Clinic Escorting Encounters


After President Bill Clinton signed the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act in 1994, protesters have been limited in their ability to interfere with people who visit abortion clinics. For example, they’re no longer allowed to physically block the entrances to clinics. But they still do their damnedest to convince clients to not to go through those doors on their own. And so there are clinic escorts.

Clinic escorts give clients the strength to walk past the protesters, to ignore the offensive, lie-filled literature that is thrust at them. We make it okay for them to avert their eyes from the little plastic fetuses, the swinging rosaries, the gory pictures that are held up as they walk by or are posted in their line of sight. We give them an excuse to not listen to the prayers, the hymns, the questions and accusations that are thrown at them.  We are a psychological barrier between the clients and the protesters.

On Saturday I was escorting at Whole Women’s Health in downtown Minneapolis. When I showed up there were 13 protesters lining the narrow sidewalk that leads up to the clinic entrance. Two were active protesters (antis who rush up to heckle the clients) and the rest were passively praying, singing, touching the beads on their rosaries, and walking up and down the sidewalk. This later group had four kids who looked to be under the age of 12 with them. It always makes me sad to see kids with the protesters.

The location of WWH is a bit tricky; it’s on a city street in a office building that houses several different businesses. Protesters are perched on the edge of the sidewalk right next to oncoming traffic; there’s nowhere else for them to stand that wouldn’t obstruct the flow of pedestrian traffic. Because it’s a public city street, we can never be sure who is and isn’t coming to the clinic, but after a while you start to recognize potential clients. When I think someone might be coming to the clinic I mosey over to meet them. I usually don’t hurry up to people because they’re already being rushed by an anti-choice protester. Our protesters seem to take pride in beating us to the clients, and if we’re outnumbered (more protesters than escorts), they’re usually going to “win”. Better to let them; my slow pace is one more thing that differentiates me from the frantic, fast-talking protester.

I often get there several seconds after the protester has started their spiel. I raise my voice just enough to be heard over the protester to say “Hi. Are you visiting the clinic today?” If they are they’ll usually nod and I’ll smile and say, “Welcome. I’m a volunteer with the clinic. You can follow me this way to the entrance if you like.” Or if there’s a long way to walk (if they park at the north parking lot they’ve got to traverse a half city block with a protester at their elbow) “Would you like me to walk with you?” Always, always, always we seek consent from clients to walk with them. It’s one of the many differences between protesters and escorts: If a client doesn’t want us near them, we back off.

I had more than my usual share of interesting encounters this Saturday. To begin with, my escorting partner wasn’t able to make it. *sigh* Me against two active protesters, with 11 others forming an intimidating presence. Joy.

My first encounter: I approached a single woman who was being heckled and she nodded that she wanted me to accompany her to the entrance. The woman was walking with her right shoulder to the building wall and a protester on her left side. The client looked scared and was shrinking away from the protester. I couldn’t get between the client and the protester, nor could I get on the other side of her since she was pushing herself against the wall as she walked. So I tried something new: I placed myself directly in the line of the protester, turned my back to her and stopped walking. She had several seconds to avoid me but was so focused on the client that she *slammed* into me and actually knocked me forward a few steps. Instead of apologizing she started screaming about how I wasn’t allowed to touch her. Sadly for her the client kept walking and I fell in line next to her. The client had a small smile on her lips, and we walked into the lobby together, chatting about little nothings. When I came back outside the protester who had knocked into me was waiting and she started screaming as soon as I opened the door. After about 10 seconds of her shouting I broke my usual rule of not speaking to protesters.

“Hey!” I fixed her with a hard look but kept my voice low. “When you’re driving and you rear-end someone, who’s at fault for that collision?” She sputtered and I continued “You rear-ended me. If you do it again I’m reporting you to security.” She glared and looked like she wanted to argue, but instead spun on her heels and stomped off to whisper with the rest of the protesters.

It felt so good. I’m usually awesome at deescalation and diplomacy, but at least I got her to stop screaming.

I ended up using that trick twice more. Here’s the end product, my signature Protester Deflection Move™:  A client is walking toward me with the protester glued to their side. I plant directly in the path of the protester, but give her enough time to see me and to avoid a collision. The protester is thus forced to stop or move to the outside as the client walks by me. I’m now physically between the protester and the client, and the protester can only cajole the client from behind us, across from me, or from in front (as an aside, this protester was not good at walking backwards). It’s a beautiful thing.

My second encounter: A man and woman were walking up the sidewalk. The man was shielding the woman with his body, so the protester started addressing him, begging him not to let her do this, etc. At one point she said “You have a chance to be a real man, to stand up for your unborn baby!” The man glared at her and shifted his weight like he was going to move toward her. I loudly and waaaay too cheerfully announced “And we’re here! Go ahead and step right inside this door if you like.” He continued to glare at the protester, but walked inside. In the lobby the client placed her hand on the small of his back and he took a huge breath. He was furious. He looked at me and said “Thank God you were here. If you hadn’t been here I would have punched that woman.”  I couldn’t think of anything appropriate to say to that, so I just nodded and walked back outside.

