A Day in a Mall in Wichita

By Sunsara Taylor | August 13, 2013 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us


In Wichita, a group of us from the Abortion Rights Freedom Ride went to one of the two major shopping malls to do active social investigation and learn what people think and feel about women's right to abortion. We took our uncompromising message of Abortion On Demand and Without Apology out to people unadulterated and we engaged them over this. What we learned through this active social investigation gave us a very rich window into how people are thinking in this city and only deepened our understanding of just how essential it is to bring this full undiluted truth to people everywhere, especially places like this. The people we met, especially the very, very young women, have never heard anyone speak unapologetically about abortion, they carry tremendous judgment towards if not outright condemnation and judgment for women who get abortions, and they overall lack any real understanding of science or the scientific method. What we learned has enriched our understanding of what kind of thinking we are fighting to transform through this Freedom Ride and it has deeply underscored precisely the need for major struggle throughout all corners of society to change how people are thinking.

The first woman that my team approached was a white woman in her late twenties who attends a vocational school in the mall. She seemed reluctant to talk at first, telling us, "I lost my ability to have children at age 24 so I am really against abortion." She insisted, "If you are blessed to have the ability to have a child you should do so and not complain or try to get out of it." We acknowledged that if you want to have a child and you aren't able to that can be a very difficult thing, but the fact that someone who wants a child can't have one doesn't mean that people who don't want to have children should be forced to do so. She switched her argument, insisting that fetuses are "people" from the moment of conception. We refuted this, pointing out that fetuses are a subordinate part of a woman's body—not a separate social or biological person. Then she told us how her sister had medical complications in her pregnancy and there had been only a 50 percent chance that both she and the fetus would survive. Despite all the risk, she followed her sister to the abortion clinic and begged her to not go through with the procedure. When asked how this had affected her relationship with her sister, she explained, "Well, I haven't really talked to her much in the years since then."

Before leaving, I said honestly that what she did to her sister was very wrong and damaging. I explained again that fetuses are not babies and abortion is not murder and that there is absolutely nothing wrong with having an abortion. I posed even more sharply and concretely that it can be wonderful to have a child when you want one, but to be forced to have one against one's will is enslaving to women.

This seemed to provoke new thinking from her and she responded, "Yeah, it's true. Some women are ready for kids but not everybody is. You shouldn't be forced to have a kid." I gently pointed out that this was different than what she said before and asked what had changed in her thinking. She couldn't or wouldn't answer this question. Instead she repeated that she knows not all women are always ready to have kids and hurried off to class.

In the mall's food court we approached a table with a middle-aged white man and woman. We let them read our Abortion On Demand shirts, told about the Freedom Ride and asked their thinking. The man immediately began proselytizing that "life begins at conception" and he is "prolife" in every circumstance, even rape and incest. He told us that his father delivered over a thousand babies as a physician and that "each of those babies became a baby at conception." We pointed out that the fact that his father delivered babies doesn't prove that "they were babies starting at conception," but this basic logic seemed to infuriate him. The woman with him tried to tone things down by saying that she thought people should pray about every decision. Then the man tried to dismiss us by saying, "I respect your right to feel the way you do, but you are wrong!" I pointed out that he is NOT respecting my right to feel the way I do because these rights are actively being taken away right now. When I went on to describe how fetuses are not babies, the man jumped up and declared, "This conversation is done!"

A couple groupings of young women with children refused to talk to us. The attitude they gave us indicated they thought it was inappropriate, and perhaps evil, to even be mentioning abortion.

Next we approached a young mother with two teenage daughters. The mother answered our first question by saying, "I am the mother of a teenage mother and a grandmother to that new baby, so that is a lot of what I feel." The young woman told us that she was now 18 years old but had gotten pregnant when she was 17. She continued, "For some women it is not a good idea to have a kid, but I was ready and this was the right thing to do." This surprised me a bit because I had expected that if she had chosen to have a child so young it was because she was against abortion. In reality, they clearly thought there was something wrong with having an abortion themselves (even as they thought the right should be available), but even more they seemed (both mother and daughter) to think it was a good age for the young woman to have a child.

The mother volunteered that her own sister had had an abortion due to a medical complication. And the mother was extremely clear that she thought the right should be available for other women. When asked, she said she remembered Dr. Tiller and was very sad that he had been killed. She knew there were people who want to take away women's rights but didn't seem at all aware how many attacks are coming down. Before leaving I asked the thirteen-year-old what she thought of abortion and she shrugged. She indicated that she had never discussed it with anyone before. We thanked them all for taking the time to talk and gave them literature about the Abortion Rights Freedom Ride.

At the other end of the mall we struck up conversation with two very young looking 16-year-olds. When we brought up the subject of abortion they exclaimed, "We were just talking about this!" They had just heard something about how at a certain point in their development (they couldn't recall when) fetuses "feel pain." This must be something they heard from the LIES that are being promoted by anti-abortion forces to push a ban on abortion after 20 weeks. They both agreed that once a fetus hit that point, it would be wrong to have an abortion in their opinion. Our conversation lasted a long time so I won't explain all the back and forth, but the most striking part of it was when the two young women both insisted that if they found themselves pregnant they would definitely choose to have a baby. "Maybe when I was younger I wouldn't have been ready, but now I am old enough I definitely think I would keep the baby." Both of them, just like the other young woman and her mother, seemed to think that 16 years old was a good age to start having children!

I told these two young women outright that if they were pregnant and I was the one giving advice I would tell them in no uncertain terms that it was best to get an abortion. They were young, they should experience being young and figure out who they want to be and be part of thinking about and impacting the world around them, not have their lives smashed down into mainly caring for a baby. One of them responded, "Yeah, my sister had a baby at 17 and she couldn't go to college and its true, having a baby would really suck." Still, they insisted that if they got pregnant right now they would have a child. Mostly it seemed they just didn't have any idea of making their lives about anything bigger than having a child.

