During her shift at Portland, Oregon’s Purringtons Cat Lounge on Sunday, Mary Numair looked out the street-facing windows and saw a woman carrying a sign that read “Abortion Kills Children.” Numair had noticed a group of protesters about a block away, gathered outside one of Portland’s Planned Parenthood health care centers. “I thought [the woman] might be lost. I said, ‘Hey, you’re gonna feel real silly. The protest is down that way,’ ” Numair, 29, told me. “She said ‘No, I need to stand here.’ I said, ‘Fuck this shit,’ went back inside, and started making my sign.”
The sign, which Numair crafted out of masking tape and a piece of cardboard from the dumpster, praised Planned Parenthood for treating her chronic yeast infections when she was in her early 20s and uninsured. It also included a delightful cartoon of a vagina with a smiling clitoris and a stick figure with pigtails and prominent breasts (above).
Numair’s best friend and co-worker clocked in early so she could head out to the protest, where she planted herself between two families with children. “In my first 30 seconds of walking out there, I did get called a whore,” Numair said. “One woman was shaking her head. I knelt down to her kid and said, ‘Do you know about yeast infections?’ ”
Onlookers gave Numair the thumbs-up, and some passing cars honked in support, but she was the only counter-protester on the scene. Still, with a spontaneous chant, she managed to break up the protest in under a half-hour. “I don’t know why I started chanting ‘Yeast infections!’ but it just came out. I have this cold, so it was just this obnoxious squeak, cheerleader-like. And I started doing high kicks, which I don’t normally do, in my skinny jeans.” A religious leader was guiding a circle of protestors in prayers for Numair—but as her chants got louder and more grating, they stopped.
Before Obamacare, Numair says, her pre-existing health conditions made health insurance all but impossible to secure. The Planned Parenthood near her home in Everett, Washington, was her source for birth control, condoms, and prescription medication for yeast infections that didn’t respond to over-the-counter creams. “They’re also the ones who so graciously informed me, after I freaked out after losing my virginity, that I had a latex allergy and there was no reason to panic,” she said. “They do so much beyond abortions. I’m very much pro-choice, but if you want to take it beyond pro-choice and pro-life, there are … all these other things that are uncomfortable to talk about and [get treated if] you don’t want to wait two weeks to see your primary doctor or you don’t have health insurance.”
Numair has never seen protestors at this Planned Parenthood location before, but she thinks the recent right-wing hype around fetal tissue donation and congressional hearings might have given anti-choice activists a new lease on life. “The group last night felt that they were on the winning side of a battle for the first time,” she said. “There was this arrogance and sense of victory—they knew that the defunding is very possible and they have Congress at a standstill.”
Though her yeast-infection story is deeply personal, Numair thinks her strategy—chanting reproductive-health terms that embarrass anti-choice protestors—is replicable for other counter-protesters around the country. “I did look at the preacher-pastor guy and said, ‘See you next time!’ and I intend on sticking to that,” she said. She plans on making a bigger sign, too, and perhaps a few props. “If someone wants to help me make a giant wooden labia, that would be great.”