Q & A Abortion

Talking to Men Who Are Clinic Escorts

Chanel Dubofsky

I decided to track down some cisgender men to find out what escorting has meant to them, and to better understand why they volunteer to wake up early and stand outside an abortion clinic for hours.

Recently, I was having a conversation with some other reproductive justice-inclined folks about cisgender men who are clinic escorts. Escorting, regardless of your gender, can be taxing. (It can also be powerful, rewarding, and beautiful.) You wake up early and stand outside an abortion clinic for hours. You may have to answer questions from people who are just walking by and want to know what’s happening, without knowing whether or not they’re going to be sympathetic. Anti-choice protestors will try to make your job harder via verbal or physical harassment.

For the most part, it is women who take on the job of escorting at clinics, but on occasion there are men. Generally speaking, in the abortion conversation, men are either providers, the partners of those getting abortions, or protestors. “I am constantly having to stop myself,” said MB, a female clinic escort, “from asking both the dude protestors and the dude escorts, what does this mean to you? Why are you here?”

I decided to track down some men who are clinic escorts to get answers to these questions. And I read their answers with this quote from Natalie, a clinic escort in Los Angeles, in mind: “Some cis male clinic escorts are great, and it’s an honor to volunteer with them. I think cis men who choose to get involved with clinic escorting have a responsibility to be conscious of what they bring to the dynamic. They have the power to present a male-inclusive feminism to patients, protesters, and passers-by, or to perpetuate the status quo.”

P is a 25-year-old data scientist who lives in Boston. He has escorted at a private clinic in Philadelphia and at a Planned Parenthood office in Boston.

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Rewire: Why did you decide to start escorting?

P: My girlfriend and I met in college. She had been a clinic escort with her mom before college and was continuing that before we started dating. She told stories about these crazy people who would protest, so after we started dating I was feeling like there was this remote possibility that something bad would happen to her while she was escorting, and if it did then I would feel terrible. So I started going along with her. It’s worth noting that she had been escorting by herself for a long time, so it wasn’t like I thought anything would happen. But I was appalled at the thought of not being there if something did happen. I also am pro-choice, but as in this paragraph, that was a bit of an afterthought.

Rewire: How do you think your identity as a cis man has affected your experience as an escort?

P: I think there was some extra special vitriol from anti-abortion protestors in some cases. One time I was volunteering in Philadelphia and there was this old white dude who was protesting, and he came up to me and started telling me how unmanly I was in various ways. The most memorable part was that he called me a “sissy bitch.” The clinic has a non-engagement policy for the volunteers, so I didn’t respond to him.

Rewire: What’s been the best part of escorting for you?

P: Like any kind of volunteering, it always feels good to have people express their gratitude. This wasn’t usually from patients so much, because they were usually pretty stressed out, but passers-by would sometimes say “Thanks for being here” or give thumbs up or whatever. That’s always nice.

Eric is 39 and works in high tech marketing. He escorted at the Summit Women’s Center in Bridgeport, Connecticut.

Rewire: What was your motivation to start escorting?

Eric: Some good friends of mine were organizing these escorts at a clinic in Bridgeport, about 40 minutes from where we were at college. I came from a family of activists, and I myself had participated in political and issue activism going back to middle school. I was eager for the opportunity to make a difference in individuals’ lives and experience life in the middle of the abortion conflict.

Rewire: How do you think your identity as a cis man has affected your experience as an escort?

Eric: We had some strict rules about how men could escort. Two escorts would walk with every woman, and at least one of them had to be a woman. But we also occasionally had other groups join us for escorting, and they didn’t abide by these rules, which annoyed me. I understood that these women were going through hard times, such as being told by a male-dominated society that they were murderers for making their own decisions about their bodies. So I respected our rules.

Harry Waksberg is a 25-year-old writer who volunteers at a clinic in Los Angeles.

Rewire: What was your motivation to start escorting?

Harry Waksberg: I’d been pro-choice forever, and I’d known about clinic escorts for a few years (I am 24 years old when this story takes place; I had never been to a clinic that had protesters and, while pro-choice, I was fairly uneducated about anti-choice activism), and had thought “I should do that” but then never did. Then I watched the documentary 12th and Delaware and was like “I have to do that.” (Side note: I got to meet Heidi Ewing once and told her that her movie made me want to clinic escort and she hugged me. Lifetime high.) So I Googled “Los Angeles clinic escort” and in two weeks I hit the sidewalk.

