Buffer Zone Laws

I’m sure you already know the Supreme Court is debating whether or not buffer zone laws are legal for abortion clinics, or if they violate the First Amendment.  I’m a bit disheartened and already tired of reading about it ~ tired of worrying about it.

I am afraid we’re going to lose this one.

Not that it makes any difference, here in Louisville.  We don’t have a buffer zone , and absolutely no expectation of getting one.  So my level of frustration and anger about the way this is going may be inordinately high.

It’s frustrating that the media acts like the protesters are just a few elderly women, gently “counseling” the clients as they pass by.  Maybe that’s what it’s like in Massachusetts.    In Louisville, we don’t just have a couple of “harmless old ladies.”  In Louisville, even our “old ladies” aren’t particularly harmless – they can be mean, nasty and physically aggressive.  The rest of our protesters are the poster children for “Reasons to have Buffer Zones.”

350-reasons-why

If the buffer zone law is overturned, think about how much louder, more verbally aggressive, and more obnoxious our protesters may become.  I know, that’s  hard to imagine, but it could happen.  And they’ll be cocky about it.  You know they will.

Sigh…

But that’s not what really gets me.  What really gets me is that IT’S NOT FAIR!  People SHOULD NOT have to put up with being harassed and being intimidated on the way to the doctor.  It’s WRONG!!  They should feel safe – and be safe!  The court is SUPPOSED to PROTECT people!!

{I think I mentally stomp my foot a couple of times while I’m thinking that, which is about as close to a tantrum as I get.  In real life, I might throw in the F-word too. Supposed to FRIGGING protect people!!}

Then this annoyingly reasonable voice in my head says, “Right, it’s not fair, life’s not fair, the fair comes in August, blah, blah, blah.”   That same voice says, “It would be nice if the court were able to protect people, and keep them from being harassed and intimidated, but that may not happen.  If it doesn’t – if they overturn the buffer zone laws, what can we do to push back?”

Sigh.  Ok, if I have to be reasonable… here’s what we do.

We keep working on the laws.  We keep fighting the injustices that are introduced in the legislature over and over.  We keep finding ways to support people who need abortions, financially, by helping with transportation and interpreters and childcare.  We keep speaking out to reduce stigma.

But on the sidewalk (where it’s going to be a delightful 19 degrees tomorrow morning) how do we stay focused, how do we continue to be ok, no matter what happens?  What do we offer the clients ~ the ones who pull their hoods up, the ones who cry, the ones who laugh, and the ones who yell at the protesters as we walk with them?

Sigh…

We do the same thing we’ve been doing; we offer the same thing we’ve been offering.  A calm, supportive presence.

It doesn’t matter what they do.  It doesn’t matter if there are buffer zones or not, it doesn’t matter if the protesters are meaner, uglier and nastier than they’ve ever been before.  All we have to do is be there.

All we have to do is hold space for the clients to be empowered as they walk to the clinic.  To work to de-escalate situations.  To stay calm, purposeful and focused.    Just like we try to do every week.

I’ll carry those words tomorrow like a mantra.  Hold space for the client to be empowered… De-escalate situations… Stay calm, purposeful and focused…  It won’t be easy, but I can do that.

Road Rally a Success!

