Why I’m Pro-Choice, by AJ

When my husband and I had children we always agreed to be open and honest with our kids. When we ended up having two daughters, my husband informed me that “those talks” were all mine. I’ve always been pretty open about women’s rights and at an early age they had probably heard me rant and rave about things they probably shouldn’t have but looking back on it, I’m so glad they did.

They’re 8 and 10 now and about one year ago they asked me what an abortion was. At first, I didn’t want to tell them anything. I didn’t want to tell them the process of an abortion. They’d never understand. They’d get the wrong idea about what it is because they’re kids. There’s no way they could really process that information. Then I thought back and no one in my family talked to me about periods, pregnancy or birth control early. l wasn’t going to be that mom. I told them about abortion in a very age appropriate way, but the most important part I wanted to make sure they understood was that it was their choice. As I explained to them about the process and asked them if someone else wanted to have an abortion what would you say? They were very sure in their answer, “It’s their choice.” Maybe they just said that because I was pushing that the choice is theirs to make or because they truly felt that it was their choice, but I was pretty sure I got my point across.

Fast forward to one day in January,  the night before my first morning as a clinic escort. We had talked about it all week long because they could tell that I was nervous about it. We talked about what an escort does and how they are there to support the woman. How their job is to walk with the woman and her friends or family from their vehicle to the building because they would be harassed. We discussed the protestors and how they were out there with signs with huge photos of dead fetuses and yelling at the women while they were walking into the clinic. My youngest daughter has always been the one to soak up the most information from me. I put them to bed that night, gave kisses, and kiss fives (kiss your hand, then high five) and tucked them in; business as usual. I went downstairs to go to bed myself and I’m lying there for about 10 minutes and in comes my youngest. She hands me a letter and it said,

Dear Mom,

I hope you can help a lot of women tomorrow(sic).

I’ll miss you and I love you a lot.

Love,

 

Then about 10 minutes later she comes back downstairs and she says, “Oh good, you’re still awake,” and she hands me a picture that she has drawn. As I’m looking at the picture, I’m at a loss for words and I ask her to explain it to me. She tells me that I’m at the top with a lady who isn’t sure about her decision, another helper with a lady who is very scared. I asked her what she afraid of. She told me that she was scared of the protesters. She said that she didn’t draw the protesters because they were not important because they weren’t there to help. I was overwhelmed at her understanding of it all.

 

I made sure that I brought those papers with me on Saturday morning because I knew I had plenty of second thoughts about going. I had seen the protesters from the street so many times before but I had no idea how it would affect me up close. When I approached the clinic from 3rd street, I couldn’t help but feel overwhelmed and tear up. When I got into the parking lot, I almost threw up, but then I remembered the papers in my pocket and remembered that the reason I’m here is to make sure that I’m doing my part to make sure my daughters have access to proper healthcare and rights to their own bodies. As their mother, I owe them that.

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How Scared Should I Be?

I’ve been thinking about fear lately.  People who offer any kind of abortion care do that ~ we contemplate the danger, weigh the risk, and decide how willing we are to continue providing care based on our personal logarithm for safety.

The shooting at Planned Parenthood in Colorado shifts the balance.    The vandalism at EMW clinic here in Louisville shifts it a bit more.  We all have to recalculate.  Some of us do it quickly, others may struggle.  But we haven’t lost escorts – in fact, many new people are volunteering.  Clearly, we won’t be scared off.

So I’ve been thinking about fear, and talking about it with other people who provide abortion care.  As a therapist, I believe that when we are anxious or afraid, we are usually overestimating the risk of the danger and underestimating our ability to deal with it.  I ponder how that applies.

I know there are different types of fear.   We can fear for our physical safety or  fear for our emotional safety.  Those dangers can be realistic or not, but we each have our own tipping point for what’s safe and what isn’t.

If you’re afraid of flying, you may be afraid the plane will crash and you’ll die.  Or you may be afraid that you’ll have a panic attack on the plane and (obviously) not be able to get off the plane and that will be horrible.  The actual risk of either of those things happening aren’t what determines whether or not you fly – a whole range of other factors influence it.

It’s the same with escorting.  We can be afraid that some rabid anti with nothing to lose will detonate a bomb or drive by and start shooting.  We can be afraid that our family and friends who are anti-choice will reject us.  But regardless of the actual danger, escorts typically have deeply held beliefs that lead them to choose to take the risk.

I’m not usually a worrier.  This, however, gives me pause:  The Abortion Vigilante Worksheet.  Created by American Right to Life (not to be confused with the National Right to Life group that we’re all familiar with) the worksheet is a masterpiece of double talk.

