Cops: 6 or 7 LMPD, 1 Jefferson County Sherrif
Mother’s Day has come and gone, and as I reflect on the happenings of the last few weeks what stands out to me is the intersection of privacy and stigma. We see these two ideas embodied by two groups of people on the sidewalk in front of the clinic, the protesters and the media (specifically an ABC crew of 5, doing a special on teen pregnancy). In this article I want to discuss the way in which people trying to access abortion services are completely ignored by these two political participants.
In our story, Stigma is represented by the protesters on our sidewalk. As a group the message is that there is something inherently wrong with the decision to have an abortion utilizing guilt and shame as tools of persuasion. Using the strength of hundreds of protesters to overwhelm the visual landscape; dominating the sounds of the morning with blow horns and a cacophony of prayers, protesters attempt to emotionally bludgeon clients with fear and confusion.
Our next character in this story is Privacy, being played by ABC media. One of their news programs is working on a story about teen pregnancy, following several young women as they make choices during this period in their lives. One of the crew had stumbled upon the escorts some months back and came to film several times before Mother’s Day. When she tried to get the escorts involved in the project we were reluctant, identifying three major concerns to her:
Client privacy. We spoke extensively about the history of the anti-choice movement’s use of photography and public shaming campaigns to intimidate both abortion providers and clients.
Chaotic environment. Escorts tried to express how crazy it gets with 200-300 protesters and that we could not stop them from doing their story, but that we were concerned that camera crews could become an obstacle to getting clients in the door.
Using the meme of the abortion debate as a wedge issue. On the sidewalk we try to minimize the cliché’ debate regarding abortion, recognizing that each client is an individual with a unique set of circumstances. Politics is completely inappropriate on the sidewalk, this is about peoples’ lives.
I asked the escorts to write about their experiences this Mother’s Day and without exception they commented on the media, here are a few excerpts.
“The ABC crew was on hand to capture what was happening. They turned into more of an obstruction than most of the protesters. I look for their piece on teen pregnancy to be overly-sensationalized and skewed toward whatever slant ABC brass wants to spin”.
“I bring this up because this week we had a 5 person TV crew from ABC filming at the clinic. The clients that I escorted into the clinic were more concerned about the three cameras and the big sound boom than the 250 protesters. One of the cars that I approached left because of them”.
“The news group on the other hand were horrid. “K” (the news crew’s contact) seemed to handle herself with compassion, was discreet and level-headed, and generally blending in and allowing us to do what we do. The same could not be said of the male salt and peppery anchor and his helper, who were pushy, obnoxious, and did more to bother, hinder, and distress the clients and fellow escorts than many of the protesters. They did nothing but aggravate the already dodgy situation, and nothing what-so-ever to contribute positively. Worse, I believe they shot for extremism, and if the broadcast shows footage from this, I think it will have a negative effect on reproductive freedom and the future clients of the clinic”.
“Early on, before things even got going, the camera people came by and started asking us questions. With no press pass, we refused. They weren’t pleased, but come on! They were being quite pushy, using their equipment to break through our linked arms. It was ridiculous. On top of that I felt that they were violating people’s privacy, and certainly not making it any easier for the people going in. They were worse than the protestors in some ways,and didn’t seem to understand why we weren’t ok with them pushing through our wall without showing us any ID”.
Entitlement is a major component of both the media and the protester’s perspective. The media thinks they have the “right” to get the story and it does not matter who they have to step on in the process. The protesters think they have the “right” to impede a person in their decision to terminate a pregnancy. Both groups of people believe they are in the “right” thus giving them latitude to act aggressively in this situation. The result is that individual people are lost in the mix.
The pro-choice movement has historically fought for abortion to be a private and individual matter. That certainly has its merits and no one that has an abortion should feel like they have to tell anyone a single thing about it. Abortion is without question an individual matter and each person’s reasons for having an abortion are unique and can not be generalized. However, the driving presence of privacy doesn’t do anything to lift the ever present stigma surrounding abortion; instead it seems to reaffirms it. We say ‘ it’s OK to make that choice but please pretend that you didn’t. We are OK if you do it but not if you talk about it.’
Abortion is a normal part of our collective sexual and reproductive experiences and we should begin to treat it as such.
We support anyone having an abortion whatever their reasons and would like more people to talk about it. However, facing a national TV news network is daunting. Going in for a medical or surgical procedure is stressful and thinking that your first grade teacher, your ex and or boss are all going to be watching you do this is pretty invasive. We feel the TV crew’s presence was every bit as oppressive and irresponsible as the protesters’.
The media can be a powerful tool in exposing cultural issues that need attention, but here, individuals who had not consented to being exposed, were. To be fair, ABC committed to obscuring client’s faces. But they did not approach each client telling them this. They did not gain consent from the clients to film them, nor did they take pains to be unobtrusive. The behavior of the film crew was in many ways as shame inducing as those of the protesters. Privacy allows us the practical space to make decisions regarding our own well being. The way in which they approached the situation showed no concern for client privacy.
It is this lack of concern for privacy prohibits us from seeing clients as individuals. This disconnect from our need for autonomy is where we begin to advance towards sensationalism. The story becomes the most important thing. We stop talking about a person’s life and begin to talk in themes. We attribute our own biases to people we have never met. One of the protesters tells women ‘come down to this other clinic, we can help you make a better decision’. Without ever even introducing himself to a client he tells women they are wrong. He begins to shame them by projecting his world view onto their lives all the while feeling entitled in doing so.
We escorts want to loudly state that abortion can be a healthy and responsible decision.
We escorts affirm the rights of all people to decide when, if, and how many children they have and whether or not to parent.
We encourage people to tell their stories if they can. But we honor and respect the need for privacy.
People of all ages, racial and ethnic groups, people of all socio-economic status, mothers (61% of women having an abortion have one or more children) and people with no children, single and partnered people, queer and straight people all have abortions. If all of these people are having abortions, why is it so stigmatized? Humans are faced with tough decisions every day, but few are scrutinized more than when a woman decides for any number of reasons, that now is not the time to have a child. We must identify and then address our assumptions regarding abortion if we are ever to have honest conversations about our reproductive and sexual lives. And the intersection of shame and privacy seems like as good a place as any to begin tearing down those social constructs.