Commentary

Telephone Man

By Rachel Birdsell |

I don’t know Todd Stave, and, in fact, had never even heard of him until I read an article about him in the Washington Post, but I think I may have a tiny crush on him. Why this instant “heavy like” affair? Because Stave came up with a repayment of sorts that I think is quite clever and really strikes a nerve with my distorted sense of humor.

Stave is a landlord in Germantown, Md., and the building he owns is used as an abortion clinic. The clinic once belonged to his father; then was operated by his sister, so it’s been in the family for years. The clinic is also highly controversial because it provides late-term abortions. As you can imagine, the clinic gets its fair share of protesters. As you can also imagine, the protesters can get a little out of hand.

Stave has been protested consistently for the past couple of years. There is an ever-present assembly of protesters congregating outside the clinic with signs and photos of aborted fetuses. They sing songs, chant and probably pray a lot. Stave takes that in stride. He told Petula Dvorak of the Washington Post, how he felt about protesters: “They are protected by the First Amendment. And outside the clinic is probably the most appropriate place for them to express their views.”

Stave has also been patient when the protesters pass out fliers and hold signs with his personal information on it. This usually includes his name, address and phone number. In the fall of 2011, Stave’s protesters began going too far. On the first day of school, protesters showed up at his daughter’s middle school with signs in hand that displayed pictures of aborted fetuses. The signs also had Stave’s name and address emblazoned across them. They returned that night for back-to-school night. That’s when daddy got a wee bit irritated.

The harassment got worse. Stave started getting harassing phone calls at his home — dozens of them at all hours of the day with no signs of stopping. Stave decided that enough was enough, and that’s when he hatched his clever plan. He used caller ID to his advantage, and started taking down the names and numbers of the callers. Then he handed out that information to his friends and asked them to call the people back.

“In a very calm, very respectful voice, they said that the Stave family thanks you for your prayers,” Stave said. “They cannot terminate the lease, and they do not want to. They support women’s rights.”

What started with a handful of friends quickly grew into more than a thousand volunteers. This translated into the harassers potentially receiving 5,000 return phone calls a day. Stave was flooded with so many volunteers that he founded a group, Voice of Choice (vochoice.org). The group has approximately 3,000 volunteers who call on behalf of clinics across the country who are being harassed. But there has to be actual harassment going on, not just your run-of-the-mill protesting.

I’m looking forward to seeing what, if any, outcome will happen from all of this. Is it going to end up just being one big tit-for-tat bitchfest? I hope not. I’d like to see a healthy, civil dialogue started from this situation. I fear I wish for a lot.

But in my utopian world, we could all sit down and discuss abortion and reproduction like adults. Just think of how much we could accomplish, how much we could learn, and how much money we would save on our phone bills.

 

Rachel Birdsell is a freelance writer and artist. You can leave her a note at rabirdsell@gmail.com.

 

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