Recently I was asked to speak at a public forum debate on abortion. Since I had been involved in the anti-choice movement in various ways, and am a mother, I really felt I could add to the discussion. Narrative is probably the best way to present facts without tripping up defense mechanisms, and I thought my story could be helpful to others who are like I was.
I had a week and a half to prepare, while also preparing for midterms, working, kids, etc. A week before the debate, I asked the organizer if he could confirm there would be no graphic images as I was planning on bringing my children.
Then I found out what I was dealing with. A church-based and well-funded agency provided the other two (male and childless) debaters, one of whom has been paid for years to participate in demonstrations. They also had mobilized a small army of volunteers and other staff to show up to this public park with giant posters and pamphlets. I found their website and read their mission statements. They were not interested in debating but in finding a platform for their voice. I began to suspect that this group was taking advantage of the forum and planning to make a circus of it.
I asked if they would refrain from bringing graphic material to the debate as
1)images evoking disgust or fear short circuit the brain’s ability to reason and shut down logic and empathy, and if their arguments are sound they should be able to stand on their own
2) this is a public park where all sorts of people will walk by and the particular images are known to cause incredible stress, especially to women who have miscarried or had abortions under trauma, making this an unsafe place to an especially vulnerable group.
They refused. Hitler was brought up and one of the debaters sent me an email which made me feel rather unsafe. The organizer assured me he would call the police if anything got out of hand.
I began to feel sick, unsure if it was from exposure to the flu or stress in general. I backed out of the speaking part after finding a replacement. I felt like I had let everyone down, especially my friend who was still speaking on the pro-choice side.