I spent all evening thinking, and I'm still at a bit of a loss to describe how I feel.
(I'll say first that both groups behaved better than I expected. The single example of bad behavior I noticed was mild. A woman in a PP t-shirt was taking pictures of the SBA protesters... the incident I witnessed was this woman holding her camera phone about 10 inches from another woman's face, trying to take her picture. When the woman with the camera up her nose covered her face with her sign, the PP activist asked "You don't want me to take your picture?" The other woman responded "You can take my picture with my sign, but not just my face." At that point, the woman in pink wandered away. Guess she didn't want the shot after all...)
Planned Parenthood was up first. When the first speaker used the word "extremist" four times in a matter of moments, I was rolling my eyes. They focused solely on the healthcare aspects of PP, and I don't know that I even heard the word abortion. Instead, they tried to paint the picture that PP is the only health choice for many women. (One of the speakers, a college student, said PP is her primary care provider because her regular copays are too high.)
When the SBA bus arrived, about half of the PP crowd (around 30 at peak) had gone. The second crowd was a little bigger (still only 50 or so), and included Altmire's 2010 challenger Keith Rothfus.
I know I'm going to piss people off, she's done a lot of work to expose PP. But... well... I didn't enjoy listening to her. The problem wasn't what she said but how she said it. It was very breathy and dramatic and almost (I'm sorry, but it's my impression) cheerleaderish. It was a jarring disconnect from her words. Like the first time you actually see Rick Astley.
But that wasn't the biggest problem I had with the speakers. Another woman, a local woman, spoke about the pro-life tendencies of this district. (Even Altmire self-describes as pro-life.) But... but... BUT...
She went on. On to her views on birth control.
As she lectured on the evils of contraception (catch that? Not abortion... birth control), she told the audience:
"The reason you get married is procreation."
Now, I don't know about anyone else, but I know that wasn't my top reason. Matter of fact, I don't think I know anyone who connected with their spouse by saying, "Hey! You've got some good genes there. Want to enter into a lifetime contract for the purpose of mingling our DNA at some future point?"
But she kept talking. Next subject? Rape. Specifically, whether a woman who is raped should be able to terminate a resulting pregnancy. And her take?
"Just because an act is evil doesn't mean we have the right to destroy a life."
Come on! I am no fan of abortion, but really?! I would never presume to tell the victim of an assault that she must incubate the child of her attacker. And while I think abortion as birth control is a disgusting concept, rape is different. It's one of the few times I believe a legal abortion should be not only available but safe and acceptable.
The most moving (and therefore influential) speaker, in my opinion, was a mother who had aborted two of her children. I spoke with her early on (when she was the lone counter-protester, standing quietly across from PP) because of her sign... which said "I recognize the dignity of my aborted children by giving them names", with the names of her babies at the bottom. Her story should have been the centerpiece of the SBA event.
But, all in all, I felt like I was between two crowds of extremists. One wanted to talk about the beneficial services PP provides, while completely ignoring the topic of abortion (although they provide them by the hundreds of thousands). The other began with abortion, but went on to include birth control and then to suggest that rape victims should just deal with it.
While I'm glad I went and listened to both sides, I left feeling like I didn't agree with either of them.