Abortion Clinic Protest

PHOTO: AP IMAGES

If you go to a clinic that provides abortions, chances are you’ll probably see a group of people wearing brightly colored vests outside: They’re clinic escorts, helping patients get into and out of the building safely, regardless of the reasons any patient is entering the building.

Though clinic escorts have been around for decades, Donald Trump’s election in November has inspired a new wave of people to volunteer their services: Many abortion clinics say there are unprecedented numbers of people showing up for the job. And while clinic escorts spend much of their time dealing with anti-abortion protesters, they feel that there’s much about their work that pro-choice advocates get wrong, too.Understandably, one of the biggest questions escorts get is about their safety. They may face harassment, threats of violence, or physical harm depending on the location of their clinics and other factors. Many say the most common problems they have with anti-abortion protesters are intimidation or crowd control instead of actual violence, but there are still concerns. “We have one protester who makes me feel physically, viscerally unsafe—he just makes my skin crawl,” says escort Victoria, who asked not to use her real first name. “He uses his body to physically intimidate people going into or leaving the clinic. He only approaches younger women who are alone or with other young women.”

How does volunteering actually work? Duties vary depending on the facility and its location, but escorts can do everything from standing in a line to block anti-abortion protesters from the premises to guarding patients as they get to and from their vehicles.

What all clinic escort programs have in common is that they take a patient-first approach and act as a nonconfrontational barrier; escorts aren’t there to pass judgment on anyone walking into a clinic or change the views of protesters. “Escorts are present to support people and create space for them to be empowered while accessing reproductive healthcare,” escort Fausta Luchini explains to Glamour. ”Our goal is always to de-escalate [and] normalize and destigmatize abortion services.” Escort Danielle Ingram says she likens escorts to “traffic cops,” in that she and her fellow volunteers spend much of their time helping people get in and out of the parking lot and blocking the driveway if a protester tries to approach.

It isn’t just anti-abortion protesters that make it difficult to keep conflict to a minimum. One of the biggest problems for clinics, escort Robyn says, are pro-choice supporters showing up to counterprotest anti-abortion demonstrators. “Counterprotests can actually be really harmful,” she explains. “When a patient arrives and sees people shouting on the sidewalk, they don’t immediately see that you’re there with a supportive sign, they simply see people shouting and holding signs when they are trying to get into a doctor’s office.” Not only does this create emotional distress for patients, but it can also escalate situations, lead to violence, and cause a scene—to the point where law enforcement officials may need to get involved.

“Being a clinic escort is not a free pass to vent your spleen on [anti-abortion activists], and it is not a full contact sport,” escort Cate Ross explains. “I still get absolutely livid listening to [the protesters], but they ultimately are trying to provoke you into a reaction. Don’t play their game. It’s not about the protesters. It’s about the patients.” When people incite arguments with protesters and then leave the area, escorts are often the ones dealing with the aftermath of amped-up anti-abortion advocates.

For people who are pro-choice, Victoria says being an escort is a great option for showing support, but it’s not for everyone. “I am prohibited from engaging the protesters, and as someone who avoids confrontation, [I think] that makes it a good fit for me. But it’s very tempting to want to make side remarks or flat-out tell them to f*ck off sometimes,” she says. “It’s also physically demanding to stand on concrete for hours on end in all weather.” She says pro-choice advocates should definitely try other avenues for showing their support, like donating to Planned Parenthood or the National Network of Abortion Funds.

Additionally, Robyn says that if people want to support clinics that provide abortions, they can send thank-you cards to clinic nurses, doctors, and staff. Escort Rivka also recommends bringing escorts cups of coffee or donating to the Free Vest Project, which provides clinics with vests for their volunteers. Other escorts point out that clinics often need people for many other services, like stuffing envelopes or making phone calls, which can be incredibly helpful.

But most importantly, Victoria says the best thing people can do is use their voices—not just to call their representatives or talk to local officials, but to discuss reproductive rights with others in their lives. “Challenge your friends and family when they pass judgment on accessing reproductive healthcare, including abortion. Challenge the narrative that abortion is always a difficult decision, a decision between ‘a woman and her doctor’; it’s a decision for the pregnant person, period. Her doctor shouldn’t have a say,” she explains. “Point out the economic and racial inequities that contribute to the abortion stigma. I think we need to get a lot more radical. The other side isn’t backing down, and neither should we.”

https://www.glamour.com/story/clinic-escorts-explain-pro-choice-allies-get-wrong?mbid=social_facebook_referral