invasions of space: pro-life advocates and the buffer zone

benchby Farzi

One morning, during my second year in graduate school at Liberty University, the sun was bright, my hopes for the day optimistic and buoyant as I rounded the corner to the university’s main campus– and what I saw shook me. Even as I stood in line at Starbucks, then settled myself in the writing center, I couldn’t shake what I’d witnessed. My mind would flash back to that scorching-hot moment, and my breath would catch mid-sentence with the pain. People spent all day asking me what was wrong when I’d suddenly cut off, close my eyes, and try to cringe my way back into the moment.

The next morning, they were still there.


Holding signs.

With graphically violent, gut-wrenching, disturbing, horrifying, and vomit-inducing pictures.

Pictures of “abortion.”
(trigger warning)

I had to drive past them every day for a week. Every day they would scream at me in my car as I’d do my best to ignore them, to not look them in the eye. I would have to fight with myself for every single second of the rest of that day not to break– not to start weeping in front of a student, or in my office.

The first day they arrived, they tried to hold their demonstration on Liberty’s campus, but the university refused and then issued a very public statement that their presence was not approved by the college, and that the university disagreed with what they were doing. Instead, they stood just outside the private property– on a road that almost every single university student had to use in order to go to class and their jobs. I had to pass them every single day.

And, as the week wore on, as I had a panic attack every day from try to hold back the memories, as I thought what it would have been like to have needed to get to a clinic. What would it have been like to drive through a wall of people waving those signs and screaming at me, running in front of my car? What would it be like to try to get out of my car, with people taking pictures of me and shouting that they’ll find out who I am? What if they tracked me down and started calling me at my house? What if they made death threats? Threats that were serious– because some of them had actually carried it out?

The next week, when the pro-life group I was a part of asked me to drive them to the Richmond clinic, I said no. Even if I knew that this group didn’t do any of that, that all they did was sit in the car outside the clinic and pray and occasionally hold a sign saying “God loves you,” I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t be a part of a culture that even in its mildest forms is there to guilt and shame women.


The Supreme Court is hearing a case from Massachusetts regarding buffer zones around women’s health clinics (I use that term instead of the more inflammatory “abortion clinic” because these clinics usually offer a host of free or cheap care for women who couldn’t otherwise afford it, things like breast exams). Since this process started, I’ve watched pro-choice and pro-life advocates on twitter and in comment sections rage at each other, and I can feel the same rage simmering inside of me.

I’ve seen what the people who want to eliminate any sort of buffer zone do, first-hand. I’ve heard, over the past few years, what seems like countless stories from escort volunteers and women visiting the clinic. They face a barrage of hate and vitriol, sometimes daily. Clinic workers and volunteers sometimes fear for their lives.

And it both breaks my heart and infuriates me because as well-intentioned as most of these picketers and protesters probably are, what they’re doing– it’s wrong. They lie and manipulate, they threaten and demean. Their tactics are not intended to demonstrate love, or compassion, but to intimidate and frighten, to guilt and shame. And while there are most likely many pro-life advocates who are just as repulsed as I am (after all, I was repulsed by it when I was still pro-life), there are whole organizations like Army for God and Operation Rescue who use bullhorns, loudspeakers, scaffolding, semi-trucks . . . and spend hours screaming at people that they are “worthy of nothing but disdain,” who upon the murder of a physician say things like  they are “mass muderders,” that their hands are “covered in blood,” and “We must continue to expose them in our communities . . . at their offices and homes, and yes, even their churches”– this, when Tiller was slaughtered the day before inside his own church.

This is not something that any Christian should be a part of. This should be a method, a culture of violence and rage and hate, that Christians loudly condemn. This should be universally decried, not something that many of us support.

EDIT: please read my comment policy before you comment. Personal attacks will mean you will be blocked.

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  • What should someone who doesn’t want women to abort their babies do to change the mind of a women getting ready to enter one of these clinics?
    Being that this is the 1 yard line before the abortion takes place these people are doing what they know to do in order to stop any women from aborting her baby and the reality of abortion is not pretty at all. What is the alternative to rescuing babies to be aborted?

    • What they are doing is contributing to a culture where women make this decision in the first place. If there wasn’t so much guilt and shame surrounding this issue, if there weren’t so many people demanding that we cancel funding to working mothers who struggle to feed their children . . . the list goes on and on and on.