A great time was had by all at the Kentucky Road Rally for Reproductive Rights on Saturday, November 2nd. On a beautiful fall day, we had a fantastic turnout and an awesome slate of speakers who fired up the crowd in advance of the 2014 legislative session. Truly, we could not have asked for better weather on a November weekend.
Capitol
Many thanks to all our speakers for their thoughtful words.
Road Rally Speakers
Dawn Cooley, minister at First Unitarian Church in Louisville, spoke about the intersection of faith and reproductive rights, emphasizing that the right-wing evangelicals do not possess the morality of reproductive issues.
DerekAndFrede
Derek Selznick (left), from the ACLU of Kentucky really heated up the crowd as he spoke to his experience lobbying for family-positive legislation in the Capitol, the building on which steps we rallied. F (right) spoke movingly about her abortion experience that was rife with hurdles and complications, problems arising primarily from anti-woman legislation.
ClinicEscortatRally
Michelle Kinsey Bruns joined us, who tweets as @ClinicEscort, driving from Washington, D.C. to be a part of the action. Her words about moving from compassion were a beautiful cap on the day.
Mel
We are thankful to have had media coverage from the Lexington ABC affiliate, WTVQ, and from Kentucky Public Radio, whose story can be followed on the Louisville public radio station or WKYU. It is important that our message reach both legislators and like-minded citizens.
Merch
Specifically, in Kentucky, there is an immediate concern of which to keep abreast. A longtime reproductive rights activist, Kathy Stein, has been appointed to the judiciary. Her vacant seat will be filled in a special election on December 10th. Many of our District 13/Fayette County (Lexington) allies were busy knocking on doors on Saturday, in the run-up to that special election. We are following that race closely, as Stein’s vote was often an important one in blocking anti-family, anti-woman legislation in our State Senate.
PreacherAndHerPulpit

What’s Next

Rally attendees were encouraged to return to their homes and speak out about being supporters of reproductive rights. You can join in the next steps, too!

1. Invite two or three friends for coffee or lunch and chat about an article on reproductive rights. RHRealityCheck.org is a great place to find something to talk about, as is ReproductiveRights.org or ACLU.org/reproductive-freedom.

2. From these two or three friends and you, begin an activist club, where you meet regularly to discuss articles, learn about legislation, and keep up-to-date on what’s happening in court dockets.

3. Find out who your legislator is – on the state level and the national level. How are they voting on issues about reproductive rights? Make sure your voice is heard when they have bills to consider that affect reproductive rights.

4. Keep up-to-date on bills in congress. For Kentucky, specifically, you can see what bills have been prefiled or, once the legislature is in session, what bills have been filed, what’s being heard in committee, what is being voted on, who wrote the bills, who else is sponsoring them – in other words, more information than you ever thought you could learn in one spot. By clicking on different subject headings – Women, Public Health, Children, etc – you can keep yourself informed about what our representatives in Frankfort are doing. Better yet, sign up for BILL WATCH, a service that your tax dollars are subsidizing, so, you know, use it!

5. Get involved with a local group! Find a group near you that is working on reproductive rights. The ACLU of Kentucky has an email list that will send out email blasts about pending legislation, Planned Parenthood of Indiana and Kentucky is a great resource, too. There are many other groups, like the Kentucky Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, the Unitarian Univeralist Social Justice Network, and others. Many of them sponsored the rally, so be sure to check out the sponsors’ page on the website to find links to their websites.
Sara
Over the coming days and weeks, the rallly website will have a new tab for “What’s Next,” where this information, and more!, will be available. We will be posting resources to keep you informed, and ways you can link into local groups working for reproductive rights.

Let’s make 2014 the year that Kentucky families get the support they need – in comprehensive sex education, affordable and accessible contraception, access to abortion services, and family support programs – because Kentucky families deserve better!

Sidewalk Snippet ~ {10/21/13}

We frequently see clients and companions respond to the words spoken by the antis. Sometimes they respond with politeness to the questions the antis ask them. Sometimes they respond with their own biblical quotes to counter what the anti is saying. Sometimes they respond with well-thought out responses for the questions the antis bring up. Sometimes they respond with emotional pleas to just listen to them. Sometimes they respond with anger. Sometimes they respond with tears. Sometimes they respond with sarcasm. Frequently, it is a combination of several of these approaches.

One morning we had a client who responded with all of these approaches. The client had been to the clinic earlier in the week and heard all of the things the antis normally say. D particularly gave them a hard time. This time they had thought about their responses and were ready and eager to confront the antis, especially D.

The client and their companions arrived about 30 minutes before the doors of the clinic opened. They went immediately to the door because the client wanted to talk to D. The next 30 minutes in front of the clinic were confrontational, chaotic, sad and upsetting. Some of the words and actions of the client were purposely shocking even to escorts. After all, she had a couple of days to think about what they had said to her before. The client’s words and actions served the purpose of causing all but one anti to back away from her and leave her alone. D retreated early, but was still talking about it to other antis 3 days afterwards.

