Defusing the F-Bomb and Other Verbal Weaponry

By Michele Hendrickson, SFLA Capitol Area Regional Coordinator

It’s that moment in good drama where you think you’ve got the plot figured out, and then an unforeseen character is introduced to change the whole ending.  Your reaction might be, “Well, I didn’t see that coming!  Now what?” and follow it with a huge handful of popcorn.

I had that moment occur this semester, but on a college campus hosting our Fetal Pain display.  We didn’t start our day thinking, “Let’s all get ready for the person who will set the record for number of vulgar comments shouted in under a minute,” but here’s how we closed the curtain on her performance…

In this story, our setting is your typical indoor common area on campus.  Students hurrying from one thing to the next, a unique aroma from the mix of international fast food options, and a line of tables taken over by clubs promoting their missions.  Our Mountaineers for Life club was among the masses and rapidly gaining attention with our medical diagram of a late-term abortion.

In an hour’s time we had collected over 30 signatures from students who agreed with banning abortions when the baby can feel pain.  Some comments from students included, “Well, I may still agree with some abortions, but I can’t support this procedure,” or “Wow, I had no idea something like this was even legal!”  Just as everything was winding down, enter Hostile Plot Twist stage right.

Now, I couldn’t get everything on video right away because my 3-year-old son Joel was with me and had stolen my phone to take selfies, (no joke), but here is the basic dialogue the first time she appeared:

Female Student: What the F—?  Are you serious?  You’ve got to be f—ing kidding me.  You’re really showing this?  What?

Me: Hello.

Female Student:  You’re kidding, right?

Me: I’m sorry, I’m going to have to ask for more explanation.

Female Student: You seriously believe this s—t?  You are promoting lies.  How are you allowed to have a f—ing table here?

Me: Our group is approved to be here.  What part of the display do you consider a lie?

Female Student: The whole f—ing thing.  You think that’s (points to fetal development models) what they look like?  It’s a f—ing fetus, not a baby.  And THAT (points to abortion diagram), that’s b—s—.

Me: (shows 3D ultrasound of a 3rd trimester fetus) This is an ultrasound of a fetus in the womb who would be subject to this late-term abortion procedure which happens legally in many states like Maryland and DC, unless the state has passed this ban which West Virginia has –

Female Student: (interrupts) No. (laughs) You’re f—ing ridiculous.  This doesn’t happen. You’re just messing with people’s emotions by showing this.

Her relentless banter continued for about 5 more minutes despite our efforts to address her concerns and hold her accountable for lacking evidence with her claims, but that’s enough of her for now.

Here are 4 key things the group and I did in order to discharge the situation.

  • Remain Calm – Don’t give into every signal your body is probably giving you to explode back at your attacker. You can keep your emotions in check and it’s so crucial that you do.  Although it’s unlikely that the person yelling is going to calm down and honestly listen to your side, don’t forget about the surrounding students taking in the scene.  You are now pitted against someone in what your audience considers a pro-lifer vs. pro-choicer scenario and everyone wants to see how this plays out.  One thing onlookers need to walk away with is an understanding that YOU were the mature person and the abortion advocate was the unreasonable loud-mouth.
  • Respond Intelligently – When doing a display, you must always be prepared with basic knowledge on typical push-back or challenges you might get from those who aren’t as educated on the issues. It should come as second nature to you to talk about fetal development, sources to cite, and current abortion laws so that you can speak truth confidently when challenged.  Notice none of her claims came with any evidence, she just kept dismissing ours.
  • Knowing When to END it – In this student’s first appearance, she stormed off. She later returned and, to her credit, attempted to have a calm conversation.  I quickly retrieved my phone from my son and began videoing in case I would need to record any threats or violence.  It took about 30 seconds for her to start yelling and cursing again, at which point I knew continuing the conversation was not fruitful.  I had to think of the other students who were being kept from the display due to her creating a toxic atmosphere, and of course my 3-year-old who was overhearing all of this!  I politely asked her to move on if she could not continue the conversation without cursing and yelling.  She did NOT like being dismissed… which leads us to tip #4.
  • Being Firm – Remaining calm, being prepared, and ending the conversation does not equate to retreating with your tail between your legs. Stand firm and confident displaying authority.  This is your space, your display, and your life-saving message you have to defend.  I learned a great trick in my years of being an Elementary School teacher when I had a defiant student act out in the middle of class and I thought applied nicely here. (Yes, I treated her like an 8-year-old, and it worked).  I simply repeated the direction I wanted her to follow, calmly and slowly.  “Mam, we’d appreciate it if you moved on from the display.  It’s clear you’re not ready to discuss this right now.” (she fires back a statement about not leaving) “Mam, we’d appreciate it if you moved on from the display.  Clearly, there are “little ears” here and I don’t want him hearing your curse words.” (She claims I brought him on purpose and that I deserve for him to hear her cursing) “Mam, we’d appreciate it if you moved on from the display.” (She left)  Notice, I could have easily taken her last statement personally, especially as a mother, and corrected her.  However, responding to her specific words would have only continued the dialogue further.  Repeating the same thing over and over took away her fire and left her with no new way to respond.  IF THAT FAILS – one member of your group should be prepared to call campus security for reinforcement.  There is no reason you should allow a person like that waste all of your valuable time.

And finally, we conclude our daytime drama with a surprise ending.

Because of her chaos, several students gathered around the display just to watch her.  A few of them approached the display and began asking us what we were actually doing.  I introduced myself to one young man asking, “Did you have a question or are you just hanging around because of the crazy person?”

He admitted he just stayed to watch her yell.

“Well, would you mind if I told you a little about what we’re doing here?”  I proceeded to walk him through the display and his mouth was actually gaping open.

“Wait… what is that?” he asked referring to the third picture on the diagram that shows the fetus’ internal organs being removed.

“Those are intestines.  A fetus in the womb develops internal organs as early as 8-10 weeks,” I informed him.

With a very heavy realization to what abortion actually did to a human, he managed to get out, “That’s… awful,” and quickly asked to sign the petition.

So, thank you Hostile Plot Twist for not only providing this exciting and educational blog post, but for getting this young man’s attention.  His views on abortion are forever changed because of you.