      Even pro-life advocates say that this violation of a woman’s privacy is counterproductive. They’re not helping. They’re making it worse.

    • If they are serious about preventing abortions, why not go all the way back to the beginning and support wider, more affordable access to birth control?

      But they fight that to the death, look at the religious employers suing the Obama administration over the ACA and birth control coverage for their employees.

      • Because it’s not really about preventing abortion for many advocates (not all). It’s about controlling what a woman can do with her body– both before and after she’s had sex.

    • “What should someone who doesn’t want women to abort their babies do to change the mind of a women getting ready to enter one of these clinics?”

      Nothing. That woman is an adult and you have almost certainly never met her. You do not get to influence her decision making unless she specifically asks you for advice on what she does with her life, your intrusions are unwelcome and inappropriate.

      Jesus did not say “Go forth and be controlling manipulators to all nations.”

    • Kreine

      Realize that the decision is not yours to make.

      Understand that screaming threats at women may deter them from running the gauntlet of protesters right now, and cause them to seek other, less safe forms of abortion which puts them at greater risk for serious complications, even death.

      If you are pro-life, show that you are for ALL life, not solely the life of the unborn fetus which you have no personal responsibility in raising and providing for.

    • If you want to make abortions irrelevant or stem the tide…

      1. Support comprehensive sex education in all schools. The more kids know about how to be safe, the fewer unwanted teen pregnancies will occur. Forget “if we don’t tell them, they won’t know to sin!” Kids are kids. Something like 96% of people have sex prior to getting married. Let’s make sure it’s safe sex and cut the STD rate at the same time we’re cutting unwanted pregnancies.

      2. Support free and unlimited access to basic birth control; it does not interfere with implantation (that’s a nasty myth, or something people are screwing it up with later methods of ending a pregnancy that has already begun) and will help women not have to worry about the risk.

      3. Support all those aid programs that conservatives and Republicans hate so much, because it’s all well and good to scream at a woman walking into a Planned Parenthood, but overwhelmingly these same people consider not their problem when that baby they saved is actually born and requires, you know, a place to sleep and food to eat. If we can make a surprise pregnancy not occasionally a life-ruining problem for the mother, then we will cut down on women who have abortions they would not have if they had the resources they need to care for themselves and any children they may have.

      4. Stop. Talking. To Women. Outside. Of Planned Parenthood. Or. Clinics. It doesn’t help; you’re wasting your time. You’re interfering with a woman’s right to privacy – the vast majority of women visiting these clinics are NOT having abortions. They’re there for basic sliding-scale care that tehy would not be able to afford otherwise. I have friends who were shouted and screamed at by protesters, who tried to talk them out of “killing your poor baby” – when those women were going to PP for prenatal care for babies they very much planned to have. Stop pretending that these clinics only do abortions and start admitting that they are often the only reason poor and low-income women have access to affordable care at all.

      5. Support paid maternity leave. Many women are terrified of what pregnancy means for their lives; women who already have children can’t afford to take the unpaid time off that they MIGHT get IF their employer is super wonderful int he USA. Support 12 weeks paid maternity leave as a start, and we MIGHT be able to catch up to the level of maternal care Europe is offering new mothers. This will help women worry less about their finances when they see the plus sign on the pregnancy test.

      The way to stop abortions is not to make them illegal; you’ll only drive women to more desperate and dangerous measures, drive them underground, and the people who make abortions illegal will be responsible for the death of hundreds or thousands of women who are forced to make those dangerous choices.

      The way to stop abortions is to make them unnecessary and irrelevant. And you do that by making the world a better place than it is for women who are pregnant or new mothers.

      • Where’s a like button when you need one? Though I don’t know that abortion will ever be unnecessary while all the things that make pregnancy dangerous to a woman’s health still exist.

        • Oh yeah, we are decades at best away from the USA alone being able to make abortion essentially unnecessary. But if all these people protesting outside clinics and working so hard to make womens’ lives miserable put their energy into protesting for better maternity care, better prenatal care access, and education/birth control policies that WORK, we could make a lot of changes very, very quickly.

      • This needs a “liked eleventy million times” button.

