Talking To An Abortion Clinic Protester

I have never fundamentally disagreed with anyone I like more than Sarina Duvall.

Sarina is 24 years old. Everything about her is warm and friendly. She is also one of those people you see picketing outside abortion clinics.

When I messaged her on Facebook about my 100 Interviews project, I nervously assured her that, though I disagreed with what she was doing, I was open to hearing her out. She seemed delighted to oblige me.

Over coffee, she says, "We're not there to condemn women or to throw stones. We offer them prayer and counseling and advice and a hug. We say ‘God loves you.' We want to lift them up."

She grew up in a not particularly religious Catholic family; Sarina says her mother was a drinker who quoted the Bible and then swore in the same breath. Her father was absent. Teenage Sarina got heavily into alcohol, drugs, sexual promiscuity and bullying others on the streets. She was wildly unhappy. After a friend passed away in a car accident, Sarina's mother brought her to church, and a woman there asked if Sarina wanted to be "saved." She's never looked back.

She'd already had an inkling she opposed abortion, Sarina says, because her own mother was the product of a rape. Her grandmother was assaulted by two men and chose to keep the baby, which remained a family secret until Sarina's mother was an adult.

"I understand that you feel hurt, shame and disgust," she says. "A woman is just as important as her unborn child...It's a tough decision my grandmother made to go through that but it's not the kid's fault. Their life shouldn't be taken because of someone else's misdeed."

Sarina's mother, too, was pregnant with her and in the abortion clinic "with her feet in the stirrups" when Sarina says she felt God telling her not to do it.

"That's two generations of people that could have been aborted," Sarina says. "I'm living proof."

Sarina got married in 2008, and became pregnant almost immediately afterwards because she and her husband Eddy weren't comfortable with the idea of using contraceptives, especially the birth control pill. They felt they would be messing with ‘God's will.'

"Were you ready?" I ask.

"As ready as you can be at 23 years old," she says.

While pregnant, Sarina attended a Christian festival and spent time at an anti-abortion booth, fascinated by the pamphlets with babies being ripped apart. Later, a guest speaker came to her church to talk about protesting abortion clinics.

"My heart was so broken," she says. "But then, because I was also pregnant and full of hormones, I was broken to another level. It was God saying, ‘This is what I want you to do, to be a voice for these children.'"

I tell her the abortion protest videos I watched on Youtube disgusted me and she acknowledges that some of her fellow protesters use a more cruel and violent approach that she doesn't necessarily agree with.

"One [sign] said, ‘Babies Are Killed Here.' I don't disagree with the statement, but I don't know how warm and Christlike that is," Sarina purses her lips. "I just think you can be less vulgar. Jesus wouldn't put a sign in their face and say ‘Baby killer!'" She prefers to emulate a man, "he's maybe around 86 years old, and he goes out there every day and just loves on these people. So many women have decided not to just because someone said, ‘Someone loves you.'"

But she thinks it's okay to have more graphic images in the pamphlets. "It's just education. A lot of women go in and don't know what the doctor is doing...There's the saying, ‘If the womb had a window, no one would get an abortion."

"What if a doctor told you that you were going to die if you had the baby?" I ask.

"I really don't know," she says, turning her palms up on the table. "Me as a Christian having faith, I'd say I'd still have the child." She shrugs, "God is greater than that. And if I do go, I'll be bringing life into the world."

Her mother made the opposite decision. Having gotten pregnant at 42, she was told the baby, a girl, would be born with severe defects that would kill her after just two years. The doctor advised an abortion.

"She took the doctor's word," says Sarina, who was eleven at the time. "But what if? A lot of women are told they have no hope but then the baby lives.'"

"Look," I say, trying to be clear. "No one wants to be getting an abortion. They're not gleeful about it, you know? It seems to me like you guys don't get that."

"We do," Sarina replies. "The women always walk in there with their heads down. Only one time did a girl walk in with her head in the air, laughing in our faces. But I knew she was hurt. They lash out because they're hurt."

She tells me about a man wiping tears off of his face when he came outside of the clinic. Sarina's husband called out to the guy, "Jesus loves you. Choose life, your mom did!"

"He flipped out. He was cursing us out and threatening to bust our faces," she says. "I thought, ‘This guy is so hurt and that was how he reacted.' I just know he didn't want his girlfriend to have the abortion and we hit a sensitive part of him that caused him to retaliate."

I mention having noticed that most of the protesters against abortion, a women's health issue, are men.

"A lot of men, yeah," she says. "I think they're there because they had a partner who got an abortion when they didn't want her to."

I don't really get a clear answer out of her when I talk about abortion as a feminist issue. She indicates that she finds that concept to be a misdirection, when it should be about the children.

"They always think, ‘It'll ruin me, it'll affect my life'," she says. "Well, you shouldn't have laid down and done what you did. It's the farmer's principle, right? Reaping and sowing. You ‘made a mistake' and now let's just erase it really quick and act as if it never happened?"

If abortion were made illegal, wouldn't some women resort to desperate measures? "If they really have their heart set, they'll find another way to do that, I know," she says. "But it'd still take the rate down."

Gaby Dunn is a writer, journalist and comedian in New York City. Her writing has appeared in The Boston Globe, The Huffington Post, The New York Times Magazine and on Salon.com and TheDailyShow.com. Her web project, 100 Interviews, was named the Best Blog on Tumblr by the Village Voice in 2010. 100 Interviews, from which this article is adapted, chronicles a year she is spending interviewing 100 people unlike anyone she's ever met.