Clinic Escorts Are Essential in Fight for Abortion Access
“You cannot block the car,” I told the bodies amassed in front of the cab. “That is against the law!”
“We don’t have to listen to you!” a man yelled back as he elbowed past me. “You’re not better than us!”
On that August morning 2015 in New Jersey, I had already been a volunteer clinic escort for Metropolitan Medical Associates. When I began my volunteer work as a clinic assistant, I didn’t know what it meant. I was also unsure why I was required to be one. I didn’t really know that abortion clinics still experienced aggression and hostility, that dozens of picketers showed up on any given day to yell at anyone who walked into a clinic. And I certainly didn’t understand how important clinic escorts were in supporting patients and making abortion access a reality. I learned quickly.
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This Saturday morning started like most—a handful of agitators buzzing around—but by the time that cab pulled up, dozens of angry antiabortion protesters had filled the sidewalk outside the clinic. They had now completely blocked all the doors to the cab’s rear, pushing their signs through the windows and shouting at those in the backseat. Anyone couldn’t get into or out of the cab.
My stomach grew angry and my panic began to build in my feet. I wanted to shout at them and push them away. Keep calm“That was it,” I thought to myself. You can’t afford to lose control. Find a way that you can get back in control.
The bright yellow vest I wore with CLINIC ESCORT volunteer printed across it did nothing to help the protesters clear the path. My job was to reach them, help them get out of their car and support them as they walk past the hostile crowd. They needed me to be their strength and lifeline.
But in that moment, there was no way for me to get to the cab without physically moving bodies, and I wasn’t allowed to do that. Respectful nonengagement was the mantra of my clinic escort group. Even if they elbowed or shoved one of us (and they certainly did), we couldn’t reciprocate. Only one more thing was left. I kept the walkie talkie close to me. “Security, I need you,” I said. “Get it now.”
As the guard came towards me, I glanced left to right to check on additional protesters. “I doubt anyone wants to go to jail today,” the guard muttered. The mob vanished. The mob dispersed. He poking his head into the backseat and beckoned everyone to get out. The other clinic escort was also there, and so were I. Once the woman was out, I put my left hand around her neck and created a wall between them and the protesters who tried to pry her eyes. One after another, I took one step, and she followed my lead.
In that instant, it was only us two. The mass of bodies through which I navigated our two bodies, the cacophony around us—“Don’t murder your baby!” “No matar su hijo!” “You’ll still be the mother, just the mother of a dead baby!”—faded into the background as I narrowed my focus to a singular goal: get her in the door.
Photograph taken by the author facing an anti-abortion activist at Metropolitan Medical Associates, Englewood, N.J. in December 2019.
Courtesy Lauren Rankin
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“It’s all going to be OK,” I said in a low, soothing tone. “Keep listening to my voice. You can find the door over there. We’re so close, just stay with me and stay with my voice. Everything is going to be all right.”
To get to that door, it took either a blink of the eye or a lifetime.
As the door was closed behind us we felt suddenly enveloped in silence. I finally looked—really looked—at who I had just escorted. The baby’s face was frozen with fear. Her hands were clenched in small, defensive fists. This wasn’t a woman at all. She was just a little girl and was terrified.
“It’s over now,” I murmured. “You’re inside. You’re safe.”
Her stomach sank into mine, she heaved, and let out a series of guttural sobs. Slowly rocking her forward and back, I held her.
“It’s OK,” I repeated. “It’s all going to be OK. You’re inside. They can’t get you in here. You’re safe. It’s OK.”
The rocking continued for another minute. Or for another hour.
The front door opened. A second woman, flanked my clinic assistant, stepped in. My arms held the girl who was crying. She looked up and recognized her mother. The girl in my arms held her and checked her into the clinic. She then went into the waiting room. She was accepted. She would be fine.
The adrenaline was starting to diminish, so I took another deep breath.
“You OK?” the security guard asked.
“Yeah, I’m fine.” I wasn’t, really, but I didn’t have any other choice. The number of patients was increasing. I opened the clinic’s front door and stared at the group of protesters, meeting their hostile gaze with an inner fire that, until that moment, I didn’t know I had.
They were cruel, detestable, and I was furious at what they did. My vest now has tears from their eyes.
Instead I went over to the next vehicle.
This will be effective May 17, 2021Supreme Court stated that they would listen to oral arguments. Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health, a challenge to Mississippi’s ban on abortions at 15 weeks. It has been almost 50 years since 1973, when abortion was legalized nationwide. Roe v. WadeThe Court has the potential to end it. The majority of Americans today who are in reproductive age were born after the Civil War.Roe In a world in which legal abortion was commonplace, many people were affected. We were taught to believe that this right was already fought and won. You could go to any clinic to get an abortion if you needed one.