    • John, at the 1 yard line, a woman has pretty much wrestled with her decision and has made her choice. Yelling at her, showing her gruesome images, or trying to interfere with her decision through harassment probably won’t make her change her mind. I have heard of women who are approached by those on the sidewalks changing their minds, but this is not the norm. What you can do is volunteer at your local crisis pregnancy center. If there isn’t one near you, then start one. Write to your legislators and tell them not to cut funding for programs that help poor women and children. Be an advocate for women. It’s not enough to stop an abortion–someone has to care for the infant. Fight for social justice so that this can happen.

    • Purple

      Two of my friends were forced to leave their jobs because they took maternity leave. And these were women with bachelor’s degrees and fairly good jobs. Many jobs provide no sick time at all. How can a woman get through a pregnancy without taking any sick days? What if she is in a job that requires being on her feet a lot, such as working at a fast-food restaurant? What if she needs bed rest?

      If you want to prevent abortions, I would suggest pushing for laws that require all employers to provide paid sick time. We also need more laws that prohibit employers for firing women b/c they are pregnant.

      • YES. My job, which in my state (South Carolina) gives one of the best maternity leave policies IN the state, gives you 12 weeks unpaid leave. Unpaid. And frankly, this is laudable because there aren’t a ton of employers here who even give you that much.

        How many families can afford one of the parents to go without pay for three months? That could be a hard choice for women right there.

        We have GOT to change these laws.

    • How about you don’t worry about how another human being lives his or her life? You don’t have some kind of say in another person’s most intimate decisions. You can’t influence that person’s life, and by yourself, you certainly can’t fix the things that are bringing that person into a clinic. The alternative to abortion is a whole host of society-wide fixes that forced-birthers don’t even seem to recognize need to happen. If you really want to lower abortion rates, there are proven methods of doing that: better sex education, an end to “purity culture,” empowerment of women, better availability of all forms of birth control (in one study free contraception dropped abortion rates 70% just like that), a better social safety net including welfare for poor women (you do know that poverty brings about a third of those women into the clinic, right?), stuff like that. Notice that not a single thing that works involves some sanctimonious jerk standing in front of a clinic waving signs or shaming women. Nothing you do there is going to have a real impact on the factors that brought her to the clinic. If you really want to lower abortion rates, look at what works, not at what doesn’t do anything but make forced-birthers feel good. But you don’t really want to affect abortion rates, or you’d know that. What you want is to control women and wrest ownership of their bodies away from them. And your tactics work great for that goal.

      BTW: The reality of abortion isn’t actually anywhere near as “ugly” as the reality of childbirth. Abortion’s actually pretty damned easy compared to live childbirth. Nowhere near as many risks, nowhere near as much blood and guts, nowhere near as many complications. Nowhere near as invasive, time-consuming, or painful, either. If you can’t actually have an abortion or a baby, maybe you ought to talk to more people who’ve experienced one or the other. Your ignorance is very likely a big factor in why you feel entitled to get into other people’s private business.

  • It’s a violation of the unborn child’s privacy and his/her right to Life. Remember who the fight is for – the baby life, period. In this post you are advocating a woman’s choice to kill because you say nothing for the child. Once you see abortion, you can’t UNsee it.

    • If you have the time, could you read this series?


      It’s quite a bit to read, I understand, but I disagree with the statement that the “fight is for the baby’s life, period” for what are extremely complicated and well-researched reasons.

      • People make it complicated. God has made this clear: We – babies and adults – are made in His image. You’ve made a clear choice for an abhorrent evil that was never sanctioned by God but by people that have no regard for anyone else but themselves. The ‘researched reasons’ are moot, you have obviously decided that an unborn baby has no right to life for any reason. That should grieve you.

        God bless.

        • So… ever read Numbers 5? Hosea, Genesis, Isaiah, Exodus, and 2 Kings? All those stories about God ordering the Israelites to slaughter infants? Not even the Bible is clear on this issue.

          • @forgedimagination
            Sorry, my comment looks like I’m replying to you. I’m replying to theREV.

          • Hi, ammee! First, welcome. And yes, WordPress comment sections are weird.

