By Rosemary McClure ‘13Editor-in-Chief
On the morning of Saturday, Oct. 13, approximately 30 students from the 5Cs made their way to Montclair Family Planning and Associates to protest the ongoing pro-life 40 Days for Life prayer vigil. The Scripps chapter of Choice USA, a nationwide pro-choice organization founded by Gloria Steinem, organized the protest.
According to organizer Liz McElvein (SC ’14), “the counter-protest had three major goals: to initiate dialogue among 5-C students about reproductive freedom, to empower students to take political action on behalf of their own convictions, and to demonstrate solidarity with the healthcare providers and patients of Montclair Family Planning.”
Choice USA member and counter-protest organizer Lily Foss (SC ’13) emphasized the goal was not to change the minds of the prayer vigil attendees, but to support the clinic’s employees and patients. “They brag about getting clinic employees to quit their jobs,” said Foss.
To demonstrate solidarity with Montclair Family Planning employees and patients, counter-protesters created and signed a thank-you card for the clinic. They also brought posters featuring messages such as “Against abortion? Don’t have one!” and “Pro-choice, pro-family,” which were displayed for passing vehicles and pedestrians.
40 Days for Life organizes 40-day prayer and fasting vigils at reproductive health clinics around the world. The organization’s web site refers to these clinics as “abortion mills.” The purpose of the vigils is to change the minds of patients seeking abortions and to disrupt the daily operation of reproductive health clinics, eventually eliciting their permanent closure. This particular vigil is the second that has been held at Montclair Family Planning this year.
A video message on 40 Days for Life’s web site features national director David Bereit standing in front of a recently-closed family planning clinic. The organization is “celebrating the closure of this abortion facility following five 40 Days for Life campaigns outside its doors,” he says.” God heard, and God answered their prayers, and this abortion facility is now closed. If this can happen in La Puente, it can happen in Montclair.”
Testimonials from 40 Days for Life’s volunteers claim business drops significantly during their campaigns at these clinics. Another update says, “Day 26 – 335 babies saved.”
Interactions between prayer vigil volunteers and the counter-protesters were civil overall, though several students characterized the volunteers’ comments as condescending and sexist. “One man congratulated me on being politically engaged—a benign yet patronizing remark premised on a sense of incredulity that that I would have the conviction and capacity for political organization,” said McElvein. One man hugged her. “I felt particularly uneasy because he did not ask for permission to touch me and left me with no choice but to squirm out of his grasp.”
Counter-protest attendees indicated their campaign was successful, citing supportive honks and hand gestures from passing traffic. Some students were surprised at the small size of the prayer vigil. Only around five people attended, all of whom were men.
There will be another counter-protest from 9-11 a.m. on Sunday, Nov. 4, which is the last day of the prayer vigil. For McElvein, these protests are opportunities to “practice framing and defending a reproductive freedom framework.” Individuals interested in attending should contact Liz McElvein (email@example.com) or Lily Foss (firstname.lastname@example.org) for more information.