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Tuesday, April 27, 2004

The march, 4-25-04, continued. Here goes. For those who didn’t see the earlier post, a re-cap:

The March, in three words: "viciously, mercilessly abusive." The amount of verbal aggression and abuse hurled at me personally, by women and men, of all ages, for carrying the I REGRET MY ABORTION sign, well, I thought that I was ready for it.

I wasn't. Not even close.

I consider myself fairly far along on the "healing" and "public-appearances" scales. We stood, all 500 of us in the Silent No More Awareness groups, in total silence as planned, for over five hours, not replying or saying one word to anything that was said or done to us, and I do mean anything.

But nothing prepared me for literally mobs of livid people screaming the most hateful vicious snide things at me personally. We were spit on, and had an egg hurled at us from the marchers. There were two groups of Satanists. And the signs. Like the guy who held a handmade sign, "BABY KILLER" with an arrow pointed downward at himself. If not for the riot police, we would have been mobbed. There was that much viciousness. People broke through the riot police's invisible line just to come up in my face and hurl insulting words. There were not enough police to form a complete line, so they would run up to me, shout out their abuse, and run back before the policeman or woman got to stop him/her. And I said nothing to anyone, just held my sign.

I'll try to post at length as soon as I can. There's much more to tell. Including one woman who in the midst of the mass of marchers, came over to us, said, "What the hell am I doing out here?" and asked us to exchange her NARAL sign for one of ours. One conversion to the truth... that we know of...Will also do one of my regular columns and post that link too. The answer to one of Em's questions below: there were a TON of men there. Young to old, what seemed like thousands of husbands-dragged-along, even up to the ages of 85. Yes, they even had two double length busses for those elderly.

The night before, our hotel seemed filled with pro-choice advocates. Any time we shared an elevator ride with any other women they assumed my friend and I were with the march. We remained relatively silent and just nodded a lot, not knowing what to expect. At dinner, we heard teens in an extended family of about 8 making crass, disrespectful anti-Bush jokes and guffawing about their cleverness (yes, freedom of speech is a right and I defend it, but to see a snide 14 year-old teen who probably knows next to nothing but what he hears in anti-Bush alternative rock music lyrics being so disrespectful was still unsettling). The parents thought he was hilarious (“What do you call George Bush and his father? Dumb and Dumber!”)

The next morning, on our way to the meeting room, we saw some folks with “Women Deserve Better” and “Feminists for Life” T-shirts, and grabbed them, thanking them. We finally were not alone in that place. It was ironic that we’d also just passed a young teen girl wearing a march sticker and a T-shirt that read, “This Is What A Feminist Looks Like.” She and all the others we’d see wearing that, including Ashley Judd, have no clue how wrong they are.

We learned that the march organizers had gone to court to deny our First Amendment rights to free speech.

The march organizers, NOW, NARAL, Planned Parenthood and the Feminist Majority (misnamed, as they are neither true feminists nor a majority) had gone to court last week to have Judge Gladys Kessler, district judge for the District of Columbia, uphold the denial of our permit application. We had asked to stand directly across the street from the Rally on the National Mall. We issued a press release on it: Silent No More Awareness Campaign co-founder Janet Morana said, “Isn’t this hypocritical, marching for total access to abortion for all women while denying some women access to speak on public sidewalks?”

At 10:00 a.m., maybe 140 or more of us walked to Constitution and 15th, one of three places we were allowed permits. Two other groups set out at 11 and 12 noon, of the same size. Five hundred or so total, Georgette said at the end of the day. We had people joining us on the fly, saying, “Give me one of those ‘I REGRET’ signs please!"

Let me clarify something: I don’t have official numbers on this, but there are well over five hundred women members, maybe even well over one thousand members nationwide of the Silent No More Awareness Campaign, but not all of the five hundred present yesterday were post-abortive women and men. When I wrote above “the Silent No More Awareness groups” I was writing quickly and was referring to the three distinct groups we formed yesterday for the three permitted locations, NOT that all of us were post-abortive. Sorry if it was misleading. The fact is that not all of those who ARE post-abortive held signs saying that, and that is just fine. No one is forced or pressured to “go public” but if any post-abortive person feels that sharing their presence and just holding a “Women Deserve Better” or "WOMEN NEED LOVE NOT ABORTION" sign suits them, they are more than welcome to do just that.