Two things stand out in my mind from the morning.

One was the client’s response to, “Have you considered adoption?” The reply was, “What? Do you want me to spend the rest of my life asking every child I pass on the street, “Are you my baby? Are you?” I don’t think so.”

The other thing that stands out was the waves of hurt and anger in equal parts coming from the client. She was vocal about being angry and hurt for being judged and shamed by the antis without knowing her or her story.

An escort spoke to her after she went into the clinic to make sure she was okay. She was pleased she was able to speak up for herself, but was still upset the antis even thought they had a right to question her and her decision, let alone film her as she waited by the door. The escort explained the policy of public sidewalks and filming, but it still isn’t right to invade her privacy so completely.

I’ll be thinking about this client for a long time.

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REMINDER:
We are standing up for reproductive rights on November 2. Are you coming with us? Can you contribute $5 or more to help make it happen?

FB page: https://www.facebook.com/KyRoadRally

Event: https://www.facebook.com/events/158610191007342/

Website: http://kyroadrally.org/

Sidewalk Snippet ~ {10/14/13}~by KYCat

It had been a fairly quiet weekday morning. There was the usual quietly hissed insults to the various escorts that morning from the regular antis, but no episodes of loud screaming and chasing of clients; just the trailing, waving pamphlets and pleading.

I was standing on the corner about three minutes after eight; chatting with two of the other escorts; catching up on plans for the upcoming rally on November 2nd.

Further down the sidewalk I spotted a confident yet concerned woman heading towards us. She had two companions following her lead as she strode up to us.

“Can I ask you a question” she directed at me. “Sure,” I replied, hoping it was not going to be something that I did not know, like where the nearest good coffeehouse was or any of the other things I have been asked while standing around looking official in my orange vest.

She said, “I have been told that the ultrasound costs 300 dollars and that I could get a free one here.” pointing to the CPC on the corner. She held tightly to her purse and the tension in her voice and hands were obvious when she said, “I only have enough money for the procedure. I don’t have an extra 300 dollars.”

I quickly realized that she had spoken with someone at the CPC. Fearing that she did not have sufficient funds for the total procedure, she wanted to get further confirmation before turning the corner and drawing the attention of the antis still gathered at the door of the clinic.

“No,” I replied. “The ultrasound is included in the cost of the procedure at the clinic.” I added that even if she thought she could save some of the cost by getting a free one, the CPC was not a medical facility and it would not be accepted by EMW if she did decide to go through with the abortion.

It is a deceptive scare tactic, I explained. They know that you have had to make many arrangements to get here today; sometimes at great expense and time traveled for patients. They have been known to delay women so long that mistakenly go there first, they miss the check-in time for their scheduled appointment. This puts yet another burden on the clients once they realize they have been deceived as they have to reschedule and take yet more time and expense to obtain their abortion.

She looked at us and a huge smile broke out across her face and she let out a big sigh. “Then I dò have enough money.  I was worried that I would not be able to have this today. They lied.”

I asked if she would like us to walk with them. “Yes.” she replied and took the lead with a renewed  purpose in her stride, seemingly knowing that anything further spoken to her by the antis would just be more of the same.

It was a good way to end the morning. Walking with a client that made the decision that was best for her with plain old facts; no guilt, no shame, no personal questions. Just factual answers to her questions.

I am beginning to think some of these antis must be avid fishermen on the days they don’t come to the sidewalk to harass clients. They sure do tell some big fish tales.

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REMINDER:
We are standing up for reproductive rights on November 2. Are you coming with us? Can you contribute $5 or more to help make it happen?

FB page: https://www.facebook.com/KyRoadRally

Event: https://www.facebook.com/events/158610191007342/

Website: http://kyroadrally.org/

Sidewalk Snippet ~ {9/23/13}

Some mornings lots of little things add up to lighten the mood of escorts. It does help that we all have a sense of humor, but some days are just hit after hit of comedic gold.

This is a series of statements and happenings one  morning:

D pulled another anti back onto the sidewalk after they had crossed the property line saying, ”I saw the smoke coming off of your shoe.”