That he said that to me didn’t make me feel good. It didn’t make me feel like a hero. I was mad at him, that he saw me as the reason why he didn’t hurt somebody. And I had a sick feeling that a really bad situation had almost unfolded. If he had punched the protester, the cops would have been called and he could have been charged with assault.

Some clients feel threatened by protesters and lash out. Some companions feel extra-protective of clients and feel like they have the right to threaten the protesters. Sometimes the client or the companion is having a bad day, or feels the need to defend their choice to seek an abortion, or is just asshole who wants a fight. In those cases maybe knowing that a clinic volunteer is there watching the whole thing helps them decide to not escalate a conflict to physical violence.

My third encounter: Every once in a while a woman will be so strong and brave on the sidewalk that it makes me proud to have a second X chromosome in common with her. On this particular morning a woman came striding down the street and a protester approached her. The woman waved her away and said firmly, “I’m here to visit the clinic and I don’t want to listen to any of your bullshit. My reasons for being here are none of your business. And you can take your religious guilt and shame somewhere else; I had quite enough of that as a child, thank you very much.” She kept up her litany of dismissal and distraction down the entire block. I made eye contact with her and she shook her head, so I stayed out of her way. At the entrance I opened the door and she swooped inside. I followed her into the lobby to make sure she saw the elevator and she was just standing there. She looked drained and had tears in her eyes. She looked at me and asked, “Can I please have a hug?” I felt a rush of emotion, but I just nodded and held out my arms. I don’t know how I managed to not break down. I thought I might. She squeezed me really tightly for a good five seconds, let go and brushed away a few tears. She smiled and said “Thanks.” And then she stepped on the elevator and was gone. I was really angry with the protesters when I went back outside. I wish they could understand that they’re not changing women’s minds; they’re just making a emotionally trying doctor’s appointment even more difficult.

Being a clinic escort is frustrating. And clinic escorts wouldn’t be necessary if protesters didn’t harass clients on their way to doctors’ appointments. But since they do, we show up, and despite the frustration it is fulfilling. If you’d like to become an escort you can inquire with local clinics in your area.

Of course, if you’re in the US, good luck finding a local clinic in your area.

Comments

  1. StevoR says

    Well done Brianne, well done & sad that you and others have to do this in this day and age.

    Good article – and good work.

  2. says

    Thanks for being awesome, Brianne. And for telling these stories.

    The protesters that used to hang out near the St. Cloud Planned Parenthood were strange. I think they were often just as interested in being seen by passing cars as they were in harassing clients. I never saw a client go in while they were protesting. I always saw them near the windows that faced the street, not at the main entrance on the side near the parking lot. It’s like they wanted to be seen and applauded by the traffic for their presence. I wonder if maybe they had a few designated people who would break off from the street side and rush to the entrance if and when a client came around…who knows. I’ve since moved out of the area so I don’t know what they’re up to lately.

    I also have a couple of questions:
    How much training do clinics here in Minneapolis offer to people looking to become escorts?
    Has a client ever mistaken you for a protester? If so, did the confusion get cleared up? Is there anything (other than not shouting or rushing) that makes you different from the protesters at the client’s first glance?

    Again, thanks for doing this :)

    • says

      1) Every clinic is different. When I started it was a 2-3 hour training that consisted of “here’s what to expect, here’s what you can do, here’s what you can’t do, and here’s basic etiquette (what you you probably should and shouldn’t do). We were taken outside to shadow a veteran escort for 20 minutes or so and then that was it, and we were able to sign up for shifts.

      2) This happens quite a bit. In that first few seconds before I tell them that I’m a volunteer with the clinic I get a wary glance as they try to assess what my intentions are.

      3) Several things: I have a bright yellow vest that reads “CLINIC ESCORT”, which clients are told to look for when they arrive. The other big things: I smile broadly and make eye contact. Protesters are usually serious, urgent. Also I’m not trying to force materials in their hands and I maintain a polite personal space if possible.

      • says

        I’m surprised they haven’t outfitted protestors in “clinic escort” shirts. It’s cruel and involves lying, so it would be right up their alley.

        Anyway, don’t let the bastards grind you down.

        • silomowbray says

          I’m pretty sure they could be charged with some kind of impersonation crime if they did that. Despite being morally fucked up, anti-choice protesters in generally seem to have their game down pretty tight, and know where the lines are.

        • says

          I used to read a clinic escort blog (I want to say the clinic is in KY but I’m not sure) and they did say that after the escorts got fluoro safety vests for identification one group of protesters started wearing fluro vests in another color.

