Sometimes it’s tempting to view abortion-clinic protesters as people motivated by concern for the patients. To a certain extent, I’m sure that’s even true. They probably don’t want people to go to Hell. They may believe the lies about depression and breast cancer printed in their materials.
The realities of their interactions with everyone around them, however, tell a different story. They tell us how little these protesters view any of us as individual people.
There’s a dialysis clinic in the same building as the women’s health clinic where I escort. On any given Saturday, those of us at the main door will usually see more dialysis patients than we will people there for an abortion. Their reactions to the protesters range from polite (and just as polite to us escorts) to openly hostile, and it’s not hard to see why.
This Saturday, a cab pulled up to the clinic with a dialysis patient. As the cab driver opened his door, he started shouting something. It took a few repetitions for me to realize he was chanting, “I love kids! I love kids!” over and over again. Even before I could see him, I knew he’d been here before, enough times to be on the defensive.
Once he walked around the side of his van, I recognized him, of course, just as I recognized his patient. I’ve only been doing this about three months, but that’s plenty of time to know who’s who for nearly anyone. I know who likes us, who is polite to us because we’re polite to them, and who would be telling off the protesters with glee if it didn’t mean she had to stand out in the cold longer. (I like her. I’m looking forward to summer.)
The protesters don’t.
The protesters don’t know when they’ve seen a cabbie before, or how many times they’ve shoved their literature into his face. One of the nurses today said he’s been there as long as our clinic has been in the building, and they still talk to him as though they’ve never seen him before. Another nurse stops by briefly most weekends, and they only leave her alone if she’s wearing scrubs.
About a month ago, I arrived at the building to one of the regular protesters, one of the guys who comes out even when the weather is below zero Fahrenheit, telling me, “Don’t go in there. They’re going to kill your baby!” Since I’ve never been pregnant to my knowledge, that would have been quite a trick. He just didn’t recognize me without a bright pink vest on.
I don’t think we’ve coincidentally managed to collect a batch of protesters who all have face blindness. They just don’t see us as people. We know their names or have given them nicknames. They can’t see us when they look at us every weekend.
Are they concerned about us or anyone else? Maybe, but they’re not concerned enough to see us as people.