Tiffany Bredeck and Lon Newman
She stood alone amid men with swords, like a feathery Joan of Arc, but when the incense smoke cleared, it was the friendly stork who had scored a solid victory in the War On Women.
There was a memorable battle in the War on Women this week, fought in the streets of Wausau, Wisconsin. Adhering to the Geneva Conventions that demand all soldiers wear uniforms, two-dozen members from the local Catholic parishes dressed for combat in capes and sashes and fuzzy pirate hats. Many of the men were armed with swords, but to be fair, it was a cold day; it could be they just wanted to be able to toast marshmallows if someone built a bonfire, or maybe knowing they were going to a place frequented by pregnant women, they brought their swords in case they were called upon to assist in an emergency delivery by cutting the umbilical cord.
The group convened in front of the Wausau Family Planning Health Services (FPHS) Wednesday afternoon. It is an odd place to go to renounce abortion, since FPHS in Wausau not only doesn’t perform them, its workers are forbidden by the terms of their state grants to so much as make a call to help a woman find a clinic where she might exercise that legal option. But in the Lifers defense, it is 100 miles from Wausau to the nearest actual abortion provider. I would imagine it’s hard to persuade many of the elderly participants, prone to prostate trouble and bladder issues, to travel two hours in order to confront the genuine article, especially when there are so many local sexually active women they can shame and still be home for an early supper. So, even though it’s a little like marching to reinstate Glass-Steagall in front of a sperm bank, this group of Catholics from the 40 Days for Life campaign, has chosen to make their stand, twice a year, on the sidewalk in front of a place pregnant women of modest means come, not to end their pregnancies, but to get prenatal care, and nutritious food through the WIC program, because they want healthy babies. I think this is known in Catholic theology as the transitive property of interchangeable vaginas.
You may remember last fall, On Our Radar covered another of the 40 Days’ prayer vigils, during which the irreverent executive director of FPHS, Lon Newman, greeted these same 40 Days for Lifers with large red dancing tubes. The two balloons tangoed friskily in the November winds, enchanting the neighborhood children, amusing clinic patients with their unmistakable phallic symbolism, and intimidating the anti-abortionistas into holding their prayer vigil in a driveway of a house around the block, lest they be associated with, or distracted by, the accidental gay balloon porn. Using humor as a defensive weapon was so successful at changing the mood of that day and uplifting the spirits of the clinic patrons, that Lon decided to reprise his winning strategy.
Aware that another siege was planned for last Wednesday, Lon ordered up a stork costume. One of FPHS’ most dedicated advocates for women, Tiffany Bredeck, a 25-year old University of Wisconsin premed student, volunteered for the undercover mission. Think of her as Sandra Fluke’s younger sister. Tiffany will tell you she wants to be a doctor, to work in neighborhoods where medical help is hard to find, but what her real dream is, is to join Doctors Without Borders and save the world. She is already the youngest member of FPHS’ board of directors, and was honored last year with an award for outstanding volunteerism. I found it of great interest that Tiffany is not only a Catholic, albeit a pro-choice one, she is a recent convert, drawn to the Jesuit message of charity, in spite of their treatment of women as second class citizens.
The plan was to take a page from the book of Ruth – “wither thou goest, I shall go” – and silently shadow the religious group – dressed as a stork. Did that make you smile? How better to counter the depressive message of the humorless protesters than with a friendly stork, the traditional bearer of babies? Instead of a sword, Tiffany carried a sign that read “No Surprises!” which cleverly piggybacked on the “end abortion” message of the Lifers. Even without the sign, the very sight of a bright happy stork amid the glowering men in their capes and sashes told the story: Want to end abortion? End surprise babies. Use birth control. These people have nothing for you but scorn and judgment. But come inside, we are here help you. And because Tiffany Bredeck has always been about helping people, she suited up for battle, and went courageously into the breach.
It has probably struck you by now that looking only at the big picture, the protesters and FPHS both have the same goal: to lessen the number of abortions. The protesters would say, “end” not “lessen”, but that is an impossible dream. Even if abortions once again become illegal, there will always be women desperate enough to seek one out, or do it herself. So while the protesters and FPHS seem to be on opposite sides of a thorny issue, it is really only their methods of reducing the abortion rate that are at odds. The FPHS wants to do it by educating women on how to plan their families, and by providing them with contraceptives. The Catholics want to do it by taking away the ability for a woman to legally terminate a pregnancy, and demanding abstinence be the only acceptable method of family planning.
40 Days For Life’s action plan for lowering the abortion rate hasn’t changed in all the years they have been coming to protest at FPHS. They host a host parade, circling the women’s heath center, sending up incense clouds and spritzing holy water. Then they settle in by the front door so that clinic patients have to endure their scrutiny while they hold a group pray-in to end abortion. I admit I am unclear as to whether they are asking for God to overturn Rowe, shut down the FPHS clinic, or to directly strike would-be abortion seekers with lightning bolts. Since in all the years they have been coming, none of those things has ever happened, it might not be out of line for me to observe that perhaps not many actual babies have been saved through the pomp and parade method. Of course, if they are looking to dissuade undecided women from having abortions, staging their protest at an actual abortion clinic could improve those numbers.
Unlike the 40 Days prayer parades, FPHS strategy for keeping women from seeking abortions is always being updated. Want to be prepared just in case? Come in and get the morning after pill to tuck in your medicine cabinet just to be safe. Need it right away? FPHS has an innovative emergency contraception protocol; an 800 number a woman can call 24/7 to talk to a nurse, or a nurse practitioner, who can give her the combination to a nearby lock box containing condoms and “Plan B.” There are 28 lock boxes around the state and the clinic is always looking for new locations. Tiffany Bredeck is one of the volunteers who prepares those emergency contraception packages. It is impossible to know how many unwanted pregnancies those packages prevented, or had they occurred, how many of those unwanted pregnancies would have ended in abortions, but I would bet my TV remote, the object I hold most dear in life, that the pro-choice stork who stood among the pro-life protesters last Wednesday has, by herself, stopped more abortions from happening than all of those praying paraders combined.
So today we salute Lon Newman, whose irrepressible sense of the outrageous once again bested the dour Catholics from 40 Days for Life in the messaging wars. And we hail Tiffany Bredeck, a new woman’s rights star on the horizon, who, as we retell the story of the Battle of Wausau 2013, will long be remembered as the stork who delivered.
Jean Ann Esselink is a straight friend to the gay community. Proud and loud Liberal. Closet writer of political fiction. Black sheep agnostic Democrat from a conservative Catholic family. Living in Northern Oakland County Michigan with Puck the Wonder Beagle.