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Visualize for a moment what would happen if San Francisco hosted a rally on the hot-button topic of abortion. How many people would you expect to show up to support each side?

Well, considering that San Francisco is the city that regularly votes in overwhelming numbers for Nancy Pelosi and Barbara Boxer, two of the strongest abortion advocates in Congress, and that San Francisco is perceived as being among the most liberal cities in the nation, you would likely anticipate the pro-choice side to vastly outnumber the pro-life side at any rally.

You couldn’t be more wrong.

Because when the anti-abortion group Walk for Life staged a march in San Francisco last Saturday, January 23, they turned out an overwhelming and jaw-dropping 40,000 pro-life activists, who were met by a well-advertised counter-protest which managed to draw no more than 80 (that’s eighty, eight-zero) pro-choice advocates. 40,000 vs. 80 is a 500-to-1 pro-life advantage, something that seems inconceivable in the sex-positive liberal stronghold of San Francisco. How did this happen?

We’ll get to verifying the attendance levels at the end of this essay (skip down to the section below called “The Numbers” if you’re curious now). Meanwhile, let’s get a taste of what the day was like!

This picture shows what miracles a deceptive camera angle can wreak. As the huge mass of pro-life protesters assembled for the march, a small contingent of counter-protesters awaited them here across the street. Could you guess from this photo that the pro-life marchers in the distance outnumbered the pro-choicers by 500 to 1? Because the handful of pro-choice counter-protesters are in the foreground, they fill the camera frame impressively — while the pro-life contingent fades away into the distance.

Always pay close attention to news photos! Even an undoctored image can be framed in such a way as to deceive.

Dueling Narratives

This sign kind of summed up with perfect concision the two-pronged pro-choice strategy for the day. The “text,” to get all postmodern, is to focus on women’s ownership of their own bodies and their individual rights of self-determination. The “subtext” is to intentionally destroy any sense of propriety in the proceedings, to use vulgarity and sexuality to rob the other side of its innocence and somehow in the process thereby drag the pro-lifers into the gutter where prim virginity is no longer a source of power but rather something to be mocked.

The fatal flaw in this horribly ill-conceived two-pronged strategy is that that subtext totally undermines the text, and vice versa, so that the argument ends up canceling itself out. Any legitimacy your point of view might have had instantly evaporates when you start yelling “Cunt cunt cunt!” in your opponent’s face. You can try to win by having a rational debate; alternately, you can try to win by punching below the belt; but if you try to do both simultaneously, you are sure to lose.

(And no, don’t ask me what’s going on in the crotch region of that sign — I couldn’t figure it out either.)

This impressive banner encapsulated the other most common message that the pro-choice side tried to put forth: that the pro-lifers’ religiosity was the basis for their “hateful” beliefs, and that they were mostly not from the Bay Area and were thus outsiders bringing an unwanted ideology into a liberal enclave.

Once again, one wonders if the total irrelevance of the pro-choice message is intentional or not. So much effort went into this banner, and yet it in no way addresses the concerns of the people on the pro-life side. As a result, I imagine that the banner was completely ineffectual in changing anyone’s mind, and instead seems to have been made solely for the amusement of the pro-choicers.

Here’s a video of the pro-choice side chanting their favorite slogan, one which they repeated over and over for hours on end all day long:

“Christian fascists go away, abortion rights are here to stay! Right-wing bigots go away, abortion rights are here to stay!”

I understand that each side strives mightily to frame the abortion debate in their own terms, because to even acknowledge the opponents’ point of view is to lose the argument. But if you’re actually trying to change hearts and minds, squandering your brief time on the soapbox with a statement like “You’re all a bunch of assholes — go away!” isn’t going to do the trick.

Full Disclosure:

(In American politics, one is not really permitted to discuss the abortion issue while feigning impartiality. There’s no such thing as neutrality anymore. So I should say where I stand on the issue, since my stance will likely affect your perception of this essay.

