I've Been Too Nice

I am a clinic escort for a local women’s reproductive health clinic which provides, among other services, abortion care. During this time of year I get all bundled up in warm clothes – usually with two pairs of socks, a couple of layers of shirts, and a full winter complement of hat, gloves and neck gator (yeah, you’re from up Nort’ if you didn’t have to look that up). When I get to the clinic I pick up my bright yellow vest with the words CLINIC ESCORT printed on the front and and back, and then I head outside to smile at, walk with and hold the door for patients.  Oh yeah, and I distract them from the anti-choice protesters who gather in front of our clinic to harass them on the way to their medical appointments.

I wrote about my first day of clinic escorting last April. In this part I speak about how I interact with protesters:

There were  two of us escorting and four protesters, all of them regulars who are well-known to the clinic. We were all pretty nice to each other, considering we were diametrically opposed about the issue at hand. It felt very much like ”you’re here to do your job, I’m here to do mine.” [snip]

At some point one of the ladies gently tried to hand me a pamphlet and I said “Look, while we’re out here together I’ll talk to you about anything you like except abortion.” She shrugged and we actually talked about the weather! [snip] When a person or couple would approach the clinic, I would walk right next to the client(s) and distract them with chit-chat so the protester was relegated to speaking loudly at our backs. As soon as the client was inside the protestor and I would go back to discussing the weather.

fml221 is the author of a post called, Why I Don’t Talk to the Antis, and this post has completely changed my perspective on how I have interacted with the anti-choice protesters before, and how I will interact with them going forward. That isn’t a resolution, that’s a statement of fact. I have had a shift in perception that won’t allow me go back to the way I used to think about dealing with the men and women who show up to harass the patients who visit our health center.

Let’s have a little background. This is from fml221’s article:

In early January, Servalbear did a list of resolutions for herself when escorting.  i admired them.  But I knew right away there was one that wouldn’t work for me.

Servalbear said:

“I will respond with courtesy and politeness when antis greet me or ask me a direct question. Promoting calm and minimizing chaos is the goal. If I need to say “Good Morning” to an anti to start the day on an adult basis, it is okay. I do not have to engage in conversation, but I do not have to abandon all social conventions.”

I already know that approach isn’t going to work for me.

fml221 goes on to explain why being courteous and polite to the antis doesn’t work for him or her. I read this article with interest because I usually take Servalbear’s attitude. It has bothered me that some escorts at my clinic ignore individual protesters to the point of rudeness, or openly show their disdain. Aren’t the protesters human beings, and deserving of at least a modicum of courtesy?

Our protesters aren’t very hostile; they’re urgent and animated when they approach our clients, but rarely outwardly angry. I think this has led me to give the protesters a pass, to sigh and allow that they have a right to voice their opinion, and since they aren’t screaming and cursing at the clients they can be tolerated and – dare I even say? – respected for standing up for their beliefs?

I was wrong. That is total and utter bullshit.

Protesters protest because they want to make change. In this venue they are attempting to change the mind of every woman who is coming to get an abortion. But harassing patients who are on their way to an appointment to for an emotionally-charged procedure is not a humane way to make change, it is psychological abuse. Choices made under duress – in this case, the protester’s manipulative pleading and guilting – are not valid choices. But the antis don’t care about that, and because they resort to shaming and intimidating our patients, they are not worthy of my respect. They are not merely “voicing their opinion”, they are terrorizing other human beings.

Once I was escorting and a passerby stopped and said to me and a nearby protester, “I’m a constitutional lawyer and I just want to say that I LOVE to see you two out here, side by side, each making a statement of your beliefs. I love that I can walk down the street in this country and see this.” Something about that struck me as wrong, and it’s taken me until now to figure out what it was.

A doctor’s office isn’t a place to voice your opinion about someone else’s health care decisions. Do that at the state capitol. Do that in letters to your legislators or in a letter to the editor. Or better yet, realize that you don’t deserve a say in health care decisions of total strangers. And I’m definitely not at the clinic to voice my opinion. I’m not being a pro-choice champion today, and I’m not here to provide the other half to the protester’s story. I’m a service representative, and I’m here solely because protesters wage rude, intrusive verbal attacks on the clinic’s patients.