“Does she thinks she can say anything she wants over the internet? You can’t lie on the internet.”

“Even satan believes in god.”

A pedestrian walking by the entrance to the clinic pointed at each escort standing there. His pointed finger was accompanied by, “You are going to hell,” “You are going to hell,” “You are going to hell.” It was kind of like Oprah saying, “You win a new car,” but less exciting.

The number one mood lightener came from a companion. As the client and companion were coming towards the door, the companion started talking to the antis and let himself be surrounded by them. While the antis were distracted the client was able to cross the property line with minimum interference.

We could hear him saying: “I don’t know what it is, but when she reached adulthood she started wanting to make her own choices. I don’t agree with her making choices, but she says I have to respect her. It’s like that free speech stuff, you have to listen to it even if you don’t want to.”

The client and others waiting by the doors were laughing at all of the things he was saying and the escorts couldn’t help smiling. He got his point across with perfect deadpan delivery and without ever raising his voice.

Sack-of-Potatoes Doctrine ~ by Lepus

“Take your woman out of there”

 “Men, convince her to leave this place”

“As men we are to stand up for women and be leaders”

I’ve noticed that antis always go after the men, particularly trying to wound and prick them in the “masculinity” department.  You know, that department where historically women could do nothing without express permission from either her father or her husband.  Women couldn’t own property or inherit property because they were considered property by society at large.

Times have changed for the better, but it doesn’t surprise me that those that see the world through Christian Patriarchal lenses say these things to men as they enter the clinic.

It also doesn’t surprise me that it rarely. if ever, works.  As if women have no mind of their own.  As if women are sacks of potatoes that can be thrown over one’s shoulder and carried off.  As if women are so easily influenced.

An anti spoke to myself and a male escort the other day.  The male escort informed me that the anti told him he was leading me in the wrong direction. Because all women need tending and leadership, because they are submissive and sinful by their very nature (again, this is the Christian Patriarchal worldview talking).

I chuckled.  Why, I got myself out of bed and drove myself to the clinic to escort that very day.  Imagine.  A woman, making a decision for herself, and acting upon it, unlike the sack-of-potatoes that the antis think women are.

Sidewalk Snippet ~ {8/12/13}

Saturday mornings parking is at a real premium. Most of the meter spaces on both sides of the street are taken by the antis cars. If escorts get there early enough, we can get a few spaces close to the door of the clinic and then we turn then over to clients as they arrive. That’s what we did this Saturday morning.

A client and two companions stopped around 7a at the street corner and asked about parking. We directed them to parking about a block away, but they had one person who wasn’t able to walk that far. We had them pull around the corner and park while an escort moved a car for them. The escort had the space exactly opposite to the clinic door, so it was a very short trip to walk.

When they had their car successfully parked and knew what to expect from the antis, we went back to the street corner. We watched antis approach their car time after time. The client and companions did not roll down their window, but we noticed they pulled their car forward and backed it up several times.

I went around to the driver’s window and asked the driver if they were comfortable with where they were parked. They said they were okay. And then I commented we had seen them pull forward a few times, so that’s why I asked. “Oh, I was trying to run over their feet. Maybe then they will leave us alone.” I kind of chuckled and said, “Okay, just checking.”

Their plan seemed to work because after a few minutes, the antis stopped approaching their car. We were able to escort them in easily when the doors opened.

Sidewalk Snippet~by Skeletor {07/29/13}

It was a small group one morning, not many antis and not many escorts. A couple of clients had already pulled into the pay lot, though the clinic doors weren’t yet open, when one client came walking up by herself. There were so few antis that she snuck onto the property with no fuss. I was able to let her know the situation pretty easily, without too many people shouting at her from across the property line. She thanked me and then buried her face in her phone and I stepped back to the property line. This is a common defense mechanism of clients who wait at the door before the clinic opens – and a smart one, I would add. Bring headphones too.