So that’s why we did not have five hundred post-abortive women holding those REGRET signs. It is because of treatment like we got that we DON’T have five hundred or more holding those signs. Who wants to be brutalized verbally by thousands in public when we’ve already chosen something that brutalized us physically and emotionally?

We invited the Women Deserve Better and Feminists For Life and the great young people at American Collegians for Life (ACL) to join us. Permits being at such a premium because the march organizers were fighting them in court, we didn’t want these groups to be left wandering around, risking being accused of illegal loitering. So in each group there were probably about a dozen women holding the I REGRET MY ABORTION signs, and a few (really don’t know how many) men holding the I REGRET LOST FATHERHOOD signs.

The whole point of the protest was to let our signs do all the talking for us. We were to not respond to anything. It was hard to do.

At each location, we stood single file along the sidewalk, as pro-choice marchers streamed past us toward the rally site, already in progress.

The silence had the most incredible impact on the pro-choice people walking by. They seemed to fully expect a barrage of insults and condemnation. Some actually crossed the street to avoid us, but most did not. It was actually eerily calm and quiet even while probably a couple thousand walked by.

At least a dozen women (I’m guessing they were between 45 and 65 years old) who saw my sign before the march sneered at me saying, “I had TWO [abortions] and I don’t regret them for a second!” The bragging quality shocked me at first, but as the day wore on, it just saddened me.

I silently made eye contact with as many people as possible, women and men. The older, middle-aged ones, had their eyes glued straight ahead for the most part. But almost all the young women, even of high school age, looked at my sign as they walked by on that sidewalk, laughing among themselves and their boyfriends or girlfriends. When my sign caught their eye, they then reflexively looked to see who was holding it. After our eyes met, a few quickly looked away, not wanting to know, but most just stared at me a long time in shock. A lot of brows furrowed as they walked away, no longer laughing; they’d never even thought it was possible, I suppose, that a woman would think twice about her abortion, could really regret having done it.

One of our men holding the I REGRET LOST FATHERHOOD signs was a lone, 22-year-old college fellow, handsome as a movie star, quiet and reflective. The pain was so evident on his face. He’d come to the group all by himself. Said little to anyone. Perhaps his buddies wouldn’t understand or had already laughed at him for missing his little boy or girl who he’d never know. We only learned his story at the very end of the day, walking back to the hotel, as he offered to carry my friend’s tripod and camera case. My heart just broke.

We stood in that long, silent line on the left side of the march route from 10:30 till 12:30, when the march began right at our corner. We lined the barricades at the curb then, and where I stood, right at the corner, sort of in a much broader view as opposed to just in the marchers' peripheral vision, was the first group of counter-protesters that they saw.

The riot police, perhaps fifty in our area, in full battle gear, lined up on the march-side of the barricades, facing us, about 10-15 feet apart. Before the march, I said to the few of them standing right in front of me, “Thank you for being here. I know it’s your job so you have to be here, but thank you anyway. You won’t be getting any trouble from us.” One of the policemen nodded his head respectfully at me in silent acknowledgment and thanks.

But then they all were moved up the street a ways, so for about the first two hours, there were no riot policemen or women within about 35+ feet of where I stood. And that’s how the marchers got to walk directly on the opposite side of the barricade I touched. Nose to nose, almost. These were coming from the next street over, what would have been the left side of the rally stage, to my right, on 15th Street.

Now that I think of it, I suppose I was probably the first of about maybe 35-40 of the I REGRET signs the marchers saw that day at numerous spots along the three locations. That hadn’t occurred to me before. Perhaps that’s why I got so much of the attacks. I don’t know if the others had the same experience. I held my sign high, so those in the middle of the street’s packed throng could see it. Many people in the distance, in the center of the crowd, craned their necks to read our signs.

After they read my sign, at least 25 separate women throughout the day laughed at me and spat out these exact same words, “Then you shouldn’t have HAD it, that’s all!” Some even shrugged, like it was that easy to make that decision. Like I regretted it THEN, but went ahead with it anyway?

I saw women read my sign and burst out laughing and pointing at me, saying sarcastically, “Pooor baby!” I saw men look me right in the eye after reading the sign as they shouted out the chants that are the 30-year-old standards of the pro-abortion movement, like “Pro-Life? That’s a lie! YOU don’t care if women die!” and “Keep your rosaries off my ovaries!” Little did they know, how much we do care and do help women to survive and have a better alternative to abortion.

