A few months ago, I decided I would put my reproductive rights rhetoric into some action and started looking into opportunities for clinic escorting and general volunteering in the arena of women’s health and rights. The Supreme Court is currently reviewing a case that challenges the buffer zones around abortion clinics on the grounds that it limits the First Amendment rights of plump grandmothers and other “sidewalk counselors.”
As has been documented on a few blogs, the term “sidewalk counselor” usually refers to the men and women who hold signs and shout at women to not “kill their baby.” Some can be extremely aggressive and the path to the front door of the clinic resembles a gauntlet. Clinic escorts are on the front lines of helping women obtain the legal medical care they are entitled to. The Twitter hashtag #protectthezone is a play-by-play of what’s happening outside of clinics on a daily basis.
The clinic where I began escorting sits on its own lot, so the protestors are limited to the sidewalk that runs about ten feet from the parking lot and front door. The Saturday when I escorted, there were maybe four protestors in total, but they constantly shouted, telling the clients walking to the front door that they didn’t have to go inside. That they would help them. My main job as an escort was to meet the client and her companion and ask if they wanted me to escort them to the front door and then talk with them and distract them from the shouts of the protestors on the sidewalk. Given that I have no shame and have a bad tendency to word vomit, I was able to keep talking up to the door. When they couldn’t get to the patients, they sometimes turned their attention onto me and the other escort; commenting on how the color of our escort bibs (red) are like the blood on our hands. The clinic has a strict non-engagement policy, so I didn’t acknowledge their presence and just continued about my business.
It was a quiet day since it was cold and rainy for the first part of the shift, which generally lasts two hours. The lobby was very crowded, so some of the partners or companions came outside for a smoke break and I got to talking with a few of them about general stuff. When I had an hour left on my shift, we got one more protestor. He was a preacher. Apparently he’s well known at the clinic and is generally a pain in the ass. He started trying to engage with the partners and generally made himself a pest. A couple of the men hanging outside talking started answering back and it was starting to escalate pretty fast. In my brief training, I was told that I should try and keep the peace as much as possible. Mainly that just meant distracting the partners and telling them that the opinions of one preacher doesn’t matter.
I decided that I am going to continue doing the clinic escorting as much as I can. This is especially important since the 40 Days of Life is starting in the next couple of weeks. Many clinics see an increase in protesters and the level of aggression, so the call has gone out for more clinic escorts. If you’d like to help out, check with your local Planned Parenthood or call your local abortion providers to see if they need volunteers. Just make sure you’re calling an abortion provider and not a crisis pregnancy center.