I could see them coming from a mile away. Let me rephrase that: everyone could see them coming from a mile away. They were impossible to miss, and they wanted it that way.
Estimated reading time: 13 minutes
About ten minutes before my college campus speech on bodily autonomy arguments, the trio of girls marched in, adorned with loud makeup, huge earrings, mini skirts, and matching pink t-shirts they had clearly decorated with a variety of pro-choice slogans in puffy paint. They were literally impossible not to notice. They planted themselves in the second row, notebooks and pens in hand. I didn’t know whether those notebooks were filled with the research they had already done about me or whether they were meant to take copious notes on my every word to pick me apart during Q&A, but it really didn’t matter why; I was crazy nervous. Don’t get me wrong; I’m always happy to have pro-choice people attend my speeches and ask interesting questions, but having people that look more than a bit hostile walk into your audience is legitimately nerve-wracking. I didn’t know what they were going to do. While we at ERI have never had pro-choice people shout-down or shut-down one of our speeches, I’ve definitely heard stories from other pro-life speakers, and I admit that I started running through the scene in my head. What would I do if they started shouting over my speech? Should I go “off-script” and try to engage with them in dialogue? At what point do I ask public safety to remove them? I didn’t know what these pro-choice girls were going to do, but I was pretty sure it wouldn’t be good.
Two days earlier, a trio of female friends saw a poster for my speech on campus, and they were livid. There was an event happening on their campus where some out-of-touch pro-lifer was going to make fun of pro-choice people and indoctrinate pro-life students into thinking pro-choice people are idiots and murderers. Pro-choice students clearly weren’t welcome there, and if they did show up, they would be ignored, shouted down, or otherwise not allowed to speak while their dearly held beliefs about the importance of women’s equality were slandered by some religious fanatic.
They didn’t think they had a chance of getting the pro-choice side quality representation, so they decided to at least attend in protest to show the campus that opposition existed. After failing to convince their larger group of female friends to come with them—their friends too were terrified of what this pro-life speaker might do if they came—the trio nervously stood their ground and came alone. Certain that the pro-life speaker wouldn’t let them speak or represent pro-choice people well, they wanted to at least make sure the audience knew there was opposition. Thus, they decided to make pro-choice t-shirts and wear the rest of their loudly feminist outfits to make a statement. But, they knew the pro-life speaker would never call on them in those outfits, so they convinced two male friends to come along. Their male friends wore normal clothing, walked in a few minutes ahead of the girls, and sat in the row behind them, ready for the girls to slip them notes with their questions. A mysogynistic pro-life speaker would certainly be willing to call on two white men, they thought, but never three girls in loudly pro-choice outfits. They spent two days doing research, and they came with notebooks ready to take notes and write questions to use against her later when their male friends could pepper her with questions during Q&A.
About ten minutes before the speech was slated to begin, they nervously walked in. The whole room turned to stare at them as they uncomfortably took their seats, and they felt more than a few judgmental stares from a variety of angels. They honestly did not want to be there, but they felt like they had to be to stand up for women’s rights and make sure this crazy pro-lifer didn’t get to slander pro-choice people unchallenged. They didn’t know what this pro-lifer was going to do, but they were pretty sure it wouldn’t be good.
Let the Showdown Begin!
(Hold up, guys. This is Equal Rights Institute. There was no showdown.)
I grabbed the microphone and started my speech the way I always do: by discussing how I think society is horrendous at actually engaging with people from the other side. The last couple of years have been quite frankly awful for talking to people about controversial issues, and it’s been incredibly painful for me to watch how tribalistic our society has become. I’m really aware that there aren’t a lot of good examples in the media of adults who can disagree with each other respectfully and productively. People just yell at each other, either literally or in ALL CAPS online, and they attack each other’s character rather than the actual ideas coming out of their mouths. This is a major problem on every side of politics these days, but I get particularly frustrated when I see this kind of behavior on “the right” since I identify with the conservative side of politics. I think this behavior is incredibly unproductive because it is neither good for us nor for society to be listening to people who make us think like the other side is dumb, bad, or the enemy.