        • Muse says

          They have in some places. A lot of places and people (me included) wear Bright Orange Vests that say Pro-Choice Clinic Escort. A couple of places the antis have started wearing orange vest that say Pro-Life Counselor ie easily mistaken.

  3. says

    Gosh, your clinic is set up so much like the one here in Louisville, it’s amazing. Clients here have to hike down the public sidewalk to get to the clinic too. Of course protesters are the same where you go, I imagine.

    I’ve got a couple of questions – are there just two escorts there at a time? Is 13 a typical number of protesters? I assume you’re writing about a Saturday, right? And did your threat to call security have a basis in fact – would security have done anything? Just curious…

    And of course I’m glad you’re out there doing the work!!

    • says

      Oh fml – our clinic is nothing like your clinic! At least not in severity! 13 is a HUGE number for us and we usually only have 2-3 “active” protesters on any given Saturday. Our active protesters usually aren’t *mean* – they use guilt, shame and doubt to try to stop our clients, but they don’t call them names or usually get angry. Our clients don’t have to go through a fraction of the mental anguish that yours do. Also our clinic doesn’t even open until 9:30am on Saturday (Yeah – we totally get to sleep in.) We’re spoiled rotten compared to EMW.

      Also, we’re not the only abortion clinic in the city, so the pro-life group spreads their protesters across several sites on Saturdays. There is at least one private practice that performs abortions. And Planned Parenthood gets many more protesters and has a greater number of escorts on the sidewalk. It’s also easier to access than ours. Since we’re downtown you have to take public transportation or pay for parking.

      To answer your other questions: Two escorts is pretty normal on a Saturday. That gives us enough to put one person on each corner of the city block. I like having a third to man the door and play backup if more than two clients arrive at a time.

      Did my threat to call security have a basis in fact? Yes, but we don’t have designated clinic security; the call would have gone to the clinic manager and then to the police. The police are very aware of the situation at WWH. From what I’ve heard from clinic staff and other escorts, the police have always responded promptly to calls and treat everyone fairly. I said “security” because I thought it sounded less adversarial in the heat of the moment.

  4. says

    Good for you for doing this!

    I’m sure that most of the protesters believe that they’re saving babies, but I can’t help wondering if any of them actually enjoy bullying, and now they’ve found a socially outlet for it?

    • pipenta says

      I’m a sloppy reader when it comes to response threads. I missed this.

      YES YES YES. You pegged it.

      And you said it ever so much more efficiently than I did.

  5. says

    Good for you for doing this work! I used to do it in college and I thought about trying again, but I just don’t have the patience now. I’d be more likely to punch the protester than be helpful, alas, so I figure everyone is better off if I stay far far away :(

    • pipenta says

      Yeah, I was a rape crisis advocate back when I was in college. I burned out pretty fast.

      I don’t know how much I accomplished during my short tenure at the center. But it changed me. It educated me. And I have carried that education with me ever since and I have, at times, educated other people. It blows my mind to think how little progress we’ve made in thirty years.

      But that’s no reason to give up. Just gotta pace ourselves, stop and catch our breath, and press onwards!

  6. says

    For those who are interested, there is an organization based here in Maryland called Voice of Choice. They target out of control protesters who go beyond the pale in confronting clinic personnel or suppliers personally or at home by calling them at home or at work to calmly express their opposition to their tactics.

    recently, we all received an emailfrom the VOC organizer, announcing a victory and ending the Maryland campaign against a local protester.

    Quote:

    Dear Volunteers,

    Thank all of you who have taken an interest in the Maryland Project.

    We have been providing information about John Clemens because he attacked the clinic workers at Dr. Carhart’s office. I am pleased to say we can discontinue the project, at least for now.

    Voice of Choice has a goal to lower hate and rhetoric. While we may disagree with the beliefs and opinions of those on the pro-life side, we respect their rights to have their opinions. We stand up for those who are being bullied and harassed by people who do not respect the rights of others who disagree with them.

    In my interviews and blogs I continue to ask the same sarcastic question, “Don’t you want the unsolicited opinions of strangers?” Of course no one does. That is what makes the phone calling campaigns effective. The people doing the harassing learn that what they are doing is uncomfortable and unchristian like. They also learn that they will not be able to bully people with impunity.

    I had a very civil dialog with John Clemens yesterday. John is passionate about his beliefs, like many of us. However, until Voice of Choice started to contact him he did not fully understand that not everyone feels the same way he does. I think that when you are totally involved in a cause you find a peer group that shares your passion and agree with you. That is John’s peer group and people he spends his free time socializing with.

    The efforts of Voice of Choice have opened his eyes. He now understands how people outside his circle perceive his behavior and he may be able to communicate that to others close to him.

