Saturday, April 6, 2013

5 Lessons of a Abortion Clinic Escort

 Most people know that the 22nd of January marked the 40th anniversary of Roe vs Wade and as such the clinic and really Jackson as a whole was under siege by an anti choice "activist" group named Operation Save America/Operation Rescue. I write activist in quotations because they need to be classified as a terrorist organization. Many incidences of clinic violence in this country have links to their members. Several people who hang out with them are also linked to or members of an extremist group known as The Army of God (click hyperlink for scary documentary regarding them). These past few months have marked the first time I have worked as a volunteer clinic escort at the Jackson Women's Health Organization in Jackson Mississippi. JWHO is Mississippi's ONLY abortion provider in the state. This makes them the target of constant harassment from anti choice groups not only local but national. In this time as a clinic escort I have learned some lessons that I will carry with me for life. I have become the keeper of women's abortion stories and literally used my body as the shield between people who shame and intimidate women when they access legal medical care in a country that guarantees freedom and privacy. These are the five lessons I want to share.
  1. Clinic harassment is worse than you think-
    When most of people have the occasion to drive past a clinic they may see people standing outside possibly with big bloody signs. Perhaps they notice people praying or singing while holding pamphlets out to patients. To most they seem awkward, maybe obnoxious, even righteous, annoying but not menacing, certainly benign. Yet if you take the time to sit outside the clinic for even a moment you would see a different scene. You would get to see protesters taking pictures of patients and staff going in and out of the clinic. You would see anti choice protesters shouting at patients, stopping their cars in the street, following them and yelling into their ears as they walk.  Calling them murderers telling them they will NEVER be the same, that the clinic wants to kill them and their baby.  You would see grown men stalk women all the way to their vehicles after being asked to leave them alone. You would see protesters scream as if they are being stabbed to supposedly mimic the screams of babies. There is the non stop preaching and singing on most days. They tell women constantly they can help them get forgiveness only AFTER they admit what they have done. Then claim they aren't shaming them. You would hear anti choice extremists harass workers and clinic escorts by saying "you will one day be tried for war crimes", "you have blood on your hands", "your work caused the school shootings", and asking “if they wished their mother aborted them” and  “aren't you glad your mother didn't know you were short she would have aborted you”. There is a protester at the clinic I escort at that routinely tells my teenage daughters and I to commit suicide and to play in the traffic. It never stops rain, shine, heat or freezing cold they are there to shame and demean women whose only offense is accessing LEGAL medical care in America.
  2. Anti choicers/Pro lifers use racially biased messaging-
    Awhile back in New York City a billboard popped up with the picture of a young African American child on it with the tagline "the most dangerous place for a African American is in the womb". The billboard funded by a white anti choice group that found some black spokespeople put it up during Black History Month. This type of racialized conversation around abortion isn't new. Groups have also placed billboards around Atlanta saying black children are an endangered species. (although I didn't know we were another species). This messaging doesn't stop at billboards it is alive and well at clinics EVERYDAY. I know in Jackson we hear it. While white women hear the standard "don't kill your baby" or are much more likely to hear "choose adoption, let us help you" black women get barraged with "you are HELPING WHITE PEOPLE KILL BLACK BABIES" "DO YOU KNOW 80% OF THE BABIES KILLED HERE ARE BLACK" "do you know abortion is a plot by Margaret Sanger to exterminate black people". They even have a handout especially for black women citing a study (incorrectly) claiming that the higher incidence of abortion among black women causes infertility. They hurl racial arguments at the black women who work and volunteer at the clinic too. Even though most will openly tell you they don't support ANY of the programs that help the disproportionate number of poor women of color in Mississippi. 
  3. There is no such thing as “elective abortion”-
    This is a term I have heard for years it is even a term I myself use to use. However, I am here to say I no longer use it and don't believe in the existence of such an occurrence  Each patient I see enter the clinic has a very real, very critical reason to be there. On that day at that time she needs this medical procedure to carry on with her life. Whether it's because she is too sick, too young, just not ready, can't provide for another child, or has a non progressing pregnancy on that day she needs this form of medical care. It may seem "elective" to others but it is critical to HER life at that time. She doesn't owe anyone or any group an explanation  Regardless of what someone may believe about their God she is not beholden to another person's belief system or their interpretation of Christian teachings. What she does have to do is what is right for HER family and HER life. 
  4. Clinic workers are not evil or greedy-
    Growing up as a fundamentalist Christian I always heard that people who worked at and owned abortion clinics are greedy, mean, and evil. They would perform abortions on women who aren't even pregnant. They hated children. They didn't care if women had problems afterwards they wouldn't talk to them. They just took their money and tossed them aside. The women and men at Jackson Womens Health Organization are nothing like that. I have watched staff talk women through being scared after losing their paperwork post op. I have heard our counselor on the phone with patients who had procedures weeks ago answering questions and making referrals. Unlike crisis Pregnancy Centers that call and call women to see what they decide, if women chose not to have a procedure the clinic wishes them the best and gives them referrals for resources. They don't badger them to change their mind. I know clinic staff have come together to help women who are $30 or $40 short for their procedure so they don't have to resort to some unsafe way of termination. Most are mothers, fathers, loving aunts and uncles so they don't hate children they love children. Rather than mean, greedy ,evil people I have seen compassionate, caring, ethical people. 
  5. There is no compromising with anti choice protesters-
    When people see clinic protesters they often think these people must be the radical fringe of the movement. However, they are not. At the clinic I volunteer at many of our protesters are leaders in not only the pro life movement but the Mississippi Tea Party and the Republican party. This is important because they are also people with whom compromise is impossible. They truly believe that abortion is murder and have told me that I am an accessory to the American holocaust (I always want to ask why they think abortion is just a US problem). For them there is only one way to save ourselves and that is to stop legal abortion and of course to worship the Christian God in the same way they do. When you are dealing with religious zealots reason, logic, and science are all useless.  
I find my volunteer work extremely rewarding. I get the privilege of helping women during a scary and emotional time. I get to hear their stories offer them a smile or a laugh, sometimes a hand to hold. I often have patients and their families ask me why I would volunteer to be harassed by strangers. My answer is simple. If I can take some of the harassment so patients don't have to then that is fine with me. I remember what it was like to walk through protesters to access a clinic. Those people knew nothing of my life but felt qualified to condemn me. No one deserves that. What they do doesn't bring women closer to God in fact it drives them away. Patients just want to be left alone. They have prayed, cried, chanted, meditated or whatever it is that works FOR THEM before coming that day. They aren't stupid and don't need saving. Lastly, I think whether you believe abortion is right or wrong we should all be able to agree harassing, shaming, and intimidating women accessing LEGAL medical care is not right. It is not a symbol of God's love and it shouldn't be allowed in a free country. 


