Going into the anti-contraception conference in Chicago, I wasn't sure what to expect. I wanted to blend in, so I packed clothes that I deemed to be slightly formal, but wouldn't stand out. I wanted to look conservative and professional, but not too much like I'm from Washington, DC. Oh, and I needed to hide my tattoos and piercings, which involved wearing long-sleeve shirts and not opening my mouth too wide (which was an additional barrier to speaking up when I heard outrageous statements). I put on my cross necklace, wore skirts and plain tops, and ventured into the belly of the beast.
Since many anti-abortion groups have shied away from taking on contraception, I thought only radical extremists would gather to oppose something that is used by the majority of Americans. To my surprise, that was not the case. Sure there were some vehemently sexist and immigration-hatin' speakers at the event and the sponsoring organization believes the most important work is "sidewalk counseling" (read: harassment of women trying to access health care at clinics), but there were also a lot of seemingly ordinary citizens.
When I first arrived, the crowd was mostly older couples. But soon more people filtered in, ranging in age and dress. The expected middle-aged women and men were there, but I was surprised to also see a lot of people my age (though perhaps the other stylish women in their 20s were undercover as well). A bible study group of married couples sat down near me and barely glanced in my direction; I noted some teenagers and smaller children present with their parents. Several priests were in the audience and it soon became clear that this was not a far-right evangelical event, it was hard-core Catholic. It almost goes without saying that the crowd was predominantly white and middle-class.
Overall, I think one of the scariest aspects of this conference was that it was not just for social extremists with an outright political agenda. Their goal to take contraception away from the rest of us was couched in friendly, upbeat presentations intended to give intellectual ammunition to the anti-abortion grassroots movement. And though they did not explicitly mention the upcoming elections, they told the participants to spread the anti-contraception message to their physicians, pharmacists, priests, parishes, clubs, and legislators. Their multifaceted attack on the evils of contraception addresses all elements of our society – from family and marital relationships, religion, health, morality, and gender to population and mainstream culture.
Stay tuned to this special series for analysis of the specific arguments that speakers used against contraception.