I am mostly, though not enthusiastically, “pro-choice.” But that doesn’t mean I am pro-abortion. I think abortion is gruesome, and is often traumatic, and should be avoided if at all possible. Yet I balk at the notion of the government dictating which medical procedures are allowable, and at bureaucrats intervening into the inviolable relationship between doctor and patient. In other words, my libertarian bent and anti-authoritarian attitude trump my strong distaste for the concept of abortion. This is made possible by my personal assessment that an embryo is not a fully fledged and legally definable individual until it reaches the level of “viability” — in other words, until it becomes mature enough to survive outside the womb, which is at around five-and-a-half months of gestation.

This issue of “ensoulment” — the point at which a human egg becomes a separate human life — lies at the heart of the abortion debate, though it is rarely discussed in overt terms. Opinions range from the “Every Sperm Is Precious” Monty Python family to late-term abortion advocates who say a baby isn’t a baby until it draws its first breath. Me, I fall somewhere in the middle. I don’t think a one-hour-old fertilized egg counts as a separate legal entity, nor do I think that a premature 7-month fetus can just be tossed into the garbage can as so much excess tissue. In my admittedly non-expert opinion, at some point a fetus’s brain develops to such an extent that it achieves awareness of its individual consciousness; and at some point its body matures enough that it could survive outside the womb. Both of these developmental markers seem to happen right around the point of earliest “viability,” somewhere between five and six months of gestation. And so, lacking any more likely indicator of a fetus’s moment of “ensoulment,” in my (once again admittedly non-scientific) opinion, that’s the point at which a fetus can be dubbed a separate human being with all attendant legal rights.

Because of this, although I reluctantly must concede that the state should not outlaw abortion up to five-and-a-half months, I strongly oppose late-term abortions after that point, because at that late stage, abortion could be considered homicide.

I realize that this middle-of-the-road position will likely please no one, and may possibly even anger some readers on both sides of the argument for not being sufficiently pro-choice or pro-life. Sorry, but that’s the way it is. I’m not trying to convince anyone of anything nor draw adherents to my point of view: I’m just laying all my cards on the table so you know where I’m coming from. Whatever my personal opinions are about abortion, I can still cast a critical eye on both sides of the debate and see where they fail and where they succeed. Now: On with the essay!)

Where was I? Oh, that’s right: Narrative efficacy. Not every message at the march was as ineffectual as our first three examples shown above. Several of the pro-life marchers carried signs that struck deep in the heart of the pro-choice ideology, and must have caused great philosophical distress among those who saw and actually paused to ponder the messages. For example…

Ouch! Now here‘s a sign that a leftist doesn’t want to see. Margaret Sanger’s unabashed and overt racism has always been a big problem for Planned Parenthood’s public image, as has her leading role in the eugenics movement. It’s extensively documented that Sanger saw birth control mainly as a way to decrease the number of “unfit” in society, a category which in her view included foreigners and racial minorities. Her defenders try to mitigate the painful truth of her racism by pointing out that at least she wasn’t as bad as those eugenicists who called for the active extermination of blacks and other “unfit” groups; Sanger merely advocated the more mild “negative eugenics” in which undesirable populations are gently eliminated over several generations by means of lowering their rate of reproduction through birth control. So hey, she should be praised as the least bad kind of genocidal racist!

The flipside of his sign was just as devastating. Sanger’s notorious “Negro Project” has become such a public relations disaster that the library which houses her personal papers felt compelled to issue a long defense of The Negro Project and Sanger’s reasons for starting it. To give both sides of the dispute equal time, here is the crucial paragraph from the essay linked above defending Sanger’s statement:

Sanger reiterated the need for black ministers to head up the project in a letter to Clarence Gamble in Dec. 1939, arguing that: “We do not want word to go out that we want to exterminate the Negro population and the minister is the man who can straighten out that idea if it ever occurs to any of their more rebellious members.” This passage has been repeatedly extracted by Sanger’s detractors as evidence that she led a calculated effort to reduce the black population against their will. From African-American activist Angela Davis on the left to conservative commentator Dinesh D’Souza on the right, this statement alone has condemned Sanger to a perpetual waltz with Hitler and the KKK. Davis quoted the incendiary passage in her 1983 Women, Race and Class, claiming that the Negro Project “confirmed the ideological victory of the racism associated with eugenic ideas.” D’Souza used the quote to buttress erroneous claims that Sanger called blacks “human weeds” and a “menace to civilization” in his best-selling 1995 book The End of Racism. The argument that Sanger co-opted black clergy and community leaders to exterminate their own race not only gives Sanger unwarranted credit as a remarkably cunning manipulator, but also suggests that African-Americans were passive receptors of birth control reform, incapable of making their own decisions about family size; and that black leaders were ignorant and gullible.

So: Was Sanger just manipulating naive black clergy to participate in the slow-motion genocide of their own race, or did she just want to provide the gift of sexual freedom to African Americans? You decide.

It was only much later in the 1960s that theorists expounded the notion that birth control’s main function was to enable the “sexual liberation” of women, who should be able to have sex freely without any physical consequences. In Sanger’s mind, birth control was not so much about sexual enjoyment as it was a way to improve America’s genetic stock by preventing the wrong kind of babies from being born.

But even the “sexual liberation” justification for birth control and abortion has its potential flaws. This pro-life protester displayed a distinctly feminist message which presents the other side of the same argument: Is the Sexual Revolution just a trick to get women to “put out” more often and by so doing become nothing more than “re-usable sex objects” for men?

Once again, this message directly confronts the arguments presented by the pro-choice side, and it therefore is much more effective than other messages which don’t acknowledge the opposing side’s issues.

More effective signage from the the pro-life side. Pointing out that many leftist heroes of the past were anti-abortion is a painful reminder that there is no unanimity on the left on the abortion issue — just as there is no unanimity on the right.

But then again…sometimes people do live up to stereotypes — in this case, the “angry Christian warrior.”

Speaking of stereotypes…in the other camp we have dour-faced and decidedly unsexy feminists demanding sexual freedom.

While the sexual energy, contrary to all preconceptions, seemed to be mostly on the pro-life side.

Near the staging area for the pro-choice contingent, someone had taped these signs onto the Porta-Potties. Hmmmmmmm. As a point of reference, ponder these comparable signs from not too long ago in American history:

Are we entering a new age of ideological Jim Crow?

As always, the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence (a transvestite street theater group who dress up as nuns) blessed the rally with their presence. Unfortunately, no one seems to have clued them in that the whole joke of men dressing up as nuns went stale about 30 years ago, and that their particular brand of “genderfuck” (intentionally defying traditional gender appearance) is now about as shocking as teenage boys with piercings and eye-shadow. I.e., not anymore. The time has come to stop humoring these buffoons and their worn-out schtick.

The small group of counter-protesters waiting to confront the marchers included one woman with this rather unnerving off-topic sign. What is its relevance to abortion?

The other side of her reversible sign showed this no-less-angry but somewhat more relevant message. Yet since the pro-life marchers were themselves mostly young women and did not in any way match her stereotype of embittered male abortion opponents, the accusatory tirade on her sign seemed more reflective of the pro-choice side’s misapprehension of the conflict than an accurate description of the pro-life side’s motivations.

The rally’s organizers carefully arranged a solid wall of pretty young girls at the front of the march, presumably to make it more photogenic and to drive home the point that the pro-life side is not just a bunch of old fogeys.

Awaiting them was a smaller but equally devoted clique of pretty young pro-choice girls who had taken it upon themselves to “re-interpret” the pro-life signs, doctoring them to display pro-choice messages instead.

Though I remain more than a little confused why anyone thought the phrase “Men Regret Fatherhood” (the word “Lost” being crossed out) could possibly be construed as a good rallying cry for the pro-choice side.


Speaking From the Gut: Do Extreme Messages Work?

Many protesters on both sides of the aisle displayed messages with heartfelt and unapologetic sentiments that could be considered a little over-the-top and in-your-face. Do such messages “work” in terms of influencing the public debate — or can they be counter-productive? Let’s take a look at some of the more extreme messages on both sides and ask the question: Did you really want to say that?

Extreme Pro-Life

The more confrontational kind of pro-life protests inevitably include gruesome pictures of dead fetuses dismembered by late-term abortions. While I understand the intent of the shock value — This is a real baby you’re killing — I have the suspicion that a lot of average folks are simply turned off by the gore and see such imagery as exploitative.

Oops — looks like someone violated Godwin’s Law. Never a good idea. Though, to be frank, there were admittedly only a tiny handful of Nazi or Hitler comparisons visible all day, a relief from the bad old days of anti-Bush or anti-Israel protests, where seemingly 50% of all signs featured a swastika.

Surviving family members of actual terror victims might take great exception to this claim. Few if any women who have abortions do so out of hatred for their offspring or as an ideological act of intentional murder for the sake of terrorizing babies. Sure, if you accept the premise that an embryo is a human being, then more people have died from abortions than have died in terror attacks; but even conceding that premise I don’t quite get how abortion counts as an act of terrorism at all, much less “the worst kind of terrorism.”

Another overly melodramatic plea which some might deem as just barely crossing the line into the realm of the ridiculous.

While humorous, this sign will have absolutely no effect on a pro-choice opposition which already sees religion — and Christianity in particular — as the enemy.

Extreme Pro-Choice

Leftists often mock anyone who accuses them of being nothing more than a bunch of “atheists and communists.” Unfortunately for the pro-choice side, the accusation can no longer be so easily dismissed when the two main contingents who showed up to support their cause were…

…atheists…

…and communists. (“Revcom.us” at the bottom is the Web site for the Revolutionary Communist Party, who indeed comprised a substantial portion of the pro-choice protesters.)

And what is it with these people’s inability to get a grip on the concept of capitalization? If your entire organization is devoted to revolution, why not spell it either “REVOLUTION” or “revolution,” instead of the embarrassing “REVOluTiOn!

Another overly extreme message is to position your side as aggressively pro-abortion, rather than the more palatable “pro-choice.” There’s a very good reason why the movement insists on the “pro-choice” euphemism: Because it resonates with the public. Essentially saying “Free abortions for everybody!” makes you seem a little too enthusiastic, and, well, a bit bloodthirsty.

The wearisome Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence predictably beclowned themselves by offering condoms to the passing pro-life girls and yelling “Use condoms!” Stay classy, guys.

Even though there were fewer than 100 pro-choice protesters, most of them had some kind of wrongheaded or counter-productive message on display. A common variant (seen in several other photos here as well) was gratuitous and purposeful vulgarity, what one might call “cunting the culture.”

And even though it was the United States Supreme Court which gave us Roe v. Wade, and it is the United States federal government which insists on allowing unhindered access to abortion against the wishes of many states and citizens…it just wouldn’t be a proper left-wing protest without a dash of anti-Americanism thrown in for good measure!


Racial undertones

There was a racial undertone to the day’s proceedings as well. The vast majority of the pro-choice side was white, while a substantial percentage of the pro-life side were racial minorities — in particular, Hispanic, Asian, and Pacific Islander. Here, a group of Hispanic teens is interviewed for a radio show.

Some of the marchers had signs or shirts in Spanish, while others sang Spanish-language hymns.

One of the few network TV crews to show up was from Channel 14, the Hispanic news channel — covering an issue of interest to their viewership.

Meanwhile, some of the folks over on the mostly white pro-choice side were still imagining that they represented the interests of oh-so-oppressed minority groups. The problem, honey, is that your immigrant sisters don’t stand with you!


Scenes from a Rally

Cappuccino TV?