Rewire: How do you think your identity as a cis man has affected your experience as an escort?

HW: I think there are a few elements to this: a) As a cis man, I’m definitely more prone to being confrontational and so on, which are pretty bad traits for a clinic escort to have. I feel myself getting aggravated sometimes, and I worry that at times I’m not noticing I’m escalating situations instead of de-escalating them. I think this is a thing all cis men have to deal with, and it’s sort of a matter of doing your best to undo what society does to you. b) Antis constantly assume I’m in charge. It’s pretty silly, except for the way it isn’t. I am, at this point, a shift coordinator with L.A. for Choice, but on days when I’m not coordinating, antis yell at me in a different way than they yell at other escorts (I’m also tall and white; these are almost certainly factors). I have worked shifts where antis urged the coordinator herself not to follow me, that I was leading her astray. c) I understand that patients and employees at the clinic are going to be less comfortable with me, because for a lot of them (well, for a lot of women—well, for almost all women) men are the source of a lot of their problems. When I’m in the clinic, using the bathroom or grabbing a pro-choice clinic escort t-shirt for a volunteer, I try to be as unobtrusive as possible; I speak very quietly and I smile as often as I can. When offering to walk with women past the protesters, I check my tone of voice to make sure I’m as not-scary as possible.

Rewire: What’s been the best part of escorting for you?

HW: Clinic escorting is one of the absolute best parts of my life, no question. I think the best part is the escorts themselves. I’ve been escorting for a little over a year now, and the other clinic escorts are among my very closest friends in the world. It will come as no surprise to anyone that people willing to spend their Saturdays defending reproductive rights are some of the best people you’ll ever meet. And I’m biased, but our escorts in L.A. must be some of the best in the world. They are incredible people working hard to make the world better. I’m kind of tearing up right now.

Scott Goode is 46 years old and lives in Richmond, Virginia, where he is a database administrator. He escorted at Planned Parenthood in Charlotte, from 1994-1996, and since 1997 off and on at a private clinic in Richmond.

Rewire: What was your motivation to start escorting?

Scott Goode: I am a man who has been doing clinic escorting since 1994, when Paul Hill went on his murder spree in Florida. I had supported the cause before, but that incensed me enough to call Planned Parenthood in Charlotte and volunteer.

Rewire: How do you think your identity as a cis man has affected your experience as an escort?

SG: I think being a man … has a tendency to make the argument [outside of clinics] be only between men since the other side is usually males. There is also a tendency for me to try and be the “protector” which I realize is sexist. But I am a large guy, so I can appear threatening to the other side if I have to.

Ken, 49, escorted for four years at EMW Women’s Surgical Center in Louisville, Kentucky. He is a caregiver at a long-term care and rehabilitation facility.

Rewire: What was your motivation to start escorting?

Ken: At first, my motivation was to maintain the separation of church and state. I was not going to stand by and allow bullies to force their dogma on people. But as time has gone by and my eyes, heart, and head open to privilege and patriarchy, rape culture, and institutional misogyny, it is all too clear that the sidewalk in front of EMW is but one of the more vocal, visible fronts where this war is raging. It is one place to take a powerful stand in favor of equality. But chaos is the weapon of choice on that sidewalk, so to stay calm, focusing on the immediate need to support and create a space for empowerment for the client, is the best way to counter the chaos.

Rewire: How do you think your identity as a cis man has affected your experience as an escort?

Ken: As a middle-aged, middle-class white guy, I can often use my perceived authority with the antis to affect positive change. An FP (female presenting) escort and I are walking a client up to the clinic. Toward the door, things become crowded and compressed. My FP companion can scream, shout, holler, and spit for them not to block the entrance. They don’t budge. But a deeply toned “Watch behind you” parts them like Moses. Also, if we see someone acting crazier than usual for the sidewalk, I can approach the various sect leaders and ask that they watch this person or talk to that one or correct the behavior, and it is more likely to be well received and acted upon than if an FP does so. Interaction with most police officers also follow this same pattern. It is a place to use privilege to a positive advantage for the good of the collective. But in reality, a middle-aged, middle-class white dude is out of place in this arena. Orange vest or not, for two petite women of color on a strange street in a strange city, a six-foot man approaching causes pause. Whenever possible, in these situations, I hang back and follow the lead of one of my FP buddies. If no one is available, I have developed a toolkit—[wherein] I soften my shoulders and slump a little, I wear white mittens in winter, I don’t cover my face, I stop within earshot, but far enough [away] for comfort, I wave this goofy little Forrest Gump wave, I immediately identify who I am and why I am approaching—that works most of the time. I’m also scrutinized closely, because while the FP escorts live this battle every minute, I am a visitor to these troubles, and if I don’t “get it,” then I could do more harm than good.

