An Open Letter to the Anti-Choice Protestor on Eagle Street

Photo by Gayatri Malhotra on Unsplash

Words by: Elizabeth Jacobs

Dear Man,

(Normally I would use the honorific “sir” or “gentleman,” but you have already demonstrated that you are anything but.)

There is a women’s clinic on one of the cross-streets centered downtown. I have been very privileged to have had a set of life experiences that has never funneled me into the need to have an abortion. (Not so privileged to have been born without ovaries, as we are all complicit in the open secret that all men are created equal. The only reason Walmart is able to sell “the future is female” tee shirts is because the idea  is just as mythical as their unicorn shirts are. Here is also the obligatory and obvious disclaimer that birthing my daughters had been one of the transformative experiences of my life.) The nondescript metal door is obscured by cafe tables, elaborate flowers and potted palms from the bougie restaurant next door (where you can pay NYC prices in an NJ location.) On days when I see a van parked out front decorated with doves and scrolls, I know to avoid turning that corner.

It’s a shame, because my library, bank, and doctors office are all on that street (and further down, my daughter’s school.) Conflict adverse by nature, I avoid you and you accomplices as much as possible, but at times you’re fanned across both sides of the street. And your angry megaphones over-take the librarian’s voice at my toddler’s storytime.

Not that you are worthy of this context, but I would like to explain how I ended up walking past you last winter. I was 34 weeks into carrying my second child. (A daughter. Her ovaries were already fully developed, as were all of her eggs. I was carrying my potential grandchildren. Generally the optimist, I would hope at the very least that they will have bodily autonomy, but the events of the past few days makes that seem unlikely.)

The pregnancy was perfectly average in difficulty, which is to say it was still very difficult. (I say this with the privilege of a white lady with access to medical care in a very blue state in the suburbs of a very blue city.) The baby was tracking very large, and while I didn’t have gestational diabetes, I was placed on a very strict diet of no refined carbs, no sugar (or high sugar fruits) and everything portioned in moderation. That was in addition to the usual restriction of delights – no caffeine or alcohol, herbal tea, sushi, high mercury fish, soft cheeses, cured meats. Vegetable sprouts. Do you know about that one?

My doctor also directed that I get 30 minutes of exercise a day, but mothering a toddler while cobbling together freelance work and completing a certificate program through another chilling pandemic winter made this almost impossible. I was very limited in my range of motion, so I thought the best idea would be to walk to all of my doctors appointments. This late in my pregnancy I was seeing my OB in the office once a week, and then also going to the hospital for ultrasounds with the radiologist once a week, so between all of those appointments I was fitting in a few good walks per week.

I had just see my OB for a routine check up, and she informed me that the baby was still in breech position. I had been able to deliver my first daughter vaginally, and was hoping to avoid a c-section with my second daughter as well. I also had developed a condition where my body had produced an excess of amniotic fluid, increasing my risk of pre-term labor, and making an ECV procedure to turn the baby riskier. My husband and I had been scrambling to make a child-care plan for my older daughter in the event that I went into labor and had to be taken to the hospital. I had also been distracted by the conversation with my doctor, and was rapidly texting my doula for other suggestions as to how I could turn the baby.

The morning in question – it had snowed the night before, so I was trying to stay on the main sidewalks which were significantly less icy than the side streets. The baby’s position was cleaving my right ilium away from my sacrum, so I had searing pain through my hip every time I took a step. (Sitting and driving was even more excruciating, and movement often made my hip feel better, so I opted to walk.) I saw that there were more people than normal standing on the sidewalk, and I realized my mistake. I had forgotten to turn, avoiding that part of the block. If I decided to turn around, I would have to walk (painfully hobble) all the way back to the corner, and then risk walking through an icy sidewalk that hadn’t been cleared. 

I decided to just keep going, to walk right into the scrum of six protesters, with the megaphone and graphic signage. Honestly, what is the worse that could happen? I was already pregnant, a host for what you believe to the most sacred thing. Maybe you would give me a high five? Or a religious pamphlet? Or a pink lollipop embossed with a scale footprint of a 10 week old fetus? 

As I walked passed, you asked (shouted) the worst thing anyone has ever said to me in my life:


At which point my limbic response was simply to burst into tears, and rush home where I continued to cry, and then sob, to my husband. In the immediate aftermath I emailed the women’s clinic to ask if I could send them a gift card to buy coffee for the office staff and pink vest volunteers who escort patients in and out the door. (Which, honestly, sounds like trying to scoop up and carry the ocean with my hands.) Now that I have composed myself, I have some thoughts:

First – this pregnancy was very much wanted. I had spent so much of my mental, emotional and physical energy over the last six years attempting to get pregnant, be pregnant, and keep a newborn alive that when we decided that we wanted to try have another we understood this was a monumental undertaking. For whatever reason, my body does not get pregnant easily, and we had decided to pursue IVF. The fertility treatments are not covered by insurance (obviously) so we had spent a large part of our savings to try and have another child. We had gone through two IUIs, one round of IVF and an egg retrieval, and then the three days later Covid reached a crescendo and New York City shut down. 

For a month, at 6:00am, I was walking a mile and half each way to my doctors office for blood work and ultrasounds, because I was too scared to take the subway. I would then get home and take a full shower to scrub off the germs, (as this was in the wash-your-hands-and-lysol-your-amazon-boxes-but-don’t-wear -a-face-mask phase of Covid) before sitting down in front of my laptop to log on for work before 9:00am so my boss wouldn’t suspect anything. I couldn’t risk my colleagues suspecting the possibility of a pregnancy when the world was so tenuous. This was happening almost every other day, because hormone levels need to be monitored very closely at that point in the process. 