American RTL publishes this worksheet to help Christians think through the issue of vigilantism regarding the intentional killing of abortionists. Our directors and leaders at the summit which launched our organization (including the director of Operation Rescue National/OSA, the Rev. Flip Benham) have spent months incarcerated in jails for peaceful civil disobedience by blocking abortion clinic entrances and in defense of Christian liberties.

Disclosure: Prior to using this worksheet, ARTL would like the reader to know our own position:
1) Governments have the authority to use lethal force in more circumstances than do civilians.
2) The Bible’s escalation of force principle prohibits civilian use of lethal force if less force could suffice.
3) Civilians may use lethal force defending innocent life against threats of imminent harm.

If true, these principles do not prohibit the use of civil disobedience to prevent abortions. This worksheet, however, concludes that those who kill, advocate, or even defend the intentional killing of abortionists are morally wrong. Some of those who defend such killings complain that others are unwilling to seriously address their position. To any such, this challenge goes out: take the time and courage to answer these questions, and then email your answers and contact information to…

It seems to me that they’re saying, “Yes, it could be morally justified to kill an abortion provider, no, we’re not saying we think that, but there sure is an argument for it, and maybe you think it’s ok.”

It ends on a similar note, which I won’t bother quoting.

In-between, along with a zillion supposedly logical, ethical questions which supposedly will help you think through the ethical dilemma of whether or not it’s ok to kill abortion providers, is this chart:

Note: The following table presents the casualties of actual known U.S. abortion vigilantes:

Anti-Abortion Violence (non-regulatory)

Perpetrator -Date- City -Victims -Death or Injury -Their Title or Role
Scott Roeder 5/31/09 Wichita, KS George Tiller Death Abortionist

Paul J. Hill 7/29/04 Pensacola, FL John Bayard Britton Death Abortionist
” ” ” ” ” ” James H. Barrett Death Bodyguard, clinic ‘escort’
” ” ” ” ” ” June Barrett Shot twice Clinic ‘escort’

James Kopp 10/23/98 Amherst, NY Barnett Slepian Death Abortionist

Eric Robert Rudolph 1/29/98 Birmingham, AL Robert Sanderson Death Security guard, off-duty cop
” ” ” ” ” ” Emily Lyons Critically injured Clinic nurse

John Salvi 12/30/94 Brookline, MA Shannon Lowney Death Clinic receptionist
” ” ” ” ” ” Leanne Nichols Death Clinic receptionist
” ” ” ” ” ” Anjana Agrawal Shot twice, bullet by heart Clinic ‘counselor’
” ” ” ” ” ” Antonio Hernandez Collapsed lung, more Accompanied wife to clinic
” ” ” ” ” ” Brian Murray Bullet tore up insides Accompanied friend to clinic
” ” ” ” ” ” Jane Sauer Shot twice Clinic bookkeeper
” ” ” ” ” ” Richard J. Seron Shot arm, shoulder, hand Security guard

Rachelle Shannon 8/19/93 Wichita, KS George Tiller Shot in both arms Abortionist

Michael Griffin 3/10/93 Pensacola, FL David Gunn Death Abortionist

Dec. 1, 2015 Update: As results of the criminal investigation become public, and the motive of the mentally-ill pothead Robert Lewis Dear, the Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood murderer, is known, we will update the above chart if need be.

That chills me!!  This chart, the Colorado shooting, and the vandalism at my own clinic (with limited concern or action from the police) hit my tipping point.  I have to re-examiine my own logarithm for physical safety.

How scared is reasonable?  How high is the risk – realistically?  Ok, I have a lot better chance of dying in a car wreck than getting killed by an anti at the clinic, but this feels scarier.  What is that about?

Is it the malevolence?  If I die in a car wreck, it’s an accident.  If someone targets me and kills me because I’m an escort, it is intentional and personal.  That does feel different.

Is it because I’m choosing to do this thing that puts me at risk?  I couldn’t really survive without getting in a car, but I choose to escort.  Does that make it easier to “blame the victim?” Maybe.  Maybe that makes it feel different, but I totally reject that.  Choosing to support reproductive health isn’t punishable by death.

So how scared should I be?  I have no idea.  Mostly, I am not scared.  Mostly, I like to remind people that if I get killed on the sidewalk, I expect to become a martyr and for the escorts to at least get a buffer zone out of it.  Taking time to think it through just increases my appreciation for all the providers of abortion care ~ doctors, nurses, nurse practitioners, receptionists, medical assistants, and escorts ~ who won’t let fear stop them either.

