I’ve been escorting for the past few weeks at the local reproductive health clinic. That is to say, I’ve been making sure people who want and need abortions are able to get past the local holy rollers to get the health care they need.
Things got a little ugly on the sidewalk this past weekend. Not unusually ugly, I suspect, but ugly in a noteworthy way, in a way that could make some people very uncomfortable with clinic escorting.
It started with a protester almost being run over. That wasn’t the ugly part, but it was a clue something was up. The driver of the car was doing a particularly aggressive parking job. Ann (if I had to guess) smelled strong emotions and was on the car before it was parallel to the curb, much less stopped. She had to duck out of the way more than once. I was annoyed, mostly at the thought of having to supply emergency aid if she were injured.
It looked like a parent-child situation, though I don’t know. I didn’t ask. It’s not my business. By child, I mean a girl probably in her mid-teens. By parent, I mean a woman much closer to my age. She was angry and bossy. The girl was crying and reluctant to get out of the car.
She did get out, eventually, into the space the other escort had made. (There were only two of us that morning, to about 10 protesters.) By this time, Ann was yelling to the other protesters that the girl was being coerced, that she didn’t want to have an abortion but was being forced to. They converged on the pair.
I moved in to hold open the path between the parking machine and the door. It wasn’t difficult, mostly just being in the right place to make the protesters move to one side while the patient and her companion had a clear route. The two of them came through, then I moved ahead to get the door open. The protesters, of course, were yelling the whole time. “You don’t have to do this! You can keep your baby! You can call the police!” They still stopped at the property line, though. They complain about having to, but they do it.
The other escort followed the pair into the building, getting them on the elevator with a minimum of fuss. This left me outside with the protesters. Guitar dude, who usually plays Christian music but is sans guitar for the winter, tried to get in my face, from the six feet away that as close as he could get.
“She’s being coerced! She doesn’t want an abortion! She’s being forced!”
I made a shooing motion at him.
“You can shoo me away, but this is what you’re doing! Don’t you see what you’re here to do?”
I looked him in the face. “This is exactly what I’m here to do.”
And it is. I am there to get people past them and into the building. That’s it. That’s escorting.
That is still what I’m there to do in a situation where the patient may be under pressure from someone else. It’s still what I’m there to do if I suspect coercion, abuse, reluctance. It’s what I’m there to do in the face of tears or yelling. If they’re moving toward the door, I get them inside of it. If they’re stopped by protesters, I make sure they know they don’t have to be. I’m an escort.
However, I don’t escort just anywhere.
About ten minutes after the pair entered the building, they left again. “Mom” yelled at the protesters to give the girl their phone numbers, because she was going to need them to help raise that kid. No, not their pamphlets with “services” listed. If they were going to tell people to have babies, they needed to provide help themselves.
The girl was quiet. I couldn’t see from where I stood, but she was probably still crying. If she wasn’t, she likely would be again soon, once the protesters weren’t around to be the target of all the yelling. No matter what, she’s in for a hell of a time.
At least this weekend, though, I know there was one person who made sure she had the space to say what she wanted from all this–not what anyone else wanted for her, but what she wanted for herself. I know that person listened. I know that person believed.
Like me, the nurse or doctor inside the clinic may have thought the girl might come to question her decision in time with the benefit of hindsight, that she might have come to a different decision if she’d had more space to decide for herself earlier. It doesn’t matter. What matters is that someone asked and listened and believed.
Nobody did that on the sidewalk. Nobody made room for that to even be possible on the sidewalk. The sidewalk was only shouting. Asking and listening could only happen behind those doors. And it did, once we got her inside. She was asked what she wanted and she chose for herself.
That is exactly what I’m there to do.