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Commentary Last Updated: Feb 18th, 2009 - 01:30:59

Another victory for the anti-abortion movement
By Howard Lisnoff
Online Journal Contributing Writer

Feb 18, 2009, 00:14

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When I read of the birth of octuplets to Nadya Suleman, the 33-year-old single, unemployed mother, who had six children at the time of the multiple births, I thought of the 12 years I spent as an escort at women�s health clinics.

A continent separated the clinic where I spent a Saturday morning a few times a year walking women who had chosen to have abortions and their companions past shrieking anti-abortion protesters who lined the street bordering the clinic. Over the years I developed a telephone relationship with the woman who made the escort assignments for the clinic. She generally assigned me to cover the clinic with four other escorts on Saturdays when a local church sent parishioners out and the numbers of anti-choice protesters swelled to about one hundred. 

Anti-abortionists were relentless in their hooting and hollering outside the clinic. One morning a protestor asked me if I was a Jew as my escort duty began, remarking that, �What you do here is just like the guards of a Nazi concentration camp.� Others yelled every conceivable insult that could be imagined, and on one Saturday morning during the height of the most violent years of the anti-choice movement, a group of escorts was physically attacked and assaulted at the doors to the clinic. By locking arms we were successful in keeping the anti-abortionists out of the clinic until the police came and made several arrests, including a priest who had thrown himself against us, and a nationally-known anti-abortionist who had masterminded the attack on the clinic that morning.

During those years, especially after the shootings of doctors around the country who had performed abortions, I put to use a technique called a perimeter search that I had learned during basic training in the military. The perimeter search is a systematic visual sweep of the surrounding area in ever-increasing arcs out from where a person stands, extending until the distant environment becomes too far to see. Luckily, no violence besides the single attack on that distant Saturday morning ever happened again.

The years of growth of the anti-abortion movement have had its desired effect upon abortion. Politicians increasingly sought compromises with the anti-choice movement, as did many in the pro-choice movement. Fetuses became �unborn children,� and abortion began to be seen as a resort of last choice for many pregnant women who could not afford, or did not want, to have a child. Teenagers in many parts of the U.S. were encouraged to have their babies rather than choose abortion, a decision often fraught with dire consequences for both the child and mother. Many states passed laws gagging doctors by forcing them to discuss options besides abortions with their patients and forcing teens to seek parental approval before having an abortion. Mandatory waiting periods were enforced and federal money was banned for use in performing abortions as the religious right got its way time after time. An infrequently used technique, misnamed partial-birth abortion, was banned. Why bother overturning Roe v. Wade in the Supreme Court when it could be done incrementally?

So, when Nadya Suleman began receiving death threats following the delivery of her eight newest children I was a bit shocked when her publicist sought police help in how to handle those threats. Where was the anti-abortion movement to come to her defense? After all, she had done what they had screamed about during the years I had served as an escort: she had had as many children as she could. What a change from the days when I walked the gauntlet of anti-abortion protesters yelling and howling about how the mothers I escorted were killing their babies! The silence of the anti-abortion movement coming to Suleman�s defense was deafening!

Rather than the State of California having to foot the bill for Suleman�s medical treatment and the care of her 14 children, I thought it would be a nice gesture on the part of the anti-abortion movement to begin paying for the consequences of their narrow beliefs. Their catcalls often included the vague, �We can help,� as a last-ditch attempt to try to stop women from entering the doors of the clinic. That so-called help consisted of a home for expectant mothers to stay at until the time of delivery and a bag of baby supplies after the birth of a child. It was a small investment for the return of a potential convert to their program.

In all the years I escorted, however, I never saw a single woman who had come to the clinic change her mind. And the people who accompanied women to the clinic often had words and gestures I do not choose to repeat in this writing for those who screamed at them to change their minds as they held grisly pictures of fetuses above their heads.

While there is a definite place for fertility procedures for those who experience difficulty starting families, Suleman�s experience reflects an entirely different thrust in the use of that science. On a planet with diminishing resources, Suleman�s multiple births fly in the face of sanity. And, The New York Times reports �such large multiple births have begun to look like breakdowns in the system,� (�Birth of Octuplets Puts Focus on Fertility Clinics, February 11, 2009).

The media in the U.S. are good at making a circus-like atmosphere out of issues such as choosing whether or not to have a child. By the time that Suleman�s ordeal had faded in the public mind, she told an NBC interviewer that she planned to return to college to finish a master�s degree in counseling and would use student loans to help support her children (Associated Press, �Taxpayers may have to cover octuplet mom�s costs,� February 11, 2009). She had worked double shifts to help pay for the fertility treatments that led to the births of the eight children in addition to using money from a disability award.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that the cost of raising 14 children for a single mother is between $1.3 million to $2.7 million. That�s a heck of a lot more than what could be stuffed into a supermarket shopping bag by the anti-abortion movement! And Nadya Suleman didn�t even have to be convinced by these critics of a woman�s right to choose: she had already internalized their cant!

Howard Lisnoff is a freelance writer. He can be reached at

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