“I’m going to volunteer at the abortion clinic soon.” My attention flicked from the smoke rolling off my cigarette to S sitting across from me. I knew about the clinic downtown, and I heard about the protesters in the morning, but never had I really given it much more thought. The more she spoke of the volunteers in front of the EMW Surgical Center, wearing neon orange vests, “escorting” women to their appointment, the more intrigued I became. I felt a small spark in my heart, and I urged her that we go volunteer as soon as possible.
It was a little after seven that S and I arrived at the abortion clinic. Before I could even step foot out of the car two women, early twenties, bombarded me and S. “Do you have all the information you need to be making this decision? You don’t have to do this. There are other options.”, one of the women spat at me. An older woman, mid forties possibly, caught my attention out of the corner of my eye. The aura about her read confident. She proudly wore an orange safety vest, clearly reading “Clinic Escort”. I turned to the protester, smiled, and said, “I’m sorry, but we’re actually here to escort this morning.”
“Good morning ladies, my name is F, you here to escort this morning?” I admired the calmness she obtained, especially in such a hectic environment. S proudly announced that we were and F replied with, “ Oh good! I’ll let you guys walk up to the clinic like clients first, get a first hand feel on what they experience.”
You’ll know when you meet an escort. Not by how they dress, or talk, their gender or age, but by their vest. Every escort wears a neon orange safety vest with bold black lettering stenciled carefully on the fronts and back of them, identifying themselves to the clients. When F arrived from retrieving our vests, she carried just one in hand. The vest shortage made for an interesting first morning on “the sidewalk”.
I often got approached by protesters assuming I was a patient. Clients were wary of me when I approached, since I didn’t possess the orange vest they had heard about. One woman replied to me asking her if she was going to the abortion clinic, “That is none of your business.” It struck me hard for a moment. I questioned how these “pro-life advocates” could go on morning after morning approaching these women who often lash back with viscious tongue. After I had explained the circumstance, and that I was there to walk with her through the protesters path if she wanted, the uneasy look disappeared from her face. She laughed, and gladly took my offer of walking with her to the clinic doors. The orange vests are what transform everyday people into passionate volunteers helping women seek medical care.
What makes the EMW Surgical Center one of the worst locations for anti-choice protesters is due to the fact that the clinic itself does not have a private parking lot. It forces clients to walk from where they parked to the clinic doors on public sidewalks. The protesters patrol these sidewalks, waiting and watching. The actual clinic doors don’t open until 7:30 a.m., but the clinic tells the clients to arrive around 7:15 a.m., also causing the problem of having women and companions standing outside of the door while protesters talk at them, trying to hand them pamphlets with photos of fetuses on every page.
The first client that showed up that morning was accompanied by her mother. I couldn’t help but put myself in the young women’s shoes. There would be no one else in the world who I would want there for me through such a difficult decision than my mom. About fifteen clients arrived that morning, some arriving alone and strong, some with significant others, and there was even one or two who arrived with tears in their eyes; but the mother and daughter stood out in my mind the most. The love and support this mother offered, these other companions offered, was beautiful to me and showed me that every single one of those companions believe and trusted these women to know what was right for them, to make the right choice for them. No matter what their personal views on it was, they supported these women and that inspired me.
The escorts are a “non-hierarchal group of autonomous individuals”, as they say. I had the pleasure of meeting a few of the regular escorts that morning. Each one approached us with smiling faces. They nurtured us, keeping us under their wings. S and I were the youngest escorts on the sidewalk. C manned the corner of Market Street. He wore a pin on his vest that read, “this is what a feminist looks like” with an arrow pointed upward. I loved it. He struck me as such an educated man, genuine and kind, passionate about his reason for being there. What makes the Louisville Clinic Escorts and the protesters different is that we are there to help people, help women; they are there to hinder women from seeking medical care.
I encountered an entirely new species that morning in front of the clinic, anti-choice protesters. As I stood on the corner of Market, the young women who approached me when I first had arrived that morning approached me again. “What are you getting out of being here?” I had to think about that for a second. I had already gotten so much out of the experience. “I’m here to help women. To support them in a terribly difficult decision in their life. To let them know that they can be empowered to do what is best for them, and most importantly; because I trust women.” She argued with me that “the babies the doctor is killing could be women too,” but I had learned that morning the best way to deal with a protester is to ignore them. She was quick to spit, “You will have the blood of these dead children on your hands,” before she pivoted on her heels and scurried away.
The way the protesters speak to people is degrading. They believe they are entitled to your time and conversation and if you deny them of that their blood starts to boil. The only defense tactic they use is shame. They yell slurs like, “You will have to answer to god one day for this!” and “You’re making such a selfish decision, what about the baby?!”
Some of the script they use is more comical. While I was standing at the clinic’s property line that morning, soaking in the surroundings, a protester steps next to me and begins shouting at the window. “You could die in there! If this facility catches fire you will be under anesthesia and not able to get out. You would die in there just like your baby!”, a regular protester, Donna, belted. My jaw dropped. All these people with their signs readings, “Abortion Kills Children” and their rosaries singing the same hymn over and over again, they are all the same. I thought to myself, how could these people wake up so early in the morning with so much hate in their heart where they feel the need to focus it on people around them? I turned to F and asked if things like Donna had just said is normality around here. She laughed, “I hear that line about once a week.”
The night after escorting I caught myself staring at the ceiling processing what I had been exposed to that day. All the emotions I had felt rushed back through my mind. I realized that the attack on women seeking abortions is an outrageous reality in this country. I saw that these clients need someone there to help them feel empowered. I realized that women aren’t trusted to make their own reproductive health choices. As I lay there reflecting on how this escorting experience affected me I realized my new passion, the burning in my heart, I wanted to help and that I 100% trusted women.