I don’t think pro-choice people are dumb; I’ve talked personally with hundreds of them, and I think they reached their current conclusion about abortion based on good reasons, life experiences, and a lot of comapssion for women. And I certainly don’t think they’re my enemy! And even if I did, that would do us literally zero good in solving the abortion debate—or any other controversial issue in society for that matter! We need to actually talk to each other and learn to understand each other to even have a prayer of fixing any controversial issues in our society, and I think that pro-life people as a whole don’t do that enough. Too few of us take the time to really understand pro-choice people so we can respond to their ideas and their concerns, not to just some stereotype of what “stupid people on the other side” think. I’m here because I think dialogue about abortion is at an all-time low, and I want both pro-life and pro-choice people to actually understand each other and be able to communicate effectively. That is how we ultimately find truth: together.
Now, I know if you’re reading the ERI blog, I’m probably preaching to the choir here. But on a college campus, I’m not. This opening to my speech—this call for listening and understanding and learning how to represent the pro-choice position well—this is not what students were expecting to hear out of my mouth. Those aren’t the words of some out-of-touch, making-fun-of-pro-choice-people, indoctrinating-pro-lifers, misogynistic religious fanatic who might ignore, or worse, scream at a group of pro-choice college students. These are the words of a reasonable human being who actually wants to make a difference. As I said these words, and meant them, I literally watched their faces change. The trio actually sat back in their chairs and relaxed, possibly for the very first time in the two days since they’d seen my face on a poster.
For Two Hours After the Speech…
How did I learn all that about these girls? Their whole backstory? They told me. They asked two very calm and respectful questions during the Q&A, which I obviously answered, and at the end of the talk I invited anyone to come up and ask more questions, share their thoughts, or just generally keep the conversation going. The three girls made a beeline for me, but not the same kind of march they made into my speech two hours earlier. This wasn’t an “I am making a statement and want you to know I’m against you” march; this was a “wow, you aren’t what I expected and I really need to meet you…like right now” sprint!
They genuinely loved my speech and were absolutely fascinated by my arguments. The four of us talked for two straight hours until almost 11 pm, having an absolute blast laughing, chatting, testing out potential refutations to the Equal Rights Argument, discussing the kinds of legislation we’d create to make society more supportive of women and families in difficult situations, and brainstorming how to make the advertising for my speech more effective so that more pro-choice people would have had the guts to come. Yes, you read that right: these girls—the same ones who had marched to my speech in matching pink pro-choice slogan shirts—wanted to help me improve the advertising for my speech so more pro-choice people would hear what I have to say on future campuses.
They told me their whole backstory, literally laughing at their own shirts and how silly it was that they had felt the need to dress like that, now that they knew who I really was. They expressed their gratitude for what I was doing and how they wished more pro-life people were like me and that we could have these kind of dialogues more in society. From the moment my speech began, they felt welcomed, understood, and like I gave them the space to think through and better understand their own position and its implications. And they were incredibly grateful for that.
Why Were They Comforted By a Talk That Didn’t Pull Punches about Abortion?
From the description of their reaction, it might sound like my speech was wishy-washy or something—not really telling the truth about abortion or not calling out the flaws in pro-choice arguments. But here’s the thing: the ERI bodily autonomy speech does not pull any punches. I call out the inconsistencies, misunderstandings, and fallacies in both pro-life and pro-choice talking points, ending in a very explicit climax: abortion is indisputably killing, the only logical way to affirm equal rights is to protect the unborn, too, and you never have the right to intentionally kill innocent people. Therefore, abortion is the biggest human rights violation of our time.
Yes, I said that, point blank—abortion is unjustified killing, millions of men and women have participated in killing, and the doctors who perform them are killers in a massive scale human rights crisis—and yet they still had that reaction. They still appreciated my speech and wanted to get as many pro-choice people as possible to hear it.
Why? Because I was genuine. I wasn’t afraid to call out the bad behavior and logical fallacies that pro-lifers often use. I wasn’t afraid to fully understand the pro-choice position and articulate it better than they had ever heard even a pro-choice person do! I wasn’t afraid to help all people understand the difference between facts and opinions, biology and philosophy, what pro-choice people actually think and what pro-life people actually think. I wasn’t what they expected, and that alone opened them up to hearing what I had to say…even when what I had to say was ultimately deconstructing pro-choice arguments.
Choosing Dialogue Over Mutual Distrust
When I got back to my hotel room that evening, one question kept spinning in my head. How telling is it about the state of the abortion debate that both sides were thinking the exact same thing—we were both afraid of getting yelled at? The moment I saw them, I was genuinely nervous they were going to shout me down, and they were scared about the exact same thing coming from me! Stop right now, scroll back up to the section titled “Their View,” and reread it.