    John has promised not to contact or bully any clinic workers. He has promised to stay within socially acceptable limits while fighting for his cause. I am prepared to take John at his word, at least for now.

    Please stop calling John Clemens. We will keep track of John and everyone else who acts aggressively and ask for your participation in stopping unwanted behavior when it is warranted.

    Please consider this a victory for Voice of Choice. We were able to stop the attacks and bring down the level of hate.

    I look forward to your comments.

    Thank you all again for your continued support.

    end quote

    I find this a wonderful reaction to the terrible actions of anti-abortion protesters. Having someone taking the fight back to these clowns to show them how it feels, but in a calm and reasonable tone is refreshing!

    It also seems to be working.

    • Muse says

      Also in the DC/MD area is the Washington Area Clinic Defense Task Force. We are the clinic escorts in this area, bright orange vests and all.

  7. Sean says

    Good God! As someone living in Europe I genuinely had no idea that such interference was commonplace, nor that such support might even be necessary.

    I know it happens to some extent here in the UK but this seems way way beyond any free speech issue or right to protest. Surely this is harassment plain and simple.

    Do people not have the right to be left alone, free from interference when pursuing lawful activities? In the UK, charity workers must not rattle their collection tins at people much less chase them down the street haranguing them; but for protesters to do this day in day out must surely be beyond any legal defence.

    • No Light says

      Yup. Oh they’re trying to ape their American heroes, but it usually amounts to nuns saying the rosary, and passing out prayer cards.

      This is why we’re lucky that (aside from the twisted antics of Nadine Dorries) it’s seen as a private matter here. And this is why (and this truly isn’t an exaggeration) I love people who protect their fellow humans like this.

      Brianne – you and your fellow escorts are a credit to humanity, and I’d hug you myself if I could. You’re awesome.

  8. Mycology Guy says

    This made me cry. Right outside the building at campus. I thank you for your efforts though.

    Why in America today is it necessary for women already going through unimaginably difficult decisions to have to face this roadblock as well? It makes me ashamed of us all for allowing this type of psychological torture in the name of free speech.

  9. says

    I wish they could understand that they’re not changing women’s minds; they’re just making a emotionally trying doctor’s appointment even more difficult.

    I think that most of them do and that’s just their goal.
    Only two days ago some idiot over at Pharyngula mansplained that, although he was, of course 100% pro choice (while looking for a scenario in which he could just deny the woman an abortion), some women should be ashamed of having abortions.
    If women don’t get PTSD from abortions, let’s give them some!

  10. says

    @Sean #10 – It is harassment, pure and simple. The problem is that, under our statutes and common law, the juxtaposition between religious freedom and free speech is given a tremendous amount of leeway. As long as the harassers do not actually touch, impede or physically threaten the person they are harassing, there’s very little that law enforcement can do. And the Talibangelicals have mastered the fine art of taking their actions right up to, but not beyond, the border.

    • Sean says

      Thanks Greg.

      I suppose free speech comes with downsides. However, I wonder how quick the authorities would be to protect or allow a bunch of PETA members to regularly abuse people like this outside of butchers’ shops; or if all the atheists in the country spent a Sunday outside of churches shouting in the faces of believers, old and young, as they attended their church.

      If they did this here, the protesters would be arrested under Breach of the Peace laws pretty quickly.

      • says

        Regarding the PETA members, I have heard of it happening, and usually it is allowed to happen. The difference, though, is that:

        1. PETA is not acting on religious conviction, so they are given less leeway, and

        2. the harassment at women’s health clinics has been going on for more than two decades and has been such a massive problem that Congress passed, and President Clinton signed, a federal law in 1994 which reiterated extant laws against physical violence, trespassing, vandalism, stalking, arson and other such activities.

        PETA picketing a butcher shop for one day is barely a blip. The Access Act was a compromise to head off federal charges of racketeering and conspiracy against groups like Operation Rescue. (The Access Act prohibits actions against not only against clinics but churches as well. Like I said: compromise.)

  11. says

    I worked at a clinic in Omaha back in the 1990s. The protesters there had a nasty habit; they would solicit juveniles under 18 to commit crimes against the clinic property and staff. If we caught them, they would be charged as a juvenile and walk away with very little (if any) consequences.

    Using video surveillance, we were able to show that the adults were directing the kids to act, and working with the prosecutor’s office we managed to get some convictions for the adults as accessories. In some cases, we were even able to get restraining orders. These were more effective than any criminal charges.

    We did background checks on as many of the protestors as we could get info on, and you would be surprised how many of them had estranged children, domestic abuse convictions, or child support issues.

    I was always dumfounded by these protesters. I sincerely doubt there has even been a case where their actions prevented a single abortion.

    • pipenta says

      We did background checks on as many of the protestors as we could get info on, and you would be surprised how many of them had estranged children, domestic abuse convictions, or child support issues.