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To support abortion access in Kentucky

Gift Bags

We have a wide variety of protesters yelling at patients and companions entering the clinic. Every morning the clinic is open they line up to pray, yell, preach, or shove pamphlets into cars and the hands of people who just want to get to their appointment. If you’ve read any of our articles on this blog, you know them. You’ve seen them in action on our videos. You’ve heard their voices when we record them.

Saturday mornings are particularly chaotic. We will normally have 70-100 protesters harassing and bullying. As the holiday season gets closer, we will have more protesters showing up to heap condemnation on people. We’re already hearing, “This time next year you could have presents under the tree for this baby.” We are already seeing more chaos this past Saturday.They seem to be trying to out-perform each other in many ways. Who can yell the loudest? Who can block an escort? Who can delay the patient long enough to shove pamphlets in their hands? Who can make the one comment that will make the patient or their companion react with tears or anger? They push and shove each other, milling around the entrance, carrying their fetal porn signs as blocking weapons. Each one appears to want to make a “score” for Christmas.

When I am asked by people we are escorting, “Are they going to be here when we leave?” I always tell them, “Most of them leave right after the escorts do. There may be one or two here when you leave, but just walk past them.” We know there is the possibility of antis being present when they leave, especially during the 40 Days for Life campaigns, but there isn’t the great numbers of people we see in the mornings.

Every Saturday afternoon there are at least two antis handing out gift bags to departing patients. They are present on other days, but Saturdays you can always count on them to be present. They watch the doors of the clinic from the property line and rush to give their gift bags. It’s always extended with the comment, “We know you have had a hard day. We just wanted to give you this gift.”

This Saturday I was giving a ride to a patient when the surgery was finished. We walked out and the two present-bearing antis ran to us. One of them blocked my car door so the patient couldn’t get in until they took the bag. They asked them, “Is there a snack in there?” Since they said “Yes” they took the bag. As we got into the car, the other anti ran up to another patient leaving and forced the bag into their hands. Running up to strangers, pushing, blocking and forcing gift bags on them. It’s what the holiday season is all about, isn’t it?

When we got into my car, I asked the patient if I could remove the anti-abortion literature from the bag before they looked into it. I said, “You don’t really need to read these do you?” They replied, “No, I’m just hungry.” Pamphlet and book were removed and I handed the bag back to them. The bag contained an airplane-sized bag of pretzels, a full bottle of Olay body wash and a nylon mesh body wash scrubber. No doubt the body wash and scrubber were to symbolize washing the sin away? The pretzels were consumed and the other things taken home.

I think this bothered me so much because as the patient went into the clinic in the morning, they displayed so much confidence and shared with me before we left the clinic how relieved they were to have this over. For them to have to endure one more round of harassment going home just made me mad.

What were the pamphlet and book?

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Two Ways to Live – the choice we all face, Pocket Edition. This is a 16-page pamphlet that says a lot of things, but it summarizes the two ways to live are “Our Way” rejecting God or “God’s new way” by submitting to Jesus.

The Holy Bible New Testament- This is self-explanatory except for the handwritten inscription inside the cover.

“We know that today has been difficult. There may come a time when you experience sorrow, regret and guilt over what took place today and at that time, you may wonder if there is a safe place you could turn to for help and support, A Woman’s Choice Resource Center is that place where you can find hope and healing. Please give them a call at (phone number edited out). They would love to listen to your story and speak with you further. Remember you are valuable and loved! “

First of all, they didn’t listen to their story as they entered the clinic. They just shouted the same things they shout at everyone else. Why would they want to listen after the abortion unless it is to further heap shame on them?

Second, there are some really great organizations listed on our Reproductive Services page who do listen and counsel. They are trained counselors instead of staff and volunteers wanting to push a religious agenda like at A Woman’s Choice.

For any future patients at EMW, please be aware the pretzels are good, the body wash is handy, but just pitch the literature.

 

The Morning after Robert Dear was allowed to surrender alive.

This past Saturday was the first time in over 16 years of escort that I had to send “safe” texts to loved ones after I left the clinic.

Clinic escorts are accustomed to dealing with scary people. Some of the most frightening people I have encountered in my 16 years as an escort have been white men. Some seem more stable than others. Some seem more sober than others. 12295325_10153631366470399_7791018100278684395_n

It will never cease to amaze me how entitled these men feel to forcing their beliefs and morals onto complete strangers who are doing what they know is best for themselves and their loved ones. I have often guessed that some of the people who come to protest at our clinic aren’t there out of compassion for life, or as a way to care for pregnant people or their potential offspring. I think some of them come out because the sidewalk protests are a place where it is socially acceptable to bully people. The ways that they use their bodies, their massive signs, and their words, with or without amplifiers to shame and intimidate others is praised by their peers in this space. it is bullying at it’s best, and domestic terrorism at worst.