            I just wanted to let you know that my comment policy is only one rule- I try to keep personal things like what a person is/isn’t knows/doesn’t to a minimum. Thank you for commenting- I totally understand where you’re coming from- and I hope you stick around,

        • And you have decided that an unborn fetus has more rights than the woman. Forced-birthers cast women as nothing, no rights, no capacity to make a decision. If you reply to me, don’t say “God Bless” Caring about women is not something you know anything about.

    • Nobody has a “right” to anything that involves violating another human being’s body against that person’s consent. Nobody has a “right” to privacy that makes it okay for you to force another person to endure medical risks against his or her will. You’ve got a lot of talking points jammed together here, but you’ve missed the boat on every one of them. There is no expectation of care that anybody could have that would make enslaving another person acceptable. The fight is for women’s self-ownership, nothing more, nothing less. And it’s not a “child.” It’s a fetus. Given that most abortions happen before 9 weeks, it’s not even always a “fetus” but rather a blastocyst or some other even less-childlike-sounding term. If allowed to grow and use a woman’s cells and tissues to build itself a body, that fetus/etc will eventually become viable, at which point it becomes a child, and once someone else (like the state) can care for that child, it is welcome to do so. Abortion does not “kill” anything, much less “children.” It removes a fetus from a self-owning woman’s body. It’s not some magical spiritual being or entity. It’s just a fetus. Women flush millions of them every single year without even realizing they were pregnant–the vast majority of pregnancies end that way, without any medical aid.

      Your god apparently designed women’s bodies to be veritable abortion factories, do you realize? And he cursed Eve, unjustly causing the direct deaths of untold billions of fetuses and women in childbirth over the eons. As has been pointed out, he’s also commanded his Israelites to force abortions on pregnant women suspected of adultery, and he also commanded his people to murder pregnant women and slice their fetuses right out of their wombs. And how many pregnant women do you suppose were drowned to death or burned up during his snits during the Flood and the fall of Sodom and Gomorrah? Or murdered during his various Plagues sent to Egypt? Your god doesn’t really care about babies, fetuses, women, or much of anything else, I’m afraid.

      You’ve assimilated a lot of forced-birther rhetoric. I did too, once. I understand and hope you one day figure out the truth. If you really want to lower abortion rates, do it by doing something that actually works, by advocating one of any number of societal changes that will improve women’s rights and their potential, rather than by misusing your religion to try to control their bodies after the fact. Abortion rates will take care of themselves once those societal dysfunctions are addressed.

  • Our society won’t allow sex offenders near school playgrounds, yet even someone convicted of previous acts of violence against clinics is free to stand next to them and intimidate clients. If my religious beliefs motivated me to stand outside a dentist’s office and aggressively shame people for, I don’t know, not flossing better, I think the community would have more to say.

  • Evil has a way of objectifying truth in order to make us gods of law. In the end the god with the most power wins. In the end we, who proclaim to have the truth, become demons. Who fights your battles? You, the zealot with your voice, actions, or funds? You, the righteous with your legislation and lobby? In the end there will be those who make a human difference and those who God uses to reach a soul in order to draw them to surrender. Who fights for you, man or God?

    • http://i1308.photobucket.com/albums/s612/kyndrian/potoobirdwat_zps59839b54.jpg

      I’m not even sure I want to ask for clarification, but you’ve really sacrificed coherence for grandiloquence.

      • Oh, thank you. I needed that today.

      • sunnyside

        I got the AT&T bigger is better ad with a chattery kid b/c phone is crazy. Still kind of worked.

        • Yay for serendipitous Internet glitches! But for your sake, I’ll try to make it post properly. And also for the sake of my irrational delight in it.

          • Dammit, there was supposed to be a link in there. Boo for inconvenient Internet glitches! My feeble grasp of computery mojo was not enough.

  • The biggest irony, for me is that fundamentalist anti-abortionists tend to be the most hard line proponents of absolute property rights imaginable. They go as far as to claim that public schooling violates eighth commandment since it involves involuntary taxation (since state has to “steal” money from people in order to run public schools). But if house is property then so is the womb. If I can legally kick out a squatter even if I know that he will die without shelter, then the same goes about unwanted fetus in the womb. After all fetuses do nothing but steal other person’s resources all day.

  • (continued)

    Catholic Church may suck in many ways but at least they are consistent. They generally aren’t extreme on property rights and are OK with government assistance to the poor. Sometimes they also support environmentalism even if it means bigger taxes, so one can theoretically extend that regulation to the womb.

