Before I started escorting, I always viewed the word “counseling” in a positive light. The advice of a knowledgeable expert to assist in coping with life events is positive. Counseling to me implies an impartial, truthful examination of facts from someone with training to help.
Now, I always have a negative reaction as soon as I hear the word “counseling” because I think of the antis and their sidewalk counseling. Like so many terms, they were purposeful in their choice to describe their actions. They have taken a positive word and changed its meaning, like “choice” was made to mean something negative when they use the word. Instead of a positive outcome for the clients and companions “counseled” by the antis on the sidewalk, there is a heaping on of incorrect information, shame, blame and judgment. If any of the clients do not take their advice, the antis turn from gentle words to ones meant to hurt.
Sometimes escorts just watch and listen. We are able to pick up a lot of details without interfering with a client’s actions or decision. There are times it is hard to stand by passively, but when action would only add to the chaos surrounding a client, we wait for a signal they need our assistance. We do not interfere when clients or companions want to talk to the antis. Firm belief in every person’s right to make their own decisions helps us to be witnesses instead of participants.
There was a morning last month escorts were witnesses. The sidewalk drama played out before us for almost 30 minutes. It was a study in how “sidewalk counselors” work.
This story started with the client and a companion pulling to the curb around 715a. We approached and said our normal statements about going to the abortion clinic and explained our orange vests. The reaction from the companion was not friendly, but they listened and decided to park in the $3 parking lot. We let them know we would come get them when the doors opened.
Around 730a a companion parked in the AWC lot. An escort asked if this young man was looking for someone going to the EMW clinic. He answered yes and stopped to talk to the four AWC staff in their parking lot to greet him. An escort overheard part of their conversation and apparently the client and he were in AWC until 5p the day before. He hurried to the entrance of EMW saying, “She’s in there.” All four of the AWC staff followed him.
At the same time, escorts were walking the client and her companion to the door of the clinic. They met at the door. The young man grabbed the client’s arm and tried to hold her back from entering. The companion who had come with the client, pulled her other arm and got her into the clinic door. The young man followed them into the sign-in area. The entire time the four AWC staff were standing at the property line saying, “You don’t have to go in there. Your mother can’t make you do this. Come out and talk to us.”
After a short time, the young man came back to the AWC staff standing at the property line. All four of them were talking to him. “Pull her out of there. What they are doing is illegal. It is illegal to coerce someone into killing their baby. Go tell her they are breaking the law.” He went back into the clinic.
This was repeated four times with variations in the words, but the meaning was the same. The escorts watching were treated to “You say you are pro-choice, but you are only pro-death,” comments when they were waiting for him to come back out. The last time he came back out, the clients had already gone back for counseling by the EMW staff. During all of this, the EMW staff allowed him to talk to the client and escorts didn’t interfere with his entrances and exits from the building.
The staff of AWC know, or should know, the trained staff of EMW counsels each individual client to make sure they aren’t being forced into their decision. They will turn clients away if they are not sure or if there are questions about coercion.
This morning will always be engraved by two snapshots in my mind of the people involved. The first is of the client pulling away from the young man, tears in her eyes and repeating, “No. I want to do this.” The second is of the young man, head down and shoulders slumped, facing the sidewalk counselors as they walked away from him saying, “You didn’t try hard enough.”
We need to call them something other than “counselors.”