This piece originally appeared on ClinicEscort’s Blog, At the Clinic.
Last Saturday, I spent my morning in the company of nearly two dozen
lurkers, skulkers, stalkers, harassers, and creeps… and I can’t wait
to do it again.
I am a volunteer abortion clinic escort.
This means I am there to walk
with women coming into the abortion clinic. It’s usually no more than a
minute’s walk from their cars to the front door of the clinic.
Appreciate our work?
Vote now! And help Rewire earn a bigger grant from CREDO:
normal circumstances, my help would hardly be needed. Except the
circumstances outside an abortion clinic are rarely "normal."
Every day that our doors are open to women seeking abortions, the
sidewalk in front of our clinic is occupied by people who do anything
they think they can get away with to try to keep those women from going
inside. These protesters are, by and large, a sideshow of the crazy and
the scary and the totally lacking in people skills.
The highlight of my
most recent Saturday morning was the offense taken by one of the
regular protesters at the sight of me and a client talking and laughing
together as we walked. This protester lifted her bullhorn and screeched
into it, over all the other shouting from her compadres: "These ladies
are not your friends! They’re your enemies! They want to sell your baby
for parts AND MAKE THEM INTO SHAMPOO!"
Yes, she did. While wearing a sign reading "PRO-LIFE IS PRO-WOMEN: WE CARE," no less.
Along with the bullhorning and the screeching and the embryo shampoo
conspiracy, our protesters carry some really big, really ugly signs.
You know the ones. They’re not designed to appeal to one’s conscience
or to offer support in one’s time of need; they’re designed to shock
and traumatize via the instinctive human revulsion to gore. So far,
they haven’t taken me up on my suggestion to blow up photos of fresh
roadkill as an alternative. Same revulsion factor, 100% more respect
for the "human lives" they say their photos represent.
For some women, then, those sixty seconds are a nightmare. Well before
they arrive in their cars, they’re afraid of that walk. They’ve been
worrying about it, steeling themselves. They don’t know what they’re
walking into, but they’re imagining a worst-case scenario. You can tell
by how they’ll busily step from their cars, shuffling keys and bags or
talking very loudly to their companions so as to plausibly ignore you,
or pop up from behind the wheel with the words "You need to leave us
alone right now" already out of their mouths, before they see you
quietly standing and pointing to the word "ESCORT" emblazoned across
your neon orange vest. You can tell from the plain relief that floods
their eyes when they realize who you are and why you’re there. You can
tell from the haste with which they apologize for their perfectly
understandable mistake, and from the emphatic way they say "thank you"
as you open the door for them at the end of that long, long walk.
We do have a very few regulars who come to our clinic to stand in quiet
prayer with some brochures to be gently offered, not angrily
brandished. And we think of these folks as no threat: if it happens
that they are the only protesters on site, we’re happy to leave them to
it without any supervision from us.
That’s pretty rare, however. These
rather more Christlike Christians are vastly outnumbered by those who
call bullying "counseling" and intimidation "outreach." I’m able to
laugh at things like the zygote curling mousse plot because it’s just so dumb.
But for our clients who don’t hang out with these people every weekend,
who aren’t used to getting screamed at on the street by strangers, who
are just trying to go to the doctor’s office for Pete’s sake (and does
it matter if a client is just getting a Pap smear or is gray-haired or
is the mailman? no, no it does not), it’s not funny at all. It’s just
For a nation that claims to cherish its freedoms, America is pretty
damned complacent about the harassment that goes on outside abortion
clinics. Imagine this circus outside of dentist’s offices instead.
Imagine what it would feel like, having to endure being called a whore
and a killer on your way in to have a bad tooth pulled. Maybe they’d
throw little plastic teeth at you; maybe they’d even take your
photograph on the way in. People wouldn’t stand for it: I have the
right to choose my own dental care, they’d say. Who do these people
think they are? And even if I were the smallest bit unsure about the
choice I’d made, even if some part of me wanted to be talked into a
filling and not an extraction–why in god’s name would some hostile,
red-faced, screaming stranger get a vote?
Maybe there’s an element of trolling to that analogy. I could write the
outraged top-text for an email forward of this blog myself. "Can you
believe it! A LIVING, ALMOST-BREATHING CHILD who will PROBABLY CURE
CANCER SOMDAY is nothing more than a ROTTED MOLAR to this BARREN
Feel free to copy/paste–but if you do, you’re
missing the point. Bullying never won any hearts or minds, and
harassment or intimidation of private citizens going about their
private lives is never, never, never a
tool for good. There is no place for such tactics of fear in civil
discourse, and no one who employs them can be truly called a warrior
for good, no matter what they tell themselves while they’re packing their bullhorn and their gore posters into the car every morning.
I can’t make the protesters who camp out in front of my clinic in the
mornings go away. I can’t even make them behave like rational,
responsible citizens. But I can make sure that the women (and men, and
children) who walk into my clinic don’t have to run that obstacle
course alone, and I believe I can assuage some of their fear. I can
shield them physically from shouts and eyes and cameras. I can assure
by my presence as a witness that the protesters don’t "forget" where
the property line is. And I can be one voice of supportive reason,
quiet but strong, in opposition to the shouting about the blastocyst
deep conditioning cabal:
"I’m a volunteer with the clinic. We have some protesters out front
who will try to shout at you. They don’t know why you’re here, but
they’re going to shout at you anyway. You don’t have to listen to them.
I can just walk alongside and keep myself between them and you. I’m
sorry you have to deal with this today."
Their fear is why I escort. Their gratitude is why I keep coming back.