The stress of two adults trying to hold on some sort of livelihood, while parenting a two year old in a small one-bedroom Manhattan apartment soon became too much to bear (nothing like a little IVF to spice up your quarantine.) I ended up being laid off from my job, so we decided to take a break from the process while we figured ourselves out in the hopes that the world would also figure itself out. A few months later, when the summer proved that Covid couldn’t be solved with a two week flattening of the curve, we decided to push forth with the process. The first transfer failed, so we tried again with another round – more tests, more injections, more antibiotics, more prednisone, more money. Also progesterone in oil injections. Do you know what those are? It’s a huge syringe of oil that is injected into your thigh or glute every night. The only thing more shocking than the size of the needles is the fact that they just send that medication home with normies and expect you to figured it out yourselves. What is not shocking is how painful they are – both at the time of injection but also for days afterwards. The injection site bruises and stings, which explains why they recommend moving to a different leg or location each night. (Not recommended – taking your two year old down the hard, plastic, twisty slide on your lap.) We did this every night for 11 weeks. 

We found out in late summer that the second round of IVF worked, and we would expecting a baby girl the next spring. We were also in the process of moving to a less-expensive area, since I was no longer tied to my office in mid-town Manhattan. In the midst of all of this we also lost our COBRA coverage and were scrambling to find health coverage for my family, myself, and our unborn baby. So yes, this pregnancy was very much wanted. Which makes the words you shouted at me particularly painful.

I fully acknowledge the fact that I’m complaining about someone saying some poopoo words to me and hurting my feelings. (Sticks and stones and whatnot.) What is utterly terrifying is that the actions behind the words are systematically working to strip millions of people of their own bodily autonomy. You’re breaking our bones.

Now – brace yourself – but what I’m about to say next you’re really not going to like. Not only am I a woman, but I’m also a Jewish one. All too often when I walk down Engle street, I’m told that the only way to salvation is to accept Jesus. I know this country was founded on the separation of Church and State, (another mythical idea we all seem to pretend to believe) but Judaism faith has a very different world view than your own. In the Judaism, the preservation of life applies to the mother, be it her physical, mental, or emotional health. That is coupled with the belief that life begins at birth, with the first breath, as life also ends at the last breath. I don’t personally eat pork products, but I don’t stand outside of Denny’s on Sunday mornings protesting the Grand Slam. And I certainly don’t pass laws criminalizing bacon. (You could argue that breakfast sausage and abortion are not equivalent, but I think Babe would beg to differ.) 

Now that we have done a deep-dive into my background, lets examine yours. What follows is a list of assumptions, based on our short interaction: 

You say you are pro-life, but what about caring for the life of the child once they exit the womb? Do you spend your free time baby sitting? Dropping off food and diapers and hunting for formula? (Yes, we all get a free breast pump! But only if you have insurance! And a place to pump! And time to pump! Have you ever tried to spend a quiet 30 minutes pumping while a hungry infant is next to you screaming to be fed?) What about car seats? Providing rides to doctors appointments?

If you are pro-life, are you pro-universal health care? Universal Pre-K? Three-K? Daycare? Funding after school programs? Gun control laws? Accessible birth control? If you’re going to force mothers into giving birth, are you at least working to improve the abysmal maternal mortality rates in this country? 

Are you helping men get their (easy and inexpensive and safe and reversible) vasectomies? Because, as we all know, you can’t have an unintended pregnancy without a sperm. 

It’s also apparent that you don’t have the most basic knowledge about the organs you’re attempting to colonize. At the time of our encounter, I was 34 weeks pregnant, but between my puffer coat and the extra amniotic fluid I was carrying around, as well as my baby’s size, I easily looked full-term at 40 weeks. (As other strangers on the street liked to remind me, I looked like I could pop any day.) Did you really, truly, believe, that if for whatever reason I decided to end my pregnancy, I could just walk into a clinic in New Jersey and have an abortion? When I was days from giving birth? Is that really how you think things go down?

Which brings me to the signs. Who, exactly, is your target audience with those? Are you trying to shock people? Because any person on earth who has ever menstruated has experienced that same imagery IRL in the toilet bowl every 28 days. Those of us that have miscarried or had medical abortions have also had the Imax experience. (While we’re at it lets normalize periods. And miscarriages. And abortions.) 

And, just a piece of advice for any future encounters you may have, you know what is actually terrible for un-born babies? Being pickled in cortisol while their mothers are being berated on the street. 

But also – none of this should matter. Because it’s my body. No one is forcing you to give a piece of yourself and go donate a kidney or bone marrow because it would save someone else’s life. I’m not protesting the fact that you chose to put a pair of aesthetically questionable tattoos on your person.

So where does this leave us. I don’t know, maybe listen to an account of a person that has experienced an abortion? Try to understand one of the myriad of reasons why someone would choose not to be forced into birthing a child? I try to do my part and make a donation to an abortion fund whenever I see you on the street. Write letters into the void. And try to have compassion and understanding for people that have had life experiences that are different than mine.

As for my baby – the one whose health and wellbeing you were so concerned with when she was in-utero? She absolutely fine. Great, in fact. The doctors predictions were right, and I did end up going into labor a month early. She was delivered via c-section, as despite my best efforts, I was unable to turn her in time. My doctor told me after the fact that she was positioned in such a way there would have been impossible for me to have turned her or delivered her vaginally. She was in a breech position, doing a full split, with the cord wrapped around her neck. Coupled with the placenta being positioned very high, her head was basically tethered to the top of my uterus. After two weeks in the NICU, she joined us at home, and I’m thankful every day that we have access to quality medical care, allowing both of us to make it through the ordeal safely and alive.

She’s a very happy baby, and smiles and laughs all the time. She has no idea of the decades long battle ahead of her. 

Elizabeth works a designer in the New York area and is a mother of two young daughters. 

Similar Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *