Doreen Manning talks to TLR about Anti-Choice tactics ahead of this year’s referendum on the 8th Amendment.
A date has been declared for the referendum on repealing the 8th Amendment. It only took 9 governments, 35 years, the X Case, D and Miss D (separate cases), Miss Y, the cases of A, B and C versus Ireland, Mellet versus Ireland, Whelan versus Ireland, the PP case, and the deaths of Ann Lovett, Sheila Hodgers and Savita Halappanavar.
With that in mind, it’s time to talk about the inevitable: campaigning, which is gonna involve actually talking to people (I personally can’t deal with that shit), canvassing and engaging with people on the issue. In the streets, in your home, in other people’s homes (granted you’re there with permission. Please don’t break into strangers’ houses, even if it’s only to campaign for a ‘Yes’ vote), and on social media.
Plenty of other sites have previously published clickbait-ish articles, and will again in the days closer to the referendum, giving advice on how to talk to people who are on the fence about the issues of abortion, reproductive rights, feminism and the importance of voting ‘yes’ on May 25th, but very few articles, if any, have or will give you suggestions on how to deal with the notoriously vitriolic and aggressive ‘no’ side of the debate. Let me fix that for you.
Firstly, there is no low that pro-forced pregnancy supporters will not stoop to in order to win. This is important to remember when dealing with them, as their outbursts and actions over the coming months will be equal parts disturbing and repulsive. Take a moment in your mind to remember the tactics they employed during the Marriage Equality referendum in 2015: their posters displayed messages that shamed single-parent families, parents who used surrogacy in order to have children, claims that nature was against same-sex marriage, and that the ‘no’ side were being ‘silenced’ due to their Neanderthal opinions. One canvasser for the ‘yes’ side was told while going door-to-door that he should’ve been ‘gassed with the rest of them’. I’ve been hearing whispers online recently that their current tactic is to duplicate people’s Facebook accounts and fill the new account with anti-choice posts. People you are already friends with will curiously receive a friend request from an account identical to yours, assuming that you deleted them accidentally, but will instead have their newsfeed filled with anti-abortion propaganda. They have also bought search result space on Google so that searches for reproductive rights- related issues bump their websites closer to the top of the search. Example: if you search ‘X Case Ireland’ on Google, one of the first links that comes up will be The Life Institute’s article on the case, filled with infuriating accusations against the teenage girl who was raped by her neighbour in 1992.
On top of this, the anti-choice contingent have begun buying ‘repeal’ domains, such as repeal8.ie, repeal8th.ie, and repealeighth.ie, only to redirect them all to thisismylife.com, a website full of anti-abortion rhetoric, created by Students For Life.
It’s important to prevent yourself from being surprised by any of these callous manoeuvres. Be prepared for them, but don’t be the least bit surprised by them. Nothing is too low.
They will manipulate and change language to further their argument
Anti-choicers have a history of subtly replacing words during conversations on this issue. There will never be any mention of a ‘fetus’, only ‘the unborn’ or ‘pre-born’. Not using the word ‘termination’, only ‘killing’ or ‘murdering’. No mention of a ‘doctor’ or a ‘physician’, but rather an ‘abortionist’. Language isn’t even safe from them; it can be used to emotionally cajole support from people who are on the fence about the issue of reproductive rights. Scientific findings will only be used by the ‘no’ side in a flimsy attempt to back up misogynistic ideas that women belong in the home raising families, that women are meant to be mothers, and that a fetus can feel pain as early as 8 weeks into a pregnancy, something a religious text couldn’t even make up.
More often than not, the people who use this sort of reductive language and these outdated beliefs about pregnancy will have absolutely no evidence or studies to back up what they’re saying, and will balk at any opportunity to present a citation for what they’re talking about. Changing and returning the wording to its common, non-emotive and scientific leaning is the only way to get through to the people on the fence about this, rather than confusing people and using despicable attempts to exploit people’s emotional attachments to children, particularly to children with Down’s syndrome, whom they have begun targeting heavily over the past couple of years.
They will bully, infuriate, threaten and harass you
Comedian Tara Flynn has been constantly subjected to barrages of abusive messages and tweets from pro-lifers since writing an article for the Irish Times in 2015 speaking candidly about her experience having an abortion back in 2006. A good chunk of her tweets, be they related to women’s reproductive rights or not, will be met with responses from people calling her derogatory names, accusing her of exploiting ‘the killing of unborn babies’ for her career, simply because, like so many other women both before and after her, she was brave enough to tell her story publicly, to show other women, girls and trans men that there’s no shame in not being ready to be a parent, not having enough money to raise a child, putting your own physical health first, or not wanting to be tied to an abusive partner or rapist for the rest of your life. If a discussion about repealing the 8th Amendment begins to pick up traction on Twitter or Facebook, they will swarm the discussion with the aforementioned emotional manipulation techniques, coupled with deliberate attempts to drag angry reactions and flippant statements out of pro-choice activists, in a pathetic attempt to colour the entire movement as ‘angry spinsters’, ‘lesbians’, ‘dirty Islamist immigrants’ and ‘childless faggots’.
They will call you ‘ugly’, ‘stupid’, ‘ill-educated’, ‘fat’, a ‘slut’ etc. They will tell you that you should’ve kept your legs closed. If you don’t ‘look’ Irish, or have ‘an Irish sounding’ name, they will accuse you of wanting to enforce Sharia Law to control women (the thought of it, in Ireland!).
They will tell you that you were raped because God divined it so you can learn the errors of your dirty promiscuous ways. They will tell you that the human race is the only species on Earth that kills its young (incorrect). By far the most shocking statement I have ever gotten from a pro-forced pregnancy supporter was at a ROSA stall several years ago, not long after Savita Halappanavar died in Galway University Hospital. This particular woman must’ve been in her 80’s. She approached the stall slowly, staring at me. She then leaned over to me and said the following sentence, quite calmly: ‘That girl Savita didn’t die because she needed an abortion. She died from sepsis, and that’s a disease that was brought into this country by all the fucking Chinese.’
These manoeuvres are particularly infuriating, and it’s easy to be suckered into reacting with anger to their ploys, but a moment needs to be taken to remember that they will in fact use your reaction, even as an individual, to add fuel to their shitty image that all pro-choice people are bloodthirsty, aggressive, clueless, and can’t be reasoned with. Almost all of them say the same things; they’re all largely singing from the same hymn sheet because it’s all they have. In sharp contrast to that, every woman and trans man has their own individual story of how the 8th Amendment has negatively affected their lives, has their own emotions and thoughts on the issue of reproductive rights, which is more than enough to bring to the table, rather than repeating the words of the parish priest because what he said struck you as ‘emotional’.
Coupled with manipulative language, they will use disgusting imagery
A lot of you will already be well aware of groups like Youth Defence, Irish Centre for Bio-Ethical Research and The Life Institute using grotesque images of stillborn babies with falsified information attached to it. When they can’t shout and roar abuse at people, when they can’t bullshit with words, they will bullshit with googled pictures of dead babies with one dollar coins next to them for scale (as if any qualified scientist or medical examiner would put a one dollar coin in a petri dish to begin with, even if it’s only for a shocking photo opportunity). They’ve recently been chastised for putting up these images outside of a primary school in Dublin, along with having one of their mobile adverts parked outside the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre back in 2013. They were the same organizations who planned on holding events at both Cork and Dublin Airports last year to shock families, and distress women who were travelling to other countries to have abortions. They will hand out leaflets on the streets filled with lies about different abortion procedures, about how they as an organization care about women’s wellbeing but never quite enough to campaign for maternity care improvements or to not scream ‘murderer’ at women and girls on the streets, not a shred of helpful information on how anyone can/should deal with a crisis pregnancy, and of course a donation form should you feel like funding them on the off chance that the money they’ve been getting from the Republican Party in the US suddenly dries up. One of their members in Cork City, who also campaigned with Mothers and Fathers Matter during the Marriage Equality referendum, is notorious for placing scaremongering leaflets in the phone booths in the city centre with some of the most absurd lies printed on them:
They will tweet GIFs of ultrasounds at pro-choicers on Twitter. They will perpetuate ancient lies: having an abortion causes cancer; abortions result in promiscuity, because women will use them as a form of birth control, which means they’ll just have MORE unprotected sex (this, again, coming from Catholic organizations who had previously protested Virgin Megastore selling condoms); abortions make you infertile; women who have had abortions will later abuse or neglect any children they might have; having an abortion can lead to depression, drug addiction, alcoholism…all with no evidence or studies to back up any of these.
They ALWAYS want to have the last word, especially if they feel they’re losing the argument or are outnumbered
Over the weekend a tweet thread about discussing repeal of the 8th Amendment with men went viral out of nowhere. Colm (@Flynnstone1) spoke frankly and openly about the importance of educating men on how vital their votes will be in May’s referendum, and how anti-choice has hitherto gotten away with fooling people into thinking they’re not solely ‘pro-birth’.
The full tweet:
‘A night out in Dublin talking to other men about #repealthe8th has taught me that a lot of them still can’t see beyond their own experience. They can’t empathise. They’ll never experience a crisis pregnancy and never actually consider what that’s like. We need to keep having these conversations because these people actually have a vote. They’ll vote in ignorance. They’ll vote to keep the status quo. The narrative shaping this debate in the public sphere makes people disregard the very real suffering of women because it’s so focused on abortion. The 8th has a much wider effect, women are forced to undergo procedures they do not consent to. People are still unaware of this aspect because the focus is on abortion. So many men, although they have girlfriends, are actually oblivious to what their girlfriends use as contraceptives because they never even have to consider it. It’s on her. She’s got it covered, apparently. It’s silly and it isn’t the case for all relationships but it is that way for the majority of them. Keep having those conversations with the men in our lives, because most women actually understand, whereas the men simply don’t. They need to hear it, to have that conversation and be made aware. It’s almost an educational campaign. We all start out #anti-choice but then become aware that life isn’t black and white. To take an absolute position (anti-choice), is to disregard the real suffering of women. Where have you #loveboth crowd been since ‘83? Very few of you have actually been advocating to improve the lives of women, that’s for sure. Their campaign only started to care when they copped that people were actually seeing they are pro-birth. I’m actually sick of these people pretending to care, unless you turn that caring into action it’s as worthless as your thoughts and prayers. They spout off about the reality of abortion, they ignore the reality of the world we are living in. These people are happy to retain the 8th and just disregard the suffering of women. It’s inhumane. No woman makes the decision to have an abortion as if it’s some flippant decision. It’s quite frankly insulting to women to even suggest that. Anti-choicers, come at me.’
Overall, Colm’s tweets received an extremely positive reaction from people who read them, but pro-forced pregnancy supporters quickly jumped on with allegations that he was out canvassing to strangers in pubs, rather than simply having non-topical conversations about the weather or how short a girl’s skirt was. One such anti-choicer who had issues with a person talking to his friends about current issues was a man in his 20’s, who pretty much used every furious trick that I’ve previously outlined. Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you: Josh Roberts.
Josh was a fascinating and laughable character, and is apparently notorious for being abusive towards women who have had abortions, up to and including shaming women who have chosen to go ahead with cancer treatment despite being pregnant. Throughout our fruitless exchange on Colm’s timeline, Josh called me stupid, a bitch, unemployed, bored, a troll, a hypocrite, a bully, narcissistic, an idiot, a misandrist, a liar, and finally, deranged, simply because I informed him that Aubrey Plaza would not support his anti-choice position. He sent me GIFs of ultrasounds in a sad effort to get me to fold on my views. He spent an entire afternoon harassing me with tweets telling me he wouldn’t be bullied, and that he was leaving the conversation, yet somehow managed to not leave the conversation for over an hour.
He kept using the same bullying tactics that all pro-lifers use, of spreading misinformation, gas-lighting, convincing himself that he was the victim, and insisted on having the apparently much-coveted ‘last word’ in the ‘discussion’. All this, peppered with GIFs of celebrities waving goodbye when he wouldn’t leave.
As a last resort, he resigned himself to the following ploy:
Finally, they will go pathetic and claim they’re the ones being bullied, cry and block
People like Josh Roberts are a serious problem on social media, because they will use the strategies that Youth Defence members use on the streets, of abusing women, starting screaming matches, knowing that they have the anonymity of the internet to protect them from any backlash, and knowing that they can easily walk away from losing their dignity by saying one word: bully. They are never the bullies, everyone else is. It’s everyone’s fault but theirs.
This is most blindly exasperating and narcissistic move they can and will resort to when they’re either outnumbered by a crowd of people on the street, or by people pointing out inescapable simple facts to them that they cannot, or are unwilling to, entertain. You don’t have a point. You’re bullying them. You’re a heartless murderer. You’re being so horrible to them, simply because they expressed their thoughts on the issue. You should be reported to the Gardaí for your disgraceful behaviour. YOU ARE ALWAYS WRONG. YOU ARE THE BULLY.
If you don’t back down, if you don’t let them be the victim, they will cry ‘wolf’. If they’re in public they will cry openly. If they’re on social media, they’ll report and block you. You can’t possibly have the last word, you don’t deserve it.
I know from dealing with dozens of zealots like Josh before that their behaviour, their attitude to women, to people in general, will boil the blood, but they must be dealt with. Plenty of people have told me in the past not to bother with them, as their opinions will not be changed. Fair point, but that’s not the reason I confront and waste the time of people like that. I do it, and you should too, because if you don’t, they will move on. Deal with them because at least if they’re trolling you, they’re not trolling someone who’s had an abortion, or someone who has been traumatised by the misogynistic system that’s in place. There are people who are using social media to shout the message louder, to show women and trans men out there that they know the experience of being forced to travel to a strange country for a medical termination, when they’d rather be at home in their own country. They will receive torrents of abusive messages, death threats, and overall despicable content from the anti-choice zealots, and will be expected by the ‘no’ side to take it all with respect and silence, all in the name of ‘hearing both sides’. If you can be a barrier between the victims of the system and the perpetuators of it, be it. Distract them from vilifying people who have been brave enough to tell their story, even if it’s only for an hour, or until they become cowardly and block you. Be the shiny keys dangling in front of the spoilt tantrum-throwing child that is the anti-choice contingent.
I’m sure there are plenty of other deplorable contrivances the ‘no’ side will try over the next couple of months. There’s always a way to handle them. There’s always a way around their bloody-minded behaviour. Again, don’t ignore them just because their mind is made up. Deal with them. Waste their time. If you can, drive them insane with anger, and use their own moves on them in retaliation. They have already lost the support of a lot of people on the ground, largely because of these shocking gimmicks, but also partly because a lot of the people who voted in favour of the 8th Amendment have since died of old age, but that’s an issue for another day.
With special thanks to Sami El-Sayed and Colm @Flynnstone1 for allowing use of their social media interactions with anti-choicers.