In his mind, he knew best, I was a child, and I should simply obey. In clear terms I told my uncle to fuck himself, that we had things under control, welcomed him, as well as the rest of the family, to the funeral we planned, and asked that he kindly leave us alone unless he had some honest assistance or sympathy to offer.
We buried dad during the worst winter storm in recent southern history. It was in mid-March less than two weeks prior to spring’s beginning, but Winter Storm ’93, as the media dubbed it, hung coldly over the funeral and attendant proceedings. Though my dad’s parents attended, they refused to sit with the family in the chapel of Cortner’s Funeral Home in Winchester, Tennessee—an antebellum home converted into a funeral parlor whose walls are as familiar to me as a childhood home given my 40 year history of funerals in that discomforting comfortable ritual death house. Moreover, they did not attend any of the mandatory post burial potlucks which may or may not be uniquely southern. Instead, they sent two of my cousins as emissaries seeking information but providing little. They ensured my sister and I need not worry, our grandfather had our interests at heart, and he would see we were protected (she was 17 and I was 22). Of course, these entreaties proved false.
The family rift which began as a small fissure before my birth evolved into an unbridgeable canyon in death. A murder which should have strengthened family ties unalterably crushed what little connection remained. I never had any meaningful exchanges with my father’s side of the family after that November night in 1992.
Almost 150 years ago, two brothers from the Gunn family donned uniforms: one was grey and the other was blue. Family lore holds at their last meeting they crossed swords, turned, and walked away never seeing each other again. Twenty years ago, in a somewhat devalued sense, history repeated rendering a family into bits due to one brother’s adherence to outdated traditionalism and religious fundamentalism while the other looked forward toward equality and inclusion. They did not realize at the time, though perhaps they should have, that the future was murder. Dad’s politically and religiously motivated murder perfectly reflects the harsh and unbreachable polar divide which is increasingly entrenched and present in our country today. Micro recapitulates macro on occasion does it not?
My children know their uncles, aunts, and cousins as phantoms, if at all—their great grandmother and father died long ago. Like me, they must live with the repercussions of choices and actions which occurred well before their births. While my eldest once expressed interest in meeting the family he’s never known, my youngest may not even know they exist. Surely, I bear responsibility for their ignorance; however, I selfishly never pursued reconciliation though there have been overtures. Unfortunately, I doubt the sincerity of such invitations and after 20 years of solitude from those who were my family, I choose exile over guilt riddled reconciliation. It is not an exile of hatred but of indifference which is admittedly worse I suppose.
- The abortion that could cost a mom her family (salon.com)
September 27, 2013
You are forever talking about what you know is right for women, what women want, and what they really need. You’ve even told clinic staff, doctors and nurses that you know they could do better in another line or work. With your particularized notion of moral righteousness, you’ve lodged complaints with police about what you know are your rights to free speech at abortion clinics. You’ve written letters to private citizens, neighbors of doctors and clinic directors, asking them to tell these professionals to find a new job, because you know better, you know what’s right. But your self-obsession as well as your presumptuous omniscience conveniently ignores the rights of others and summarily dismisses the knowledge women have of their own lives. Behaving, as you are wont to do, foolishly believing you are right when you are really wrong on so many levels, you reveal more truths about your nature than you might imagine or want. Let me spell it out for you.
- To begin, it’s not right when you call escorts, staff, and doctors murderers because they don’t murder anyone. The carnivalesque act of calling someone a murderer is convenient because it frees you from thinking about the sacredness of women and men who offer and choose abortion services.
- It’s not right when you use grotesque images that defy the reality of abortion. Aborted fetuses look remarkably different from all the manipulated grotesque images you use in your visual propaganda. Using such images only serves to shame, hurt and demonize women and, consequently, alienate them to your message.
- It’s not right to say that All Women Regret Their Abortion. Documented scholarly evidence illustrates that overwhelmingly women have no regrets about their abortion. Not one bit. People make choices and live with them. It’s called life. Some women have sadness about their choice to end their pregnancy, but choose abortion anyway because they know it’s right for their situation. Your bombastic overgeneralization only makes you look ignorant and desperate.
It’s not right to scream at women we’re here to help you. Take a good look at yourself. You’re a stranger who is screaming. What reasonable person would want to trust you or anything you say? It makes you look doubly foolish and deceitful when you follow with the disingenuous high-pitched scream God loves and so do we and, immediately afterward, shout, you’ll regret this day the rest of your life. Again, take a good look at yourself for you are nothing but a vacuous and mean-spirited provocateur.
- It’s not right to publicize your own sexual fears and perversions. Telling women that the doctor will perforate their rectum and uterus illustrates your own salacious fascination with debauchery. Telling well-endowed women with cleavage, “You look like you’re all set up for breastfeeding” reduces you to a common pervert. Telling women to abstain from sex reveals your prudish anxiety about human sexuality. In your ill-conceived attempts to lie about body parts and sexual matters, you embarrass yourself in a most undignified way, earning a big fat 10 on the Ick Factor Scale.
- It’s not right to lie. Remember thou shalt not lie? Until you have an M.D. after your name, you should rely on reputable medical and scientific sources and not junk science in LifeSiteNews. The evidence is there for you to read. Let’s face it. You rely on the scientific and medical credibility of pediatricians, cardiologists, dermatologists and internists. Yet you throw out medical and scientific evidence when a gravid uterus is involved. Here’s the evidence: There is no post abortion stress disorder. There is no abortion-breast cancer link. There is evidence that the morbidity and mortality in pregnancy and childbirth can be more dangerous than abortion. It’s also a fact that the United States is 50th in the world for maternal health. Such transgressions illustrate the disturbed fascination with fear mongering that is your lingua franca.
- It’s not right to inflict your religion on others. Humiliating and dehumanizing women is morally unacceptable. Manipulating your faith to justify your heinous actions displaces your responsibility onto your God. Like the Nazi war criminals that claimed they were only following orders, you antiabortion protesters claim you are doing God’s will. Barking like a madman “in the name of Jesus” as preface to a hurl of toxicity hardly seems godly. Face it; your morally bankrupt behavior only serves to show how unchristian and blindly intolerant you are towards others.
When I think about the pornography of your madness, your frothing, detailed rendering of humiliation of women and men who choose and provide abortion services, I have to say that the unintended consequences of your own behaviors illustrate how karma works. In plain English, you get what you give. And what you give is intolerance, disdain for truth, misogyny, desperation, alienation, and misanthropy.