D stepped up beside me at the property line and began talking to the client in her “I’m just a sweet old lady” voice that she invokes at the beginning of many confrontations. The client was going to have none of it and, after repeated requests to stop talking to her, the client wheeled on D and started giving her a piece of her mind. The other escort and I weren’t sure whether to step in and try to distract the client to de-escalate, or to let her go. After all, we really wanted to give her a fist bump and a couple of “Hell yeahs!”

As the conversation/debate/verbal brawl continued, D dropped the little old lady act, as she is often want to do, and took on her very comfortable tone of disapproval and reproach. The client was really giving D a piece of her mind, but it was so carefully thought out and calmly worded that D quickly became flustered. D and the other antis are used to being able to bully clients into dumbfoundedness, but this client had just turned the tables.

In the middle of this tete-a-tete, the clinic doors were unlocked. The other escort and I kept trying to find a moment to interrupt to let the client know she could go on in. When we did catch her eye and motioned to her that she could go in, she finished her thought to D and stormed into the clinic. D was left stunned and, now, she was the one who was dumbfounded.

So many times, the bullying tactics of the antis cause such distress that clients retreat inward. It was pure gold to see a client call out an anti – any anti – but this anti, in particular, for their hypocrisy and shameful behavior.

The Strength in Silence ~ by Anonymous

When I tell people about escorting, I sometimes get told, “I don’t think I could do that.”  People often cite a reason that has to do with self-restraint.  They don’t feel that they could stand without engaging, or resist getting angry, or even resist hurting a protester.

Yes, it can take a lot of self-control and inner strength to hold back responses to the protesters.  They are very skilled in finding just the right words, just the right comments, to get escorts to respond.  The things that they say can range from surprising to absurd to infuriating.  It takes strength to not call out their illogical fallacies, to not voice a pro-choice perspective to counter their anti-choice perspective, or to not respond to a personal attack.

In addition to what we hear, we also see a lot of things that make it hard to stay quiet.  We see protesters harassing clients and their companions, we see protesters bringing young children with them to the sidewalk, and we see graphic visual displays mounted on posterboard.  The things we hear and the things we see can tap all the inner resources we have.  Sometimes it feels like an oddly adult version of the game that kids often play called “not touching you, not touching you!”  In this game, one child gets all up in another child’s face and taunts them, with the goal to get the other child to respond.

Silence can be exhausting.

I have also heard people express frustration at silence, and I think it is because they see it as a form of non-response.  Why not sing a peaceful song, to counter the endless “Ave Maria” from the protesters, or to drown out their yelling and preaching?  Why are we just STANDING there, why don’t we do something?  Why are we letting them get away with this?  Why are we doing nothing?

Silence can be frustrating.

But I have also come to realize that there is strength *in* silence.  This seemingly small shift in perspective has changed how I view my role on the sidewalk.  When I realized my silence on the sidewalk was empowering me to stand strong for clients, it suddenly became easier to keep my mouth shut and keep my stare distant.

I realized that as an escort, I am not standing on the sidewalk to represent my pro-choice values or any other values, nor am I there to provide a reality-check to protesters (as much as they may need one).  My job on the sidewalk is to provide space for clients to be empowered as they walk to the clinic doors.  Responding to protesters creates noise.  Singing, regardless of it being from protesters or escorts, creates noise.  By staying silent, the volume is kept down, providing a quieter environment for clients to walk through.

Silence is also strengthening to me when I am just standing on the front lines without any clients around.  The protesters want nothing more than to control the conversation, and they are astonishingly good at finding words that provoke angry and intense feelings.  Their goal is to engage, to start an argument, to raise both emotions and the general sidewalk volume.  But when I stay silent, I control the conversation.

Silence is not doing nothing.

Yelling at the protesters, holding up pro-choice signs, or engaging in our own chants might (on the surface) appear to be doing something, but not when I remember that my primary job on the sidewalk is to provide space for client empowerment. My job is to foster a sidewalk environment that is calm, peaceful, and quiet.

I cannot control what the protesters do.  But I can control my reactions to what they do.  And when I react by standing silent (instead of thinking about it as not reacting), I am doing my job.

Silence is an active choice that I make.