Others saw the sign and said to me, “Too bad!” The ones holding the signs “Don’t Want An Abortion? DON’T HAVE ONE!” wove their way from the opposite side of the crowd just to wave their sign in my face and taunt me.

One woman, maybe about 30ish, started screaming at me, at the top of her lungs, “I CHOSE!! AND I’M PROUD!” over and over and over again. The others around her took up the chant, some verbatim, some saying instead, “I CHOOSE!! AND I’M PROUD!!” The veins were popping out on her forehead and neck, her face was beet red, and she was hunched over at the waist as she shrieked out the words at high volume, glowering at me, for at least five minutes straight. If there is a definition of “frothing at the mouth,” that was this woman at that time.

Later, after reading my sign, one woman started a chant that about a hundred marchers began screaming at me, “THAT WAS YOUR *CHOICE*!” essentially telling me I had no right to be upset or to regret. They stopped marching and stood right in front of me, all one-hundred of them glaring directly at me, some not more than 2-3 feet away, jabbing fingers at me in the air, their faces twisted and contorted with contempt. I just looked from face to face, amazed at what I was seeing. It was starting to get frightening. Not for my personal safety, but their hatred was feeling as though it was reaching a fever pitch and becoming toxic.

Can any of you pro-choicers stop for just a moment, and imagine nothing but a flimsy piece of fence standing between you and 100 frenzied people, not safely away on some wired blog, but there live and in person, who are screaming their disgust and hatred for you? The riot police were nowhere to be seen. They were off up the street and allowed the marchers to pass by within inches of us at that spot in the very start of the march.

After about two hours of the marchers being inches away from us, a woman from our group I had not met came over to me and put her arm around me. She said, “I just couldn’t listen to and watch you take more of that abuse. I’m here to hold you up in prayer and stand by you.” Her name is Gloria. I didn’t ask her her name until the march was over, but I thought, How fitting a name for my "angel," for she was truly sent to me when I needed her most!

She rubbed my shoulder in sympathy and comfort, and I hugged her back, thanking her. Her husband Michael (the archangel’s name? Hmmm…) just behind me also said, “We are going to stand on either side of you and just pray for you, that God give you the strength to withstand this, and to protect you. You’ve taken enough.” I thanked them both, and as she rubbed my shoulders, it occurred to me, “This is just what my son would be doing if he were here.” At the age of only fourteen, he’d wanted to come to “protect me” and was terribly worried, even distraught over the possibility of something happening to me. I’d reassured him that nothing bad would happen. I honestly didn’t know what to expect. Whenever I have done a public talk that he has attended, he would get up from his seat and come to my side at the lectern whenever I became emotional, like this time.

The young college woman at the fence to my left, Kelly from Boston College’s ACL, and all her college friends around her, also hugged me or patted me on the back and said they were praying for me too. So many of these great college kids came up to me and just said, in such a reverent voice, “Thank you for doing this.” I know the others were saying it to the rest of us post-abortive women holding these signs throughout our three groups, too. I’m not the only one. I’m just the only one who can post it on a blog probably. Please keep them all in your prayers.

I said to them, “It always turns out that the ones who are the most upset at us, the angriest ones, the ones who are so hateful, have so much to cover up, and this is how they do it. They are the post-abortive ones, even if they don’t say so. And they’re the ones who hit the wall the hardest when they do. I know, because I denied it for over 20 years…I know what happens when it all comes out.”

As my new friend Gloria rubbed my shoulder, she also literally helped support my arm, as I’d been holding the sign up high for so long, my arms were tired and drained of blood.

I suddenly felt the tears come. At first, I think I cried because I’d been trying to deflect and not react to so much venom for two hours, that now that others were helping me be strong, I could allow myself to be a little weak. I then cried because I miss the daughter I’ll never know.

You know how it all rushes through you at once when you start weeping? Everything comes out. I cried because, here were these thousands of people fighting for a right I wish they’d never allowed me to have, instead of fighting for the daughters and sons I and millions of others will never have. I felt they were fighting for the death of my daughter, to deny me the right to grieve her.