- GOP’s secret anti-choice plot: The crackdown on abortion doctors (salon.com)
- GOP’s Secret Anti-Choice Plot: The Shady Crackdown on Training Abortion Doctors (alternet.org)
September 16, 2013
Dear M and S,
I do not ask for understanding, but comprehension. You both have questions. Some I’ve answered, insinuated, or obscured for the normal parental reasons. I owe you, though, the story as I remember it so you may understand through comprehension how dangerous it is, even in the 21st Century, to contradict and undermine conventional thinking. I hope our family’s historical facts illustrate our ongoing obligation to confront fundamental Pentecostal thinking so we move forward, not backwards. I am now a mere four years younger than your grandfather when one blinded by fundamentalism and the hate it naturally engenders created a symbol of the man who you never knew.
I last saw my father on Sunday, 7 March 1993. We did not see each other often, but we talked with relative frequency and were repairing a fairly entrenched rift in our relationship that began 10 years prior when he left our family for another woman after moving us—your grandmother, aunt, and I—to a shit small hovel of an antiquated old southern town in Alabama split between the poles of old blue blood southern aristocratic antebellum money and dirt floor poverty. Dad came and stayed the weekend with me in Birmingham as he did infrequently. Three days before his visit, I’d had my wisdom teeth removed. He called, as he was want to do, late in the afternoon on Thursday or Friday and announced he was coming into town and would be staying with me. It was a conversation like any other and I don’t recall any real detail other than he was coming.
I know he stayed over at least Saturday and Sunday 6 and 7 March 1993. I have no memories whatsoever of Saturday night; yet, I do vividly remember Sunday dinner, can still see the round wooden table and mismatched chairs I took from home when I moved away in 1989, and know we grilled cow protein of some form or another—it was probably a New York Strip as I’d not developed an appreciation for the rib eye yet. Due to the recent dental surgery, the steak, though cooked appropriately, was difficult to chew which made it more difficult to swallow. We enjoyed our meal, some more than others, while Billie Holliday gently but huskily sang in the background. Our conversation drifted from school, to my sister—she was 17 and in the final days of her senior year, to politics—President Clinton had just been inaugurated, to my progress in school, and to his work.
Dad explained the protesters were becoming ever more aggressive and confrontational. The few protesters I personally encountered a few years prior when I traveled the circuit with dad were the typical abortion porn sign holders and silent layers of hands. In my teen years, I found his weekly schedule nothing but normal though it took him from our small town hell to Columbus, Georgia then to Montgomery, Alabama, then to Mobile, Alabama, and finally to Pensacola, Florida only to resume anew the next week. Other kids’ parents traveled so what was so different about his schedule? I did not figure out until much later that he made this circuit because no one else would. I certainly never took it a logical step further and deeper to ask why no other local doctor in Columbus, Montgomery, Mobile, and/or Pensacola serviced these clinics. It was my normal and I was 14 when I first started driving him on some of his trips; yet, as we discussed the present situation, I noticed he seemed preoccupied. We finished our meal, drained a few more beers, and awoke March 8 and said our goodbyes.
I was aware clinics were bombed in the past and even asked him once if he ever worried about one of the clinics he serviced getting attacked. He reassuringly told me it did not concern him, and he went on with his day. Over the weekend of his last visit, though, I thought about the heightened protests, and the ever increasing threats of violence; additionally I remembered my mom calling me one afternoon about a year before this final visit to tell me strangers were in town passing out wanted posters of dad which included his weekly schedule. When that incident occurred, he again brushed off our concern and said he was not preoccupied with the actions of some crazies.
That Monday morning, prior to seeing him off for the last time, I confronted him about the posters, the renewed threats, and told him I was scared for his safety. Dad finally told me he had been carrying a gun for a few years, that he suspected he was being followed frequently, and that a strange protester approached him that previous Friday (would have been 5 March) while he was in the car leaving the clinic in Pensacola heading my way. He said this man had an eerie look about him and spoke to dad through his car window while staring deeply at him with glazed long staring maniacal eyes. I remember asking when the stalking started, and he indicated it had been going on at least as long as the wanted poster’s origination about a year or so earlier. I asked if he considered quitting the circuit and going back to less controversial OB/GYN care. He told me if he stopped, it would be difficult to find a replacement and he was committed to his patients. He left headed south, and for the first time I admitted to myself that he had a dangerous job and as anyone whose parent has a dangerous job, I wrapped myself in the warmth and security of “not mine”, “not this time”, and drank the Lethean water temporarily cooling my angst and trepidation.
I spoke with your grandfather again on 9 March 1993. We did not discuss anything specific. I was preparing for exams; he was in another of the endless line of hotel rooms and sounded lonely. Sadly, our terminal conversation was brief and unremarkable. He indicated he was well and heading to Pensacola, and I told him to be safe. In retrospect he seemed to hang on the line as though he did not want the conversation to end; yet, neither of us could find a way to carry it forward.
I drove to class the next morning on what was, otherwise, an exceedingly peaceful and beautiful spring day in Birmingham. I’ve always preferred living in Birmingham than other cities as it is big enough to provide some degree of needed anonymity; yet, small enough to retain remnants of its prior smallness which is both sides of the pole simultaneously. As I was studying for a Semantics class, dad was driving to work. As I got into my car to head home, he was very likely getting out of his for the last time.
You guys have never seen a real answering machine as far as I know since everyone has digital voicemail these days. In ’93 you were lucky to have the kind with a microcassette (I’ll explain that later) that was the size of a stereo component. I don’t recall who checked the messages on the afternoon of 10 March—my at the time girlfriend or me—but I remember thinking it odd to get a message from my grandmother in the middle of the week in the middle of the day. It was an altogether cryptic but clear message. She simply said “call me when you get home.” Both of you are still too young to know there are certain messages you don’t want to return. I don’t mean the messages from people you’ve left behind or don’t want to talk with at that particular moment, but the messages from family purposely ambiguous so you are intrigued enough, but not too scared, to return the call as soon as you hear the message. Of course I sensed something was wrong, and, logically, I feared it involved dad.