This past Friday (the day after thanksgiving, when many clinics were closed for the holiday and many americans were acting some type of way in the name of capitalism) we were reminded of what can happen when entitled and potentially unstable people decide to take action against what they have been convinced is wrong, even if it has no actual bearing on them – whatsoever. In the aftermath we are seeing anti choicers react in various ways. Some are openly praising the attack. some are trying to wash their hands of any remote responsibility. I demand accountability. Unfortunately, I will have to be very patient. Robin Marty explains better than I can about how even the sidewalk prayers need to hold themselves and each other accountable for the Robert Dears and the Scott Roeders of the world, for they are not going away, they’re getting inspired.

It is still unclear what exact message Dear wanted to send with his actions. Survivors of Dear’s murderous hissy fit have stated he said “no more baby parts” so we can infer that he was acting against PP while drawing inspiration from the widely disproven “sting” videos that were released earlier this year. One thing we can be sure of is that Dear wasn’t doing this out of a logically driven compassion for life (as his supporters may wish to believe) since he clearly aimed to cause great harm with his actions, and ultimately killed three people and injured nine others. His victims included an officer of the law who was doing his job, plus two civilians, both People of Color. Both accustomed to life without the privileges afforded Dear and most clinic protesters (who *if* they recognize their white privilege, almost certainly think they deserve it.) It was Dear’s white privilege that allowed him to surrender alive, even after killing an officer and two innocent bystanders. I saw someone make a comment about whether the police bought Dear a fast food treat on the way to jail, referencing the greasy kudos Dylann Roof was given after his Charleston SC shooting spree. My stomach churned knowing that this is the reality of this day and age.

These rather unpleasant thoughts are part of our day to day reality now. These are the facts that we cannot ignore while we are on the sidewalk, creating and holding space for people. We can’t forget that our own clinic has been under attack very recently. We must consider our own safety in addition to that of everyone on the sidewalk. Above all that we know we cannot let these bullies prevail. so, what can be done? That is a great question, and one that is being asked in and of escort and other access groups constantly right now. The answers are varied and unclear, but one thing we know we have to do is use our voices and demand accountability. Share this post, and the ones linked herein. Encourage others to speak up. It is our duty to change the narrative that it’s socially acceptable for white men to tell people how to lead their lives – lest they end them for us.

Escorts double down in the face of clinic property destruction

This past week, the clinic we escort at suffered it’s second act of property destruction within a three week span. People have used words including ‘insanity’ and ‘domestic terrorism’ when reacting to what happened. The pic below was taken by an escort on Thursday morning. More details about this and the previous attack (also resulting in a broken window) can be found in this article.

broken glass door

Now, as you might imagine, while police, clinic staff, and whatever additional parties have been filling out papers and watching surveillance footage, those of us on the sidewalk are going through our own reactions and feelings about this. Destruction of this property does not directly affect escorts. It’s not our window to replace. It’s not even our bosses’ window, as we are all volunteers and are only loosely connected to this clinic. That said, the indirect impact on escorts could possibly be more tangible than what the clinic staff has dealt with.

Five days a week, escorts stand toe-to-toe (often literally) with the people who encourage and enable this kind of extreme aggression to grow and thrive. We hold space and absorb hateful remarks day after day. We have been assaulted, and had our buttons pushed too many times to count. Escorts often harden themselves to the awful things that are spewed at us, but we can’t help but hear what is said, and we are often triggered by the terrible things that are said to clients and escorts: slut shaming, racism, low jabs about people’s physical features, bringing up personal details about people’s children, or lost loved ones. Remarks obviously meant to hurt us from people claiming to be there out of a love for life (and presumably people…)  It is bullying. We know this.

The bullies who come to protest – to exercise their freedom of speech – come for many reasons. Many come for reasons rooted in some sort of morals they’ve been taught. Some come from a place of misdirected compassion. There are those who are truly peaceful and simply pray. As far as I am concerned, none of it is ok. The reason why not is clearly demonstrated by the photo above. As long as people are kneeling and praying, and showing up to make their statement that they believe what someone else is doing with their body and life is wrong, to me they are enabling these broken windows. I think that people who drag their young children out in the cold to stand on a sidewalk and shame others are contributing to a culture that encourages rocks through clinic windows. We know from history that it doesn’t stop at bricks. (Search Drs. David Gunn and George Tiller, plus clinic bombings, etc.)

Sometimes it’s easy to feel powerless in the face of such a sick and widespread culture, but as justice advocates we are never alone and we are powerful too.

