Last Saturday, I spent my morning in the company of nearly two dozen lurkers, skulkers, stalkers, harassers, and creeps... and I can't wait to do it again.
I am a volunteer abortion clinic escort. This means I am there to walk with women coming into the abortion clinic. It's usually no more than a minute's walk from their cars to the front door of the clinic. Under normal circumstances, my help would hardly be needed. Except the circumstances outside an abortion clinic are rarely "normal."
Every day that our doors are open to women seeking abortions, the sidewalk in front of our clinic is occupied by people who do anything they think they can get away with to try to keep those women from going inside. These protesters are, by and large, a sideshow of the crazy and the scary and the totally lacking in people skills. The highlight of my most recent Saturday morning was the offense taken by one of the regular protesters at the sight of me and a client talking and laughing together as we walked. This protester lifted her bullhorn and screeched into it, over all the other shouting from her compadres: "These ladies are not your friends! They're your enemies! They want to sell your baby for parts AND MAKE THEM INTO SHAMPOO!"
Yes, she did. While wearing a sign reading "PRO-LIFE IS PRO-WOMEN: WE CARE," no less.
Along with the bullhorning and the screeching and the embryo shampoo conspiracy, our protesters carry some really big, really ugly signs. You know the ones. They're not designed to appeal to one's conscience or to offer support in one's time of need; they're designed to shock and traumatize via the instinctive human revulsion to gore. So far, they haven't taken me up on my suggestion to blow up photos of fresh roadkill as an alternative. Same revulsion factor, 100% more respect for the "human lives" they say their photos represent.
For some women, then, those sixty seconds are a nightmare. Well before they arrive in their cars, they're afraid of that walk. They've been worrying about it, steeling themselves. They don't know what they're walking into, but they're imagining a worst-case scenario. You can tell by how they'll busily step from their cars, shuffling keys and bags or talking very loudly to their companions so as to plausibly ignore you, or pop up from behind the wheel with the words "You need to leave us alone right now" already out of their mouths, before they see you quietly standing and pointing to the word "ESCORT" emblazoned across your neon orange vest. You can tell from the plain relief that floods their eyes when they realize who you are and why you're there. You can tell from the haste with which they apologize for their perfectly understandable mistake, and from the emphatic way they say "thank you" as you open the door for them at the end of that long, long walk.
We do have a very few regulars who come to our clinic to stand in quiet prayer with some brochures to be gently offered, not angrily brandished. And we think of these folks as no threat: if it happens that they are the only protesters on site, we're happy to leave them to it without any supervision from us. That's pretty rare, however. These rather more Christlike Christians are vastly outnumbered by those who call bullying "counseling" and intimidation "outreach." I'm able to laugh at things like the zygote curling-mousse plot because it's just so dumb. But for our clients who don't hang out with these people every weekend, who aren't used to getting screamed at on the street by strangers, who are just trying to go to the doctor's office for Pete's sake (and does it matter if a client is just getting a Pap smear or is gray-haired or is the mailman? no, no it does not), it's not funny at all. It's just scary.
For a nation that claims to cherish its freedoms, America is pretty damned complacent about the harassment that goes on outside abortion clinics. Imagine this circus outside of dentist's offices instead. Imagine what it would feel like, having to endure being called a whore and a killer on your way in to have a bad tooth pulled. Maybe they'd throw little plastic teeth at you; maybe they'd even take your photograph on the way in. People wouldn't stand for it: I have the right to choose my own dental care, they'd say. Who do these people think they are? And even if I were the smallest bit unsure about the choice I'd made, even if some part of me wanted to be talked into a filling and not an extraction--why in god's name would some hostile, red-faced, screaming stranger get a vote?
Maybe there's an element of trolling to that analogy. I could write the outraged top-text for an email forward of this blog myself. "Can you believe it! A LIVING, ALMOST-BREATHING CHILD who will PROBABLY CURE CANCER SOMEDAY is nothing more than a ROTTED MOLAR to this BARREN GODLESS WHORE!!!11" Feel free to copy/paste--but if you do, you're missing the point. Bullying never won any hearts or minds, and harassment or intimidation of private citizens going about their private lives is never, never, never a tool for good. There is no place for such tactics of fear in civil discourse, and no one who employs them can be truly called a warrior for good, no matter what they tell themselves while they're packing their bullhorn and their gore posters into the car every morning.