Dad called me one night in January surprisingly upbeat and happy sounding. It was the night of the 20th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision (Supreme Court decision that guarantees a woman’s right to an abortion as you may or may not know when you read this; I’ll get to abortion proper later), and he actually to and was genuinely excited to share his day with me. First, he said someone from Rolling Stone magazine contacted him recently looking to do a profile on his experience as one of the few Southern abortion providers; secondly, he told me how he had finally had enough of the protesters and their bullshit. He then described how he sang “Happy Birthday to You” at the protesters outside one of the clinics in Montgomery and in the penultimate verse added, “happy birthday dear Roe v. Waaaade.” He subsequently aimed a small boom box at those gathered outside the clinic and played Tom Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down” singing loudly along.
For some reason, I thought of this event as well as the suspicious protestor dad described over the weekend as I returned my grandmother’s call. When she answered, I immediately knew what I suspected was true; yet, we had to play out the charade. I asked her why she called. She asked if I had seen the news. I told her I had been at school studying. She said good. I asked why. She then told me what I intuitively knew. “Your dad was shot,” she said and I could hear her sadness as she said it. I asked if he was ok thinking people survive gun shots routinely. She told me he wasn’t and that he died e route to the local hospital. She said she was sorry, that she loved me, and asked that I call my mom.
One day both of you will confront my mortality. Let’s hope it is much longer than four years from now when I’ll be 47 which is how old your grandfather was when he died. I know that seems old, but it is really very young, and when you hit forty, you’ll both realize how young it is. My desire is you are prepared for it and it doesn’t pounce on you from behind a corner while you’re busy reading some goddamned semantics notes.
I drove to my mother’s house where some friends and my sister had gathered. We hugged, cried, and watched cable news run the story of dad’s death and label him “the first abortion doctor to be murdered” ad infinitum. You have to contextualize the nature of the event and times to truly understand. On one really used the internet, e-mail was barely in anyone’s vocabulary, and few people had cell phones. CNN was the only 24 hour news source (it’s hard to conceive of life without Fox, but it was pleasantly non-existent at the time). Abortion clinic violence was still considered fresh news and had not yet matured and then expired. In laymen’s terms, your grandfather’s assassination was a big fucking deal, and was the news for days, months, and years as more doctors and nurses in the abortion field died violently. Cable news still had some decency about the images they showed, or they were simply too late to get images of your grandfather’s body. The image I recall from that spring day is a shot of his bloodstained glasses disfigured and broken in the grass where his body most assuredly fell.
Within hours of the killing, my mother’s phone started an interminable ringing which would not abate for months. On the other end of the line was a New York Times reporter looking for comment. I considered whether or not we wanted to talk, I had mixed feelings of surprise and anger at being asked for comment on the day I found out my dad was dead, and I had no idea what to do given our family’s life capsized, up righted, capsized, and sank in the span of a few hours that afternoon. We had large issues confronting us: burial, finances, familial relations, loss, and grief, and it was overwhelming to add media and politics into the mix. Initially, I wanted to simply hang up on the woman from the Times; yet, I remembered how joyful dad was when he thought someone was finally going to tell his story and write about the insane conditions under which he worked all at the hands of fundamentalists. I also remembered his calm happiness when he relayed the events of 22 January 2010 and how he joyously sang in defense of his profession and services. I made a decision, asked for the reporter’s name and number, and said I’d call her back later as we had other pressing needs to address.
I always wondered if the protester dad described to me the weekend before he died was Michael Griffin, the man who assassinated your grandfather. If so, he looked into the eyes of his assassin five days before he struck, and it was the last time he looked into his eyes as Griffin attacked from behind too cowardly to face the person he hated, stalked, and still feels deserved to die. I am still convinced others were involved in dad’s assassination. There was an organized protest in front of the clinic the day
Griffin struck, and the organizer of the protest had witnessed to Griffin in the weeks leading up to the assassination. This self styled minster had an effigy of your grandfather in his garage, and I do not doubt he influenced or seduced Griffin to take his violent action. I will tell you more about these events as I continue the story.
To this day I cannot forget the image of his glasses. I also continue to celebrate his fine voice which was inspiring to me personally and has proven inspirational to others. I am now the dad where I once was the son, and it is my obligation and duty to pass this history on to you so, perhaps, in some minor way, it helps you understand the essence and roots of hatred as well as how one fine voice can make all the difference if you simply sing out.
PS. The title was taken from Treblinka by Jean Francois Steiner
July 15, 2013
If you have been following my recent posts, you know I am supporting the Abortion Rights Freedom Ride set to kick off on 23 July 2013 in New York City and San Francisco. I discussed this summer’s action with a number of people I respect, and there is a divide in the abortion rights community on whether or not it is wise to embark on this action. I did not reach the decision to support and join with the Riders without giving the decision due diligence; nor, did I neglect to consider the multiple outcomes of the action.
When facing a dichotomous debate among two sides of the community, two camps who should be working together toward common goals, I ask myself now as I did in the past, What Would Dad Do? Would he shrink back into the shadows, rely solely on private action and influence, or would he advocate, and actually engage in, direct action and response to those who tormented, stalked, and eventually killed him? Obviously, we know the answer: he did not back down! As I wrote a couple of posts ago, I also cannot and will not back down.
Upon the 20th year after my dad’s murder by a Christian terrorist, as we face continued threat of violence, and as state after state passes draconian anti abortion legislation, I reflect not only on what my dad would do but also consider the words of Yeats:
Things said or done long years ago,
Or things I did not do or say
But thought that I might say or do,
Weigh me down, and not a day
But something is recalled,
My conscience or my vanity appalled.
Knowing I will be appalled by remaining silent, I resolved the vacillation by opting to support what I believe is the right course of action. To that end, I co-authored a piece on the merits and need of the Abortion Rights Freedom Ride with one of its primary organizers Sunsara Taylor. I want to share with you our recent missive so perhaps more of us will come together on the need for direct, vocal, and mass support our clinics, our doctors, and our rights
Abortion Rights Are At a Crossroads:
This is NOT a Time to Lay Low – It is Time for Massive Uncompromising Struggle!
By Sunsara Taylor and David Gunn, Jr.
July 12, 2013
Across the country, people are waking up to the state of emergency facing the right to abortion. As legislators in Texas push hard to close down 37 of 42 abortion clinics statewide, new laws in North Carolina would close four of their five remaining clinics. Meanwhile, Ohio’s recently passed budget could close as many as three abortion clinics. North Dakota, on August 1st, may become the first state to effectively ban abortion. Already Mississippi’s last abortion clinic is merely an appellate ruling away from closure. We could go on.
