Abortion Clinic Buffer Zones Aren't About Restricting Free Speech

My head is spinning on this one, folks.

You’ve likely heard of McCullen v. Coakley. Or if that doesn’t sound familiar, perhaps you’ve heard that the Supreme Court is hearing a case that could cost Massachusetts abortion clinics their buffer zones, and potentially impact similar buffer zones across the country. If you haven’t heard about this, trust me, it’s going on right now. Or don’t trust me. Google that shit.

A buffer zone around an abortion clinic is an area in which protesters are not allowed, and these buffer zones may overlap with public areas like sidewalks. In Massachusetts, the zone is 35 feet. An image in the New York Times shows the zone for one Planned Parenthood. It’s, like…itty bitty. Super itty bitty. Anyone entering the Planned Parenthood via that entrance is going to pass right through or very close to legal protest areas, and they’re going to have ample opportunity to converse with protesters…if they choose to do so. If they don’t want anything to do with protesters, they can be assured that their walk to the clinic doors will at least be physically unimpeded.

Continue reading “Abortion Clinic Buffer Zones Aren't About Restricting Free Speech”

Abortion Clinic Buffer Zones Aren't About Restricting Free Speech
{advertisement}

Abortion Clinic Buffer Zones Aren’t About Restricting Free Speech

My head is spinning on this one, folks.

You’ve likely heard of McCullen v. Coakley. Or if that doesn’t sound familiar, perhaps you’ve heard that the Supreme Court is hearing a case that could cost Massachusetts abortion clinics their buffer zones, and potentially impact similar buffer zones across the country. If you haven’t heard about this, trust me, it’s going on right now. Or don’t trust me. Google that shit.

A buffer zone around an abortion clinic is an area in which protesters are not allowed, and these buffer zones may overlap with public areas like sidewalks. In Massachusetts, the zone is 35 feet. An image in the New York Times shows the zone for one Planned Parenthood. It’s, like…itty bitty. Super itty bitty. Anyone entering the Planned Parenthood via that entrance is going to pass right through or very close to legal protest areas, and they’re going to have ample opportunity to converse with protesters…if they choose to do so. If they don’t want anything to do with protesters, they can be assured that their walk to the clinic doors will at least be physically unimpeded.

Continue reading “Abortion Clinic Buffer Zones Aren’t About Restricting Free Speech”

Abortion Clinic Buffer Zones Aren’t About Restricting Free Speech

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.

I’ve Been Too Nice

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.

I've Been Too Nice

Fighting Kindness with Kindness

We’ve heard the stories of abortion doctors and clinic staff being harrassed at their places of employment and at their homes. Even those peripherally associated with clinics have been targeted by protesters for harrassment. 

A Germantown, Maryland abortion clinic landlord receives calls and letters from protesters every day. The anti-choice group Defend Life distributed to its members the landlord’s personal contact information, including the names of his wife and two children. Members were asked to write or call him to ask – in a polite, Christian manner – if he would evict the clinic occupants from his building. He reported that the phone calls and emails have so far been polite, but felt that the protesters went too far when this week they went to his children’s school and a held up a huge banner printed with his name, address, phone number and photograph and the words “Please Stop the Child-Killing” for all of the parents and children of the school to see. 

The landlord has had enough, and has decided to launch a counter-campaign to return the “loving” emails, letters and phone calls that he and his family have received since Defend Life has targeted them. From an article on the story from Alternet:

So he’s decided that it’s time to call back, politely, with thanks for the prayers and wishes he has received, and with the hope that a phone call and email will literally bring home to his “gentle” opponents what it’s like to have that safe personal space invaded–even by so-called well-wishers.

Here is one of the landlord’s original emails, which he sent to the early supporters of the campaign:

I would like to organize a campaign to call and email each of these “concerned citizens” back. It would be 100 times as thoughtful if each of the people who called or emailed me got 100 calls or emails from people who lovingly and in a Christian way said to them:

1) The family truly appreciates your prayers.

2) Your opinions and pleas have been heard but

3) Defend Life has unfortunately misinformed you about the [family]’s legal rights regarding their ability to evict or terminate the lease of the clinic.

If you would like to help by sending polite emails, letters or phone calls to anti-choice protesters who have targeted the landlord, you can contact [email protected]to learn more. One thing to know: the landlord does not want people to be part of the campaign if they cannot be polite and non-confrontational. So no yelling, no threatening, no snark. If you can’t do that, don’t bother to sign up. Also, I volunteered to do some of this, but I’m watching out for my safety and privacy; I will be using a private, dedicated email account and a Google Voice phone number.

I think this is an interesting idea. I generally don’t engage in arguments with pro-lifers for the sake of attempting to change someone’s mind about the issue. But this campaign isn’t seeking to change people’s minds about abortion; it’s about getting individuals to rethink their tactics. If even one person is upset with the barrage of emails and phone calls that they’re about to get, perhaps they will understand how annoying and disruptive being on the receiving end of this type of campaign can be, and maybe they’ll decide not to engage in harrassing other human beings in this way in the future.

Fighting Kindness with Kindness