The escort who snapped the photo of the broken door also talked about how on that very windy morning little pieces of glass kept clinking on the ground as the clients entered the clinic. I was not there that morning, but to me it sounds a little eerie, and maybe stressful. I was glad to hear that the glass was replaced that day, and even more pleased to read the encouraging quotes from the clinic director in the article linked above.

Something like violence at a nearby abortion clinic isn’t something to be taken lightly, and for those of us there regularly, it won’t be easily forgotten.

This week the impact on those who occupy both ‘sides’ on the sidewalk has been strong. Someone described the protesters there this Saturday as possibly giddy (sick, huh?) As escorts we create and hold space because we think sidewalk bullying is wrong. After such an incident, I think we all feel especially convicted to hold that space a little differently now; deeper, perhaps.

So, when I say we are doubling down in the face of these attacks, i guess you could picture a number of things. It’s got nothing to do with triple-meat sandwiches, despite us being in Kentucky. It’s got more to do with practicing what we already do pretty damn well, but maybe through a cracked lens, if you will.

Things we will continue to NOT do:

  • Bring signs that add to visual clutter/chaos for clients and really carry messages more for the protesters, which might escalate tension. Signs are also often used to block and shove, and none of that is part of escorting.
  • Swarm clients and obstruct the sidewalk the way protesters do.
  • Start campaigns to recruit more escorts. We are constantly training new escorts and engaging interested people, but we don’t need to recruit. The protesters, legislators and media do that for us.

Things we will continue to practice (possibly with a little more depth now):

  • Gain consent from every client before walking and talking with them.
  • Keep de-escalation in mind at all times.
  • Hold space as best we are able.
  • Make client experiences our main focus. We are not there for antis.
  • Limit engagement with protesters, because to do otherwise might justify their presence in their minds. (This is by far the hardest, and is almost impossible to practice all the time, but when we do the result is remarkable. Also, not all escorts practice non-engagement the same way, and that’s ok too)

Of course we will keep doing lots of other things too, like adapting to changes as they come our way and doing our best to not make assumptions about folks we see on the sidewalk. Most importantly, just like the clinic staff has promised, we will keep showing up.

The Nicest Escort Ever

Walt wouldn’t have wanted me to write this post.  If I could tell him I was going to write a blog post in his memory, I think he would have looked uncomfortable – the same look he got when I complimented him or told him how much we appreciated him.  He would have shook his head, “no,” and said, “Oh, you don’t have to do that.”   Walt was the most modest and unassuming person I’ve known.

But I think he would have approved of this post in the end, or at least agreed to let me do it, if I explained it was really for us.  If I told him that we just wanted to share a few memories and publicly say good-bye, I think he would have given in and told me we could do it.

From his fellow escorts:

I still can’t believe it is true I can’t get my head around the idea that such a caring person is gone so suddenly,maybe next Saturday I’ll see him walking down the side walk then I’ll know I was dreaming.

~~ AI

Walt was a true gentle man and an example of civility

~~RS

Class act that guy. Chatted with him a few weeks ago. Never mentioned he was sick. Talked about his daughters. Hoping his family is doing ok.

~~JR

I remember him always smiling, always full of cheerful good mornings. And the cheerful good mornings were to the escorts and protesters alike. Nodding good morning and smiling, with his hat off and pressed against his chest as he passed through the prayer line. Class act indeed!

~~KS

I already miss him & his always smiling face.

~~JT

Way too bad. The last thing I heard him say was a suggestion to do what seems right, to which I made a flip reply. But that was clearly more important than I realized at the time, spoken as it was by a man who was out on the street engaged in his activism only a couple of weeks before his death. That’s practically dying with your boots on. Rest in power, Walter.

~~AD

That corner will always be “Walter’s corner” to me.

~~CB

Walter was the nicest person I have ever met. Full stop. He always had a smile, a warm greeting and a kind word for everyone he met. He will be missed in my life and in the escort community.

~~PC

It just won’t be the same without Walter’s big bright smile warming up that strip of 2nd street.

~~MS

Walter was a quiet, gracious person, friendly to everyone. He seemed to like to be in quiet surroundings, but was willing to endure the harsh cacophony often demonstrated on the sidewalk on Saturday mornings, to stand up for women and their rights. He would stand on ‘his’ corner all morning, smiling at anyone who came by and making encouraging comments to clients and companions.

Sometimes I would stand with him when it was calm on the corner, and we would chat a little, and then just spend time being quiet. He told me once he appreciated my quiet presence, and that meant a lot to me. I will certainly miss him, and will always remember his smiling face.

~~PG

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RIP Walter…

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The Things We Carry, by Penny

TW:  Violence, rape

On the sidewalk, the “antis” look at us, escorts as well as clients, and based on our ages, the vehicles we drive or don’t drive, the clothes we wear, the overheard snippets of friendly conversation, they’ll tailor the harassment to what they believe is the greatest effect.