I can't make the protesters who camp out in front of my clinic in the mornings go away. I can't even make them behave like rational, responsible citizens. But I can make sure that the women (and men, and children) who walk into my clinic don't have to run that obstacle course alone, and I believe I can assuage some of their fear. I can shield them physically from shouts and eyes and cameras. I can assure by my presence as a witness that the protesters don't "forget" where the property line is. And I can be one voice of supportive reason, quiet but strong, in opposition to the shouting about the blastocyst deep-conditioning cabal:
"I'm a volunteer with the clinic. We have some protesters out front who will try to shout at you. They don't know why you're here, but they're going to shout at you anyway. You don't have to listen to them. I can just walk alongside and keep myself between them and you. I'm sorry you have to deal with this today."
Their fear is why I escort. Their gratitude is why I keep coming back.
August 3, 2009
This is how it begins. Operation Rescue announces "campaign" against NE abortion provider Dr. Carhart, starts 8/28-29 http://tr.im/vjqi
At @LGBTCenterNYC for talk w/ Dr. Wicklund & Sunsara Taylor. Glad to see rather more GenXers than one might expect. Even a few Y! Near SRO.
My Q got A'ed. How to help Dr Carhart now that OR is after him? Dr W: 1) Letters of support 2) Bodies. Onsite. 3) $: siege is VERY expensive
Got Dr W to sign my book; exchanged contact info with some people. A fave line from a fave movie: I think they're conspiring to conspire!
August 5, 2009
RT @KS_NOW: Attn #ProChoice activists You are needed in Nebraska August 28th & 29th! Stay tuned for details!
August 7, 2009
RT @KS_NOW #ProChoice Activists WE NEED YOU! Come to Nebraska, defend Dr. Carhart's clinic! http://bit.ly/4Aj1rZ #p2 #tiller #fem2
August 15, 2009
Dr. Carhart risks his life for your rights. Please come to NE 8/27-29 & stand with him (& me!) against Operation Rescue http://bit.ly/16XJWR
Long must-read from Newsweek on Dr. Carhart: The Abortion Evangelist http://bit.ly/1bbccs Paragraph 3 fills me with--no other word--rage.
...the Esquire story on Dr. Hern didn't make me cry. But the Newsweek story on Dr. Carhart just totally demolished me. Fuck.
August 19, 2009
Help anti-choice protesters be useful for a change! Pledge-A-Picketer for Dr. Carhart's patients at http://www.pledge-a-picket.org/
August 26, 2009
OH HAI, mobile data service. Haven't seen you in a few days. I am boarding a plane to Wichita. Next stop after that: Dr. #Carthart's clinic
Welcome to Wichita: Air Capital of the World. Also: guns-in-checked-luggage capital of the world? http://twitpic.com/fe9ls
Margaritas. Gossip. Trash-talk. Venting. Presents. Hugs. Plotting. Planning. Activists make awesome friends.
August 27, 2009
Just picked up @themadvoter and @nicki2377. It's ON.
It's not too late for you to come to NE & help defend Dr #Carhart from Operation Rescue. Priceline a flight. Rent a car. Hitchhike. BE HERE.
Mount Saint Bag Lunch. Local support for the #Carhart clinic defense is AMAZING. Thank you Omaha!! http://twitpic.com/fj85k
August 28, 2009
You know what's classy? Anti-choicers who harangue the family members of abortion providers. Just sayin'. #carhart
.@Rizzz I am indeed in NE. Hanging out with my sign in front of Dr #Carhart's with several score of my closest pals!
I've met Terry O'Neill and Katherine Spillar here at Dr #Carhart's this morning. So great to have national leaders standing tall with us!
A small band of secular saints just rolled through with bagels and water. I am sharing around my 45 SPF and my array of extra-fat Sharpies.