Sarah Palin remains Queen of the Villains for her pro-life opinions — especially her unforgivable decision to not be a hypocrite and instead live up to her principles by refusing to abort a child she knew would be disabled. She gave birth to Trig and loved him anyway! How dare she!

What exactly goes through your mind when you choose a “The Vaginas Are Coming” shirt and a 2004-era anti-war sign to bring to an abortion rally?

This woman on the pro-choice side had what I judged to be the most idiotic sign at the entire rally. Her accusation, I assume, was that one-third of pro-life women had in fact themselves had abortions, and so were all hypocrites and thus had lost the moral high ground. But her argument gets tripped up on its very first assumption: Perhaps, “statistically speaking,” one-third of American women overall will have an abortion at some point in their lives; but by definition that one third of women will almost all be in the pro-choice camp, otherwise they wouldn’t have chosen to have abortions in the first place.

This form of “logic” is very commonplace on the left; it is almost universally assumed that anyone who takes a moral stance against anything is him- or herself the most extreme practitioner of the very thing being condemned, and thereby a hypocrite of the worst kind. Thus, all politicians who vote against gay rights bills are themselves assumed to be closeted gays; preachers who praise monogamy are inevitably having affairs; law-and-order advocates are secret criminals; and women against abortion must necessarily have aborted their own babies. Presumption of hypocrisy is the default setting for the Left, and that presumption prevails even in the total absence of any evidence. Or, in this case, the most ludicrous of statistical fallacies.

Without the presumption that conservatives are hypocrites, the moral basis for many leftist tenets crumbles. Because if someone who actually is virtuous advocates a virtuous path, it’s impossible to criticize their position. Only by pointing out the messenger’s possible flaws can the message be rejected or mocked.

Are there preachers who have had affairs? Certainly. Anti-gay politicians who are themselves gay? Sure. And are there pro-life women who themselves have had abortions? Undoubtedly. But the percentages are tiny, despite every possible example being trumpeted by the media at every opportunity. Because Jim Bakker had an affair, leftist logic goes, all bombastic preachers have affairs. All celibate priests are secretly child molesters. And all anti-abortion advocates regularly have abortions.

Interestingly, those women on the pro-life side who did have abortions in the past all seem to freely admit it, and in fact use their experience (which they describe as a very negative experience) as a testimonial to help other women avoid making the same “mistake” they made. So even if this sign was true (which it isn’t), it still in no way would undermine the conviction of those on the pro-life side.

The sign refers to investigations such as this one in which 91% of Planned Parenthood clinics were caught on tape saying they would not report cases of statutory rape which came to their attention. Interestingly, the undercover report documented at the link is very similar to the “sting” exposé by James O’Keefe and Hannah Giles against ACORN, but received much less nationwide media coverage.

Uh…if you insist. Whatever you say, mister.

This video shows short clips of two different pro-choice chants: The first refrain is

“Keep your rosaries off our ovaries!”

…followed by

“Pro-life supports killers, we remember Dr. Tiller!”

Some of the pro-life signs humorously pointed out the bizarre disconnect of a leftist philosophy which seems to value all life on earth — except human life.

And to confirm the topsy-turvy environmentalist worldview: a vegan pro-choicer’s bag which declares her to be an “anti-species-ist” (in Trustafarian Spanish, naturally).

“HAVOQ,” for the curious among you, is the Horizontal Alliance of Voraciously Organized Queers. Seriously.

Wow — here’s a rare sight. A true pro-lifer whose dedication to a single noble idea transcends outdated political boundaries! Kudos for consistency, at least.

While the coat-hanger icon was used as a shorthand by nearly every group on the pro-choice side to signify the back-alley abortions that would supposedly happen if Roe v. Wade was overturned…

…the Bolsheviks uniquely felt the need to explain the obvious to the unenlightened.

The loneliest Queer Kiss-In in San Francisco history.