“Does your mother know you’re here – you may be an outcast!”

“That’s what a real baby is supposed to look like.”

“You are not young, nearing the end of your life – repent now!” and memorably,

“Go home and put some decent clothes on!”

We immediately think through all the counter-arguments, the snappy retorts, the “you-don’t-know-me’s,” and sometimes a client or companion will voice them. Mostly we hope to avoid the added annoyance of them learning our names. I can’t help but cringe when this happens, because any acknowledgement feeds the antis. But it’s hard. It’s so hard not to respond, and I understand the temptation. We’re good at what we do, but we’re not robots. We all have reasons for being there, unique experiences we carry up and down the sidewalk.

I carry the memory of Catholic school in the first grade, when getting regularly pinched and shoved by a boy was considered normal, even adorable behavior. “He just likes you.” “Boys will be boys.” When I finally bit the hand that assaulted me, I was scolded by the nuns for my “unladylike” behavior and had a note sent home to my parents.

I carry the endless lectures from puberty onward that “men only want one thing – that’s how they all are, they can’t help it, and so you have to protect yourself.” Internalizing this meant that in order to receive any affection from men, I needed to reduce myself to my body. It meant I accepted as a given that my mind was irrelevant in any romantic entanglements. It took me almost the rest of my life to unlearn this.

I carry the heavy months I spent as a sex worker, and knowing that this would be the peak of my earning power. That society valued me most on my back. That if I got raped, beaten, robbed, there was no one to safely turn to – again, my body was the only valuable thing, but I still had little control over what happened to it. But hey, at least I could pay my bills.

I carry the boyfriend who “rescued” me, who convinced me that no one else but him could possibly love me after sex work. Who asked me to marry him. Who threw a full can of beer at my head in the middle of a party while everyone else shrugged. Who I eventually married because who else could want me now? I felt I must deserve the abuse after my past.

I carry the day I went alone to a Planned Parenthood for an abortion, one I had in secret for fear of what would happen if he found out. One I had to drive halfway across the state twice in two days to obtain. The impotent rage of fighting my way through protestors, with no escorts to assist me. This choice allowed me the time to gain the skills I needed to survive in the nine-to-five world, and without it I don’t know where I’d be. I never once doubted my decision, and don’t to this day, but I do wish that I’d been brave enough then to confide in a friend, and that I’d had escorts to run me through the gamut of shaming.

I carry the time a few years later when my husband began to hit me in earnest, holding our six-month-old baby hostage because “no one is going to give you custody, you’re a whore.” When I called the police one awful night, they talked me out of pressing charges. I was obviously just overreacting, hysterical. I didn’t want to invite CPS into my life, did I? I locked myself into my child’s carefully decorated nursery and silently cried all night.

I carry the last exhausting month of our marriage three years later, when I was trying to leave and he used the threat of further traumatizing my son to get away with raping me. More than once.

* * *

It’s a little past two years since I filed for divorce and never looked back, and it hasn’t always been easy, but I came out the other side knowing this for sure – autonomy is worth fighting for. My story is mild compared to a heartbreakingly large number of people. We need to draw a hard line here, because raising girls to believe that they are only their bodies – as blow up dolls, incubators, or punching bags – is dangerous. I want better for myself. I need better for myself and my child and I am willing to accept nothing less. No one, man or woman, should ever have to suffer living with less.

These are the things I carry with me every morning on the sidewalk, though the antis would never assume it. Even if they did, it wouldn’t matter. The shame and intimidation tactics are achingly familiar to me. They want to grind you down, make you docile. I lovingly carry my weight to the clinic because we need to hold the line against those who would trap us in our own bodies; against those who would determine our worth for us; against those who would use shame to control us.

If I see you on the sidewalk, client, companion, or escort, I hope you’ll hold your head high. Because it matters, and if you’re out there in spite of all they throw your way, I am proud of you. Make any choice you want, as long as it’s yours. Stay brave, stay free, and may your pack be light.

Sidekick Training, by Lou

On my first Saturday on the sidewalk I had prepared myself for the barrage of hate that would be spewed my way. I practiced steeling myself against the antis’ words. I had long since lost the religion of my childhood, which made it easier to ignore their religious hatred. I was determined to not allow it to get to me in such a way that I would lose it on the sidewalk. I knew that arguing with these people would be a waste of my time and effort.