If we do not reverse this trajectory now, we will condemn future generations of women and girls to forced motherhood, to lives of open enslavement, terror, and life-crushing shame. Women will be forced to have children they do not want, trapping them in abusive relationships, driving them into poverty, forcing them out of school, and extinguishing their dreams. Women will go to desperate and dangerous measures to terminate unwanted pregnancies, once again flooding emergency rooms and turning up dead women in cheap motels with blood caked between their legs.
We face two divergent roads: Either we seize control of the debate and reset the terms and whole trajectory of this fight; or we continue down the road of “established conventional wisdom,” only to awaken before long to an unrecognizable and untenable situation for women. What each of us does matters,and matters tremendously.
It is in this context that we initiated an Abortion Rights Freedom Ride. Our echo of the Civil Rights Freedom Rides is intentional and fitting. Women who cannot decide for themselves if and when they have children are not free. On the contrary, they are mere child-bearing chattel whose purpose is to serve and not actively chose their destinies.
Volunteers on this Freedom Ride will caravan from both coasts to North Dakota, traverse through the middle of the country into Wichita, and head due south to Jackson, Mississippi. Our aim is threefold: one, we must move beyond localized fights andlauncha national counter-offensive; two, we must radically reset the political, moral, and ideological terms of this fight so that millions understand that this fight is about women’s liberation or women’s enslavement; lastly, and of paramount importance, we must call forth the mass independent political resistance that is necessary to defeat this war on women.
As the Abortion Rights Freedom Ride evolved from conception to genesis, many have responded by with enthusiastic and unequivocal support. Regular people from across the country as well as those who have been on the front lines of the abortion rights struggle are joining with us in demanding abortion rights without compromise and thanking us for daring to travel to where women’s rights face harshest threat.
However, some who share our passion for the cause have raised concerns and even opposition to this action. They fear the Abortion Rights Freedom Ride will be too confrontational, too vociferous for abortion, and may turn off avenues of support.
Some have argued that it is wrong for people to come into local areas from the outside. Others argue that mass political protest will endanger the chances of winning important court cases and that it is better to rely on official channels of politics.
Because the future of women is at stake, we feel it is critical to address these concerns head on. In fact, it is exactly the faulty logic at the root of these concerns that has contributed to all of us finding ourselves in such a dire situation.
First, while local ground conditions are different and unique in some ways, the fact that every clinic and every state is facing heightened assault is not unique nor is it local. We all face a national assault on abortion rights which requires a national counter-offensive. Not only is it utterly immoral for us to abandon the women living in the states most under direct duress, it is delusional to think that what happens in states like Arkansas, Mississippi, North Dakota and Kansas will not come soon to a theater near you. Our futures are bound together and we all share the responsibility to take this on and turn the tide where the attacks are the most severe.
Second, while it is true that a great many people – including many who support abortion rights – are defensive about abortion, they should not be ashamed and this defensiveness and shame is precisely something we must eradicate.
Among the reasons many are defensive about abortion are decades of propaganda by those who oppose women’s equality but posture as defenders of “babies”; meanwhile, supporters of abortion rights have too often been conciliatory, muted, and compromising. This must stop. This fight has never been about babies. It has always been about controlling women. This is why there is not a single major anti-abortion organization that supports birth control.
If we want to turn the tide, we have to tell the truth: there is absolutely nothing wrong with abortion. Fetuses are NOT babies. Abortion is NOT murder. Women are NOT incubators.
A great many people are hungry for this message. They are furious and searching for a meaningful vehicle to make their outrage felt. It is only by asserting the positive morality of abortion rights that we can call forth and mobilize the tens of thousands who already share our resolve. Only through direct action and a polemical shift can all of us stand together and change how millions of others are thinking. Shouldn’t this emergency situation awaken us to the need to change public opinion, not accommodate it?
History has proven that directly confronting oppressive social norms can be disruptive and scary; yet, it is a necessary and uplifting part of making any significant positive change. Many argued that it was wiser for LGBT people to stay closeted until society was more accepting; others counseled against the Civil Rights Freedom Rides out of fear that it would only rile up the opposition, but it was only when people took that risk and got “in your face” that broader public opinion and actions began to change.
We must create a situation where being anti-abortion is seen to be as socially unacceptable as it is to advocate lynchings, anti-LGBT violence, or rape (although, if you listen to some on the Right, rape advocacy is not necessarily off their table).When we reach that summit, we will be on our way to turning the tide.
Third, while court cases are important – even essential – it is only through truly massive independent political struggle that we stand a chance at defeating the truly unyielding and powerful foe we face. Every setback the anti-abortion movement experiences only makes them more determined and every victory only makes them more aggressive. They will not be appeased if we lie low. No court case or election or new law will stop them. Not only has the existing power structure proven unwilling or unable to do so, people who believe they are on a “mission from God” are not bound by human laws and do not yield to public opinion.
But they can be defeated. Forced motherhood is deeply opposed to the interests of humanity. If we get out there and tell the truth, if we resist, if we clarify the stakes of this battle, and if we mobilize wave upon wave of the masses to get off the sidelines and into the streets with us, we can win. There is a tremendous reservoir of people who can and must be called forth to join in this struggle. We have seen this vividly in Texas. Let us not underestimate the potential that exists in every state across this country.
We stand at a crossroads. For the future of women everywhere, let us refuse the worn pathways that have allowed us to lose so much ground. We must not lay low, hope these attacks will blow over, and allow women in some parts of the country to be forced into mandatory motherhood while hoping to preserve the rights of a shrinking few. We cannot continue to foster the attitude that abortion is the 21st Century’s Scarlet Letter while allowing abortion providers to be further stigmatized and demonized. We cannot recoil from the massive fight that urgently needs fighting at this moment in this time.
Now is the time for courage, for truth telling, for stepping out and launching an uncompromising counter-offensive. We have right on our side. We call on everyone who cares about the future of women to join with us in strengthening the national impact and influence of this Abortion Rights Freedom Ride. Join with us at our kick-off rallies in New York City and San Francisco in July 23. Caravan to meet us in North Dakota, Wichita, Kansas, and Jackson, Mississippi. Send a donation or a message of support. Reach out to individuals and religious communities that can provide safe passage to the courageous individuals who are giving up their summers and putting everything they have into winning a different and far better future for women. Most importantly, let us together take the rough road to victory. It may be less traveled, but only through struggle can we reap the benefits of love’s labor won.
