Aaron Gouveia and his wife were already having the worst day of their lives. Then they encountered the abortion protesters.
“You’re killing your unborn baby!”
That’s what they yelled at me and my wife on the worst day of our lives. As we entered the women’s health center on an otherwise perfect summer morning in Brookline, two women we had never met decided to pile onto the nightmare we had been living for three weeks. These “Christians” verbally accosted us—judged us—as we steeled ourselves for the horror of making the unimaginable, but necessary, decision to end our pregnancy at 16 weeks.
After extensive testing at a renowned Boston hospital three weeks earlier, we were told our baby had Sirenomelia. Otherwise known as Mermaid Syndrome, it’s a rare (one in every 100,000 pregnancies) congenital deformity in which the legs are fused together. Worse than that, our baby had no bladder or kidneys. Our doctors told us there was zero chance for survival.
I’m not a religious person and I’ve never believed in heaven or hell. But there is a hell on Earth. Hell is sitting next to the person you love most and listening to her wail hysterically because her heart just broke into a million pieces. Hell is watching her entire body convulse with sobs because she’s being tortured with grief. For as long as I live and no matter how many children we have, I will never forget that sound. And I vowed to do everything in my power to make sure she’d never make it again.
Across a crowded street, two people with “God Is Pro-Life!” signs and pictures of torn-up fetuses managed to drive the blade in even deeper. Again, I was left trying to console the inconsolable, feeling even more helpless this time, because I wasn’t allowed into surgery with her.
Running on pure adrenaline, and without even a hint of a plan, I grabbed my cell phone and crossed the street. I didn’t know what to say or how to say it, I just knew I wanted to make public the cowardice of these protesters.
I learned a few important things from this encounter. First, these people aren’t used to being confronted. They prey on the weak and they pounce on the wounded. It’s easy to berate people and shame them when they’re too beaten down to fight back. But I chose to do just that, and you can see what happened.
They spout the same tired rhetoric passed out at rallies and subway stations. They don’t have one salient response to any of my questions.
The most telling thing about their cowardice is when the woman on the right gets upset that I’m recording the conversation (which is perfectly legal) and then threatens to call the police. The irony is rich. She wanted to call the police because I was peacefully expressing my opinion on a public sidewalk and exercising my First Amendment rights, which is exactly what she was doing. But I’m not on “God’s side,” am I.
She also claims the women at the clinic are suicide risks. Even if she believed that were true, does she really think yelling at them and shaming them in public is going to encourage these women not to kill themselves?
After I took a walk and calmed down, it was time to pick up my wife and go home. When we pulled out of the clinic, the protesters were gone, and a police cruiser was parked nearby with the lights flashing. My wife, still groggy from the surgery, managed to crack a little smile, and asked, “What did you do?”
I have no idea if it was my interaction with the protesters that got them to leave. I doubt it was, but my wife was convinced that was the case. At first, I didn’t think of it as a big deal, and I actually felt a little foolish for getting so heated.
My wife, suddenly serious, pointed out a women entering the clinic. Within minutes, she said, that woman would be making a serious choice. Whether she kept her baby or not, it didn’t matter—what matters is that she can make the decision that’s right for her. And she can make it without people screaming at her.
My wife and I wanted our second child. We loved her. We even had a name for her, Alexandra.
You never know the circumstances surrounding this kind of decision. Consider this my plea: stop terrorizing women. Stop adding trauma to their trauma. If you’re able, stand up to these bullies in nonviolent ways. Speak out. And if you have a camera, use it.
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—Read Aaron Gouveia’s follow-up piece to Confronting LIfe, “I Will Lie To Patients (Well, Only If They’re Having An Abortion)”.
—Aaron Gouveia is a regular contributor to The Good Men Project Magazine.