I look at my phone, It is 6:00am and the alarm is blaring. Sleepily, I rush to turn off the ungodly noise usually reserved for weekdays. My eyes struggle to adjust to the low light and I force my body out of my warm, comfortable bed. It is Saturday morning and instead of sleeping in, I am getting up earlier than I ever need to.
“Why, WHY, do I do this to myself…?”
What I have learned since becoming a Pro-Choice escort is that abortions and accompanying procedures and appointment happen really early on weekends, like really freaking early. When most 9-5 office workers are sleeping in from the busy work week, abortion clinics prepare for some of their busiest time.
Like many people, I was moved to become an escort after Massachusetts. My ten months of experiences, and I have experienced A LOT, are so tiny minuscule compared to escorts that have been doing this years. Some have dedicated ten, twenty years’ worth of Saturday morning sleeping in time to escorting.
I attended training last summer before escorting at my local clinic. One of the first things we were told was that there was probably an “Anti,” or Pro-Life protestor, present in the room. It was a chilling admission. I remember looking carefully around the room, attempting to spot who the undercover agent was. Surely it wasn’t the young girl, proudly sporting a, “Notorious RBG,” graphic tee sitting a few seats from me. Could it be the muscular, “man’s man” sitting across the room? The idea that within what I assumed was a safe space was somehow being infiltrated by contrasting and insidious intentions left me feeling uncomfortable and cautious.
While unsettled, I marveled at the sheer amount of diversity in the room. There were a number of women with huge pregnant and ready to burst bellies present. There were also a lot of men. Despite the looming prospect of a lone dissenter, it encouraged me to see people of all shapes, sizes, ages, backgrounds, with a shared interest. We were all connected in some way.
We learned about our role and the history of clinic escorts. The trainer told us horror stories about escorts being slashed in the back of the leg by Anti’s, or how Anti’s would chain themselves to the doors of clinics. Some even had attempted to bomb clinics. Although things have significantly “cooled,” down since then, we still practiced making human walls of interlocking arms and using our bodies as shell-like shields around patients. I left with a huge appreciation for those that escorted years ago. They really did put their safety and lives on the line in a way that I knew I wouldn't have to. I honestly don’t know if I would have been brave enough.
When I arrive at the clinic to it is still dark outside. The skies have begun their move from a pitch black to a dark grey. Only a few cars make their way down the street. I sit in my car and enjoy my coffee.
Arriving to the clinic alone is always a little nerve wracking. It is usually eerily quiet. I find myself looking around constantly for anyone walking around or driving up. Sure enough, I see a familiar car park across the street and an older man making his way slowly out of the car.
“Here we go,” I think to myself as I get out of my car and walk into the clinic as quickly as possible.
I walk in and am met by another escort. We pull the neon orange jersey vests emblazoned with, “Pro-Choice Clinic escort,” over our clothes. In the winter time, the vests go over puffy jackets and we look like orange tents. These differentiate us from the protesters so that when patients come in, they can easily tell us apart.
Outside, I can already see the first Anti pacing up and down the sidewalk. His is frantically waving his sign up and down. At our particular clinic, protesters must stick to the sidewalk outside of the building. This provides a small, but appreciative buffer zone from the protesters, the escorts, and the patients.
This particular protester is one of our regulars. Typically the first to arrive, he has been here every single time I have escorted and I hear he has been coming for years. This older man is fond of yelling at just about anyone walking into the building, while recycling his list of about ten phrases, and running up and down the sidewalk at approaching cars and people. The clinic is just one of many offices in the larger building yet this protester will yell at just about anybody.
“Don’t make a decision… that will haunt you… for the REST … of your LIFE,” is one of his most used lines. He emphasizes each part so specifically and melodically as he has said it hundreds of times.
Anti’s like this man and his cadre of mostly other old men opt to screaming at patients – devoid of logic, they think that harassment is an effective method for ending abortion. The second a car pulls up to the clinic, they run up to it and begin yelling, some even block the entrance, forcing people to roll down their window to ask them to move. They wave digitally altered pictures of mutilated bodies and homemade signs with mismatched fonts. These protestors aren’t shy who they yell at, it could be an obviously nervous young girl or a mom coming in with her children. Proudly, they hold their shocking signs in front of the scared children while screaming into their face.
