Writing this article is an attempt to give you the scope of the protests on the sidewalk in front of the abortion clinic. Several descriptive articles and films have been posted on this blog. Telling about it brings public attention to the harassment clients face every day.
Imagine you make a personal healthcare decision and are going to a doctor’s appointment. You only know the people who have come with you. When you arrive you find yourself in the middle of a chaotic scene.
First you will be greeted by an escort in an orange vest. They will quickly explain they volunteer at the clinic, everyone who wears an orange vest are volunteers and everyone else is a protester. You will be asked if you want escorts to walk with you to the clinic.
Every Saturday morning there are a wide variety of types of antis who present themselves at the clinic. These same types show up every morning Tuesday through Saturday. There is a higher concentration of antis to harass clients on Saturday mornings.
The clients coming for a medical abortion, surgical abortion, or just a pregnancy test, are faced with between 5 and 100 of these antis each day. The “40 Days of Life” campaign by the antis brings more numbers out during the week.
Our clinic entrance can only be reached via public sidewalk. There is street parking at meters or a pay parking garage two blocks from the clinic. On Saturdays we have access to a free parking lot that is also two blocks away.
The antis park in all of the metered spaces close to the clinic before 7a. They can use their cars to display their signs directly in front of the clinic. It has the added benefit for them of blocking clients so they have a longer distance to walk. On Saturdays, they fill the meters on both sides of the street and around the corner.
There is a CPC center beside the clinic and another CPC center one block away. Clients often mistake the CPC beside the clinic for the actual clinic.There is a parking lot behind the CPC building beside the abortion clinic. Staff members from the CPC encourage clients to park there. It gives them time to talk to them in the parking lot. Escorts are not allowed in their parking lot because it is private property.
Clients and their companions are forced to walk a gauntlet of antis lined up on both sides of the sidewalk, antis chasing them down the street, thrusting literature and plastic fetuses in their hands and talking to them. The noise level alone is intimidating. Clients and their companions don’t know what to expect as they walk the few blocks to the clinic in all of this chaos.
Escorts become the guides through this maze of noise and confusion. Escorts are the reassuring voices speaking quietly to the client.
What is this gauntlet like?
Every Saturday morning a step stool serving as a soapbox is set up on the sidewalk about 10 feet from the front entrance to the clinic. Two or three men take turns standing on the soapbox to preach to clients, companions and escorts about the evils of abortion. There is one woman who also preaches and she is given a turn, but she stands on the sidewalk. I always wonder if this is a man only soapbox and they just forget to bring the woman’s soapbox.
We get treated to an hour of Bible verses screamed at everyone passing by. They have used megaphones to make sure we hear them.
There is a countdown game we play sometimes. It is played by guessing how minutes it takes a preacher to mention “holocaust”, “genocide”, “murder”, “convenience for loose women” or “hell.” Variations on phrasing count. It is never over 2 minutes before one key phrase pops up.
J films himself preaching every Saturday morning and then posts his observations on his website. He will use phrases he overhears and weave them into his rant. I’ve heard him use “bubble gum”, “butterfly” and other seemingly unrelated comments within one minute of hearing them into an argument against abortion. The rant turns uglier and personally directed when he overhears an escort talking about his message or if they laugh at his points.
C is always angry about abortion, sin and escorts. He starts his rant with, “We all are sinners,” followed closely by, “The people in the orange vests have broken every one of the 10 Commandments. Don’t let them lead you into sin.” One day a homeless person who sits outside the clinic daily said, “Goddamn, will you stop shouting.” C came down off the soapbox and started screaming a couple of inches from his face about saying this. The abortion message was forgotten in his haste to unleash righteous anger on this man. Compassion for the homeless doesn’t appear to be a part of the agenda.
T has a weak voice that breaks a lot while he is ranting. I always feel I should offer him a throat lozenge. He isn’t as loud as the other preachers. This is a good thing. All of his screaming is focused on sexuality. I have heard him say, “You get yourself all painted up and go out and have a good time and then come here. You are going to spread your legs for a strange man in there and he is going to kill your baby.” Part of his weekly rant is how when he accepted Jesus as his savior he was cured of his homosexuality. He frequently brings his young son to stand beside him as he rants.
A is the loudest of them all and comes daily. She stands in front of the clinic testifying and praying. A can be heard inside the waiting room for the clinic. She tells the story of her two abortions and how she was stopped by her father when she was going for a third. Now she sees the error of her ways and wants to stop women from making the same choice she made. When she recognizes a client she will call them by name and has called their family members to come down to the clinic.
Their sermons all contain often repeated lies presented as truth. We hear abortion causes breast cancer, infertility and a lifetime of regret. There is a list of scientific facts they ignore in delivery of their message.
There occasionally will be guest soapbox preachers. Their style will be similar or a combination of these regulars. One thing they all have in common is their intent to heap shame, blame and humiliation upon clients.
The next post will describe more of these types. (continued in Part 2)