Rewire: What’s been the best part of escorting for you?

Ken: I had the opportunity to accompany two other escorts to Bellevue, Nebraska, for a stand-off with Operation Rescue and Army of God at Dr. LeRoy Carhart’s clinic. I connected with activists from 17 states, many of whom I am still in contact with today. I have been escorting here in Louisville since March of 2009. Unlike any other type of activism or advocacy, escorting provides the opportunity to help those most in need immediately, concretely, thoroughly. The idea and ideals are clear-cut. The mission is straightforward, the goal—the clinic door—right in plain sight. As for personal gain, the best thing has been finding my “real” family—those folks with whom you can connect and sync with little or no effort, those you can go months without seeing and run into and be as comfortable as if you’d been sharing a hearth all winter. These are my people. And it only took me 45 years to find them!

Andy Bartalone lives in Maryland and has been escorting since 1994.

Rewire: What was your motivation to start escorting?

Andy Bartalone: I have always felt that choice is a woman’s decision, and the organized protest of that choice was wrong. In 1993, a friend told me that a local organization, the Washington Area Clinic Defense Task Force (WACDTF), needed volunteers. I came out for Roe v. Wade, and two weeks later the coordinator that I volunteered under called me and I escorted every weekend for the next seven years.

I have had a significantly broad set of experiences in escorting, and I am not sure it plays into my identity as a man. I am a feminist, have been for 30 years. When I was in undergrad (early 80s) … the escorting group local to me didn’t take men, and I accepted that. In the 90s, I met a group of folks escorting in the D.C. area (WACDTF), and I have been escorting with them since then.

Rewire: How do you think your identity as a cis man has affected your experience as an escort?

AB: Being male typically has put the antis on the defensive. They did not expect to see men on-site at clinics and they had issues with us (there were more men than just me). Being male (and large) I typically didn’t approach patients, but I have a ton of experience speaking to companions and re-enforcing what they do.

Dan Rudyk, 57, escorts at EMW Women’s Surgical Center in Louisville, Kentucky.

Rewire: What was your motivation to start escorting?

Dan Rudyk: My grandmother, my mother’s mother, died at the age of 32 in 1949, of complications from a back-alley abortion. With five daughters already, ranging in age from 16 to 4, and barely surviving on a milkman’s salary in a two-bedroom apartment, they couldn’t afford any more children. The price she and the family paid as a result of an unsafe, illegal abortion was devastating.

In addition, I’ve had the opportunity to be educated in the feminist perspective by my wife of 28 years. She is an excellent teacher and I happen to be a good listener. And lastly, I will always be grateful that abortions were legal in 1979, when my first wife got pregnant for the second time. Our relationship was already torturous. A second child would not only have made our lives more miserable, but the child’s life ultimately would have been worse. Our first and, thankfully, only child suffered terribly. Putting two children through that would have been abusive.

Rewire: How do you think your identity as a cis man has affected your experience as an escort?

DR: The Louisville clinic escorts have a list they call the Points of Unity. The ten statements in this list help to keep us all focused on why we’re there at the clinic and remind us of the best ways to accomplish our goals. There is one point I feel demonstrates the difference between the male and female experience of escorting: “Escort interactions with anti-choice protesters should be purposeful, focused, and calm.” As in most things, there is a spectrum of interpretations of this point of unity, and every escort falls in a place on that spectrum based on their personality, background, and life experiences. But speaking in general terms, the female escorts interpret that very strictly. They do not talk to protesters. They will not engage in conversations, they will not react to their comments, they will not acknowledge their presence if possible. They will address them only in dire circumstances when it cannot be avoided.

I, on the other hand, have purposeful, focused, and calm conversations with anti-choice protesters. Not all male escorts do this, but some do. Some men want to, but they hold back. The women don’t do it at all.

In conversations with my female cohorts, I’ve been told it’s because I’m not vested in the cause. It’s not personal to me because I will never personally need an abortion. The transgressions of these protesters will never be directed at me. The restrictions they want to impose will never affect me directly, only indirectly. Therefore, I can open myself to protesters in friendliness, accept their right to be there, their right to free speech, seek compromise in their approach, find common ground on which to negotiate. The women claim the protesters do not belong there. This is a private affair, none of their business. Any acknowledgement of their rights only encourages them to continue in their rudeness and offenses.

