Rosaries, Protesters And I

I’m a clinic escort.

It’s a title well known in certain activist circles, but it’s not something the average person knows much about. Clinic escorting means that I help walk patients and their companions into a clinic that performs abortions. This short journey from car to door often means being surrounded by protesters who follow the patient. They attempt to hand the patients pamphlets. They show them tiny, emotionally manipulative plastic fetuses and yell through microphones about hell, and God and repentance. Usually, the patients and their companions are quiet. Sometimes they whisper questions like, “Are these people actually serious?” Sometimes they stand up tall and loudly say, so I and the protesters alike can hear them, “I got this.”

There are a few reasons why I began clinic escorting. I’ve been interested in reproductive justice, especially with regards to abortion access, for quite some time. I grew up hearing stories about how my great-grandmother self-aborted a century ago by, as legend tells it, swallowing glass. My anger, passion and desire to fight for abortion rights has become a fire inside me as I’ve grown into an adult who always has feminism and human rights on the brain.

I knew I wanted to help, but for years I just didn’t know how. When the opportunity arose to become a clinic escort, I jumped on it without looking back. I knew that I wanted to be an activist but only had Twitter as an outlet at that point. I wanted to be on the ground. As a clinic escort, I am almost literally on the ground, fighting for a patient’s right to access a health facility without feeling alone, ganged up on or judged.

There is, of course, a risk in becoming a clinic escort. Interestingly enough, the physical risk of injury and death that accompanies standing outside an abortion clinic is usually the last thought on my mind. What I care most about is doing my best to provide the patients and their companions with a calm and friendly voice and my arms as a barrier to provide both physical and emotional safety.

That September morning held a strange air around it. During a pre-sidewalk briefing inside the clinic, our team leader even insisted it “felt weird.” Nonetheless, the other escorts and I donned our neon yellow vests with CLINIC ESCORT VOLUNTEER emblazoned on the front and took our posts on opposite ends of a busy suburban street.

Several protesters were already there and waiting for the first rush of patients. Other protesters arrived as the morning got busier. This Saturday morning happened to be a slower day in terms of patient count, and unfortunately that meant the protesters turned their attention to the escorts. I’m generally non-confrontational so I wouldn’t engage the protesters even if that were an advisable move, but sometimes I do get a little overwhelmed. On this day, a group of men of varying ages, some I hadn’t seen before (you notice that the same protesters usually come every week, so a newbie is cause for concern), crossed the street and began attempting to engage with us. I stood silently and rigidly. I looked out at the street instead of thinking about the fact that men I didn’t know were taking turns standing a foot away from my ear, trying to do their perverted version of reasoning with me.

“Do you believe in God?”

“Do you know they murder babies in there?”

“Do you know that you’re going to hell?”

“You should be on our side, not on the side of the baby killers. We care about women more.”

I know why I’m here, I repeat in my mind. This isn’t about me. They just want my attention.

I’ve seen a lot as a clinic escort. I see the best of people and I see the worst of people. Even though I know it may be dangerous to involve myself with an abortion clinic, I also know that my work is one of the best things I could be doing with my life. My only fear on that sidewalk is that I’m not doing or saying enough for these patients and their companions.

Volunteering my time as a clinic escort has also taught me a lot about myself as a young adult, as a woman and as an activist. I always thought I was passion-less. That I was destined to float between meaningless jobs because there was nothing that I really and truly cared about enough to make it my life’s work. I always thought I was too shy to be an activist. Too non-confrontational, too introverted to make much of a difference in the real world.

Every time I’m out on that loud and busy sidewalk, I realize that all of those things I’ve convinced myself of are lies. I have immense passion. For reproductive rights, for health care, for feminism. I may be an introvert, but I’m working my butt off to not let that stop me from helping those seeking an abortion enter their doctor’s office surrounded by love and support.

I may be an introvert, but I’m working my butt off to not let that stop me from helping those seeking an abortion enter their doctor’s office surrounded by love and support.

I leapt out of my comfort zone when I began volunteering at the clinic and what I found once I landed was a drive to work in reproductive justice and a realization that I’m a lot braver than I ever thought I could be.

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