“Someone Grabbed My Arm”

In January of 2016, escorts began working with the staff of the EMW Surgical Center and the National Clinic Access Project to collect surveys from patients accessing care at the only abortion provider in Kentucky. These efforts, the reasons for them, and initial results were first described here in the “Documenting Fear” article. Since then, thousands more responses have been logged. The numbers help to understand the generally chaotic nature of the public sidewalk and even parking lots near the clinic (Patient-Questionnaire-Annual-Report-July-2016-June-2017). But the comments from patients do more than that – they give one an idea of how an individual walking this gauntlet on the way to their doctor’s appointment is personally impacted.

Media often approach volunteers and other advocates involved in the fight to preserve abortion access in search of “personal stories.” They want to ride along with a volunteer transporting a client; they want to be put in touch with someone seeking an abortion with the assistance of a hotline volunteer; can the clinic get them a patient to talk to? And it is true that breaking the silence that surrounds abortion is a crucial part of combating the stigma that also surrounds it – but the two feed each other. Stigma is why many do not wish to tell their abortion story, especially to a stranger, especially publicly, especially without anonymity. When one woman live-tweeted her own medication abortion some years ago, she received a torrent of vitriol. Similarly, when the #ShoutYourAbortion campaign was launched, many participants again found themselves on the receiving end of abuse.

Abortion storytelling is not without real risk for the person sharing their story. Those who choose to tell their stories do so because they have determined that, for them, the risk they take on is worth the reward – a complicated and individual calculation that each person must consider for themselves. It will not look the same for an individual who is trans, or undocumented, or making plans to safely escape an abusive, dangerous relationship, etc., as it will for someone with more privileges and protections. Privilege impacts abortion storytelling as much as it does abortion access.

This does, of course, lead to a recurrent problem in reporting on abortion access in general, and on the scene in front of too many clinics in particular. Too many stories fall into a pattern of telling “both sides of the story,” wherein antis and abortion access advocates are painted as parties warring over a concept. Too often the patient accessing an abortion does not appear as an active character in what is in fact their own story; they become merely the “idea” that the “sides” in question are “fighting” over. Framed this way, what happens outside of clinics becomes a free speech issue – but when the framing centers patients accessing care, the issue becomes one of private citizens being harassed, intimidated, and all too often physically obstructed and assaulted.

These client surveys do not collect background information, though some patients do choose to share pieces of their story. The comments from patients that follow pertain to their experience of walking into the clinic. These are only a small sampling of the comments provided, and have been grouped to allow brief explanations where necessary – but the comments have not been edited. They are often unpleasant to read – but these are the clients describing, in their own words, what they experienced walking down the sidewalk minutes after having done so, and often with the antis still audible, due to their various amplification devices, as they sit in the waiting room. Please consider a trigger warning in effect for the entirety of this piece – but please consider as well that the patients describing these events had no way to avoid them.

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One of the questions on the survey asks clients if they were afraid that antis might do something to them. If the answer is yes, they are asked “What were clients afraid antis might do?” A selection of these responses:

 

“I was mostly afraid of shootings or bombings at the clinic. I found it disturbing that they were right outside the door, so close to the building. I felt comfortable with the staff, but not entirely safe with them so close and seemingly able to enter any time.”

“Blow up the building or physically grab me. They are way too close, invading our personal space. Nearly all targeted attacks (bombs) on clinics were done so by religious nuts.”

“I was afraid of being shot.”

“The protesters got right in between myself and person that brought me here, almost tripped him trying to get between us and verbally attacked him!!!”

“One of them blocked my path and stepped on my foot causing me to twist my ankle. They are very aggressive and upset me and my support.”

“They were all coming at me at once and so close that a man stepped on me. I did not feel safe.”

“I need space to walk in. I almost fell to the ground trying to get past.”

“Someone grabbed my arm.”

“I was afraid because they had backpacks. Not sure if they had guns or bombs.”

“When I told them to leave me alone and they said “No”, it made me feel as though they would physically try to make me turn around.”

“I was pushed up against and swarmed on a public sidewalk. If I wasn’t having a procedure done, I wouldn’t even want to walk down this street.”

“I told them I had anxiety and to please back up and they surrounded me closer.”

“They made me fear for my life and well being outside of the clinic.”

“I was afraid they would not let me cross the street. As I was trying to park, a woman blocked my way to my car and followed me aggressively until two vested workers helped me to cross the street. I was screamed at once I crossed the street and surrounded.”

“I thought someone crazy might pull a gun out.”

“I thought they might throw food at me.”

“Followed very closely. One followed my friend back to the car. My friend called 911. Protester then walked away after writing down license plate #.”

“I watched a man shove the woman walking with me. I was afraid for myself and other women making this choice physically because of these people.”

“I was afraid I was going to be taken away into another building. Some woman tried to stuff different things in my pockets.”