One morning several years ago, the first client I escorted that morning was a young woman who was probably about 19 years old. She was accompanied by a companion of the same age. She was very affected by the presence of the protesters. As we approached the door, the throng of protesters grew in density and intensity. I felt her hands and arms wrap around my arm, and with each step she drew herself closer to me. By the time we reached the door her face was buried in my shoulder and she was sobbing audibly. I was still rather new to escorting at the time. I’ll always wish I had held her hands with my free hand and comforted her with assurances that all would be OK. But I will always be glad that I was able to stand in as a surrogate father to this young woman whose actual father, for whatever reason, was not there when she needed him more than anything.

Rewire: What’s been the best part of escorting for you?

DR: I absolutely love and respect every one of my escort friends. This has been the best part of escorting for me. I have a wonderful community of very special, like-minded, impressively empowered friends. I have been an atheist for many years, but have missed the community of family and friends attending church provided for some. Now, going to the clinic on Saturday mornings is my church.

As in any community, we each offer something to the group in whatever way we are willing or able. While I may never carry or birth a child, I share the experience and the nurturing. We all have our role to play. The female escorts cannot and will not talk to protesters. I completely understand and respect that position. I can and do talk to protesters. I can’t make them go away, but I have reduced some tensions, and I’ve even influenced a few. I’ve shown some anti-abortion people that escorts are thoughtful and kind and loving. They may not have changed their minds about abortion, but some don’t come to protest anymore, and some have toned down their rhetoric.

As the interviews above show, men who escort can find community in the act of clinic escorting and in the sharing of an experience, while bringing their unique perspectives and strategies when interacting with anti-choice protestors, female clinic escorts, and those who need the services provided by the clinic. They have a variety of personal and political motivations, contexts, and understandings about the work and what it means to occupy a space of gender privilege, and how to be part of a movement for reproductive justice.

News Law and Policy

Three Crisis Pregnancy Centers Served for Breaking California Law

Nicole Knight Shine

The notices of violation issued this month mark the first time authorities anywhere in the state are enforcing the seven-month-old Reproductive Freedom, Accountability, Comprehensive Care, and Transparency (FACT) Act.

The Los Angeles City Attorney is warning three area fake clinics, commonly known as crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs), that they’re breaking a new state reproductive disclosure law and could face fines of $500 if they don’t comply.

The notices of violation issued this month mark the first time authorities anywhere in the state are enforcing the seven-month-old Reproductive Freedom, Accountability, Comprehensive Care, and Transparency (FACT) Act, advocates and the state Attorney General’s office indicate.

The office of City Attorney Mike Feuer served the notices on July 15 and July 18 to two unlicensed and one licensed clinic, a representative from the office told Rewire. The Los Angeles area facilities are Harbor Pregnancy Help Center, Los Angeles Pregnancy Services, and Pregnancy Counseling Center.

The law requires the state’s licensed pregnancy-related centers to display a brief statement with a number to call for access to free and low-cost birth control and abortion care, and for unlicensed centers to disclose that they are not medical facilities.

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“Our investigation revealed,” one of the letters from the city attorney warns, “that your facility failed to post the required onsite notice anywhere at your facility and that your facility failed to distribute the required notice either through a printed document or digitally.”

The centers have 30 days from the date of the letter to comply or face a $500 fine for an initial offense and $1,000 for subsequent violations.

“I think this is the first instance of a city attorney or any other authority enforcing the FACT Act, and we really admire City Attorney Mike Feuer for taking the lead,” Amy Everitt, state director of NARAL Pro-Choice California, told Rewire on Wednesday.

Feuer in May unveiled a campaign to crack down on violators, announcing that his office was “not going to wait” amid reports that some jurisdictions had chosen not to enforce the law while five separate court challenges brought by multiple fake clinics are pending.

Federal and state courts have denied requests to temporarily block the law, although appeals are pending before U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

In April, Rebecca Plevin of the local NPR affiliate KPCC found that six of eight area fake clinics were defying the FACT Act.

Although firm numbers are hard to come by, around 25 fake clinics, or CPCs, operate in Los Angeles County, according to estimates from a representative of NARAL Pro-Choice California. There are upwards of 1,200 CPCs across the country, according to their own accounting.