      Well that’s it, in a nutshell, isn’t it? It isn’t about kids, it’s about an abstraction. You could have kids going hungry two blocks from the abortion clinic, and those assholes aren’t the least concerned about it. Nor do they give a damn about the health and safety of those kids and if their parents can get a job and what the schools are like. Nope. This is all about trying to control and frighten women. But they’d happily do the same to kids, or anyone of any less-privileged demographic. It’s not about saving babies. It’s about pain and power. It’s a deeper ongoing underlying story.

      So you have an issue that is emotionally charged and you have a group in the context of that issue that is vulnerable. A certain percentage of any human population or group are going to be predatory individuals who like to hurt others. The religious would call them evil. Some would call them personality-disordered and more specifically things like sociopath and narcissist. Most of us ordinary folks would call them creeps.

      We see it again and again, the sorts of activists are maybe marginally in it for the cause. They are in it to hurt. And the creeps can influence passionate believers who would are not otherwise be so lacking in empathy. A culture of creepiness can begin to normalize horrible actions.

      We see it in religion, we see it in civil rights struggles. Whatever the issue, whatever the viewpoint, there are those who want to stalk, harass, hurt, control and kill. Given a context that enables them, they glory in the pain they cause.

      And whichever side of whatever argument you are on, this is where leadership is key. If a pope, in whatever kind of pulpit, criticizes a group of people for what they are or what they do, and members of that pope’s faction interpret his statements as permission to act out their grotesque impulses and hurt others, then he has responsibility. Inactions speak louder than words. If he don’t condemn such actions, he might as well be taking them himself.

      There will always be empathy-deficient individuals who revel in hurting others. And then there are the more successful sociopaths at the top who cleverly steer the monsters at a remove, all the while keeping their hands clean.

      But it all depends on how you define clean.

      • No Light says

        This is the perfect comment.

        The sheer apathy, even hostility some of these people display to ex-foetuses exposes their lie that they want to “save babies”.

        One of the most ardent pro-liars I knew held a thoroughly Calvinist view toward actual born babies.

        All of that “Born poor by God’s will, suffer the little children yadda yadda”. She did not see the hypocrisy evident in her views. It made me feel ill.

    • Muse says

      Our guys count anyone who comes back out as a save – that means anyone who went in for birth control is a save…

  12. TGAP Dad says

    Just curious, and I have newbie questions:
    Is there a minimum distance that the protester must maintain from the client, the violation of which constitutes assault or harassment?
    Would it be legal to use one of those really obnoxious compressed air horns (the kind they use to start boat races) against a protester?
    Was there ever a client who simply couldn’t take it, and was turned back by the protesters?
    Do men ever assist with escorting clients? If so, how comfortable are the clients with them?
    Are the protesters (the confrontational ones, not the ones murmuring to their beads) ever polite and decent to you?
    Ever thought of posting video of these encounters (with the client’s identity obscured of course)?

    • Pierce R. Butler says

      Minimum distances are defined by state law or municipal ordinance, but only in a few (usually the most liberal) states or cities. Otherwise, unless antis get close enough to threaten (in the cop’s opinion…) and thus qualify under the assault statutes, anything goes.

      Air horns would be “disturbing the peace” and get the escort arrested or cited. They would also disturb patients inside the clinic, people at nearby businesses, etc.

      Some clients have been observed to turn away. Usually they reschedule (the most notorious clinic harassers got the nickname “Operation Reschedule”).

      During my 16 years as a male clinic escort, I had very little visible discomfort from the patients – once they figured out I was not another anti, that is. (Some get too agitated to read t-shirts.) I was rarely physically attacked by antis, but semi-regularly by patients’ boyfriends/husbands/etc.

      Some of the protesters would present themselves as reasonable individuals you could talk to, at least when no patients were in predation range. (I usually worked with a partner, who would play the nice-cop role while I was the nasty – a persona I maintained when working alone – but plenty were willing to chat with a friendly.) I only encountered one anti, a beginner, who agreed to back off once he realized that many patients felt threatened by his approach.

      Clinic managers want to do everything possible to downplay even the appearance of trouble, so we couldn’t try experiments in public shaming except live on the sidewalk. When one church sent a large group of their sheep out to one clinic, a man the others addressed as “Deacon” would openly stare at women’s chests, so we happily gave him the full business about that until, after a few weeks, they went away. :-)

  13. Brownian says

    Years ago I read an account by a former fundamentalist protestor. He’d been made to protest by his parents, deconverted in his teens, and became a clinic escort. It was interesting to read from someone who’d been on both sides.

    We don’t have protestors here, at least none that I’ve seen, but there’s a anti-choice faux clinic right across the street from the actual one that tries to confuse women. Appalling, but better than protesting.

    Thank you for the work that you do.