This shift in perspective doesn’t mean it is perfectly easy for me to stay silent.  I sometimes respond to the protesters in my mind.  It helps when I realize that their ranting would continue almost exactly the same if I said my response out loud (in other words, my responses would not change their dialogue!).  If something they say really gets on my nerves, I have found it helpful to lean over and whisper about it to another escort.  I also know that I always have the option to step away for as long as I need.  I do not want to imply that escorting is an easy walk in the park!

I also cannot speak for all escorts, as there are some escorts who are able to successfully talk to the protesters without voices and emotions escalating.  This is only my perspective. But for me, silence does not sap my strength.  Rather, I have found strength in silence.

Odds and Ends

In the aftermath of the Saturday before Mother’s Day, it seems quiet.  Not necessarily on the sidewalk, but the need to gather large numbers of escorts is gone.  The fundraiser ~ which was a great success ~ is winding down as people pay their pledges.

Father’s Day is coming soon, but it just doesn’t have the same impact as Mother’s Day for the protesters.

We’ve moved deep into spring and are headed for summer, which makes my Saturday mornings more pleasant .  I’m not a fan of winter ~ in fact, escorting is the first and only thing I’ve done voluntarily that requires being outside when it’s cold.  But the seasons of escorting come and go…  and there are always stories to tell.

Servalbear and I made a neat discovery on the blog – we mentioned we’ve been getting comments from one of the protesters over and over, right?  Well, guess what!  We can mark them as spam a few times, and they start going to spam automatically.  We don’t even have to read them anymore.  Just delete them, along with the typical other junky spam.  Makes me feel like Batman, Caped Crusader ~ Bif!  Bam!!  Take that, pesky protester!**

And there’s this story ~ the escorts know this one, but I don’t think I’ve told it here.  For a long time, one group of the protesters didn’t know my name.   My vest has a name on it ~ my daughter’s, because it used to be hers back when she was an escort.  I call it my heirloom vest.   So they figured out that wasn’t my name, but they didn’t know what it was.

Then for a long time, they thought my name was Frances.   There once was an escort named Frances, but it’s not me.  One day, I ran into one of this group of protesters outside the clinic, at a public event.  She was with someone I didn’t recognize, and as she walks by, I hear her say to the other woman “there’s one of those deathscorts.”  I just smile.

Later, we come face to face, and she says to her friend, “This is…” ~ like she’s going to introduce me ~ and to me, “What is your name?  I know it’s not Frances.”

And I say, “That’s right ~ it’s Not Frances.”  And that stuck for a long time.  The escorts started calling me “Not Frances,” and it was an amusing game.  Kinda like Rumplestiltskin, right?

Recently, they figured out what my name is, and have begun using it ~ under their breath at first, with more certainty now.  Clearly, they’ve googled me, and they reference things they’ve learned about me, with a hiss, and a touch of venom.  I just smile. Fortunately, I’m NOT actually Rumplestiltskin, and the name thing was just a game.  I don’t care if they know who I am ~ I don’t have to hide being an escort.   Their efforts miss the mark.  It doesn’t matter at all.

But mostly we settle back into the mundane, after Mother’s Day.  Sometimes I get a bit tired of blogging.  You know, it starts to seem so repetitive on the sidewalk.  The protesters scream “dead baby, dead baby” and I blog “mean protesters, mean protesters,” and really, how does that help anything?

Then I hear a story like this:

Two women get to the clinic, and jump out of the car.  The escort approaches and says, “The clinic doors aren’t open yet, and there are a few protesters here, if you like, you can wait in the car and we’ll let you know when the doors open.

The two young women look at each other and smile.  One of them says, “Oh, we aren’t worried about them.”  The other one adds, “We’ve been reading your blog and practicing what we’re going to say to them!  They won’t bother us at all.”  Still smiling, they walk to the door, unfazed by the chasers around them.

THAT is why I keep doing this.   Helping people find ways to push back against the stigma and shame on the sidewalk ~ that’s what this is about.

**  NOTE:  No protesters were harmed in the writing of this blog, and I do not endorse violence in any form, on or off the sidewalk.