So as fml21 says, I don’t think the protesters belong out here. Sure, they have a right to be out here, but it’s not very nice. And since I’ve realized that by their very presence they’re not being nice, I no longer feel compelled to be nice to them. From now on all of my smiles are reserved for our patients and staff, and the protesters can fill the time between harassing clients without me.

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I've Been Too Nice
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600 thoughts on “I've Been Too Nice

  1. 2

    Love your article. FML and have talked a lot of about how my resolution is considered by others. When I first started escorting, I tried to have conversations on other subjects with antis. Never worked. It always circled around to abortion and religion. I try not to engage with them at all. However, I have also found out if they say, “Good Morning,” to me and I respond with a growl then they are more determined to talk to me. If I respond to them with, “Good morning,” and go about escorting they are not as apt to engage me in conversation. A little bit of common courtesy to avoid conversation. I wholeheartedly agree with you that protesters DO NOT BELONG in front of the clinic. It isn’t exercising their right to free speech, it is bullying. Period. I do feel firmly that because they are bullies, doesn’t mean we have to be bullies to them. I ignore them. The persistent ones who feel a need to talk to me are greeted with, “I will not have a conversation with you here.” My whole point is to minimize the chaos. Sometimes you can’t, as FML has pointed out so excellently in her article.

    Thanks for reading our blog. I have passed your article link to FML.

  2. 3

    During my years of escorting, I usually treated the antis the way I would treat any other person harassing women they didn’t even know on the sidewalk.

    Of course, I usually had a friend out there playing nice cop against my bad cop, to further the effect of keeping them away from the patients and otherwise frustrated.

    Our three priorities, in order:

    * Minimize all problems for patients.
    * Don’t get arrested.
    * Discourage the antis from coming back.

    That last could be a bit tricky, particularly with the martyr-complex cases who seemed to thrive on harassment – but we still helped produce a high rate of turnover, and evidently managed to educate a few christians about elementary social standards.

  3. 5

    I can see both sides here. I am disturbed by the term “anti” though. Anti is a prefix, not a noun. Its use here is belittling, disrespectful, and objectifying. I don’t agree with either the position or the tactics of the anti-abortion protesters. But they deserve respect as humans.

    There are plenty of nouns available already which can be used in-context if it is too much trouble to say “anti-abortion protester” all the time.

    You don’t have to be nice to them necessarily. But when talking about them, terms like this undermine your moral high ground.

      1. Well said. Truth and honesty tend to be disrespectful and belittling to people who are engaged in morally decrepit behavior. That’s no reason not to be truthful and honest when discussing such behavior.

    1. 5.2

      What Jadehawk said. They are bullies, they are harassing strangers on the street, they are invading people’s privacy, they are using fear and intimidation to prevent access to health care. I absolutely claim the moral high ground.

      The term “anti” perfectly describes who the protesters are and the positions they take. They are anti-woman, anti-health care, anti-sex education, anti-birth control, anti-equaltiy, anti-sex, anti-personal responsibility. I cannot think of one positive “pro” that they are.

  4. 6

    Playing nice isn’t going to get the job done. Here we are all these years after Roe v Wade and the national discussion in now being focused on the evils of….contraception?

    Yeah, it’s finally gotten that bad. Tell the protesters to go fuck themselves and if that doesn’t work you can always try going full Scientologist on them. lol.

    Enjoy.

  5. 7

    Oog. I would have to bring ear plugs to avoid them, simply because I’d be tempted to do violence if they were really terrible(and in Florida, where I used to live, this is a guarantee). I have a short enough fuse already and I don’t mind swinging my fists. Perhaps I wouldn’t be the best clinic escort.

    That said, I now live in Oregon, and I’ve driven past the women’s reproductive health clinics several times and seen nary a protester of any stripe.

  6. Art
    8

    I think the spelling you are looking for is “gaiter”, a sleeve or covering intended to keep snow and ice out, instead of “gator”, an amphibious reptile with large teeth. As a Florida native gators are something I know about. Once stepped on top of a large one while jogging at dusk. Sound advice: keep running.

    When the anti forces got riled better than a decade ago and started seriously picketing, outright threatening and obstructing, the local clinic I volunteered as an escort. Lots of shouting, mostly from their side, and shoving, going both ways, was involved. Things were always worse when the national anti leaders showed up. The local antis quickly understood that physical obstruction and outrageous banter was largely counterproductive because it alienated the wider public. On the pro choice side our goal was to form up a flying wedge to get the ladies into the clinic as swiftly and smoothly as possible and to shield the patrons from as much abuse as possible.