    • Brownian says

      Gah. On muscle relaxants, hence I’m slightly less lucid than usual. If I can find the account from that former fundy turned escort, I’ll share it.

  14. eddyline says

     I wish they could understand that they’re not changing women’s minds; they’re just making a emotionally trying doctor’s appointment even more difficult.

    Oh, I think many of them know exactly that; they just feel that if you’re “evil” enough to go through with it, you should suffer like baby Jebus is.

  15. lb says

    Wow. This brings back memories. First of all, thank you for being an escort. As you know, you do make a difference and truly help people.

    I was a grad student in Buffalo in 1992 when the mayor of the city invited Operation Rescue in to try to shut down the clinics for their “Spring of Life”.

    My roommate and I had volunteered to be clinic escorts after watching Anita Hill’s testimony the year before and had been escorting patients into clinics months prior to OR’s invasion. So she and I were right in the middle of all the chaos. It was great to see how much support we got from the other students from all the universities.

    The event I most remember was being part of a group surrounding a patient walking a city block to the clinic and trying to protect her from the anti-choice protesters. Most stayed back, chanting and praying but one in particular came forward, yelling at the patient. We were not allowed to touch the protesters but she slammed into me, pushing with all her considerable weight while screaming at the patient right in my ear. I’m no lightweight either and was able to keep her back, but she unbalanced me and I almost fell. Thankfully, a Buffalo policeman swooped in from nowhere and literally dragged her off me by her neck, saying “You can’t do that!” It was hairy there for a bit, but we got that patient in safely. After that, we gave the escort vests to patients when we could and walked as a group. The protesters had no idea who was a patient or escort and it worked every time.

    Again, thank you for your efforts and good work. It’s greatly appreciated.

  16. plutosdad says

    In sports that’s called a “pick”, when you stand so your teammate walks by you, and the opposing person has to decide to stop or go around you, and your teammate gets to keep walking. Awesome.

    Maybe we can make up a name for it, the Protestor Pick or something.

  17. gussnarp says

    I’m interested in being a clinic escort, but I don’t even know where one would go to get an abortion where I live. The Planned Parenthood clinics do not offer abortion services, only referrals, but I suppose I could ask them about being a clinic escort anyway. There was a clinic near my kids’ daycare center, and the protesters were out most days with giant, graphic, and disturbing signs. I often wanted to ask them whether they considered the traumatizing effect of their signs on small children. I had to find a more round about way to get my kids to day care as they got old enough to be aware of the signs. But now the clinic is gone. I don’t know why or what happened to it.

    • crowepps says

      One possible reason that it is gone now is that the landlord evicted it — landlords get a lot of complaints from other building occupants and from those in neighboring buildings about how the Grand Guignol performance of the Anti-Abortion protesters affects everybody in the area and their ability to get things done. That’s the whole point, to be obnoxious enough that women’s clinics can’t find space in which to operate.

  18. IndyM, pikčiurna says

    Excellent comment, Pipenta–I completely agree.

    And Brianne, thank you so much for what you do. I live in NYC, so I don’t know if there are those sorts of protesters here (?), but you’ve inspired me to look into volunteering in some capacity at PP clinics and/or abortion providers.

    • says

      I live in NYC, so I don’t know if there are those sorts of protesters here (?),

      there will be, starting on September 26th. Apparently the “40 days for life” brigade is going to be protesting in NYC. They’ll be protesting in front of the National Office of PP in New York, and also at a clinic in the Bronx (Dr Emily’s Women’s Health Center)

  19. silomowbray says

    Brianne,

    Thank you for your service, and your courage, and your compassion. These are things that seem woefully rare these days.

    I have to admit I had never heard of clinic escorts before I read your article. I live in Canada, so abortions (from my understanding) are done in our public hospitals. No protesters in sight, AFAIK. When I read stories like yours, I realize how lucky we are north of the 49th.

    • JDF says

      @silomowbray – Alas, some clinics in Canada do draw protesters. The Morgentaler Clinic in Fredericton is an example. They have to take similar measures to the ones mentioned in this post.

      • silomowbray says

        Ah! Of course, thank you for the reminder. It’s probably a lot more accurate to say we see less of it, rather than none of it up here.

        I’m hoping it would also be true to say a lot less of it.

    • says

      starting September 26th (IIRC), clinics in the following Canadian cities will be targeted by protesters:
      Calgary, Edmonton, Vancouver, Victoria, Winnipeg, Fredericton, Moncton, Halifax, Kitchener, Leamington, Lindsay, London, Mississauga, Oakville, Ottawa, Toronto, Windsor, Montréal

  20. PatrickG says

    Brianne,

    With 40daysforhate coming up, I’m really hoping/have been planning to volunteer for the EMW Clinic in Lexington, KY. I’m new to this type of activism/volunteering, so maybe you could point me to some resources and/or provide contact with local groups here that you might be aware of.