To learn more about and get involved with the Abortion Rights Freedom Ride, go to: http://www.stoppatriarchy.org/
Sunsara Taylor writes for Revolution Newspaper (revcom.us) and is an initiator of the movement to End Pornography and Patriarchy: The Enslavement and Degradation of Women (StopPatriarchy.org)
David Gunn, Jr. is the son of David Gunn, Sr., the first abortion doctor to be assassinated by an anti-abortion gunman, and blogs for Abortion.ws
June 23, 2013
It makes sense that a healthy media system, one with widespread informed public participation, would be essential to a flourishing democracy. Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism states that the “central purpose of journalism is to provide citizens with accurate and reliable information they need to function in a free society” and identified nine core principles. Among the nine principles is the obligation of loyalty to the public and the obligation to truth, both principles which seem suspect in most of mainstream journalism. Problems with loyalty to the public and variations of truths are part of our current media system and that’s not healthy. As media scholar Robert McChesney claims, our current media system is set up to maximize profit for a relative handful of large companies and not to maximize public participation. Moreover, rather than act as watchdogs, the current media system operates more like lap dogs who act primarily as megaphones of government, military and corporations. The implications of the erosion of mainstream news reporting for women’s reproductive health means that stories are told but are not interpreted, investigated or contextualized.
For example, the Republican Party platform embraces anti-abortion language with no mention of exceptions for rape or incest. Stories about their platform on abortion have been dutifully reported in the NY Times and Washington Post. Meaningful journalism would go further by illustrating how a substantial number of Republicans, working from this ideological party platform, have become overtly aggressive in their efforts to restrict access to abortion. Calling these restrictions a seismic shift, the Guttmacher Institute claims that states have become increasingly hostile to abortion rights, especially during 2011. This seismic shift in the loss of abortion rights has been and continues to be addressed and contextualized in alternate media sources such as RH Reality Check, Moyers & Company and Democracy Now while mainstream media reports stories about individual state legislation without mapping out the larger picture. What this means for the public, particularly women of reproductive age, is that they are without accurate, comprehensive and reliable information about legislative actions in their state and, thus, are unable to fully participate as first class citizens. This may seem a bit of an overstatement but consider further evidence from polls that point to general approval for legalized abortion, from GOP survey findings that complain about attacks on abortion and from the rise of the Christian right–all issues that are essentially silenced in mainstream news.
Polls Favoring Abortion
abortion, yet the Republicans legislators act according to their own party wishes, disregarding the voices of those they represent. Discrete stories about support for abortion in most circumstances appear in mainstream news sources. What is missing, I argue, are stories that illustrate the complexities of abortion rather than painting it as a black and white issue.
Young People frown on GOP’s Abortion Attacks
Another bit of evidence comes from the College Republican National Committee survey of young people. Among the findings is the call for Republicans to become more tolerant and open on women’s reproductive health particularly around the definition of rape, funding for Planned Parenthood, abortion access and even contraception. The GOP’s response concerning reproductive issues was to claim victimhood by responding that they had been “painted — both by Democrats and by unhelpful voices in our own ranks — in holding the most extreme anti-abortion positions.” Forget the fact, that no one forced Republicans to attack contraception or redefine rape or cut funding to Planned Parenthood. Essentially, they opined that they needed to avoid allowing the abortion debate to be “conflated” (as if this was something done to Republicans instead of something they openly and oftentimes eagerly do to themselves) with debates over contraception, rape and Planned Parenthood but not change its stance on the issue of abortion itself. Again, mainstream media picked up the story about the findings in the survey but took it no further. It was other sources, such as Salon, Politico, RH Reality and Huffington Post, that connected the dots for those who follow alternate news sources.
The Rise of the Christian Right within the GOP
In yet another news oversight is the rise of Christian right as a powerful voice within the Republican Party and the Party’s further shift to the right in legislating morality and legitimating its ideological myths about America. Under the influence of conservative Christians, Republicans have sought to defend a traditional concept of family through debates that opposed abortion, feminism, stem cell research and gay rights. Religion is at the heart of these debates which blurs the boundaries between separation of church and state. And, according to evangelical radio broadcasters, this boundary blurring seems to be exactly what is desired as they march toward the front line of the culture wars fighting against their perceptions of judicial tyranny that legalized abortion and outlawed school prayer.
In 1995, amidst the tumultuous events of far-right militia actions against the perceived corrupt and tyrannical federal government and the anti-abortion activists’ destruction and murders against clinics and doctors, Laura Flanders, writing for Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR), astutely asked, “When will media see the connection?” Citing expert testimony that far-right militias and anti abortion activists were one and the same, as well as citing the 1994 Supreme Court’s agreement with pro-choice groups that anti-abortionists could legitimately be investigated for conspiracy, she argued that “the national media’s gentle handling of the anti-abortion story has amounted to a quasi-conspiracy itself” by turning a blind eye to the connections. In 2013, I would repeat Guttmacher that there has been a seismic shift away from abortion rights. The obvious lack of investigations about the actions of the far-right legislators (militia) documented attacks against a woman’s right to access abortion and other reproductive health care is more than turning a blind eye. The lack of better reporting is indicative of what Pew cites as the continued erosion of news reporting due to financial cutbacks, increased use of advertising dollars spent on digital technology, and a shift toward digital news consumption. The good news for reproductive rights is that majority of Americans have increased their news consumption after hearing about an event or issue from friends and family. Social networking is now a part of this process including sources such as Abortion.ws, RH Reality, Moyers & Company and others to provide in-depth news about reproductive health care issues.
So it seems that while mainstream news sources such as the NY Times and the Washington Post continue to report on discrete reproductive health issues, it will be up to us to connect the dots for ourselves, to act as cartographers to map the abortion landscape, and to share our work with our readers, particularly in the coming elections where we should seize opportunities to speak publicly about supporting the rights of women through political donations, petition signatures and plenty of Facebook and blog postings.
May 23, 2013
It’s hard to deny that we are becoming a visually mediated society. The power of visuals to (mis)inform, persuade and threaten is evident particularly when iconic photographs are considered for their power to expose the truths of local and global catastrophes, wars and social unrest. Nick Ut’s Accidental Napalm, and Kevin Carter’s Struggling Girl are images that produce certain truths but they also produce a moral conundrum. Showing these images are representations of reality but they also alienate the public. In fact, the circulation of Accidental Napalm has been considered a pivotal turning point against the horrors of Vietnam War while Struggling Girl forced the world to see the plight of the starving. More recently, Richard Drew’s September 11, 2001 Falling Man was subjected to criticism for being too offensive to publish and for revealing the immorality of the photographer and the news sources entrusted to uphold societal values. Falling Man is troubling because, while it reveals a truth about the World Trade Center attacks, it also exploits the human dignity and privacy of a man and moves us to question the propriety of such a display. The representation of images have ethical implications in that they are a kind of truth that can be shown but can never tell the whole story. It is with this notion of (mis)representations that I want to address three lessons about the power of visuals and recommend using visuals in a more provocative, yet enlightening campaign—as a proposal for the 21st century.