    In an ideal world people would maintain and respect boundaries. IMO nobody has any right to have an opinion about what consenting adults do in their bedrooms or what a woman does with her body but this clearly does conflict with freedom of speech. Concern should stop at making sure the person gets a fair and factual representation of their options and that nobody should be able to bias what he/she decides. This isn’t an ideal world.

    I’m not sure what he appropriate level of nice/not nice is. A lot has to do with how the antis act. If they are nice it is easier to be nice. Based on what was going on ten or twenty years ago I can say that if they throw blood, spit and physically obstruct he entrance (kind of resembled a bar brawl without the mellowing effects of alcohol) it is hard to be nice.

    IMO it seemed there was little point in anything other than cold civility. Both sides knew what they stood for and that neither side was going to give an inch. Expecting to change hearts or minds is unrealistic. I had no respect for their views but do respect them as human beings and their right to be wrong.

    I have no idea what the situation is now for our local Planned Parenthood clinic. I guess I need to give them a call and see if they need escorts.

  7. 9

    Thank you for doing that work. I should do some myself … I did quite a bit iin Boston in the roe v wade aftermath times, and I was nice to the antis and not nice to them, depending.

    Obviously the number one thing is to follow procedure as per training. Anyone who wants to help but only in their own way will best help by writing a check and staying home. Otherwise you need to do what works for your own peace of mind and sanity.

    There were many weekends in the 80s when the total number of them would top 500 with 100 of us (we needed to spread out among several sites) with 50 cops (state, county, and boston). There was not a lot of chit chat. But there were plenty of days with just a dozen or two in total and sometimes the weather was mentioned.

    Thise were always weekends and the clinics never scheduled abortions on weekends. So the protesters were basically screaming at women getting ap smears.

  8. 11

    It is a bit easier in Canad, afaik. Protestors have the right to protest, but they have to do so about 100′ from the entrance to the clinic. Anyone arriving by vehicle at the fromnt door does not encounter them.

    Abortions here are also done in your local hospital, or in the health clinic, not in a special facility.

    Luckily abortion has been a no issue for almost all Canadian politicians. It is a no – law situation. There is no law touching on the issue, and even our conservatives shy away from even discussing it in the House (our parliament).

  9. 12

    Harassment can work both ways. I was only half joking when I mentioned going full Scientologist on their asses. How about counter protests at their churches? Hmm. I bet we could come up with a whole bunch of stuff equally or more obnoxious that would get the point across to the the INDIVIDUALS doing the actual protesting.

    Enjoy.

  10. 13

    Thanks so much for reading everysaturdaymorning, and for the support! It’s really amazing to know that something I wrote changed the way you see the situation. Thank you for that!

    For me, escorting has taught me all kind of challenging lessons, and made me examine myself, my action and my motivations on a weekly basis. So when Scott Strehlow said that calling them “the antis” was disrespectful, belittling and objectifying, I had to stop and think about it. I really loved jadehawk’s response, and yours, but i did take a moment to consider his perspective.

    Then I decided calling the “the anti’s” isn’t really worse than calling them the protesters, which they also are, and was better than calling them “the haters,” even though that’s a noun, and definitely better than some other nouns they’ve been called.

    And I appreciate The Tim Channel’s suggestion to counter-protest ~ I’ve always felt like doing that, or even wishing someone else would! But ultimately, the goal is just to normalize the experience for the women who’s going to the doctor. When we add to the circus atmosphere, it doesn’t move us toward that goal. But ahhhh, it’s a nice thought!

    Finally, thank you for your wonderful blog! I’ve thoroughly enjoyed reading here before now, and will again often.

  11. 14

    How sad that escorts are even needed. From over here in the UK it sometimes seems that things are getting very extreme over there, and this just proves it. There are a few protests every now and then over here but the main arguments are done and dusted. I look forward to the day when they are over at you place.

  12. 15

    Thank you for sharing your story! I’ve actually never heard of such escort services, and you’ve given me much food for thought. I respect the way you interact with the antis. We need more civility in this country, and I agree, writing letters, signing petitions, and visiting legislators is the right way to go about voicing your opinion and about changing policy. Protesting at the clinic is psychological abuse.

