The Satanic Versus...
by Chris Wright
On the D train heading out to Brookline, 8:30 a.m. on a Saturday. A relentless drizzle makes the day seem already weary. It's almost impossible to see through the trolley's windows, but a woman sitting opposite me gazes out anyway, watching Beacon Street blur by.
She is about 55, dressed in good clothes. Resting against her knee is a placard: an image of Jesus with his hand to his head, as if he's got an awful headache. In his other hand he holds a little fetus. The script reads, "The Agony of Abortion."
Not surprisingly, the woman gets off at the same stop I do, losing herself in a group of people who, for the most part, are as well dressed as she is. There are about a hundred of them, anti-abortion protesters staking out the Preterm family-planning clinic. You hear about how radical these people are, but a combination of the rain and being penned up by the Brookline police seems to have dampened their spirits. I had half expected army fatigues, bibles whistling through the air. Now I wouldn't be surprised if I heard a baaa. Seeping through the listlessness, though, as sure as the rain is creeping under those hoods and turned up collars, is a palpable anticipation. All of them are waiting for the same thing I am.
At about 9 a.m., it happens. The Reverend Chris Korda shows up with the Church of Euthanasia. A congregation of approximately 20, carrying placards with messages like FUCK BREEDING, SPERM-FREE CUNTS FOR THE EARTH, and FETUSES ARE FOR SCRAPING, and one huge banner reading EAT A QUEER FETUS FOR JESUS, begins to chant: "What do we want? Abortion! When do we want it? Now! Why? Because it tastes good."
These aren't your usual pro-choicers. The Church of Euthanasia has a single commandment: "Thou shall not procreate." Despite all the hyperbole and theatrics, Korda insists that the CoE is no joke. An Earth religion of sorts, the CoE advocates salvation through voluntary population control, thus the motto: "Save the Planet, Kill Yourself." Its platform rests on what it calls the Four Pillars: Suicide, Abortion, Cannibalism, and Sodomy. Just the kind of people Operation Rescue wants to deal with on a rainy Saturday.
Upon the CoE's arrival, the police tense up, directing the members into a pen of their own. The anti-abortion protesters begin a low chant, like a giant turbine humming to life. The words are inaudible, but they are clearly praying -- Humenumen ... Humenumen. A few bedraggled NOW members, with an air of bewilderment, stand and watch the whole thing unfold. The CoE breaks into song, the Monty Python standard: "Every sperm is sacred/Every sperm is great/If a sperm gets wasted/God gets quite irate."
There is a carnival atmosphere in the CoE camp; they certainly don't look like cannibals or baby killers. Other than the gender-bending Rev. Korda, who looks like an attractive version of Angelica Huston, and a man in a furry Ghengis Khan tunic with a boot on his head, the CoE members are remarkably unremarkable: Mass Art types, all white, mostly in their 20s -- the sort of people who might make garden sculptures out of scrap iron. This had been billed as a monumental clash between Good and Evil (with each side claiming Good Guy status), but the Operation Rescue crowd have been well coached; they studiously ignore these rowdy newcomers.
Just when things threaten to get soporific, a Preterm client arrives and is immediately rushed by a so-called "sidewalk counselor." Like a beggar, the protester shuffles alongside the woman, who is now surrounded by Preterm escorts: "Please be a mother to your child, honey," pleads the "counselor." In her hand she holds a color photograph of what appears to be chopped liver. I ask the woman what she thinks of the CoE, but she waves me away. Her face, though, hardened into a mask of anger, says it all. Gesturing towards the CoE, she hisses at the Preterm escorts, "These people represent the same thing as you. Very nice." The man in the furry suit dons a devil mask and approaches the woman. "I am the Devil," he says in ominous tones. "Do I scare you?"
A sidewalk counselor who will talk to me (and press glossy pamphlets into my hand) denies belonging to any organization other than the Catholic Church. She regards the CoE the way one might regard a wayward child. "They're absurd," she says. "They hate the Church. But they'll make the best Christians, because they've been through this. God overcame evil with love."
Toni Troop, the President of Boston NOW, says she approves of the CoE demonstration: "I hope it makes the police uncomfortable; I hope it makes Operation Rescue uncomfortable." When I ask her whether it might make women entering the clinic uncomfortable, Ms. Troop responds, "I think most women are focused on just getting in."
Jonathan, an eight-year veteran of NOW says that the CoE demonstration is "very entertaining. A nice parody of these [Operation Rescue] folks here. If it draws attention to the obnoxiousness of Operation Rescue I'm all for it." But the CoE's antics are more than parody or street theater.
Although Chris Korda admits that Operation Rescue -- "standing here like it's the 13th century, singing 'Ave Maria'" -- are "very susceptible to ridicule," he also says, "Operation Rescue's whole platform is built around coercion, trying to shame and disgust and intimidate. Well, we're not afraid to use their tactics. We can outsleaze and outdisgust them any day. We're here to seize the moral low ground." Meanwhile, a woman moves stoically up and down the sidewalk bearing large, dazzling pictures of mangled fetuses; perhaps the CoE has a way to go yet.
As the morning wears on, it becomes clear that the anti-abortion demonstrators are not going to rise to the CoE's bait. One young man, perhaps 20 years old, seems lost in an ecstatic trance; his eyes roll into the back of his head as he prays. ("He reminds me of Salvi," says Jonathan, referring to anti-abortionist John Salvi, who went on a murderous spree on this street a couple of years back.) But people generally seem quite relaxed, standing around in small groups, chatting as if they've just left church services. The police banter with one another. An old man with a crucifix clenched in his fist is confronted by the man in the devil mask, who says, "Ooh! It's me. . . . Are you scared?" The old guy laughs in spite of himself and says "God love you." The Devil responds by yelling into the crowd, "Don't forget to floss your teeth, watch more TV, drive your automobile everywhere," which draws more laughter. Otherwise, the antagonists almost seem to have forgotten each other's presence.
The demonstrations over, Korda leads her (he likes to be referred to in the feminine) people away: "Let's move out in formation please -- no straggling." The police dismantle barriers. The rain keeps on falling. An old woman dodders up and down the sidewalk where, minutes earlier, the Reverend Chris Korda had strutted. The woman says, half to me and half to herself, "I don't know where my friends are." It's September. A few days ago the air seemed fit to burst into flames, but now it's turned cold. The old woman wraps her raincoat around her as she leaves.