Then I realized I wasn’t crying so much for me as I was for them. I felt they were fighting to hide their loss because to come to grips with it, after being so fervently pro-choice, would bring upon them the same kind of abuse I was getting. I felt so crushingly sad for them. The cold, angry hearts, the screaming remorselessness, the relentless cruelty they seemed capable of, toward me and toward another living human being, their own flesh and blood. I realized that they don’t see those living human beings as the gift they are, because if they did, the façade could no longer justify their “choice.” Just as it one day stopped hiding the truth of my choice.

I just wanted to reach out and hold them all, like it says in some old corny song, “I wanna hold ya till I die, till we both break down and cry, I wanna hold ya till the fear in me subsides.” And I knew: I couldn’t. And it just made the tears stream down even more.

Openly weeping, as my new/old-soul friends gathered around me, hands on my arms or shoulders, my vision was so blurred I could no longer make eye contact with the people in the crowd. I could only sense that something was changing. People were still looking and pointing, but no longer laughing or screaming at me. I didn’t care what they said or did to me anymore. I didn't care if they laughed that I was crying out there in front of thousands. I just couldn’t keep it in anymore. The looks that I did catch had become subdued and stunned at the same time.

A young man of about 20 stopped as he was about to pass right in front of me. He looked Chinese-American, and he just stared as I cried. I looked in his eyes since he was right in front of me. Weeping, I pleaded with him, “How can you be in this march supporting this? I lost a daughter to this, and it is the worst thing I have ever done or will ever do in my entire life, and I can never outlive this pain.” He looked like he was going to cry. I asked him, “How old are you?” He quietly replied, “22.” I could barely speak, but I told him, “My daughter would have been 25, and she could have been your girlfriend…or maybe even your future wife.”

I couldn’t speak after that, and neither could he. He just looked at me with such pain in his eyes and touched my arm and said, “I am so sorry…” as he reluctantly moved on slowly.

One of Silent No More Awareness Campaigns’ co-founders, Georgette Forney, came over to me and asked if I was OK. I was still weeping, and all I could say was, “They just don’t know what they’re doing…” She called out to all of our group nearby, “Please hold Annie up in prayer, she really needs our prayers right now if she’s gonna get through this, and right now, she’s the lightning rod for all this, they are targeting her because she’s the one here they first see with the message that scares them the most.” There were about fifteen of our group surrounding me at this point, physically and in silent prayer.

Shortly, it seemed to me the police returned and put some men in front of me, forming a sort of invisible line, to keep the crowds away from us by about fifteen feet or so. I don’t know if it was Georgette asking them to, or if they just did it on their own.

A woman dressed in pink with a short-cropped haircut caught my eye from the crowd as I’d been crying. She gazed at me, and called out, “I regret my abortion too!” But she was part of the march. I didn’t understand what she really was trying to say. She was still pro-choice, it seemed. Yet she locked eyes on mine, and looked really sad for me. As the crowd moved her along, I just looked at her, still teary-eyed, not knowing what to say back. I thought she’d moved past, when suddenly she broke free and ran back, past the riot cop, and threw her arms around my neck to hug me, to console me! I was stunned, but I hugged her back and wept hard again, whispering to her, “WHY are you out here in this? HOW can you still believe it’s OK??” It was not a condemnation, it was an invitation, an honest incredulous bewilderment on my part, and a sincere wish that she too would find comfort for her pain forever, not just for this moment.

She didn’t say anything, because I could hear her start crying too. She hugged me tight for what seemed like very long minutes. The whole crowd beyond her stopped and stared. No one spoke or made a sound, or at least that’s how it seemed to me. It’s as if everyone was just holding their breath. It seemed like time stood still. And for us, it did. We just cried on each other’s shoulders in the midst of all this madness and hate. I still didn’t know quite what to think, but when she finally pulled back, I thanked her, and we just looked at each other a moment, feeling each other’s pain, but then she ran back into the crowd and disappeared.

I didn’t have time to give her one of our cards about who to call to begin seeking help and healing from this awful grief, and I am sorry for that.

If you’re out there, know that I sent one of our group after you to try to get the card to you, but he couldn’t get your attention and I’m so sorry for that, and that I couldn’t come running ahead to find you. I was so stiff and in pain from standing in the same position for hours, I've had a lot of arthritis problems from advanced Lyme disease for the past year, and I just couldn’t move that fast if I tried. I want you to be able to contact me, if you’re ever reading this. The email is . Or call Georgette at (800) 707-6635, and either she or I can help.