They mentioned that one of their "ex-best friends" now has a one-year-old, but they don't hang out with her any more. The young woman with me from the Freedom Ride shared with them how many of her friends have foreclosed their whole larger lives when they had children as teens. I asked if they knew who Dr. Tiller was and neither of them did. When I explained that he was a doctor killed for doing abortions one of them sort of remembered the story and both of them seemed really alarmed.

One of them blurted out, "I don't see why anyone else should care. I mean, you want a boob job you can go to a doctor for that. You want an abortion, why shouldn't you be able to go to a doctor for that?"

I pointed out that not being able to get breast implants doesn't have the same life-long implications of being forced to have children. They laughed in recognition and we began breaking down how many restrictions have been passed to take away women's access to abortion. They didn't know any of this and thought this was wrong. Before leaving we invited them to be part of standing up for their generation and generations to come by coming out to our protest on Saturday. They said they would be scared and had never been to a protest. They had recently watched the movie Hair and wanted to know if people would be getting shoved and stuff. We told them that wasn't our plan at all and that while we cannot control what the anti-abortion forces do and they are vicious, that we would be out together having each others' backs and standing up for what was right. They seemed intrigued and took fliers.

Just as this conversation was ending, an older woman marched up to us. "Why do you think it's okay to kill people?" she demanded. We briefly laid out what we were about, but explained also that we were interested to hear her views and how they were formed. She insisted that she used to be "just like [us], hating god and thinking all Christians were stupid." She had been "tempted by the devil in the '70s" to support abortion and "turn against god." Over the years she insisted that her heart and mind had been changed by Jesus and by her study of history and the Bible. Despite the fact that we were very patiently listening to her and occasionally asking a question or two to probe her thinking, she grew more and more impatient with us and angry. Before long, she was spilling out a truly insane theory about how Christians are the most persecuted grouping in society and her active, palpable sense of terror that she and all the other Christians are on the verge of being put into death camps. When she began attempting to draw lessons from Nazi Germany (claiming that "the Church" was the staunchest opponent of Hitler), I pointed out that Hitler was the father of the "right to life" movement, criminalizing abortion early on. This really set her off and then she returned to her active fear of being put into a camp.

"I was just talking with my son," she explained, "and I told him I am not brave enough to be a martyr. He told me I have to steel myself and be strong." I asked if she was talking about the End Times (the myth that Jesus is coming back and there will be a horrific bloodbath of judgment on earth). With indignation she waved her hand and sneered, "What? End times, that's for people who are 'out there,' I don't believe that, only Jesus knows that." The more we talked, the more she took issue with and was provoked by even the most mundane things that I said. When I told her plainly that I wasn't going to answer a personal question, she accused me of "deceiving [her] again!" By the time we were done listening to her (we did very little speaking as a whole) this woman was shaking with both fury and (totally unfounded) fear. As we walked away, she yelled after us to stop deceiving everyone and it looked like she was going to report us to mall security.

It was time to meet back up with the other team, but we were a few minutes early. We approached a group of three women from the local trade school who were having lunch. A young Black woman among them was clearly reading our shirts and so we spoke to her first. "I just had an abortion," she explained. "I never thought I'd become a baby-killer, but I already have four kids and didn't know what else to do." We insisted that she hadn't killed a baby, that abortion is not murder, and she responded, "But my faith tells me it is." Before we could go any further with her, one of the women in the group got up and dashed away from us. As she left, I asked the third woman what her thoughts were. "I had two of them," she said. "You know," I explained, "This is really common. 1 in 3 women has an abortion. Did you know that?" They both shook their heads no. "Did you know this about each other?" Again, they shook their heads no.

I asked if there had been anti-abortion protesters at the clinics when they went and they both said yes. The Black woman said she wasn't mad at them, that she actually agreed with them but they didn't know her circumstance. The other woman, who was white and just a little bit older, said the protesters made her very, very angry. "I wanted to run up on them and smack them," she explained. You could tell the anger was still active even though the abortions were a while ago. The Black woman seemed very intrigued by this anger.

I asked if they knew who Dr. Tiller was and the white woman said, "Yeah, he's the one who gave me my abortions. I was so mad when they killed him." The Black woman said she thought it was wrong that he was killed and thought people should mind their own business and let people do their jobs or have their kids or get their abortions or whatever they needed. Then she explained how she had had to travel to Kansas City to get her abortion because she hadn't been able to get one in Wichita after Tiller's death.

Finally, the other team met up with us and we had to get going. What we learned here, and through the rest of our experiences in Wichita and in other places along this Abortion Rights Freedom Ride, revealed to us not only how much there needs to be a voice out there very loudly proclaiming that Fetuses are NOT babies, Abortion is NOT murder, and Women are NOT incubators and insisting on Abortion On Demand and Without Apology! But also how much there needs to be a fight to raise the sights of women and very young girls to more than simply having a baby as the only way of getting respect or love. There is just so much human potential in these women and young girls that is being squandered—and all of society is suffering for this. There is an urgent need NOW for a growing movement for revolution, and—at the soonest possible time—an actual successful revolution, to bring about a society and world where women and young girls are truly thinking about and contributing to every realm of human endeavor together fully and equally with men. Not only do women need the unfettered right to abortion, not only do they need to hear the message of this Freedom Ride, not only do they need a massive struggle throughout society to defeat the war on women—they need their fury unleashed and their many talents and contributions tapped as a mighty force in changing the whole world and in making the kind of revolution that can emancipate humanity.

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