Last Saturday was my first time escorting. I live in Lexington and I hope to escort when work and life bring me to Louisville. I am unfamiliar with Louisville’s downtown and it was my first time to the clinic. As I walked around for a few minutes looking for the escorts and someone who could fill me in, I was struck by how vulnerable and disoriented I felt. I wasn’t part of any of the established groups at that moment…not an “anti” in a green vest, not one of the anti’s with rosaries chanting, not yet one of the escorts in orange vests. The place felt like everyone knew where to be except me. I can only imagine what it must feel like to be a client walking that sidewalk, with so many people teaming up, fulfilling their roles, but with all of the gazes directed at you.
As I approached the front door, the energy was palpable. A heaviness hung in the air as the anti’s chanted and prayed. Some of the escorts realized I was new and helped get me oriented to what was going on and how the morning would proceed.
I observed for a while and then was able to participate in escorting a couple of people. I kept quiet and let the experienced escorts do the talking. I was amazed at how easily the escorts filled the space during the loooong walk down the sidewalk to the clinic door by talking calmly and steadily about nothing. By doing so, they were offering a place for the client to rest her attention and tune out the anti walking behind us who was whispering a chant-like diatribe about ultrasounds, and “not pretending to know your situation.”
As one client was entering the home-stretch of the walk, an anti ran up to her and shoved a three-foot tall picture of a young boy into the clients face as she tried to make it to the front door. The protestors create an atmosphere of total chaos…as the clients are walking the sidewalk, the anti’s are walking behind the clients, in front of the clients, and running alongside of the clients, all trying to use their own individualized tactics of dissuasion, mostly based on shaming, aggression, and misinformation.
When I got home, my family asked me how the morning was. Lots of thoughts circled in my head and eventually made their way out through words and a few tears as I described the events of the morning. But, I kept coming back to the word “bizarre.” The whole thing struck me as quite bizarre. What is it that brings several dozens of protestors out every Saturday (and many weekdays) to heap heavy doses of shame and blame on women as they access an entirely legal medical procedure from an entirely legal medical provider?
I am understanding more and more how the stigmatization of abortion has ostracized this essential women’s health procedure. I am thankful, grateful, and humbled to have found the escort group. The work is not glamorous, but it is essential, and the folks accessing the clinic deserve better. It is their basic right.