I want to thank you, again. I want to help, if I can. I want to be there for you when you need someone to help.

A little while later, another woman locked eyes with me as she moved slowly forward. We just looked at each other, and I realized that every time I had met someone’s gaze like this and they just kept looking into my eyes, they could see the truth of their own pain. Just as this woman, about my age, was about to pass out of sight, I saw her mouth the silent words, “I’m sorry…” I smiled that pursed, sad smile in thanks and nodded my head. I wondered, “Is she saying she’s sorry for my pain? Or is she sorry for the abuse that others were giving me? Or is she sorry for both of us?”

The women who were compassionate understood why I held that sign. Another in our group, Wendy, a student at Georgetown’s Nursing School, said she saw a different woman look at my sign and actually begin to weep. Others said they saw at least 2 or 3 more women do the same when they saw the I REGRET signs.

Some pro-choicers will fight me on this, but: all these women showed compassion, for us and for themselves. Because in their minds, I think, they saw themselves holding that sign, now that others had made it possible and acceptable to do so. That word comes from the Latin “Com” (WITH) and “Paseo” (TO SUFFER). “Compassion” means “TO SUFFER WITH SOMEONE.”

The first step to healing, they say, is recognizing that there’s a problem. Those women weeping and saying they were sorry for us, saw that we were willing to suffer WITH them, that we shared the same problem --that we knew our abortions were wrong-- and they also saw that we had found enough peace and healing to be able to stand up and fight so that they too could heal too.

Almost immediately after that, a woman ran right up to me and asked, “Why exactly do you regret your abortion?” The cops didn’t stop her. I was about to answer her, since I thought she’d asked it in a genuine, want-to-know way, when she then blurted out in disbelief, “Or DID you REALLY HAVE an abortion at all!?” I was speechless at the question, and Gloria piped up and nicely but indignantly said, “How can you ask her that? I’ve been listening as she stood here for hours taking all this abuse and hatred from you all! Why would she subject herself to that if she DIDN’T have one???”

I finally said to the woman, “I regret because I don’t have my only daughter here with me now on this earth, and because my abortion gave me endometriosis, I had major surgery because of that and a lot of pain, and because it’s caused me a lifetime of pain and grieving that only now is coming all out of me since I denied it for over 20 years. THAT’s why I regret it.” She then ran back to the march, without saying another word. It seemed almost as if she’d been dared by a friend to come over and ask, and really perhaps didn’t care to know the answer.

A middle-aged man came right up to my face taunting me, “At least YOU HAD the CHOICE! DEAL with it! My wife had an abortion AND we also adopted a child! If you regretted it you shouldn’t have chosen it!” I couldn’t quite get how he made the connection that BOTH were good choices, for themselves OR for the children involved. He was so incensed at me, just for holding the sign I held.

The signs that also made absolutely NO sense whatsoever left us shaking our heads to see if it would clear our vision: “PRO-CHILD…PRO-CHOICE” Huh?? Is this from the Dictionary of President William Jefferson Clinton? Another doublespeak sign was “Pro-Family…Pro-Faith…Pro-Choice” These were not hand-drawn signs, but production-run pre-prints. I can only guess which of the major organizers dreamed up those oxymorons and are having a sick laugh over fooling the public on both of those.

The march organizers also blatantly stole the longtime motto of American Life League’s “PRO-LIFE: Without Compromise – Without Exception – Without Apology” and had mass-produced signs reading “ABORTION: Without Compromise – Without Exception – Without Apologies.”

There’s a bit more but I’m pretty tired right now, so I’ll post this and try to pick up where I left off, hopefully tomorrow night. I do want to talk about the horrible pro-life sign I saw that I wish I could have gone over and ripped it to shreds myself. Also looking for permission to post the story of one of our friends from Connecticut who was in Group 3 of our SNMAC bunch, who has as harrowing a story to tell of threats of riot on 7th Street. HIS wife suffers from advanced stage breast cancer at the tender age of 31 which was brought on by her abortion. And HE’s a certified, practicing physician.

Good night, till next post.


Navy Physician Dr. Tom Messe's account here.