Pro-lifers, what stereotype have we created for ourselves that this is what pro-choice people have come to expect—that they’re genuinely scared to engage with a pro-lifer because they think they’re going to get screamed at, belittled, or, at best, just ignored? Writing that section made me sad, frustrated, angry, and a whole bunch of other emotions that I can’t quite put my finger on. This is what pro-choice students think I am? This is what pro-choice people think our movement is? How many conversations are we missing, how many minds are we never getting the opportunity to change, because this is what they expect from us?
My fears about what those girls might do during my speech weren’t irrational. I’ve watched plenty of YouTube videos of conservative speakers being shouted-down while needing significant police presence for their own physical safety, and pro-lifers have been physically and verbally assaulted on many occasions, including threats of rape and death. There’s a good reason I was worried about what those girls might do when they marched into my speech!
But their fears about what I might do weren’t irrational either. I just saw a TikTok video today from the speech of a prominent pro-lifer visiting a college campus, and watching it almost made me sick. The speaker did precisely what those girls expected me to do: the speaker belittled a pro-choice student, refused to let her speak, and insulted her intelligence repeatedly, all with a tone that was basically as close to screaming as you can get without screaming. Videos like that are all over the internet, and you can find plenty of news stories about violent behavior targeted at abortion practitioners and pro-choice people over the years. Pro-lifers and anti-abortion advocates have done things and continue to do things today that made these pro-choice girls legitimately concerned for their safety and well-being if they attended my talk.
Don’t get me wrong: I am not saying that this stereotype is entirely the pro-life side’s fault, as I definitely think that the media and pro-choice lobby has done an effective job of misrepresenting pro-life people. But stereotypes originate somewhere. I know that’s a painful pill to swallow, but we all know there are people who would have done exactly what those pro-choice girls thought I was going to do. I never would have screamed at them, but even me a few years ago might have ignored them and only called on the two men behind them—not because I’m misogynistic but because I would have been too scared to call on the girls! But even that would have played into the stereotype they already had of me.
If we aren’t actively combating these stereotypes about pro-lifers by how we carry ourselves and how we talk to people about literally any controversial issue, it’s no wonder why pro-choice people aren’t open to hearing what we have to say. It’s no wonder why many abortion-minded women run faster into the abortion clinic when there are aggressive protestors on the sidewalk and why pro-choice students come marching to a pro-life speech ready for battle. Many of them are just as scared to talk to us as I used to be to talk to them! And what happens when you’re scared? Fight or flight. All the students on campus saw my poster, but the trio of girls couldn’t convince their other friends to come along because they were too scared. That’s flight. And for the trio, they chose to fight.
I think most pro-lifers do the exact same thing; we either avoid talking about abortion entirely because we’re afraid of what a pro-choice person will do, or we don our armour for battle. What the abortion debate needs is less fight or flight and more friendship. It’s cliché, I know, but I just had the best abortion dialogue of my life with a trio of pro-choice would-be protestors for two hours, after they had already listened to my two-hour speech and Q&A session. They listened to me for four hours because I took the time to cultivate a genuine relationship with my audience, getting to know them and representing their viewpoints well, breaking down walls and showing them that I’m nothing like they thought.
Please tweet this article!
- Tweet: Emily’s Speech Got Protested
- Tweet: They honestly did not want to be there, but they felt like they had to be to stand up for women’s rights and make sure this crazy pro-lifer didn’t get to slander pro-choice people unchallenged.
- Tweet: it is neither good for us nor for society to be listening to people who make us think like the other side is dumb, bad, or the enemy.
- Tweet: I think dialogue about abortion is at an all-time low, and I want both pro-life and pro-choice people to actually understand each other and be able to communicate effectively. That is how we ultimately find truth: together.
- Tweet: these girls—the same ones who had marched to my speech in matching pink pro-choice slogan shirts—wanted to help me improve the advertising for my speech so more pro-choice people would hear what I have to say on future campuses.
- Tweet: How many conversations are we missing, how many minds are we never getting the opportunity to change, because this is what they expect from us?
- Tweet: What the abortion debate needs is less fight or flight and more friendship.
The post Emily’s Speech Got Protested originally appeared at the Equal Rights Institute blog. Subscribe to our email list with the form below and get a FREE gift. Click here to learn more about our pro-life apologetics course, “Equipped for Life: A Fresh Approach to Conversations About Abortion.”