Some will throw pamphlets with, “information,” inside or hand them to people approaching the clinic. I saw an escort once get handed a pamphlet by a patient who had reluctantly accepted it from an anti, only to get accused for stealing the anti’s property (the pamphlet). Protestors grasp at straws for anything that they can call illegal. Such as running into escorts and calling it assault or claiming that the squirrel running next to the building is a rat infestation. For this reason, escorts are always in pairs to provide witness if anything crazy should occur.
“Don’t go in there, it’s not safe, they failed inspection!” Is one line I hear a lot and I’m not sure where it comes from.
I’ve seen protestors wear cameras on themselves. Is it to record everyone that walks into the clinic, or to capture escorts? I don’t know, but I do know that it is without consent. I’m not sure of the legality of doing this. Some keep large binders in which they carefully write throughout the morning. They could be writing descriptions on patients or escorts, or something more deceptive like writing license plate numbers down.
Occasionally, we are graced with the presence of an old, white van which has been repurposed as a portable “Medical Clinic.” With big signs, it advertises free ultrasounds and medical counseling. The person who drives it is not a doctor or medical professional.
The other kind of protestor I have seen are the prayers, who come and pace the buffer zone with their rosaries, praying out loud, and occasionally flicking holy water. These folks won’t scream at patients and in contrast to the yellers, they protest in relative silence. Many come and pace up and down the sidewalk for a few minutes saying prayers and clutching rosaries before leaving with a smug look on their face. They did their good dead for the month. I actually don’t mind these protestors because in contrast to the yellers, they don’t openly harass. Yet the way I see it, if you truly believe prayer to be effective, than you could do it at home or in your church. I believe it works that way.
The yelling antis will hurl bait at you hoping to get you to upset enough to engage with them. The truth is that every escort handles them differently. Some experienced escorts will “fall” for their bait in a clever attempt to draw their attention away from patients going into the clinic. Others will simply never engage, which I am fond of doing myself. I’ve seen escorts try to reason with protesters and they fall back on the same illogical circles.
“Abortion is killing, you are killing innocent children”
The argument begins and ends on this point with Anti’s every single time.
The ignorance of Anti’s extends to others areas than just abortion. In particular, one protestor has recently become fond of calling all of the escorts, Muslims. As if I we would consider this an insult. I was told by one of the more experienced escorts, that years ago the same protestor would yell at the escorts, calling them lesbians.
“Nazi death squad! “and “Hitler youth,” are other things we are called frequently.
The truth is, I would love to have a discussion with an Anti that did not get immediately elevated to,
“You support killing babies.”
No, that’s not what I support. On a really basic level, I support safe healthcare and open access to that care. This means that abortion should remain legal and accessible.
I would love to ask an anti, “If abortion were made illegal tomorrow, do you think that people would automatically stop getting them?” The answer is no, women would still seek abortions as long as they are having unwanted pregnancies. On the other end, those women who have wanted pregnancies with extreme complications would not get the healthcare they deserve. It’s more complicated than just supporting “killing babies.”
They claim that they are acting as sidewalk counselors. I have never known a counselor that screamed at me, videotaped me without consent, took my plates and information down like a criminal, scared my children, or lied so directly to me. It is not counseling in any way. If this is what protesters think is counseling, I hope to never see within their personal lives.
What I see is hearts that are full of hate or people that are told how to believe. I know that every protester has rationalized their place and I try to empathize with that. If I were told by my church that there was baby murder happening and it was my job to stop it, I can see how people would take up that cause. The thing is, it is a much more complicated issue than that. I would also question my churches insistence on focusing on this issue as opposed to the host of other problems that could be addressed, like financial corruption and the covering up of child molestation done by priests.
I would love to see them supporting comprehensive sex education that would lead to less unwanted pregnancies or advocating for increased birth control or something… take your pick at what works.
I would love to see protesters adopting children.
I would love to see a lot of things that aren’t happening.
And I would love to see a lot of things stop happening – I want all of the protestors to wake up one day and realize that screaming at strangers on Saturdays is bad; it’s not working and its hostile behavior that breeds hatred.
These 2,000 words could ever tackle this issue and I don’t expect them too. Until then, I remain inspired by the long-term escorts and the random supporter who will come and offer an encouraging word (which happens pretty frequently) while I escort. I remain steadfast in providing some semblance of comfort to the women and the families who seek the medical care of an abortion. And I also remain hopeful- naively so- that every Anti will change their mind.