Last week, Rewire paid visits to the three violators: Harbor Pregnancy Help Center, Los Angeles Pregnancy Services, and Pregnancy Counseling Center.

Christie Kwan, a nurse manager at Pregnancy Counseling Center, declined to discuss the clinic’s noncompliance, but described their opposition to the state law as a “First Amendment concern.”

All three centers referred questions to their legal counsel, Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), an Arizona-based nonprofit and frequent defender of discriminatory “religious liberty” laws.

Matt Bowman, senior counsel with ADF, said in an email to Rewire that forcing faith-based clinics to “communicate messages or promote ideas they disagree with, especially on life-and-death issues like abortion,” violates their “core beliefs” and threatens their free speech rights.

“The First Amendment protects all Americans, including pro-life people, from being targeted by a government conspiring with pro-abortion activists,” Bowman said.

Rewire found that some clinics are following the law. Claris Health, which was contacted as part of Feuer’s enforcement campaign in May, includes the public notice with patient intake forms, where it’s translated into more than a dozen languages, CEO Talitha Phillips said in an email to Rewire.

Open Arms Pregnancy Center in the San Fernando Valley has posted the public notice in the waiting room.

“To us, it’s a non-issue,” Debi Harvey, the center’s executive director, told Rewire. “We don’t provide abortion, we’re an abortion-alternative organization, we’re very clear on that. But we educate on all options.”

Even so, reports of deceit by 91 percent of fake clinics surveyed by NARAL Pro-Choice California helped spur the passage of the FACT Act last October. Until recently, a person who Googled “abortion clinic” might be directed to a fake clinic, or CPC.

Oakland last week became the second U.S. city to ban false advertising by facilities that city leaders described as “fronts for anti-abortion activists.” San Francisco passed a similar ordinance in 2011.

News Politics

NARAL President Tells Her Abortion Story at the Democratic National Convention

Ally Boguhn

Though reproductive rights and health have been discussed by both Democratic Party presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) while on the campaign trail, Democrats have come under fire for failing to ask about abortion care during the party’s debates.

Read more of our coverage of the Democratic National Convention here.

Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, told the story of her abortion on the stage of the Democratic National Convention (DNC) Wednesday evening in Philadelphia.

“Texas women are tough. We approach challenges with clear eyes and full hearts. To succeed in life, all we need are the tools, the trust, and the chance to chart our own path,” Hogue told the crowd on the third night of the party’s convention. “I was fortunate enough to have these things when I found out I was pregnant years ago. I wanted a family, but it was the wrong time.”

“I made the decision that was best for me — to have an abortion — and to get compassionate care at a clinic in my own community,” she continued. “Now, years later, my husband and I are parents to two incredible children.”

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Hogue noted that her experience is similar to those of women nationwide.

“About one in three American women have abortions by the age of 45, and the majority are mothers just trying to take care of the families they already have,” she said. “You see, it’s not as simple as bad girls get abortions and good girls have families. We are the same women at different times in our lives — each making decisions that are the best for us.”

As reported by Yahoo News, “Asked if she was the first to have spoken at a Democratic National Convention about having had an abortion for reasons other than a medical crisis, Hogue replied, ‘As far as I know.'”

Planned Parenthood Federation of America President Cecile Richards on Tuesday night was the first speaker at the DNC in Philadelphia to say the word “abortion” on stage, according to Vox’s Emily Crockett. 

Richards’ use of the word abortion was deliberate, and saying the word helps address the stigma that surrounds it, Planned Parenthood Action Fund’s Vice President of Communication Mary Alice Carter said in an interview with ThinkProgress. 

“When we talk about reproductive health, we talk about the full range of reproductive health, and that includes access to abortion. So we’re very deliberate in saying we stand up for a woman’s right to access an abortion,” Carter said.

“There is so much stigma around abortion and so many people that sit in shame and don’t talk about their abortion, and so it’s very important to have the head of Planned Parenthood say ‘abortion,’ it’s very important for any woman who’s had an abortion to say ‘abortion,’ and it’s important for us to start sharing those stories and start bringing it out of the shadows and recognizing that it’s a normal experience,” she added.

Though reproductive rights and health have been discussed by both Democratic Party presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) while on the campaign trail, Democrats have come under fire for failing to ask about abortion care during the party’s debates. In April, Clinton called out moderators for failing to ask “about a woman’s right to make her own decisions about reproductive health care” over the course of eight debates—though she did not use the term abortion in her condemnation.