Dr Carhart Is A Hero #carhart #signs
You can sing right along with us. "Every sperm is sacred / Every sperm is good / Every sperm is needed / In your neighborhood" #carhart
RT @LouisvillekyNOW @erintothemax CNN: Operation Rescue scales back at #Carhart's clinic because of NOW activists. http://tinyurl.com/mc4sw9
As we were walking for food, a sweaty dude in truck & cap stopped to tell us about his friend who got spat on by antis at Dr #Carhart's.
Thanks to PRCH (@reprodocs) for sending great shirts & totes to NE w/me! A big hit here at Dr #Carhart's http://twitpic.com/fl19f
For the next day & a half, my bosoms are being referred to as my "messaging zone" #carhart #36Csforchoice http://twitpic.com/flp4f
If God Gave Us Free Will, Does That Mean God Is Pro-Choice? #carhart #signs
Met @WendyNorris too! Looking forward to her coverage on @rhrealitycheck. Great crowd here at Dr #Carhart's; I'm so grateful to all of them.
Today? Was fucking awesome. #carhart
@KS_NOW Thank you for foregoing sleep to organize it!
Former employee of Dr #Tiller told us he had talked with her about being a target. Said he just hoped it'd be a good clean shot to the head.
Sign from god? I report, you decide RT @operationrescue: Power outage @ office this morning. Lightening struck transformer behind our office
August 29, 2009
I very much want to go and pet that big handsome bomb-sniffing dog. I guess he's busy though. #carhart
Someone I hadn't met before said "hi! I saw you talking on the news last night." Haven't seen it; hope I didn't sound like a dolt. #carhart
Dawn at Dr. #Carhart's clinic in Omaha. http://twitpic.com/foviy
Inside the property line, we hold the line. #carhart http://twitpic.com/fp03i
What the antis will see as they try to get as close as they can to Dr #Carhart's clinic entrance. http://twitpic.com/fp1lw
Fresh faces still arriving. A bunch of folks from Chicago just arrived to stand with us. #carhart
This charmer is shouting at patients, waving snuff posters & reading out medical descriptions of abortion http://twitpic.com/fp5ec
Antis at the end of the block are turning away cars looking for the clinic or directing them to their fake clinic across the street #carhart
RT @jenlabarbera An old priest just kicked thru the orange fence to kick down our NOW sign. Kicked me in the process. 1st assault of the day
New faces still arriving. Several from South Dakota just got here to stand with us for Dr. #Carhart. I've lost track now of how many we are.
What godly purpose, other than pure harassment & intimidation, is involved in photographing clinic patients? Seriously: I'm asking. #prolife
Anti threw herself past police lines at an entering car, waving a pic & screaming. Only 1 side here is respecting lines: not them. #carhart
Routed. Trounced. Thumped. Schooled. Owned. ...I'm out. Goodbye, Nebraska. Stay strong. TRUST WOMEN. #carhart
What do I win for getting pix of the exact same "Truth Truck" in 2 diff states in 1 day? CAUTION: gore. http://twitpic.com/fs9ew
Back in ICT. Same hotel, same baseball-game view. Keep expecting the crowd noise to be "Welcome! Welcome! This clinic STAYS OPEN!" #carhart
Also, WHY WAS I NOT INFORMED SOONER that Wichita's minor league baseball team is the Wingnuts?! You can't make this shit up @operationrescue
August 30, 2009
Six and a half hours later, despite a MASSIVE sleep deficit, I am wide awake. Maybe the Womb Police are right? God really does hate me.
Heading to the airport, rocking out to Obsession by Animotion. For my next trick: getting on a plane toting a camp chair and a protest sign.
The plane at my gate was meant to depart 1hr ago. Instead it just offloaded all its passengers. Who are trying to get to the same city as I.
OTOH, TSA staff at ICT are pro-choice. I have a sign saying "Dr Carhart Is Defending Freedom, I'm Defending Dr Carhart" & NO cavity search!
On a plane, at last. o/~ fill her coat with weapons, and help her get it on / 'cause one day, when she goes, she's gone o/~