Note: I had originally started writing this right after I had gotten back home from clinic escorting last weekend, then let it slip while I dealt with other work. But after a week of all-out assault on women's rights, I'm angry as hell and ready to fight back. This may be a small way to do it, but the events of this week have only strengthened my desire to continue to do it.
It takes a lot to get me out of bed on a Saturday morning before sunrise. But I did just that last weekend, heading down to the Planned Parenthood clinic in my city. Through my law school's chapter of Law Students for Reproductive Justice, I had undergone training to be a clinic escort at Planned Parenthood a few weeks before, and last Saturday was my team's first turn to do it.
I got there shortly after 7 AM. The clinic has a private, gated-off parking lot which requires protesters to stand on the other side of the fence, but I still had to go around a group of praying protesters to get inside. I pulled down my cap (it was still very cold here last week) and walked behind them, trying not to make too much noise from the crunching snow--because unlike them, I was actually taught some manners growing up. One of them wished me good morning, but I didn't answer back. We were taught in the training session not to speak to or make any sort of contact with the protesters unless absolutely necessary.
That was honestly what worried me the most about escorting--how would I be able to control myself and not argue back with them? How would I not react with rage at the people who want the state to control my uterus and who think they know better than I do what's best for me?
However, I found it surprisingly easy to ignore them for most of the morning. They tried to bait me and the two other escorts who were helping out that morning, but little did they know that I'm a liberal Jew from Tennessee and that there is absolutely nothing they can say to me that I haven't heard before. Call me a baby-killer, tell me I'm going to Hell, tell me I'll have to deal with God's judgment--whatever. That's not news to me!
One of the other escorts, an African-American woman a few years older than me, got the worst (and funniest) of the protesters' wrath. They yelled the debunked line about Planned Parenthood and eugenics at her and demanded to know how she could participate in the killing of black babies. They yelled this at the African-American patients who came in as well, and several of them just laughed it off. I don't think the forced birthers have figured out yet that this line of attack tends to backfire on them--that in light of our country's long, troubling history of trying to control African-Americans and trying to control when and how they could reproduce, they generally don't like it when white strangers try and tell them what to do on this subject.
The protesters also seemed to target the men who were coming in with their wives or girlfriends, yelling at them to "be a man" and protect her. I know I don't need to tell the men of Daily Kos that the way you "be a man" in this situation is to support her and be there for her no matter what, but it's just another example of them butting into situations which they can't possibly know or understand.
Our job was to get the patients in from the parking lot to the clinic and ensure that the protesters didn't try any funny business. Most of the patients just seemed ready to get this done. This clinic only provides abortions once a week, and is in only one of two cities in the state where one can get an abortion (the other one being on the other side of the state). In addition, this state requires a 24-hour waiting period before you can have an abortion. Many of the women coming in had to jump through a crazy amount of hoops just to do something that is THEIR RIGHT, and yet it still isn't enough for the forced birthers.
That's why I take issue with those who say we need to find "common ground" on this subject. For the nutjobs protesting outside of the clinic, there is no common ground; only a complete ban on abortion will suffice. That's why they want to stop even private insurance companies from covering abortion. That's why they want to make it legal to kill abortion providers. That's why they want to investigate women for even having a miscarriage. That's why they want to defund Planned Parenthood, where only 2% of their budget even goes to abortion services. They want to make sure you can't even get the contraception necessary to prevent an unwanted pregnancy, let alone an abortion.
Never forget it--it's not about saving babies for these people. It's about punishing women for having sex. I know people who are anti-choice but who support better healthcare, better policies for working mothers, more services for working families--I'm not talking about them. I'm talking about the people on the other side of the fence who would have forced Congresswoman Jackie Speier to keep her dead fetus inside her body until it either killed or seriously maimed her. I'm talking about the people who believe that such an outcome is just God's will.
Towards the end of my morning at the clinic, a security guard came out and warned us that an ambulance was on its way. The paramedics went in and brought out a patient on a stretcher--conscious, smiling, and talking, but needing to go to the hospital for whatever reason. Needless to say, the protesters had a field day with this, yelling at the woman and trying to take pictures with their cell phones.
While this was going on, the patient's extremely distraught husband came over to us, telling us to get the protesters to stop taking pictures. "If they take pictures of my wife, we're going to have a big problem," he said. "They have no idea what we've been through with this pregnancy!" There was nothing we could do, of course, besides try and calm him down and get the paramedics to cover up the woman's face, which they gladly did. After they left, the protesters yelled at us to ask if we felt any responsibility for the woman in the ambulance.
But again--they don't care. They don't care what your situation is or why you would be going into Planned Parenthood in the first place. You've walked through that gate, and no matter why you're having an abortion (or even if you're just going in for contraception or other health services), they've already made up their mind that you're a baby killer. Even when you try and explain it to them, as this man did, all they can do is continue to yell out their bumper sticker slogans. Again, they would rather a woman be killed by a dead fetus than allow for any exceptions to their rules.
And that is why there cannot be any backing down on this issue. They will not stop until abortion is outlawed altogether. I'm hopeful that the most odious of federal legislation will be shut down in the Senate, but as South Dakota, Georgia, and my home state of Tennessee show, the state legislation could be far worse for women. We've been complacent on this issue for too long, but this could be the last stand.
I for one will be back at Planned Parenthood the next time my team is called up. Because the price of silence and fear is far too great now.