    I’ve called the clinic, but haven’t heard back from them yet (I only called this morning). Would it be more effective to try contact through an organization such as Voice for Choice? I imagine they might get some .. fake offers.

    I posted about this on the atheismplus forums, and with apologies for the Wall of Text, perhaps you could offer some suggestions/advice.

    —-
    Backdrop for me: I’m in Lexington, KY. Fairly liberal area, but we’re also the only clinic targeted by these whackadoodles, and you only have to drive 30 minutes to see an “ABORTION IS THE WORST FORM OF TERRORISM” billboard. Also, I have little experience in clinic protest issues, being from San Francisco originally.

    I’ve alerted the UK SSA and the Humanist Forum of Central Kentucky to this, and got a lot of interested feedback. I was hoping to call the clinic today to ask if we could support them in any way, but just turned into one of those days… ugh. Also involving the Kentucky Health Justice Network.

    So, I’d hoped to post this after talking to the clinic, but …. yeah well, time’s a-wasting.

    A couple of questions for the pros out there, if y’all would be so willing (hey, I’ve been here long enough to say it that way!)… but first a quick disclaimer:

    Everything I will do on this will be predicated on the wishes of the clinic. If they’re friendly to assistance, I will ask as many of these questions of them as I possibly can, and abide by their wishes regarding it. After all, they know a fuckton more than I do about how to deal with asinine clowns shaming their clients. Excuse me, “loving” their clients.

    1) What approach is most optimal for approaching a reproductive clinic to offer help? I’ve never had to do this personally. My general plan is just to try and contact someone in their management (not easy to do from the outside, for reasons that should be obvious), note that they’re being targeted (which I’m sure they’re aware of), and offer services from interested local groups ranging from strict counterprotest to escort services for clients.

    2) After contact with the clinic, should I attempt to get media coverage? Currently my local organizing is strictly on the Facebook level. I do plan to hit up several of the local meetups and ask for their support should the clinic indicate desirability. But as to attempting a PR blitz…. Will that exacerbate the problem? Will it have positive effects? Does anyone have experience with how publicity affects this type of protest in a blue-area of a red-state? Tips would be greatly appreciated.

    3) Can anyone point me to direct resources on this particular type of action? I’m fairly up to date through self-research, I think, but really, any links/resources would be very much appreciated.

    And on a quick note: this is precisely the kind of call to action I expected when A+ started! Apparently divisiveness gets me fired up!

    • JamieB says

      Hi Patrick, if you want to escort for EMW in Louisville, these are the folks you want to talk to: http://everysaturdaymorning.net/

      You can show up at 6am any Saturday and help out – they don’t require you to go through training, although they do have training days periodically.

      My understanding is that Lexington also has a clinic, but it’s only open part-time.

      I don’t escort, personally (I get too rage-y), but I’ve done a bit of work on UofL’s campus with some of the folks who do. If you want more info, you can direct message me on Twitter at @citizenphysics

      • PatrickG says

        This might be the route we go with. As it happens, the Lexington clinic is indeed targeted, but since they have a private parking lot, the protesters are forced to stay at a significant distance and escorters really aren’t necessary.

        I’m touch with the ESM people, and they do some trainings on escorting in Lexington, which would be awesome for some of the groups I’m working with. It’s a fairly significant distance to Louisville, but perhaps some of the students will be mobile and motivated.

        • throwaway, never proofreads, every post a gamble says

          Hey PatrickG! Fellow center-KY here (Richmond right now.) I know this is an OOooolld post, but maybe you subscribed, so I’m just going to leave this here in that hope.

          Let me know if you still want to volunteer on Saturday’s in Louisville. After the Supreme Court’s recent ruling I’m definitely going to be getting involved in the next few weeks. You can e: me at csdelozier using Google’s mail server, or on Twitter with the same handle.

  21. says

    Stories like these break my heart.

    My SO did clinic defense before moving out here to California, where she marvels at the fact that Planned Parenthood and others just look like offices with big signs and nary a person or protestor in sight. Sometimes there’s some huddled silently on the sidewalk a ways off, but… There’s one we pass that’s the very corner building (an old bank building) in a strip mall, covered in glass and exposed, and it’s always there with nary a protestor or damage.

    Of course, in CA (and other western states), business owners or downtown commissions can actually eject people from their sidewalks for being disruptive. Protests have to have defined times and places; and yelling at someone is generally considered assault. It has it’s negatives; I’ve been banished from a city block for once for being a liaison for street kids with the county library – the library kicked me out after I demonstrated (at their request) how email/muds could be used on their computer systems despite them wanting only reading on their web stations. x-x

  22. kemist, Dark Lord of the Sith says

    Wow. That’s pretty different from the situation here.

    The family planning clinic is just a department in a corner of the first floor of the local hospital.