  1. Laurie: great read. Thanks for sharing with those of us who can only support from afar. Much hugs and admiration for your dedication and a REALLY huge heart. Operation Rescue could take a cue from you on how to show love and support for women in need.

  2. I can completely back up every point you have made, as I was a clinic escort back in Atlanta during the 90s and could share almost identical experiences. So thank you for writing this and making public the truth of what really goes on. I only hope this serves as a wake up call for complacent pro-choicers that don't think it is that bad or realize how very close this radical element is to our every day lives. Thanks again for a chilling but accurate telling of this bizarre yet legal behavior that these terrorists are allowed to inflict on women who are breaking no laws.

  3. Thank you Laurie for your dedication and work to assist women in their struggles for reproductive justice. This needs to be shared far and wide.

    Your last couple of sentences are too my great wish. Keep on keeping on!

    "I think whether you believe abortion is right or wrong we should all be able to agree harassing, shaming, and intimidating women accessing LEGAL medical care is not right. It is not a symbol of God's love and it shouldn't be allowed in a free country. "

  4. I was very moved by your extremely important "witnessing" story. This should be read by every pro-choice supporter in the U.S. to be made aware of the ugly reality that women trying to get an abortion are subjected to. These terrorists are the same kinds of people who were the "witch" hunters of centuries past, fanatics who seek out victims to persecute. Their ignorance, bigotry and misogyny represent the face of fascism.

  5. Thank you all so much I do hope people read this and understand that the women who access this clinic are real people. So are the workers. These terrorists (that's what they are)get a thrill out of persecuting and judging others. Don't get me wrong there are the few who really are out there because they believe they are helping. They are quiet and reserved. However they are the small minority.

  6. Thanks multiculturegirl for sharing the experience that I am *still* going through, every Saturday morning at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Philadelphia. I started out as a clinic defender in Baton Rouge back in 1992 and have been a clinic escort pretty much every Saturday since then. I and other friends from Louisiana were also holding the line in Jackson at a clinic that I believe is now closed. I remember Roy McMillan and know exactly what you're dealing with. We have the same protesters here, and every Saturday I ask myself why I get up so early on one of my only days off of work... but then when I'm at clinic, and I hear a young woman say "thank you for being here", I have my answer. I'm not there for me, or even for the clinic, I am there to support the women who have made a decision that no one else should ever be allowed to make for them. Keep on keepin' on lady, we will never back down!!!

  7. Thank you for your comment Peg! Last week after Judge Jordan ruled we could stay open the antis were extra loud and aggressive. I had several young women in the lobby bring me to tears. One said "I wasn't going to come in when I saw the protesters, I don't know what I would have done, but then I saw you guys and I knew it was safe so I came in". Another patient nodded her head and a third said "me too". They all said "thank you". I was crying big fat tears. Protesters think we keep patients from talking to them, from having a "choice" to hear "the truth". These women don't want to talk to them. They take the pamphlets to be polite and get past them and want to be rid of them. When women want to talk to the protesters we don't stop them we hang back or walk away. If they are coming they will still do so. I don't encourage women one way or another I just offer them non judgemental support and medical FACTS if they ask including risks. The decision is not mine to make, it is not the antis either, I trust women to know what is right for them.