NECAC Forum: Fuller School, Gloucester, MA, April 25, 1986: “Pro-Choice” Activist Said She Agreed With Me 90 Percent, But …

John C. Rankin

(March 27, 2014)

On April 25, 1986, as director of the New England Christian Action Council (NECAC), I sponsored a public forum on abortion at a local school in Gloucester, Massachusetts. We distributed flyers citywide and in Rockport, Essex and Manchester as well. In my files, I have the photocopies of the maps of all the neighborhoods, and the names of those who distributed them door to door, and we marked out twenty districts. But I have yet to locate any copies of the actual flyer.

  1. Gloucester Stage Fort Park neighborhood: John A. 1,000.
  2. Gloucester, neighborhood adjacent inland: Mike P. 500.
  3. Gloucester, Lanesville/Folly Cove: Peter A. 500.
  4. Gloucester, Bayview: Kim N. 400.
  5. Gloucester, Riverdale Station: Wally A. 500.
  6. Gloucester, East Gloucester: Tom & Tammy S. 1,500.
  7. Rockport, Pigeon Cove: Virginia A. 400.
  8. Essex, whole town: David M. 700.
  9. Gloucester, Annisquam/Riverview: Barbara P. 500.
  10. Gloucester, Riverdale: Brooke B. 100.
  11. Gloucester, Riverdale: Tammy J. 100.
  12. Rockport, Sandy Bay Estates: Debbie H. 50+.
  13. Rockport, Folly Cove: Liz M. 200.
  14. Rockport, Whale Cove south: Mike P. 700.
  15. Rockport, Downtown/Bearskin Neck: Jim D. 700.
  16. Gloucester, West Gloucester: Ann C. 100.
  17. Manchester and Gloucester, rural portions, undone.
  18. Rockport, Folly Cove: Nancy H. 50.
  19. Rockport, Granite Pier: Lynda G. 50.
  20. Manchester, town, John A. 20.

Thus, some 8,000 homes received flyers for a population base of 40,000 people, my first public organizing effort. The Gloucester Daily Times sent no reporter to cover the forum, they who covered many a public meeting of a dozen people or so, and we had a turnout of 110. (I used to be a local sportswriter for them while in seminary). They did publish in a blurb in the Gloucester Daily Times: “The New England Christian Action Council is sponsoring a public forum entitled: ‘Abortion: A Collision of Two World Views,’ 7 p.m. in the Fuller School Auditorium. The film ‘The Silent Scream’ and a videotape of Planned Parenthood’s rebuttal will be shown. John Rankin, executive director of the New England Christian Action Council, will present a thesis “Definitions of the Abortion Controversy,” followed by a question and answer period. The forum is designed to encourage people of differing views to freely express themselves in an open and gracious environment. For further information, contact the Christian Action Council at 283-4675.” I had invited Planned Parenthood to send a representative for equal time, but they refused, so we constructed forum accordingly.

When I arrived at the school that evening, I was greeted by three women protesters with placards. They were not protesting me per se, but were protesting a pro-life initiative for the 1986 state ballot, which though I supported (it opposed taxpayer funded abortions), I was only marginally involved with the political campaign advancing it. And this initiative was not the advertised or actual substance of the forum that evening.

I approached the women, and invited them into the forum, and offered them equal time from the podium to address their concerns. One woman left, and the other two accepted my invitation but demurred to take the podium. So I gave them first shot at asking questions from the audience, and priority in the amount of time they wished for. One woman asked many questions, and we went back and forth for a good period. It was the highlight of the evening.

In her final statement, she said how she now agreed with me 90 percent on the subject, but still could not accept my opposition to abortion in the cases of rape and incest. (As well, my articulation concerning rape and incest was much less seasoned than it was later: click here and click here). My response was straightforward – if we have 90 percent agreement, let’s build on it and go from there.

I stated my belief, that if she agreed that much, then a patient examination of the basis for such an agreement would lead her to understand the consistency and compassion involved in saying no to human abortion in such instances. But I was not going to push the issue – I prayed that the seeds of truth she had accepted would bear fruit in due season.