‘Camping’ in a post-Roe era

“Camping” has long been a muddled term, describing everything from tents pitched on a sidewalk to hikers in the backcountry to pop-up trailers sitting side-by-side with six-figure motor coaches in an RV park. Then glamping came along, adding to the confusion by throwing teepees, yurts and faux-Conestoga wagons into the mix.

And now we can thank the the U.S. Supreme Court for really making a hash of things.

Go online and look for the “USA Camping Resource Center” and you won’t learn anything about water filters, s’mores or topo maps. You may, however, end up on the home page of a Facebook group created to “pool resources to make sure everyone who needs to go camping can do so in a safe way. We will serve as a hub to inform people about political actions and activities as well as direct people in need of camping to organizations that can help them. Please invite any friends who love to go camping.”

If that isn’t entirely clear, the page goes on to lay out a few ground rules, starting with “Don’t be a jerk, and don’t step on rights: This group supports the rights of an individual to choose whether or not they want to go camping. Any comments that minimize or are unsupportive of that right will result in an immediate ban. Civility is required at all times.” There are 10 rules altogether, including, notably, number seven: “We cannot give or receive medical advice. This includes recommending ‘natural’ or ‘alternative’ medicine, teas, etc. Do not promote DIY camping in any form!”

Getting the idea that maybe there’s more to this camping than meets the eye?

Indeed, the resource center’s more than 30,000 members are a testament to the fact that we now live in an Orwellian society in which people–in this case, pregnant women–have to worry about leaving potentially incriminating virtual footprints in their computers. Search terms like “abortion” or “pregnancy termination,” for instance, are now as problematic as “terrorist cookbook” or “ghost guns” in providing evidence of intent to commit a newly-defined crime. Better to use coded language, a modern-day take on such verbal sleight-of-hand as the Underground Railroad’s counsel to “follow the drinking gourd.”

In just the past week, a virtual explosion of posts on social media has offered to take people “camping.” The offers are made by people horrified by the overturning of Roe v. Wade and the attendant wave of state “trigger laws” criminalizing a medical procedure that had been legal for half a century–people wishing to extend a helping hand to suddenly isolated, desperate women who want or need to terminate their pregnancies. As encapsulated in one widely repeated post, “If you are a person who suddenly finds yourself with a need to go camping in another state friendly towards camping, just know that I will happily drive you, support you, and not talk about the camping trip to anyone ever.”

Not all abortion-rights supporters are happy with this development, worrying that offering to house strangers isn’t as helpful as connecting them with established abortion rights networks that have better training and resources. Planned Parenthood Toronto–where abortion remains legal–for example, is urging support for existing networks rather than creating new ones, warning that the ad hoc camping movement is susceptible to surveillance and infiltration.

“Real” campers–the ones who still think it’s all about getting out into nature–may likewise be unsettled by this turn of events, if only because of the confusion that may ensue for those who aren’t paying attention. But think of this version of camping as also putting us back in touch with nature–human nature. Human nature at its worst when it causes such fear, panic and desperation among the most vulnerable of us. And human nature at its best when it evokes such outpourings of support, love and solidarity.

Author: Andy Zipser

A former newspaper reporter who worked at a variety of newspapers, from small community weeklies to The Wall Street Journal, I finished my "normal" work life as the editor of The Guild Reporter, official publication of the union representing newspaper workers. On retiring, I and my wife bought a campground in the Shenandoah Valley and--with the help of our two daughters and their husbands--operated it for eight years, first as a KOA franchisee and then as an independent family-owned RV park. We sold the campground in May, 2021, and live in Staunton, Virginia, a short walk from our grandsons' home.

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