In a recent etiquette advice column, Judith Martin was asked if it was polite to ask how a person lost his hand. Her response was an emphatic “It would be hideously impolite.” She explained that she failed to see what business of Mr. Rude it could be, and hoped that he did not go around asking to peek at other people’s medical records.
In a civil society, there are social customs that distinguish private from public. Scars on one’s face, a missing thumb or a burned arm are visible to the general public. How these effects happened to us remains private information. We also have social customs designed to enlighten the uninformed against remarks that pigeonhole individuals with racially insensitive intentions. For example, it is completely inexcusable, as a white person and a stranger, to assume that every person with mocha brown skin is African American. It demonstrates racial insensitivity and a clear lack of civility. Social customs also discriminate between deviance and conformity according to context. Yelling “fire” in a theater would be considered a deviant act while calling a volunteer at an abortion clinic a murderer would be considered ignorant, hateful and appallingly rude but with the legal limits of the law. As P.M. Forni wrote in Choosing Civility, most of us would agree that thoughtful behavior and common decency are in short supply, particularly in the last decade.
This lack of civility is distressingly apparent amongst the anti abortion tribes who haunt the perimeters of abortion clinics. Driven by the belief of their moral superiority, these trolls are prolific in damnation, degraded by their racial insensitivities, corrupted by their aggressive religious bigotry and homophobia. These self-proclaimed pro-life warriors are the antithesis of civility even though they would likely counter that it is the entire world who is uncivil. Ms. Martin would likely faint at their dreadfully loutish comments directed toward innocent women. In fact, as a social encounter, the anti abortion activists normalize their identity while they stigmatize the woman entering an abortion clinic and stigmatize the volunteers and clinic staff, thereby marking everyone (but themselves) as morally flawed. Beginning to see a pathology here?
For example, one protester named Katie said to a young Hispanic woman, a woman with whom she has no prior contact and no permission to address, “If you are going in for an abortion, please don’t. They’ll cut you up really bad.” Or to a young man, this vulgar protester said, “The sex was great. Now do the right thing and take care of her and the baby.” The presumptuousness was astounding. This off assumed that the male companion was the sperm donor and that he was shirking his responsibility. In truth there are many occasions when the companion is a brother or friend who accompanies her to the appointment. Further, some women choose to abort regardless of what the men want. But facts and truth seldom bother the protesters. In fact, they have so much respect for the truth they seldom use it.
From the creep-factor corner, comes a deeply disgusting comment from the lecherous old man named Don who lurked around the clinic doorway like the godfather of Keats Street. He watched as a young woman, sporting a snug, cleavage-revealing camisole, walked into the clinic. This horny old pervert blurted out “Looks like you’re all set up for breastfeeding.” I could just hear Ms. Manners gasping in disbelief and saying “How appalling.”
Several years back, one of the clinic’s employees was dropped off at the clinic door. She quickly opened the car door and went inside but not before the venomous Gerry started yelling at her and then took a shot at her two innocent, wide-eyed children sitting in their car seats in the back. Aimed right at the little one closest to him, he lowered his face to the child’s level and yelled “Your mommy is a baby killer.” So much for loving children.
But as inexcusable as these examples are, they pale in comparison to the grossly invasive demands from judges and lawyers who subpoena women’s medical records during the discovery phase of frivolous lawsuits. Worse yet are the uncivil, immoral legislative actions that essentially reduce women to second class citizens by depriving them of reasonable access to abortion care and by subjecting them to demeaning wait periods, unsolicited counseling using state-mandated misinformation and forced ultrasounds. There is no area in healthcare where legislators regard women as incapable of making decisions for themselves. Likewise, there is no area in healthcare where legislators regard doctors as incapable of making sound medical decisions with their patients.
In fact, there is no area in healthcare where it would be considered remotely acceptable to be rude to female patients except outside abortion clinics. There, self-proclaimed Christian perverts attempt to talk to strangers about the content of their uterus, their breasts, or their sex partners. There, depraved men and women demand their free speech rights to tell a mother that it was God’s will that her raped daughter got pregnant and that she has no right to abort the pregnancy. It’s therefore all the more unfortunate that American citizens are ignorant of, or hostile to, our social customs when visiting perimeters of healthcare clinics that provide abortion care and when, as Ms. Manners might say, are hideously impolite to innocent strangers.