Half a century on, we are faced with the real possibility of that Roe V. Wade may be overturnedWe are now left with the task of resolving issues that once seemed impossible. Were we really meant to be here? Can abortion be made illegal? What is the post-2020 world like?Roe America?
For decades, it has been happening slowly and under our noses. It has been happening for decades, under our noses. At which point is the crisis? Roe v. Wade This is what the end result of decades of restrictions and bans. But also, an effort to make abortion as impossible as possible.
This is more evident than in an abortion clinic.
Continue reading: If Roe v. Wade is overturned by the Supreme Court, the Battle for the Future of the Anti-Abortion Movement
There are likely to be picketers outside an abortion clinic if you reside in the top 10% of U.S. states. You might see them holding horrifying signs bearing photos of dead fetuses and doctored pictures. They might be shouting into megaphones at anyone passing by the clinic. Others are probably holding up their cell phones, capturing patients’ faces as they enter the clinic’s doors, posting them online when they get home. They’re swarming patients’ cars. Then they’re slamming their signs into car windows. And they’re shouting, “Don’t murder your baby!” in a girl’s face. They follow other people for blocks. “You’re going to hell,” they shout. “You’re going to die inside that butcher shop!” They pray and prey, over and over again.
Their ultimate goal? They want to make it as hard and as traumatizing as possible for women seeking abortions.
As much as abortion opponents admit. In a 2018 NPR interview with Terry Gross, Reverend Robert Schenck, a former militant antiabortion protester in the 1980s and ’90s, explained their rationale and tactics: “Of course we engaged in mass blockades. Sometimes, we’d have several dozen people in front the doors to the clinic. Sometimes it was hundreds. Sometimes, there were thousands. For those who were coming to our clinics, we created barriers for them, both the staff and the provider of the abortion. And it created a very intimidating encounter.”
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That August morning that I held a sobbing teenager in my arms wasn’t an anomaly but a regular occurrence. Actually stopping someone from having an abortion isn’t protesters’ Complete goal—they want to stigmatize abortion, to force everyone who ends up choosing to have one to experience personal suffering because of it.
“I remember women—some of them quite young—being very distraught,” Reverend Schenck repentantly told Terry Gross. “Over time, I became very callous to that. They were more objects than they were human beings with real feelings in real personal crisis.”
As volunteers from abortion clinics protect a patient under an umbrella, police and officers stand nearby in Atlanta. In October 1988 Operation Rescue members across the nation stage what they refer to as a “national day of rescue” with planned protests in over 30 cities.
Bettmann Archive/Getty Images
It has been almost as longWhile abortion clinics are open in the country, they have faced violent opposition from outside. These people came out in great numbers with their voices, and even their bodies to stop abortion clinics.
Local police didn’t stop them. Presidents or the Supreme Court didn’t stop them. What ultimately held the increasingly chaotic protesters at bay wasn’t the law—it was volunteers. The clinic escorts.
As a response to increasing virulence at abortion clinics outside, activists began to form ragtag groups to help the people inside. It sounds absurd in its simplicity—just walk with people—but that’s what makes it so radical.
From the time that they leave their vehicle, many patients who are seeking abortions feel like they have been surrounded by hundreds or thousands of strangers. Nine people were recently charged last week with federal civil rights violations for blocking the access of a D.C. Clinic in October 2020.
The dehumanization that Reverend Schenck described wasn’t an accident, but the very point. Even seeing one warm face, having one supportive body next to them, can help put a patient at ease, or at the very least help them follow through on the choice they’ve already made for themselves.
Continue reading: Red States Aren’t Waiting for the Supreme Court’s Roe Decision to Push New Abortion Bans
Since legal abortion was first introduced in America, clinic escorts has played a crucial role in providing access for women. They have been able to bridge the gaps in access to abortion for many decades with the help of the organizers that helped them organize a movement. They would not have been able to provide legal, safe abortions for the millions of Americans who now find themselves in this crisis.
Whenever I put on my neon vest and started another shift as a clinic escort, I didn’t spend my time wondering how a federal judge would rule on the latest abortion restriction, or about the balance of the Supreme Court. Instead I was required to react to the immediate needs of the individual in front of my, and to their body language, words, and breath.
Clinic escorts have put their bodies on the line for other people, for other people’s choices, their bodies, their lives. They’ve shown up in spite of bombs and bans and shootings and to help providers and patients keep safe abortions accessible. At its core, volunteering as a clinic escort is about responding, as a human being, to another human being’s needs. It’s about dignity, compassion, and kindness. It’s about people. It’s that commitment that can light the way for all of us to approach abortion not as a caustic political fight but as a matter of human dignity, no matter how you personally feel about abortion. Whatever happens, Roe v. WadeThere is great power in this, provided we take the time to recognize it.
Lauren Rankin is author of The Front Lines: Bodies at the Front Lines in the Fight for Abortion Protection in AmericaThis is the original source of this article
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