Nouveau Womb

Hip pro-lifers hope to catch a new wave of recruits.

Fahrenheit 216 Professor Street, Tremont 216-781-8858. Hours, Monday through Saturday, 5 p.m. to 1 a.m.
Back in black: Resistor Megan Wilson. - Walter  Novak
Back in black: Resistor Megan Wilson.
At her last anti-abortion rally, Megan Wilson really wanted to give one of her fellow protesters a good whack upside the head with her pro-life placard. All his screaming and carrying on were giving her a killer migraine.

There she was, looking fine in a black leather jacket and cat-eye shades, and this social misfit had to ruin the party by waving his dead-fetus posters at passersby on their lunch hour. How uncool is that?

She decided to confront him. "I said, ever since before I was born, there has been no change made in the abortion debate. And that maybe we should try something different." Something that didn't scream "middle-aged Christian conservative."

A 22-year-old bisexual who just graduated from Baldwin-Wallace College, Wilson wants to update the image of the pro-life movement, which is about as hip as a can of creamed corn. Blocking clinics and telling women they're gonna burn in hell brought her elders lots of attention, but it apparently didn't work wonders for the membership rolls.

"I was very reluctant about even being in contact with mainstream pro-lifers, even though I am pro-life," says Wilson, a professed button-pusher who once decorated her dorm-room door with conflicting conservative and liberal bumper stickers. "I didn't want to be associated with those right-wingers. All they do is turn people off."

So earlier this year, she helped start Human Rights Youth Resistance, an Ohio pro-life group for people who hadn't even achieved unborn status during the original battle over abortion. Rather than wielding bloody pictures, the "Resistors" wave a leftist banner against globalization and corporate greed.

They have one main villain: Planned Parenthood, the largest abortion provider in the United States. Planned Parenthood, they claim, gets rich off inner-city and Third World women by pushing them to have abortions.

"Abortion has become an institution -- a profitable institution," says Wilson, who earned some disapproving glares when she led both the gay-straight alliance and the pro-life group at Baldwin-Wallace. "Young people have to fight that corporate mentality."

Unlike MTV or Coke, however, Planned Parenthood is a nonprofit. No stockholders or CEOs are buying palatial Palm Beach estates with the 400 bucks each woman pays for the procedure. Meanwhile, certified corporate thugs like Enron and WorldCom won't be on the Resistors' hit list, because abortion is their main concern.

"It's awful when people lose their jobs or their 401Ks get drained by some dishonest flunky on the board of directors somewhere," says Alo Konsen, a 30-year-old who is practically the Resistors' resident old man. "But we've gotta attack the most important issue first. And it's more important to deal with life and death than jobs and money."

Wilson readily admits her group is trying to co-opt some of her enemy's clout with Generations X and Y. "There's no question that Planned Parenthood has the support of young people," she says. "They have a hip image. They've done great work in PR."

Rachel Schuelter, a 25-year-old Resistor who spent last year volunteering on an Indian reservation, says that during her college days, pro-lifers were forever being relegated to the geek table in the cafeteria. Forget about hanging out with other feminists or scoring a date with the cute skateboarder in Shakespeare class. "You have musicians like Ani DiFranco and different actors and actresses that have made pro-choice the cool thing," she laments.

To up their coolness quotient, the Resistors recently staged a demonstration that had a decidedly goth feel, with a dash of '60s peaceful protest. Dressed all in black, they gathered around a coffin and built a "Wall of Sorrow" from bricks inscribed with ominous messages about abortion's effect on women.

Besides Wilson and Schuelter, the 20 or so Resistors include a practicing Buddhist and a couple of high school and college students who don't necessarily want to outlaw abortion -- they just want what they call "the Wal-Mart of the abortion industry" to let smaller local clinics take over the procedure. (The logic gets a little fuzzy here, Wal-Mart being a retail giant that won't carry the morning-after pill.)

Though some Resistors vote Democrat and identify as liberal, the group's views actually sound pretty far right. Wilson and Schuelter are against giving women birth control pills for any reason, for fear they'd be used as emergency morning-after drugs. They tout the virtues of pregnancy crisis centers, where women are "counseled" to carry babies to term.

Planned Parenthood spokeswoman Kari Elsila says she's not familiar with the Resistors. "As far as targeting young people by trying to appeal to their sense of rebellion, I haven't heard of any right-to-life group that specifically does that."

In Cleveland, only 1 of 30 women who visits Planned Parenthood is there for an abortion, Elsila says. The rest come for prenatal care, pregnancy tests, HIV tests, annual exams, and contraceptives. "Abortion is not a commodity that we offer to women. It's one option of many that women have regarding their pregnancy and freedom."

Elsila sees both sides being hard up in the youth department. "The younger women who've grown up after Roe v. Wade aren't cognizant of the struggle that came before. They're harder to get, because the sense of crisis isn't there."

Especially without the use of a bloody sign. The next time Wilson sees one, she's not going to freak out. She probably dealt with that old-school pro-lifer much too harshly, she says in retrospect. "But I was really angry to see him there, because I felt that he was getting in the way of the effectiveness of our message."

Once she gets him to give up the sign, maybe she can start working on his fashion sense.

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