I was paired with a fellow escort to shadow for the morning and we stood side by side holding the property line. She told me what the antis might do or say and that my goal was to hold the property line so that they could not cross it and prevent clients from getting to the door. As everyone began taking their places, like a show was about to begin, one of the AHA guys came over and stood in between myself and the escort I was shadowing. He was holding one of his giant signs and had a smug look on his face as if he had just beat me at a game of poker. My first thought was, “Oh crap! I need to stand next to her because I don’t know what I’m doing!” Then I felt that just standing next to this guy meant that I was somehow validating what he was doing. It felt gross. I wished he would just move and take his hate somewhere else.

I turned to my right and peered down the sidewalk. Catholics praying with their rosaries, more enthusiastic Catholics holding up signs, two frail looking ladies with looks of worry on their faces as if they had lost a beloved pet. And then I looked across the sidewalk at what was directly in front of me. Signs 3-feet high with bloody fetuses and tiny body parts; one sign said something to the effect of what Hitler did was legal; one sign denouncing atheism was particularly strange because I wasn’t sure what atheism had to do with all of this. Then again, I’m not sure what Hitler has to do with all of this either.

When the guy from AHA turned on his speaker and started preaching to whoever was listening, the environment became like that of a circus, or actually kind of like walking up and down the rows of vendors at the fair where people desperately hawk their wares. I imagine him selling one of those contraptions that cuts your vegetables into noodles.

I spent much of the morning wondering how I would know who was a client and who was a pedestrian or a protester joining their group. When the first client was escorted through the neon orange wall of escorts and on to the door of the clinic, I knew right away that there would be no mistaking who was a client and who was not. They all had the same look of panic drawn across their faces. Most of them had companions alongside of them shielding them from the freak show. One of them could not handle the protesters and had to go for a walk with an escort before the clinic opened. Several of them had earbuds in to drown out the hideous noise. Most of them were rushed through, kind of like celebrities only instead of camera flashes, there were flashes of “Murder!” “Don’t kill your baby!” “Murder in the first degree!” “Let me adopt your baby!” I’ll never forget the first woman who walked through with her head held high as if this shit didn’t bother her at all.

So I had steeled myself against the hate that I would hear and see and most of it just flew on by my head without a thought. What I didn’t expect was how I would feel when I saw the women running through the gauntlet. The looks on their faces. The panic when they finally reached the door only to discover that the clinic hadn’t opened yet. They were shielded by companions and hunched over, even the ones who held their heads high with earbuds in their ears pulled on the door with desperation. The AHA guys would swarm the door whenever someone couldn’t get in. The big bald one used his loudspeaker even though he was 3 feet away from his target. He blared some garbage about God and Jesus, dead babies and “change your mind.” The door finally opens, the women rush inside, and the antis go back to their places on the sidewalk.

I know the antis like to think of themselves as heroes, somehow saving babies. I think most of us know who the real heroes are. The real heroes are the women who brave that mess just to take care of their very own bodies. The real heroes are the doctors on the other side of that door. And we escorts, we are the badass sidekicks.

What’s New on the Sidewalk?

Not much is new, really – although there’s often a surprise or two on a Saturday. This week, we had Catholics on parade, and the Archbishop was there – so they had a police motorcade – and they brought the Knights of Columbus. Someone thought they were from the Renaissance Faire, but no.

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(Ten or twelve people walking down the street, the one in front carries a painting of a woman, probably representing Mary, behind her are three Knights, older men in tricorn hats with feathers, white or red capes, black suits.  At their sides, they are wearing swords.  Behind them is the Archbishop in black pants and shirt, with the touch of white clergy collar.  Behind them is a young man, casually dressed, and a few other people.  The front of a police car is visible on the far right.)

I am not trying to be snarky about the Knights but they do look a little medieval, right? And the swords might be a bit over the top. Yes, swords – see the silverish things hanging down beside them? Swords. Grown men. Broad daylight. In front of the abortion clinic.

The official mission statement for the Knights of Columbus says:

The Kentucky State Council is dedicated to growing the Order throughout the state of Kentucky to further the vision of our founder, Fr. Michael J. McGivney and the Evangelization of our Catholic Faith. The Order was founded on the principle of Charity, specifically to care for the widow and orphan of a Brother Knight. Later the principles of Unity and Fraternity, as well as Patriotism were added. The everyday actions of the State and local councils are a means for Knights to live the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy. It is through the implementation of programs that exemplify these principles that the Kentucky State Council will continue to grow the Order. The State Council will lead by example and through both action and dialogue inspire its members into action.

They are not, as far as I can tell, joined by the Knights of Peter Claver which, according to Wikipedia:

“…the largest and oldest continually existent predominantly African-American Catholic fraternal organization was founded more than 100 years ago. It was formed to provide opportunities for Catholic Action to men of color to be actively involved in their faith by living the Gospel message. The Knights of Peter Claver membership now includes the entire family and offers opportunities to engage in a variety of church and community service projects and support various charitable appeals.”