“The man with mic is very aggressive & I thought he might become angered more & do something”

“I felt like I was being harassed, they followed me and made me cry, I felt so uncomfortable, they came up to our car and were banging on the window and we had our baby in the car and she started to cry”

“Anything to stop me from coming inside, They made a comment about “Black lives matter, right.” I feel it was very racist.”

“Protester put arm up in front of my partner and I, blocked us from entering building. Stood in doorway. My partner wears glasses and did not see lady that stepped in front of me. He bumped into her. She fell. It was raining. Police were called. She was in the doorway. It was terrible.”

“Shoot and/or bomb the place.”

“Spit on me or physically cause harm.”

“Throw things or spit on me.”

“They followed my family to White Castle and told the people they dropped me off at EMW. Very rude. I was very angry.”

“I am afraid of them trying to find me in my workplace or elsewhere.”

“Have a bomb and blow us all up!”

“I asked the man who came to my car to leave. He did not and hovered until a lady escorted me out. He purposely intimidated me.”

“I thought they would grab me. It was very scary.”

“I thought one man was going to hurt me with his poster. I tripped and almost fell!”

“I didn’t feel safe; asked to be left alone. They kept insisting to tell me I’m wrong and a man got in my face.”

“I was afraid they would do something to our car. They could honestly push a woman to suicide.”

“Protesters were very aggressive and scary for me being a young girl already making a hard decision. Even after I said thank you and I was not interested they still wouldn’t leave me alone.”

“They did step on my shoe while following me, making me come out of my shoe. Also walked so closely to me and my mom, that it felt difficult to walk.”

“They told me I was killing my “colored” baby, racist, abusive language.”

“Violence. The protesters should not legally be allowed to come near or on EMW property. It is dangerous and the protesters are mentally unstable and could cause harm to patients.”

“An elderly lady grabbed my arm, got physical with me and told me I was going to hell, my husband doesn’t love me and he’s sending me to hell. My husband almost got into a physical fight/altercation.”

“Spit, shove, verbally abuse, obstruct, film/attempt to expose via social media platforms”

“I was afraid they’d hit me, shoot me or spit on me. They only yelled, so I’m okay. It wasn’t as bad as I expected. I really thought I’d be hurt and I’m glad I’m safe.”

“Attack. One person said I was a demon and yelled. I have PTSD and those actions make me upset.”

“One pretended like she worked here and almost made me walk into the wrong building.”

“One lady was very aggressive and pushed and touched me.”

“I was scared of them. I thought they would hurt me.”

“They wouldn’t stop following me.”

“Touch me. They tried coming to my vehicle and talk to my 18 month old daughter. They would not stop talking to her even when asked.”

“Wasn’t sure protester wasn’t going to physically grab me after he jumped in front of me to block my path I was walking. That was scary.”

“Damage our vehicle, attack the clinic, follow me home. Try to prevent me.”

“A woman was shouting about “if there is a fire you’re not getting out of there.” This is terroristic threatening. As is following me yelling at me after repeated requests to leave me alone.”

“I was scared they would try to photograph and expose me for something I’m not. As I walked, I could have blacked out from the pressure.”

“A man blocked my path and wouldn’t let me pass. I thought he was going to shove me away from the door. Thank goodness for the volunteers walking/escorting me.”

“A man got in my face. His breath moved my hair.”

Patients often add additional comments beside questions throughout the survey (in particular, where asked if they would feel safer with antis kept across the street, it is common to see “not even there!” and similar things written next to it.) Additionally, space is provided at the end of the survey for clients to write further comments if they wish.

Beside “I do not understand why the police allow this kind of harassment and rioting outside a health clinic.”

“I know we have free speech. However, they restrict my right and free choice by blocking the clinic.”

“One boy had a camera on his hat. They stuck their heads in our car window.”

“We live in a country where people have the right to Freedom of Speech and to protest. However, these people, the individuals that stand directly in front of the clinic, they are literally screaming, shouting, staring, glaring. The environment looks, feels and sounds violent, unsafe and screams terror. At the very least, police should be protecting the women entering the clinic.”

“I appreciate that the EMW staff warned me about the protestors beforehand so I could mentally prepare myself. The guides in orange vests were very comforting and supportive. The fact that the protesters try to trick you into going into the wrong building and shame you even though they know nothing about you tells me they are in the wrong. If people can be told not to smoke in front of a restaurant, the EMW clinic should be allowed to block protestors from standing in front of their entrance.”

“I really didn’t like grown man yelling in my face and bumping into me while trying to get in the door. I did not appreciate them standing waiting for me to get out of my car.”

“They got way too close. I can understand the protest part, but them being in my face/blocking me was uncalled for.”

“I feel as humans, they have the right to protest and I have the right to an abortion, however, they DO NOT have the right to touch or threaten me!!”


			

2 thoughts on ““Someone Grabbed My Arm”

  1. Pingback: Sidewalk Snippet – 8/1/17 | Louisville Clinic Escorts

  2. What I fail to comprehend is how can any sane person interpret any of this as:
    “kind, gentle sidewalk counsel,”
    “christian,”
    “humane,”
    or even,
    “legal under the 1st Amendment?”

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