The Numbers

Walk for Life had over 35,000 attendees pre-registered before the rally, and on-site estimates placed the final number of attendees at probably closer to 40,000, which from my vantage point actually seems like an under-count.

The San Francisco Chronicle tried to downplay the size of the crowd by characterizing it vaguely as “several thousand,” but they also more accurately assessed the size of the pro-choice counter-protest as “only a few dozen demonstrators.” In fact, that was an under-count too, as I later took overhead photos of the pro-choice contingent and carefully counted exactly 80 counter-protesters total — which probably included more than a few uninvolved passersby, but I wanted to be generous. (The far-far-left IndyBay tried to spin the numbers as 200 counter-protesters and cited the Chronicle‘s ridiculous “several thousand” pro-lifers, but I saw nowhere near 200 in the pro-choice camp.)

Although there’s no way my pitiable narrow-angle camera lens and ground-level view could possibly capture the full enormity of the pro-life crowd, I did my best with the following photos:

This picture shows that subset of the crowd which could squeeze onto a lawn to hear the pre-march speakers. There was overflow in every direction, and more people streaming toward the rally with every passing minute.

Here’s the front of the march as it started — along with the rain, unfortunately. The column was 25 people abreast at the start, but that narrowed to perhaps around 15 people abreast further back. Take that into account when weighing the next images.

After the march was already well under way, I stood in one spot and took a picture looking back toward one end of the human column — which you can see extends off to the horizon…

…and then pivoted and took another photo toward the other end — which also extends beyond the visible horizon.

I’ve been to anti-war rallies which were estimated to have in excess of 100,000 people, and they all seemed smaller than the one seen here. Only 40,000? If you say so….

But those two pictures only showed the back part of the column. I ran ahead and climbed up a staircase to snap yet another picture showing a different segment of the march not visible in the previous photos, streaming around a curve in the Embarcadero and once again disappearing off into infinity in both directions.

Here’s a short video taken from the same vantage point, futilely attempting to convey the enormous length of the pro-life column of humanity, which curves around the corner in the distance.

After about half an hour the pro-choice contingent, which had been tagging along in a small cluster next to the march, finally caught up to where I was and paused for a while on the sidewalk below to protest the passing crowd. That gave me the opportunity to snap this overhead photo and count them one-by-one. I came up with 80 total — count them yourself if you’re curious.

I also took a closer overhead photo of the stationary pro-choice contingent to confirm my count — though in this image only about 70 are visible.

(I realize that these from-a-distance shots are not particularly interesting, visually, but I present them here just to provide some evidence for the crowd size estimations.)

You might be tempted to justify the small turnout at the counter-protest because it may have been poorly advertised, or that the Left was caught by surprise, learning of the rally only the day before, preventing any possibility of generating a substantial pro-choice presence. But no. First of all, the Walk for Life is an annual event, and everyone knew full well months in advance when it was scheduled to happen. The local leftists protest the Walk for Life every year, so it was most definitely on their calendar. Furthermore, the counter-protest was widely and extensively advertised on local liberal sites (which is how I found out about this event myself, since I scan such sites for local happenings). Examples of online notices exhorting people to come stand with the pro-choice counter-protest can be found at IndyBay, BACORR, SFist, Bay Area Progressive Directory, among many others. In short: It was no secret. Everyone who was possibly interested in the issue knew that January 23 was the big day.

The question then becomes: Why did basically no one on the pro-choice side show up, aside from a few demented radicals? I can only imagine that the answer is this: That every liberal in the Bay Area is already so confident that the status of abortion in this country is unchangeable and safe as a permanent socio-political fixture to such a degree that they feel it isn’t worth defending, since it’s not really under threat. What else could explain a 500-to-1 disparity in pro-life vs. pro-choice protesters in the most liberal area of the United States?

But if 40,000 people come out to rally against something you take for granted while only a handful stand against them, perhaps you shouldn’t take it for granted any more.

Or could it be that the support for abortion in the Bay Area is not nearly as strong as it once was?

In this new America, anything is possible.

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