Relatively, I spend a lot of time at a women’s reproductive health clinic. I’m a clinic escort (read, body guard) for abortion patients, so that’s not surprising. As such, I am witness to the emotions of a wide variety of people to the anti-choice protests happening outside the clinic. I am not just talking about the patients’ reactions. I see the reactions of passersby male and female, patients, boyfriends, girlfriends, parents, the negative reactions, the positive reactions – they span the gamut.
For some of our patients, the presence of protesters (and the often cruel things they say) raises an unexpected swell of emotions. I have seen anger and tears, as well as more positive reactions. I had a woman who’d just wrapped up an appointment break down in tears once. I took the time to let her vent her emotions to me. She was just so upset that they were there. She couldn’t understand how someone could stand out there and say such mean things to people they didn’t even know.
But not every emotional scene is a reaction to the protesters. The fact is, abortion can be a very difficult decision for some women. Considering one’s options during a pregnancy can be a very convoluted process. And quite often, people are apprehensive and unsure even after they’ve shown up for their appointment.
A woman broke down in tears in front of me once. But her distress was not caused by the protesters. She was just unsure if an abortion was what she wanted. We quickly ushered her inside (away from the mayhem) and started a mini-counseling session. Our leader assured her that no one would force or pressure her to do anything, that she could sit in the lobby as long as she needed, and that she should ask to speak to a counselor who can help her figure out what she really wants and can give her additional resources to help her with whatever she chose to do.
Seeing the outburst, one of my fellow escorts immediately blamed the protesters for causing her pain. I tried to convince her the protesters had nothing to do with the situation, but she wouldn’t hear it.
For most of the women I have helped get access to abortion over the years, abortion was a positive, relieving experience. But it’s important to acknowledge that getting an abortion isn’t always a positive experience. Not every woman chooses to have an abortion. Many times the procedure is unwelcome and unwanted, but necessary. And for some women, the process of making the decision about abortion is marked by fear, inner conflict, or apprehension.
I think it’s sometimes easier to blame the protesters for upsetting people rather than acknowledge the complexity of the subject. Sensitivity isn’t actually the best face to don when you are dealing with taunting and harassment from protesters. But it is vital we maintain an unprejudiced perception of the triggers to emotional scenes such as this. Sometimes the causes are not as simple as we want to believe.