The first lesson addresses this tension between propriety and morality for photographers and for activists who choose to capture and use spectacular images of human beings. For example, for antiabortionists, any propriety about displaying mutilated human fetal images is easily set aside out of concern for a larger moral purpose. In fact, in the antiabortion movement, there are those who use grotesque fetal images that, while inducing both empathy and disgust, raise ethical questions about the public display of these dead bodies. Antiabortion activists promote and distribute these visual materials based on a premise that once Americans see images of abortion, they will reject abortion. And while legal debates over the right to display such images erupt on state-run university campuses, outside the walls of progressive churches and, of course, outside the perimeters of abortion clinics, the majority views these prurient displays as morally repugnant and potentially harmful to young children.
A second lesson is drawn from campaign materials of the antiabortion activists’ use of mutilated fetuses and from the 2012 presidential election. Both campaigns ignore an essential element—women. While Republicans fell on their collective swords with their anti abortion and rape rhetoric, the so-called prolife crowd (majority Republican) continued with their fetal fetish worship. In hindsight, the lesson is clear. Don’t ignore women and their rights.
The third lesson addresses the failure of media to address some of the most fundamental and important issues that half the world’s population—women—face. Corporate media, held hostage by capitalistic greed, flourishes on a diet of sensationalism and entertainment. For example, recent news reports focused on Angelina Jolie’s mastectomies but ignored the science about environmental toxins (caused by unbridled, irresponsible industries) that are known causes of cancer. The news of her surgical decision also ignored the enormous costs of media’s relentless messages to young girls and women that their breasts are accessories for voyeuristic entertainment and men’s physical and sexual pleasure. Jolie’s story also ignores a very powerful human right—to be empowered to make a tough choice about her own body.
In another media ruckus over the accessibility of Plan B emergency contraception—political brouhaha about other-the-counter access, age limits and state-issued identification as proof of age—the stories failed to point out the cozy relationship that politics and pharmaceuticals play, failed to address the importance of emergency contraception to those who need it most, and failed to address the personal, social and economic consequences when emergency contraception isn’t available. As with Angelina Jolie’s story about making the choice to prevent cancer, the story about unfettered access to Plan B means women have the choice to prevent an unwanted pregnancy. But corporate media seldom acknowledges a woman’s agency unless she’s a celebrity.
In the spirit of Jonathan Swift, I propose a 21st century campaign that speaks directly to real women’s lives—the on-the-ground reality of women as they attempt to hold up half the sky. To begin, I suggest that legislators draft laws that require obstetricians, crisis pregnancy centers and abortion clinics recite narratives with accompanying displays of women killed by unsafe and illegal abortions, with displays of bodies that succumbed to pregnancy-related deaths, and with bodies who, devastated by post partum depression, committed suicide. While it may sound too far-fetched, consider that there are currently laws that dictate what doctors in abortion clinics tell their clients. In particular, there are numerous states that require that physicians provide specific information about fetal development, pregnancy options, abortion complications, and about voluntary, non-coercive decision making about abortion. Euphemistically called A Woman’s Right to Know, the law is the ironic work of conservative legislators—the very same conservative who cry “I don’t want big government coming in and telling me what to do with my healthcare” but actually want big government to tell doctors what they can do to women. So, the precedence is in place for legislators to continue practicing reproductive medicine without any education or without a professional license. Despite the long-standing tradition of fully accredited abortion clinics providing comprehensive counseling about pregnancy options, state legislators use their bully pulpit to impose their morality on others with these laws. What these right-to-know tactics ignore are the realities of illegal abortions and complications of pregnancy. So, it’s appropriate to suggest that legislators enact laws to more fully inform women with a new campaign.
A proposal such a mine would comb the world for images of the approximately 219 women who die worldwide each day from an unsafe abortion. With that many images of dead women, there would be plenty of material to use in pamphlets and in educational materials. Such a visual bounty would provide a deliciously, deadly assortment to post on blogs and to add to the Op Ed sections of local newspapers. As with the antiabortion activists who wear their fetal focused messages around their neck, counter protesters could sport an image of a woman in a blood-soaked bed with the words “Keep Abortion Safe” written in large letters. The thought of such a poster borders on pornographic, unethical and downright obscene. And while such a poster aligns with antiabortion impropriety, at least it’s honest in demonstrating the truth about women who want and need but cannot access safe and legal abortions. Perhaps we could further underscore the situation by showing all the children left motherless because safe abortion is not available.
At the very least, the displays should show the very real complications of illegal abortions with up-close-and-personal representations of pelvic abscess, septicemia, lacerated cervix, perforated bowel, exsanguination, and gangrene. And should anyone charge that these images are obscene, recall that obscenity laws cover material that deals with sex in a manner appealing to prurient interest, i.e., material having a tendency to excite lustful thoughts. A dead woman’s gangrenous bowel or an exsanguinated body certainly cannot be considered titillating. In an effort to ensure a woman’s right to know, as so many conservatives are determined to legislate, a campaign such as this would more fully inform women of all the potential harms.
Let’s face it. The antiabortion activists use fetal images, as they claim, to expose the injustice of abortion. In reality, their images are a misogynistic attempt to shame women and to alter the realities of safe abortion for religious and political dogma. On the other hand, a display of women’s mutilated and dead bodies would expose the discriminatory, immoral violations of their human rights including the dishonorable reality, specific to the United States, that
- this nation is 19out of 134 countries in terms of gender equality
- this nation is 50th in world for maternal health
- 68,000 women nearly die in childbirth annually
- 1.7 million women suffer a complication that has an adverse effect on their health
- the annual maternal morbidity is currently between 500-600 deaths
Equally important to my proposed campaign would be evidence of the endless attack on women’s reproductive rights through targeted regulations against abortion providers, through defunding of family planning services, through state-directed funneling of monies to (mostly religiously-affiliated) crisis pregnancy centers, through imprisonment and subsequent poor treatment of pregnant women (often resulting in miscarriage, preterm delivery and poor birth outcomes including neonatal death), through the rise of sexual assaults in the military and through the silent war being waged against poor women through cuts in Medicaid for abortions, cuts in state support (food stamps and welfare ) after one year and cuts in Head Start programs. Finally, a Google map of the United States using hyperlinks could locate the draconian politicians’ current laws as well as proposed legislation to further obstruct or outlaw access to abortion and contraception. Further details of such a map should include their political party affiliation, their religious affiliations and their financial supporters (such as PACs).