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But the Knights are in fine fettle, standing across the street from the abortion clinic.  I hope those swords have a dull point, like epees, but I’m not close enough to tell.  Actually that is not my thumb in the pictures here either.

(Two images, each of a man standing at attention, holding a sword up over his right shoulder.  They are wearing black hats with huge white feathers, and black suits.  The one on the left appears to be elderly and is wearing glasses and a red cape, while the one on the right is wearing a white cape and has a white mustache.) 

In other news , the ongoing conflict between our regular Catholics and the AHA people (Abolish Human Abortion) flares up today.   The Catholics, who create the gauntlet of people lining the sidewalk, mostly just say the rosary.  AHA  folks bring their microphones and preach the whole time – loudly.  Makes it difficult for the Catholics to hear themselves pray – so today, we hear a sudden blast from a referee whistle, and a lot of yelling at the preacher.  But it is just a momentary disruption and no blows are exchanged.

As I’m crossing the street with a client, one of the AHA guys joins us.  He’s wearing a microphone and actually starts broadcasting at the client as we cross the street.  That’s a first for me, and I’m sure for her too.  Doesn’t seem like you would need amplification if you’re standing right next to someone.  I’m hoping he’s not going to make a habit of it – it just seems like a new level of rude.

But lots of things are the same.  They still hang their signs on the fire hydrant – I guess they think the police just meant they couldn’t do it that one day.  Dominic still yells, “Murder – Murder in the first degree!”  Donna still gives her little hand wave, motioning for the clients to come out of the clinic.

So much happening there, it’s such a circus, and seems like such a big deal.  And then I read Ky Born’s story about her abortion experience and I’m reminded that the walk up the sidewalk is a tiny part of the “getting an abortion” process.   All this chaos is one tiny part.  That’s a good perspective to hold on to.

Feeling Under Siege

I have been clinic escorting for just over two years now. I have seen the aggressiveness, in-your-face harassment and flat out verbal assault attempting, and many times succeeding, in reducing patients, companions and family into hysterics and tears. Other than quiet words of support and reassurance that I will see them safely through to the door as best and as quickly as I can, there is nothing that I can do.

Our clinic is now being heavily targeted by one of the most radical, aggressive and dangerous anti-abortion groups in the country. These are not quiet old ladies from local churches praying the rosary. They are a nationwide group of extreme fundamentalists, with leaders who are convicted felons. So far they have managed to stay under the radar of the Department of Justice and Southern Poverty Law as a hate group. It will only be a matter of time before they hit the headlines big and others stand up and take notice.

I refrain from posting any of their public videos as they are so graphic, violent and triggering that I don’t know if any of my non-escort friends could watch it without being very unsettled and frightened. Hell, they frighten me.

Do not think that this does not affect anyone in your life. 1 in 3 women will have an abortion by the age of 45 from all races, classes, backgrounds and yes, religions.

It is unacceptable for this kind of domestic terrorism against our sisters, mothers, aunts, daughters, friends and ourselves.

Chloe Angyal in a memorial article for Dr. George Tiller, murdered by an anti-abortion extremist on May 31, 2009, describes the escalation of violence by anti-abortion protesters being experienced across the country. I recommend you read the whole article “The Subculture of Embattled Abortion Workers”, but here is a preview:

When Tiller was killed, in 2009, a rush of anti-abortion legislation was just beginning.  And violence against abortion providers, those few who remain, was and remains a daily reality no matter where they live. A continual threat, part of the buzzing background noise that is American violence.

Six years later nearly to the day, I’m still here in the U.S., and though no abortion provider has been murdered since 2009, harassment of these doctors continues. And not just the doctors; anti-choice extremists will target almost anyone who is associated with the provision of abortion: nurses, receptionists, the men and women who run clinic networks, clinic escorts, clinic security guards, landlords, and the neighbors and families of all those people.

Do you condone this behavior? By your apathy, silence and inaction you do.

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Interested in becoming a Louisville Clinic Escort? Please read the information in the “Trainings for Escorts” page. Our next training will be in mid-July. Send an email to everysaturdaymorning@gmail.com and we will send you more details about the next training.

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REMINDER: It’s not too late to make your pledge for Pledge-a-Picketer.  The campaign ends and we make the final count the day before Father’s Day, June 20. So far, we’re are at 179 protesters.  You can pledge here, with either a specific amount per person or by pledging a lump sum for the whole horde of protesters.

https://docs.google.com/forms/d/1cATk530BlUVRVofUMNaNHU1yo9FvN78ByX-_rHzWbtk/viewform