    But the whole idea of economic and environmental stewardship is utterly and completely absent from the most of evangelical Christianity. The only type of stewardship that they recognize is forced birth at any price. And then they wonder why did God allow Obama to win twice.

    • Jess

      Also the catholic church is against the death penalty. The previous pope actually tried to stop the execution of Troy Davis.

  • Have these extreme protesters heard of a little idea that Jesus may have mentioned once or twice, something that sounds like “fork in nests” … “frog gives rest” … hmmm, no that’s not it … oh! Wait, forgiveness! But I mean, it’s such an easy part to overlook isn’t it? Maybe I’m a little off base, but I’ve also heard that it’s only God’s job to be passing judgement. Do some translations of the Bible leave these details out?

  • Nea

    I’m an escort. I’ve watched two protestors get into an argument over whether that made me a demon worshipper or an actual demon. I’ve watched women be chased into the next parking lot, the protestor demand to know the reasons why she got the abortion, and then shout over her to say why those reasons were wrong. I’ve had women cling to the back of my vest to hide in fear of cameras.

    And this was all at a clinic with a buffer zone.

    • Hearing this sort of thing makes me want to hit my head against a wall! I am under the impression that the majority of these over-the-top protestors claim to be Christian, but they seem to be completely ignorant to the way Jesus approached such situations.

      In order to enact positive change in the lives of others, connection and understanding are the key ingredients. It’s disappointing that so many people tend to miss that point.

    • V

      Thank you.

    • Thank you for what you do for those in need. I know the women you help look at you like a guardian angel. Thank you, thank you.

  • Those terrible pictures of abortion! I cannot fathom why some groups stoop to such a level. Especially the ones on the sides of trucks, which are driven around on public streets, where children can see them. Imagine being in the car with your little one and having to field questions about the images. Abortion is a legal medical option for women, whether or not we agree. To harass a person who is obtaining a legal treatment is definitely not the way to go. The women who procure abortions are already traumatized. All the protesters accomplish is to add to that trauma, while destroying any hope of persuasion in the future to the pro life side.

    • The worst thing about those photos, too, is that they’re lies! They’re not “abortion photos”; they’re almost always photos of a woman’s emergency stillbirth or later-term miscarriage. The groups just use those photos to try and convince people that this is what abortion looks like, when actually it looks nothing like that at all.

      • Kreine

        I always wondered how people obtained those images.

        • Generally, from medical texts/websites dealing with miscarriages/stillbirths. At this point, I don’t know where individual groups get them but I suspect that they are all getting them from each other, becasue the images are always the same.

          • Images are definitely shared. Many organizations get their photos from Priests for Life, which has quite a catalog of such images.

          • I wonder if they have cleared the copyrights?

            The suspicious and Machiavellian Raven.

  • V

    There is a local PP in my community that only offers birth control, std testing, and well woman exams and there are ALWAYS protesters outside the clinic. Taking pictures of people going in for personal health reasons. It’s disgusting. This is just as bad as Westboro Baptist Church picketing funerals.

    There is a bank next door to the clinic, so my husband and I make a big show of counting the hate advocates, going into the bank, and making a donation to PP for every person picketing and trying to shame the patients.

    After testifying to the Texas Senate and sharing my story with Cosmopolitan magazine, I know first hand how nasty, violent, and vulgar the pro lifers can be. I’ve been called everything from an unmarried slut to Hitler, but perhaps the most hateful comments refer directly to my child and/or infertility. But what they don’t know is that there is nothing that they can say to me that I haven’t already wrestled with.

  • Thank you for this article.

  • Going from my office to the courthouse takes me past a PP with picketers, they’re hard to ignore on such a busy street. They cost our city 1.3 million dollars for a special election which they lost. If the Masters Golf Tournament can be protected from protesters it shouldn’t be too much of a stretch that public safety demands buffer zones for health clinics of all kinds.

  • Reblogged this on She Is On A Journey Back To Her Wings and commented:
    Everyone needs to read this. This beautiful woman is spot on. As a Liberty student I’m really passionate about this message. Pro-life protestors such as this are not acting with Christ-likedness. We NEED to make people aware that their actions have a very deep effect. Thank you so so much for writing this.