  13. 16

    The Tim Channel beat me to it. No one ever goes to heckle them at their churches or anti abortion meetings. In act, the whole prochoice movement seems to be perpetually on defense with these people, and I wonder what can be done to turn things around and go on offense in some way and force them to react to us instead.

  14. 17

    From FML221’s post:

    I hear one of them a few minutes later say to one of the other escorts, “I can’t believe you’re ignoring me, you won’t even talk to me. It’s like – it’s like – you’re treating me like I’m an insect!”…

    That warms my heart, honestly. Especially with regard to:

    * Minimize all problems for patients.
    * Don’t get arrested.
    * Discourage the antis from coming back.

    What better way to discourage them but to fill them with an all encompassing sense of hopelessness and shame? What better way to do that than to just refuse to acknowledge their existence?

    ***

    About 12 years or so ago I got an abortion at a Planned Parenthood in a smallish town in WI. I had to drive down a driveway while being shouted at by people who were allowed to walk right up to my car window, even though the driveway was on private property. They took photos of my license plate, though one of the nurses inside told me that they didn’t actually keep film in the camera.

    I kept wondering how anyone would know. Did anyone actually check? Later that day I called the police to file a complaint, any complaint. The woman to took my call was very nice and even apologized that I had to go through that (as if it was her fault), but she basically told me there was nothing they could do. I filed the complaint anyway.

    Anyway, since my state also has one of those idiotic, insulting and obstructive 24 hour waiting period laws, I had to go through this insane gantlet 4 times. On the second day they up they ante because they know you are going in for the actual procedure. And they get decidedly less nice. One of them was practically frothing at the mouth screaming “Babykiller” right into to my closed car window inches from my face while I waited for traffic to pass so I could pull out. It was all I could do to resist running him over. Don’t think for a second that I didn’t consider it. I wouldn’t, but that didn’t stop me from fantasizing about it for years.

    Anyway, I wish I’d had a few of you there that day. Thank you for doing what you do 🙂

    1. 17.1

      I’m so sorry that you had to go through that. Thank you for sharing your story here. The more that people realize that these are real problems, experienced by real people, the more we’ll be motivated to make real changes in the way we handle the protesters, and the climate of acceptance we have for them.

    2. 17.2

      The expectation to public privacy is so high here in Germany that Google can’t even street map here. Those folks trying to terrorize you with cameras would not last five minutes around here.

      Religions here are also barred from door-to-door proselytizing and fund raising, a fact I only learned yesterday.

      Man I love living in a civilized society.

      Enjoy.

  15. 18

    Just . . . be nice to the kids. If there are kids out protesting, they don’t know what they’re doing, they’re just tools in the hands of their parents and religious leaders. I know because I was one of those kids for so many years.

    1. 18.1

      Libby Anne – that’s a point worth acknowledging. Kids get a different response than adults. It depresses me that in all likelihood, these kids are only a few years from becoming the adults that will be protesting in front of the clinic. But you never know what kind of experiences they’re going to have or life choices they’re going to make. Why drive them further toward the dark side by being an asshole to them and confirming their parent’s opinions that we’re evil tools of Satan?

      Luckily we very rarely have children on the “front lines”. The few times people have dragged their kids out, the kids usually stay huddled pretty close to the parents in a prayer circle.

      1. @Libby Anne ~ We do have quite a few kids show up at our clinic, and I think we all make a point of smiling at them and being nice to them. Thanks for the reminder. I think it’s really important for us to remember that their parents are demonizing us and we maybe their only exposure to people who are pro-access.

        fml

  16. 19

    I worked as a security consultant for a clinic back in my home state, several years ago. The behavior of the anti-choice protesters was horrible. They would yell out things like, “MOM, don’t kill your baby!” to the patients. They knew the details of trespass law and would get as close as they could to the patients and property.

    At one site, we put up a six foot fence (tallest allowed by law) around the parking lot to shield the patients and their cars from protesters. The neighboring business, owned by an anti-choicer, erected a platform so the protesters could shout over the fence.

    The worst were the teenage kids. Their anti-choice parents knew they would not be severely prosecuted because of their juvenile status, so they would routinely trespass and sometimes even assault clinic staff and patients. Even when they were arrested we would be back the next week with no appreciable consequences.

    I can’t agree more with Biodork; the behavior of these people is not designed to change policy – it’s intended to terrorize people. It’s reprehensible and beneath contempt.

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