    The same floor where you get dermatology, hematooncology and blood draws.

    The only difference is that its door is opaque. You go there for all pregnancy-related care, whether follow-up, echographies or abortion. Basically, all pregnant women in our area end up there and least once.

    People sit quietly on chairs with magazines or books. Sometimes the hematooncology patients chat together since they know each other’s faces as regulars.

    If protesters showed up they’d be thrown out by security for disturbing patients.

  23. says

    You are a wonderful human being, Brianne. The protesters are trying to do chipping damage, to bully people into breaking down emotionally and deciding the end result isn’t worth the pain they’re being subjected to. They don’t change minds, they break hearts. That’s how a bully gets their way. Good on you for doing what you can to reduce and deflect that bullying.

  24. says

    Brianne, you said that «if you’re in the US, good luck finding a local clinic in your area.»

    Is it my European privilege showing, or is the US unique in having anti-choice protest picketting institutionalized like this?

    Indeed apart from the US, I can only think of coutries where abortion clinics are only seldom (if ever) the target of such protests, or of countries where there are no abortion clinics at all…

  25. nathanmcdaniel says

    This post has inspired me to look into volunteering as a clinic escort. I just worry that my appearance – a big, mean/”creepy”-looking man – might put some people off. Is this a problem? Would I scare away the clients more than the protesters?

    • says

      We have male escorts at our clinic. But a male escort would be better able to answer this question based on their own experiences. I’ve not noticed that clients treat our male escorts any differently from the women.

  26. says

    I have done some legal observing for the local clinics in my city. It was amazing how raucous and awful the protesters could be. However as I was filming them I learned, literally in the space of minutes, how easy it was to just ignore them and how much a little grin would infuriate them. Granted I am a guy and not a patient so I imagine it was way less traumatic for me on every level. At no point did I want to punch them I just wanted them to see themselves through my eyes for a few minutes.

  27. Old At Heart says

    I am happy to live in a mid-size city in Canada, I suppose. Big enough to have everything anyone would need, but small and Canada-y enough to never attract much in the form of protests and whatnot. Not even that 40 days of stupid thing whatever.

    Though with a little bit (ie 2 credits worth) of legal background, this seems almost farcical. Assault is not physical contact. Assault is a threatening motion or implication. Battery is the physical contact portion. What these people are doing IS ASSAULT. Yet only when battery occurs do the police step in? I say a few atheists martyr themselves to the cause by picketing local churches with dead fetuses and protest the protesters, even if those churches are not responsible, until the pastor/priest/president comes out and agrees to support womens’ rights. (martyr is used here because, unlike Xians, Atheists are, of course, an abused minority and WOULD get carted off to jail even if they used the exact same protest signs and methods of the protestors.)

    …I’m not advocating this (see? I can be just like the Religious Right of Fox News!), I’m not advocating this… But also I’d imagine a pickpocket would get some good and easy cash walking through a crowd that actively attempts to jostle and confuse people, just like a concert or bar. Obviously not a mugger, protests attract police attention, but pick pocketing must be a big problem for them, especially in the particular states where you needed to keep that wallet on hand 24/7 for ID purposes like Arizona. I hope they have some contingent safety plans.

  28. Suz says

    To address a comment fairly far upthread about protesters keeping their distance: In the states that do have laws, it still doesn’t work all that well because it’s so hard to prove and prosecute. Colorado has an 8ft barrier. However, how do you prove 8ft? You have to submit a picture or video. Which means the woman loses her privacy. So the best you can generally do is yell 8ft and hope they will comply. This does prevent them from walking right next to someone, at least, most of the time.

    I was also an escort in Omaha, more recently than the other poster. Our clinic had a gated parking lot, so confrontations were less direct. Occasionally someone would walk across the street to the gas station for snacks and get followed, but that was about it. That didn’t stop the cajoling, praying, god blather, photoshopped signs. They had a truck plastered with those fake dead fetus pictures, but that was usually parked at Dr Carhart’s clinic a few miles away.

    We began at 7am. Protesters were always there before I. They often had children with them, too. I was lucky that I could come inside to warm up on those zero degree mornings, but those poor children who should have been home watching cartoons had to suffer out in the cold. Yep, they really care about the kiddos.

  29. Jimp says

    While reading the article I thought of a novel way of keeping protesters away. If there are four volunteer, pull out a sheet with four poles that surrounds the patient, blocking the patient’s view of the protester’s signs, and keeping the protesters from knowing if their actions are having an impact.

  30. says

    Thanks for doing what you do Brianne. The mischief maker in me would be sorely tempted to follow these clinic protesters to their homes and let the air out of their tires at night or put glue on their door handles.

  31. Lio Ray says

    Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act in 1994, protesters have been limited in their ability to interfere with people who visit abortion clinics.

    this is right act for all

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