by William Trollinger
Last Saturday night, Sue and I were at the Hilton Netherland Plaza bar in Cincinnati. We fell in love this bar after our very first visit to the Creation Museum, and it remains our go-to stop after yet another visit to the museum or Ark Encounter (“Morgan [our favorite bartender], we need stiff drinks – please don’t tarry!”)
Despite the fact that it is very close to the Answers in Genesis sites, Hilton Netherland Plaza is an entirely other universe. As it is an urban bar with both a tourist and local clientele, the patrons are remarkably diverse, which means when we visit, we often end up in some very interesting conversations.
Take Saturday night, for example. Our first conversation – brief, because they had places to go – was with three very happy young people (festooned in rainbow apparel) who were downtown for Saturday’s Pride festival.
Then there was the much lengthier discussion with an African-American woman who was in town for the Christian Methodist Episcopal (CME) quadrennial meeting, which began Saturday morning. Over 5,000 delegates and their families came to Cincinnati for the convention, and many of them were staying at the Hilton.
It is hard to imagine a better-dressed or friendlier group of people than the CME folks.
And while they filled up the bar area, they tended to imbibe ice tea or water. But our delightful interlocutor, who talked to us about the CME (and its connection to the African Methodist Episcopal Church and the United Methodist Church), was not going to follow the denominational crowd: “My husband is a delegate, but I’m not, so I don’t care what anyone thinks: I’m going to have a cocktail!”
And so she did.
But our lengthiest and liveliest conversation came near the end of the evening, with two sweet middle-aged white women. It started as a standard bar chat. The woman who did most of the talking (I will call her Betty) asked where we were from, we said Dayton, and she said, “Oh, I am a University of Dayton (UD) graduate!” We told her we were UD professors, which led to a conversation as to how the school has changed (the area next to campus with UD student houses is now “the Neighborhood” instead of “the Ghetto”) and has not changed (the Neighborhood remains a lively scene).
Then for some reason – maybe because we are profs at her Catholic alma mater – Betty turned the conversation to the preceding day’s Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade. And she became quite emotional, saying over and over again that she could not understand how anyone could be in favor of ending the life of a fetus. But Betty didn’t say fetus. She kept saying “super cute baby.”
After listening to this for a little bit, Sue and I began to respond. “Pro-life” has to be more than pro-fetus. To be truly pro-life one has to be concerned with life after birth. To be truly pro-life is to recognize the link between poverty and abortion. To be truly pro-life is to fight for health care for all, fight for publicly-funded parental leave and childcare, fight to limit access to guns, fight to end capital punishment.
It was clear that our argument really upset Betty. (On the other hand, we could tell her friend – let’s call her Joan – was with us.) Betty didn’t want to hear all this; she kept coming back to the “super cute baby.” Sue responded by saying that Betty was stuck with a one-dimensional moral position. It was minimal. It was “a dot.”
Angered, Betty got up and, with Joan in tow, marched out of the bar.
As Sue and I sipped our wine and talked about this encounter, we agreed that – her dramatic departure notwithstanding – Betty was not a culture warrior who saw us as the Other, the Enemy. Instead, it was clear that she had never thought of pro-life as meaning more than protecting the life of the “super cute baby.”
Much of the blame for this, of course, lands at the feet of Christian Right leaders who have deliberately limited “pro-life” to “forced birth,” who absolutely do not want to see universal healthcare and childcare, and who do not want to see a significant increase in public funds going to “the least of these,” even if such funding would allow babies, children, teens and adults to live, even to thrive.
If we had seen this statement from the Vatican – which came out just hours before our conversation with Betty – we would have told her that the Catholic Church’s response to the overturning of Roe v. Wade has been to assert that “anti-abortion activists should be concerned other issues that can threaten life, such as easy access to guns, poverty, and rising maternity mortality rates” in the United States.
As we were preparing to pay our bar tab, we saw Betty and Joan come back into the bar, and toward us. I thought that perhaps Betty had some final words for us. Nope. It was hugs all around. And then they left.
How are we to understand this story? I don’t know. But it sure as hell is not the latest battle in the culture war.