Outside the Clinic

In light of recent news on abortions, I felt that it was the right time to discuss my connection to abortion patients.

For a little over a year, I have volunteered as a patient escort for a women’s clinic. In other words, I have spent many Saturday mornings watching women—often with a family member, friend, or significant other—deal with harassment by street protesters who wish to change the minds of patients entering the clinic. Abortion clinic protesters aren’t new. They became particularly violent in the 1990s (if you haven’t seen it, If These Walls Could Talk provides a good glimpse at what many clinics had to deal with) and now are more about persuading patients. Unfortunately, what these protesters fail to realize is how damaging their tactics can be.

This last Saturday, I was doing my typical volunteer shift. There were a couple regular protesters pacing the sidewalk outside the clinic, holding their pamphlets and signs. (For those of you who have never seen abortion protesters before, their signs generally show pictures of healthy fetuses and newborns, happy looking families, and doctored images of aborted fetuses.) There were a few more protesters than usual, including a group of people muttering Hail Marys for over an hour. If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the past year it’s that I should never engage in dialogue with a protester. There’s nothing wrong with a quick exchange about the weather, but when anyone—volunteer, staff member, patient, passerby, and so on—disagrees with protesters’ sentiments, they strike back hard.

I don’t mean to say that every protester is willing to yell or follow people down the street until they take one of their pamphlets. In my experiences, however, this happens all too often. One of the protesters used the excuse, “It’s science!” to justify her claims. The woman the protester was trying to persuade was clearly distraught, repeating, “It’s okay, it doesn’t have a heartbeat at only two weeks” to herself. The protesters did not deny her claim, though they demonstrated that the fetus was already developed into the size of a fist. When they gave up and walked away, she looked at me and said, “I’m right, aren’t I? It’s still okay, it’s not even alive yet.”

I didn’t give her my opinion on the life part, but I said, “Yes, it is very tiny,” I put my index finger by my thumb to show her, “and it does not grow in size that quickly.”

The woman looked relieved, though I could tell she was still debating the issue with herself. It seemed that she was personally pro-life, but did not want to impose her belief upon the woman she was with. Being outside was a way for her to talk to someone about her dilemma, yet in the end she was still tormented.

I escort patients not to see these sorts of experiences or to “smirk like a Nazi” as one of the protesters so nicely put it. I escort because I want to avoid these sorts of confrontations. Women should not have to be hounded with misleading facts, especially when they are about to undergo a life-changing event. They understand the emotional turmoil associated with abortions and they certainly don’t need someone to talk them out of it in the most bullied way possible. Additionally, many of the women going into the clinic aren’t even there for an abortion. Another woman came out after receiving a free pregnancy test and was still bothered by a protester.

I understand that people want to fight for something they believe in. Many people believe that life begins at conception and that abortion is considered murder. This gets to be a problem when people use lies to manipulate patients and make them feel small. These women do not see themselves as murderers, but they are told they are such by the protesters; no one deserves this treatment. They might call it counseling, but we escort volunteers call it harassment.

Sometimes it’s very difficult to stay on for a full volunteer shift. I’ve learned to tune out the shouts of “You’re like the Nazis!” and “You’re all murderers!” though the bombardment of insults isn’t always easy to handle. What has me coming back are the grateful looks on the faces of patients and their quiet “thank you”s. Often passerby stop and thank me (or even offer to buy me coffee in the cold weather, as someone did Saturday), for they too believe that women should have the right to choose—not just to choose to have an abortion, but to have their child or put their child up for adoption, and most importantly to choose an option based on informed and factual information.

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