Every day, while driving to and from work and to and from the gym, I pass a women’s clinic. This clinic provides numerous affordable health care services to women in the community — one of which is abortions. And each time I go by, I see parents sitting in front of the clinic with their young children, who are holding signs about God, and judgment, and hell.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m all for being able to publicly express both religious and personal beliefs. I also try hard not to focus on others’ parenting choices, but every time I witness this scene, I get a knot in my stomach. I don’t know which aspect of seeing kids unknowingly, or maybe knowingly, damning women they’ve never met to hell disturbs me the most. But the sight of it gets dozens of thoughts and questions running through my head.
I wonder why their parents have them out in the middle of the day, when they should be in school. I think, “Okay, maybe they are home-schooled.” Right? But what kind of home-school curriculum includes publicly shaming women? Or do I even want to know the answer to this question? Even as a non-practicing Christian, I would have more — or any — respect for these parents if they were reading to their kids from the Bible eight hours a day instead of sitting them in front of a clinic and having them hold up signs that many of them can’t even quite grasp the meaning behind just yet.
Then, I ask myself, “Why do they assume everyone entering the clinic is having an abortion? Maybe the patient who just pulled into the parking lot isn’t there for an abortion. Maybe she’s just getting an annual check-up. Maybe she’s in need of medication or a referral to another doctor. Maybe she found a lump in her breast or is experiencing pain. Maybe she’s truly very sick, and this is the only place she can go to get medical assistance.”
I’ve received medical services from women’s clinics multiple times in my life. I have also accompanied a number of friends on visits to these clinics. None of these visits involved abortions. Every single one of them occurred because seeing a doctor at a women’s clinic was significantly cheaper or faster than booking an appointment with a private office. Health care in this country is expensive, and services through a private office can be slow. If you are a low- to middle-class woman, even basic services like breast exams and pap smears can break the bank. For many females, local clinics are the only choice — aside from not receiving medical attention at all.
Then, my stomach turns when I think of the women entering the clinic who are terminating a pregnancy, but not by choice. How horrifying might that be? You’re having a miscarriage, and you pull up to the clinic only to be immediately judged without even exiting your vehicle. It must feel awesome, to have THAT as your last image before you go inside and prepare to say good-bye to your unborn child. I can’t even imagine the anger and the pain that must cause for these mothers, on top of what they are already enduring.
Mostly, though, I think about how these parents are teaching their children, so young and impressionable, to judge others.
I was raised Catholic. I know all about heaven and hell and “thou shall not kill.” But I also know, “Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven” (Luke 6:37). (Didn’t think this crazy, liberal, lapsed Christian could quote the Bible, did you?!) I wonder, “Why does it matter whether the woman walking into the clinic is there for a pap smear, a breast exam, or an abortion? Does she deserve to be judged? Does she deserve to be treated with such blatant hatred and disrespect?”
To me, the answers are obvious. No, it doesn’t matter. No, she doesn’t deserve to be treated that way. But I guess it’s not so clear-cut for others, and that makes me angry. What makes us worthy of playing God? Why do we feel entitled enough to act as though we are Judge and Jury? What happened to accepting each other, regardless of choices? What happened to forgiveness? What happened to kindness toward our fellow (wo)man?
As I drive past this scene every day, my heart aches for these women. I don’t know their stories, and I don’t care. I don’t need to know their stories to know that the signs they face as they walk in and out of those clinic doors are hurtful to read — because they are hurtful for ME. And as the sight of this daily protest fades in my rear-view mirror, I fear for our children’s future . . . because I fear we are teaching them that it’s easier to criticize and pass judgment on others who aren’t “like us” than it is to provide love and support.