My modest proposal would visually depict the inexcusable health and human rights violations that occur due to the corrosive effects from religion, corporate greed, politics, military and government obstructionism for women of reproductive age, particularly for the poor in urban and rural areas, for minority women, and for those with limited or no access to health care. My campaign would be a much-needed corrective for media’s drive for entertainment and sensationalism, programming that’s foisted on the public as relevant and objective. Moreover, my proposal would illustrate the true nature of the conservative, right wing as misogynistic, anti-science, anti-medicine and anti-woman.
It’s a modest proposal that I’d like to think Jonathan Swift would admire.
December 13, 2012
It’s instructive for those who eschew their history lessons (or conveniently forget their history lessons), because they are condemned to repeat it. The prediction that God will judge America over abortion (and homosexuality) is pitiful because it ignores past God-will-get-you predictions from past religionists. Let’s not forget that the Shakers thought the world would be over in 1792, while the Jehovah’s Witnesses pegged various years between 1914 and 1994 as an end date. Joseph Smith, founder of the Mormon church, who told church leaders in 1835 that his conversation with God revealed that Jesus would return within the next 56 years to begin the End Times. Or in 1980, televangelist and Christian Coalition founder Pat Robertson telling his 700 Club TV show “I guarantee you by the end of 1982 there is going to be a judgment on the world.” What these doomsday predictions have in common is fear-mongering foisted upon the gullible.
This recent God-will-get-you prediction also ignores America’s history of exploitation, pillaging, maiming and killing native Americans and their land, the enslaving, maiming, and killing of millions of Africans, the support of foreign regimes that raped and killed millions, and the corrupt leaders in our own government and military who killed their own, who notoriously engaged in medical experiments on our poor black brothers and nuclear experiments on unknowing populations and who neglected the millions who are needy, oppressed, hungry, poor, sick, and homeless. And, guess what? God did not judge America. It’s still open for business. It remains fully immersed in the basic constitutional principles of freedom, individualism and unobstructed commerce, principles embraced by God-fearing, family-values oriented Republicans.
So when antiabortion crusaders post their dire prediction about God judging America, it’s an opportunity to remember yet another history lesson. Since biblical times, the prophecy of Armageddon, where it was alleged that God would destroy the armies of the Antichrist, is as ordinary as dirt, as quotidian as germs and as dangerous as cold oatmeal.
To get to the root of such a dystopian perspective, one need only open religious tracts to understand the machinations of (mostly) men with a proclivity toward the dramatic, men who are positioned as thought leaders in the prolife culture. Take Fr. Frank Pavone who cherry picks from old and new testaments to push his Priests for Life celebrity life. From his web site, in a section titled “Life is Victorious over Death,” (an anti-science statement if there ever was one), Pavone explains, “Abortion is death. Christ came to conquer death, and therefore abortion.” Note that his fractured syllogism does not cite any biblical text because there is no mention of abortion anywhere in the bible. But to authenticate his logic, he attaches a random biblical citation “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10) as if this adds clarity and confirmation of its righteousness.
Visit Flip Benham’s tracts (Operation Save America) for an even more dramaturgical response to abortion. Like Pavone, Benham “unashamedly takes up the cause of the preborn” using the “Cross of Christ” as their strategy (whatever the Hell that means). But rather than proclaim that God will judge America, Flip and his followers believe they ARE the heart and voice of God to solve the problem of abortion through “The Cross of Christ.” Knowing how literal these folks can be, it’s worrisome to imagine that the crucifixion is better theater than Pavone’s blather.
Joe Scheidler’s Pro-Life Action League shares Flip Benham’s affinity for the theatricality of public demonstrations in his Culture of Death performances. Recalling the twisted, disfigured and bloody body of Christ hung on a cross or the depraved killings in which bodies were stacked like cordwood during the Holocaust as teachable moments, Scheidler translates these two grotesque moments in time using images of mangled fetuses hung on signs and posters in his Face the Truth shows. And, quite naturally, their signs create opportunities for them to be on camera wherever they set up their traveling circus.
Calling abortion a national atrocity, as Scheidler does, ignores the sanctity of women’s lives and the choices they make. Calling the 9-11 tragedy God’s judgment and revenge for America’s slaughter of 45 million children, as Benham does, ignores the agency of the men who flew the planes into the buildings, those who supported them and all associated global politics including the Bush administration. Benham’s comments also ignore the rights and wishes of women. And in stating that a when a prisoner is put to death, he is afforded more dignity than the dignity a fetus deserves, Pavone is absolutely discounting the dignity of the woman who is carrying the fetus.
Recall, for a moment, the absurd expression that guns don’t kill people—people using guns kill people. Most rational citizens understand this about guns. Most understand that life and death by guns is more complicated than some bumper sticker expression. So when antiabortion crusaders like Benham, Scheidler and Pavone (and their followers) fabricate such prophecies about abortion and about God’s judgment, aren’t they really saying something more complicated like railing against women and their providers? Like the inert quality of a gun, abortion is a procedure without agency. Abortion cannot be accomplished without human agency. So to say God will judge America for abortion makes no sense unless we unpack what these crusaders most likely mean.
In an anti abortion Wikipedia under the “Condemnations and Predictions” category, the entry might read: “God will judge America over Abortion” is a slogan adopted by pro life conservative, evangelical Christians, both Protestant and Catholic, as an abbreviated dystopian version of reality and an alternative to the longer version: “We God-fearing Christians, who don’t believe in the evils of contraception or abortion or unruly American women, want you to know that God will judge abortion-minded women and all abortion providers. It is from our faith that we must inform you that you are the incarnation of evil and that you are condemned to eternity in Hell if you are in any way affiliated with the sins of murdering unborn children.”
Bottom line: It’s not God’s judgment. It’s the anti abortion folks’ judgment on women.
May 16, 2012
I’m traveling for this month….out west with all the wild ones. So here’s something to ponder.
