It’s not always the protesters

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.

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Two Worlds Collide: Abortion Clinic Escort meets Engineer

What does one do when personal anonymity is compromised by the very nature of one’s business association?

One comforting aspect of being a clinic escort is the idea that no matter how rude, obnoxious, hateful, or nosy the protesters get, a clinic escort can keep his or her personal identity on the down low. Like an anonymous superhero, I swoop in, throw some elbows, then go home unaccosted. We clinic escorts do our best to not reveal personal attributes while on duty. Details such as name, employer, religious beliefs (or lack thereof) and neighborhood of residence are topics we regularly avoid in the presence of anti-choice extremists. But what does one do when personal anonymity is compromised by the very nature of one’s business association?

Today I escorted at my clinic. It was a normal day. It was kinda cold. I didn’t wear enough clothing so my legs were cold. After about an hour on the beat, I look up and see a man I work with chatting up some of the protesters. I lost it. My fellow escorts were probably quite amused by my evolving measure of shock. I was all, “What’s he doing down here? Is there some event going on? No! He’s just walking through. He’s not with them. Keep walking! Oh, no! He just didn’t. He’s holding a sign!”

It was epic disappointment. I thought he was cool. I thought he was one of the elite and educated. I thought he was respectable! Alas, he is not. All respect – gone in an instant. You are not cool. We will not have beers. We won’t share joyful words at the company holiday party. We will not chat at the company picnic. You will forever be that guy, anti-guy. It’s fine to be anti-choice; but to harass women too? That’s not respect. That’s exactly the opposite.

But another dilemma underlies this situation. Did he tell the other antis he knows me? Did they ask him about our association when he, albeit discretely, acknowledged me? Do they know my name now and where I work? Could they influence him to create bias against me at work? If they know my name, could they find my home, my husband, and my family?

In the age of church sanctioned domestic terrorism, personal safety is paramount. Violent “pro-life” extremists threaten, stalk, and intimidate clinic staff with impunity. They put up “wanted” signs with abortion providers’ faces on them. They start databases listing clinic employees’ names and places of work. They insult and intimidate women at clinic entrances.

And our Congressional leaders turn their heads. Rather than take the opportunity to repudiate violence and commend reproductive responsibility, public figures use their pulpit to shame women and bolster extremists by pandering to the religious right on social issue after social issue. Even leaders who support a woman’s right to control her reproductive life pass up the opportunity to discourse on social causes, labeling them inconsequential compared to economic well-being.

Has my anonymity been compromised? Maybe. Am I mad about it. No. Just disappointed. But most of all, I am pissed off that I even have to worry about it in the first place.

Compassion In Perspective

Rather than stigmatize women, society should respect a woman’s sense of autonomy and self-preservation…Before you judge, stop and feel the hate. It flows from both directions.

I woke up today as on so many other days. Face washed. Teeth brushed. Cats fed. Rain forecast. Sun still hidden. Winter wear secured. House left behind in a haze of hot exhaust mixed with the crisp morning air. I drove past the exit for my office; and headed downtown toward the abortion clinic. I am a clinic escort.

As a clinic escort, I absorb the evangelical vitriol of anti-choice harassment so that women who have made the difficult decision to abort are not obliged to absorb that for which they have no more capacity to harbor. It is my purpose for waking before the sun,  the reason I am built of inert bone and catalytic flesh – to transform hate into compassion. I am rarely surprised by the fountain of hate that flows so freely from the mouths of those who purport to worship a god who asks nothing but love.

Misogynistic exhortation is the status quo for the clinic escort. But when the misogyny flows even more freely from the people I aim to shield, I am readily turned about. He told me he didn’t “give a shit about that bitch.” I first thought he spoke of the skulking protester. He didn’t care if she died. He didn’t care if she and that baby died either. He would do it himself.

I could not walk with him.

To feel the hatred flow from the escorted, as I did today, is a stark reminder of why the fight for safe, legal, accessible abortion can never waiver, must not fail. Rather than stigmatize women, society should respect a woman’s sense of autonomy and self-preservation. Women deserve safety, opportunity, love, and respect – not violence, subservience, hatred, and contempt.

Open your eyes. Before you judge, stop and feel the hate. It flows from both directions.