By Susie Ekberg
In the late 80’s I marched in an anti-abortion protest that ended in front of the women’s clinic. Sign in hand, my toddler at my side, my pregnant belly sticking out, I knew in my heart that what I was doing was right.
That was 25 years ago. Fast forward to the ELCA’s work of coming up with a statement that reflected their stand on abortion. I led the group of people at First Lutheran urging the church to take a stand against abortion.
Fast forward again to an afternoon at the HoDo, listening to Jennifer Baumgardner, writer and activist, speaking about grassroots activism. She also talked a little about her controversial “I had an abortion” t-shirt campaign.
There was something about the way she talked that caught my attention. It was about mutual respect and understanding. She spoke about bringing two polar opposites together in the same room to talk. It was about the grays, not the usual black and white.
I recently read an article by Jeff Larsen, from a Sept. 27 issue of the Wall Street Journal. He said “Thinking in shades of gray is a sign of maturity, enabling people to see the world as it really is. It’s a coming to grips with the complexity of the world.”
I could feel a subtle but powerful shift inside of me. Anger, violence and hatred aren’t going to change anything. Polarity isn’t going to bring differing beliefs together.
One night last week as I lay in bed I heard my small still voice: be a volunteer escort at the Women’s Health Clinic. I got interested. Why? Because it came out of nowhere, because it didn’t make any sense given my current overbooked life; it’s not something I would normally think of doing.
The next morning I walked into Atomic Coffee and saw a sign on the wall asking for volunteer escorts for the Women’s Health Clinic.
The result? I signed up to be an escort for the Clinic. Was I nervous? Yes, a little. Did I think it was important? Yes.
I went to see Tammi Kromenaker, the director. I wanted to hear from her so I could understand the grays a little better.
Tammi told me that “what people don’t know is that when a woman walks in the door, we’re not here to encourage her to have an abortion. We’re here to make sure that if that’s what she wants, we’re going to help her with that. If she doesn’t want an abortion, we’ll help her with that also. I think that’s the thing we get the least amount of credit for – turning women away. We have women that come in here all of the time that say, ‘I used to be against this.’ We’ve even had women who say they’ve protested. It’s like anything else in this world. It’s so easy to judge, but until you’re in that position, until you walk in someone else’s shoes, you have no idea.”
On the day I signed up to escort I could feel my heart thumping as I approached the clinic. I put on my yellow vest and went back outside. I recognized one of the protesters. I know her to be a caring, kind woman. We didn’t make eye contact. The other escorts were mostly college students, but there was a mailman and a couple of other women close to my age. Two of the college students were religion majors.
What struck me as I spoke with three of the young women was that they were my daughter’s age. One of them said her mother is worried for her safety. The young women said it was a mild day, meaning none of them had been told by protesters that they would burn in hell; no male protesters had called them whores.
One protester came up to me and started talking about the prayer signs that are posted on the wall by the Clinic (The prayers come from Faith Aloud, an organization ‘dedicated to promoting reproductive justice through the moral power of religious and ethical communities’). She asked me how much we got paid for standing there. I said we were volunteers. She ended the conversation by saying, “But how can they kill babies?” I said, “We all have different beliefs.” She was polite; I was polite. She walked away.
One protester’s sign read “80 families in Fargo are waiting to adopt.” According to a May 19, 2010, TV report by WDAY, there are 239 children in foster care in Fargo, and only 64 foster homes.
When my shift was over I walked back into the entryway, put my vest back into the drawer, and as I turned to leave I saw the sign that was posted by the front door. It said, “We are pro-choice and we pray.”
I can only speak from the two perspectives I have had over the years, those of protester and escort. I cannot speak as a woman who’s had an abortion, as the patient’s mother or partner. I cannot speak as a worker in the clinic.
This is a complex, painful issue. There is much emotion and passion, and strongly held beliefs on both sides. But I am hoping that there is the possibility that polarized people can make even a minute move toward love and compassion, and away from divisiveness, violence, and threats.
I was a peaceful protester 25 years ago. I saw peaceful protesters when I was an escort. That is not always the case.
I will pray every day for everyone associated with the Clinic, for the women and their families, the protesters and escorts. I will pray for Tammi.
Prayer is good. It was created to be loving, supportive, caring and nurturing. It is meant to help others. It can also be a way of bridging gaps and bringing people together. It can be a way of helping us see not only the grays, but eventually all the colors. It can create peace. As Mother Teresa says, “If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.”
Susie’s Note: I worked on this column longer and harder than any other column I’ve ever written. I weighed each word carefully, wanting to make sure that the message of my words was one of love, respect, compassion, and that my column came from a place of reconciliation and hope. It is not my intention to take a stand on any particular belief or viewpoint. It is my intention to invite dialogue (as an intelligent friend calls it) that can promote cross-community healing.
If you feel led to e-mail me with your comments, questions, or concerns, I respectfully ask you to respond from that compassionate place as well. Please sign with your full name. Any anonymous or disrespectful e-mails will not be read. Respectful e-mails will receive a cheerful reply. Thank you.
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