I’ve noticed some frightening commonalities between rape culture and antiabortion culture. According to Marshall University Women’s Center, rape culture normalizes violence against women. It’s perpetuated through the use of misogynistic language, the objectification of women’s bodies and the glamorization of sexual violence, thereby creating a society that disregards women’s rights and safety.
So when I look at anti abortion culture, it’s not too different, in principle, because it uses misogynistic language, the objectification of women’s bodies as incubators for fetuses and the glamorized morality of violence against women seeking abortions and against professionals providing abortions. This anti abortion culture creates a milieu that disregards women’s reproductive rights and their safety at abortion clinics. In fact, anti abortion culture is founded on a perverted desire that turns people away from goodness, enslaves them to a need that is forever unsatisfied and roots itself in depravity (some would call it sin).
Rape culture teaches young adolescents that heterosexuality in THE norm. It teaches young men that it’s OK to make rape jokes, to watch pornography and to degrade males who aren’t hyper-masculine. Anti abortion culture is not much different–it teaches young men and women that heterosexuality is the only acceptable sexual orientation. It teaches them that it’s OK to stigmatize women who choose abortion, to threaten them with violence, and to foist their grotesque media on innocent women. And while some might object to the comparison of rape culture to anti abortion culture, the issue of consent is hard to deny.
Some research and legal definitions of rape are based on the idea that non-consent should be assumed until someone actively consents, whether verbally or nonverbally. While research and legal definitions might work for rape, it’s harder to define consent when anti abortion protesters actively accost women outside abortion clinics. Whether verbally or nonverbally, an anti abortion protester doesn’t need consent to violate a woman because of free speech rights. A woman entering a clinic may be unable to freely give consent to anti abortion protesters who attempt to violate her privacy as a result of fear, the threat of harm, or a sense of obligation or coercion to listen to their messages. And anti abortion protesters take every advantage of these women with the same gratuitous violence as a rapist, only they hide behind their thin veneer of religiosity.
Blames the woman
Defines the female as promiscuous
Allows sexually aggressive men to avoid responsibility for their behavior
Tolerates sexual harassment
Objectifies women’s bodies
And most importantly, both rape culture and anti abortion culture require no consent to degrade women.
April 12, 2012
I think it’s safe to say that the more reactive and aggressive anti abortion activists are informed by some variation of formal religion. Their parochial focus on ‘thou shalt not murder’ ignores a host of other religious tenets including the purpose of religion.
His Holiness The Dalai Lama XIV said “The whole purpose of religion is to facilitate love and compassion, patience, tolerance, humility, and forgiveness.” From my vantage point, there are painfully few instances of love and compassion outside abortion clinics. Let me offer a few examples.
When a 2012 New Year’s day fire gutted a family planning clinic in Pensacola FL, was that an act of love and compassion? When the Planned Parenthood office in Grand Chute, Wisconsin was damaged recently by a small homemade explosive device placed on a building windowsill, was that an act driven by tolerance and humility?
It was difficult to identify love and compassion, patience, tolerance, humility and forgiveness when the Maryland Coalition for Life determined that protesting at a middle school was the perfect response to a landlord who refused to terminate an abortion clinic’s lease? Anti-abortion activists, trying to shut down an abortion clinic in Maryland, targeted the sixth grade daughter of the man who simply owns the office park where the clinic is located. Where is the love and compassion for children when the protesters stood at the entrance of Robert Frost Middle School with graphic posters of aborted fetuses?
Was it love and compassion, patience, tolerance, humility and forgiveness that motivated Scott Roeder to stalk George Tiller, eventually shooting him vigilante-style in church. Informed by the vitriol of Operation Rescue, Roeder compared the lawlessness in the Bible to Tiller’s lawlessness. In fact, he wrote that Tiller is the concentration camp Mengele of our day and needs to be stopped. Where was the humility in Scott Roeder?
In August 2011, where hundreds of clinic defenders gathered in peaceful support of Dr. LeRoy Carhart and in support of the care he provides to women in need of late abortions. One block away, amidst a small group of anti-choicers, Operation Rescue leader Troy Newman emerged, paraded down the street toward the clinic defenders. One of the defenders, a pregnant 20-something woman, sat on the curb in the heat and humidity. A man darted across the street from her and started taking pictures. He then darted back across the street toward her to take more. Finally, he got down in the middle of the street in front of the pregnant woman, taking pictures of her. Startled at his actions, she asked who are you?
He said, “I’m Troy Newman, bitch.” How can this comment be interpreted as anything other that derision?
What drove an anti abortion protester, who recognized a friend entering an Allentown PA abortion clinic, to later drive to her friend’s place of work to publicly intimidate and harass her?
In all the outer trappings of her espoused Catholicism, rosary beads and membership in St. Joseph the Worker church in Orefield PA, where was this protester’s sense of tolerance, humility and love during the public humiliation?
What kind of love and compassion was evident when the Rev. Flip Benham was stalking a Charlotte, North Carolina abortion doctor and passing out hundreds of “wanted” posters with the physician’s name and photo on it, fliers that implicitly urge violence?
Benham knew that doctors in other places had been killed after similar posters were circulated. So how can this action remotely be considered religious or loving?
Where can you find love and compassion amongst the anti abortion terrorists as they scream at women with their bullhorns and use hateful language that diminishes human dignity? In what ways do they show love and compassion when telling a woman that the devil inside the clinic will drink the blood of her child or that the doctor will turn your child into baby road kill or your child will haunt you at night?
How can anyone claim to love both the woman and the fetus when, in truth, they value a woman’s fetus more than the woman? In the mind of the hubristic anti abortion activist, the fetus is a gift from God that they want to force on a woman, regardless of a woman’s wishes or circumstances. Organizations like Operation Rescue, Operation Save America and the Prolife Action League are singularly focused on ending abortion in America with absolutely no regard for the needs of women. There is little tolerance and certainly no humility within the leadership or their minions. Every time I hear an anti choicer invoke the name of Jesus, I cringe. There’s nothing Christ-like in that invocation, particularly because it lacks love and because it’s full of rage and contempt for every woman who enters a clinic.
The Dalai Lama XIV said the whole purpose of religion is to facilitate love and compassion, patience, tolerance, humility, and forgiveness. It’s clear to me that many anti abortion terrorists do not operate under loving and compassionate religious principles. They are driven by hate, anger and fear. They act out against strong, moral women who make decisions about when and if to bear children. And it is that female agency and morality that angers and scares the living hell out of these folks, that defies their personal sense of morality, and that drives them to act in heinous, immoral ways.