In light of the recent Supreme Court decision to decline to hear an appeal of Kentucky’s medically unnecessary narrated mandatory ultrasound law, I want to share with you one of my most heartbreaking mornings as a Louisville Clinic Escort. I have spoken of that morning just a few times with trusted friends. Although it has been more than five years, the day will forever haunt me.
For me, it started like any other weekday morning on the sidewalk. I greet my fellow escorts. We take note of the various protesters out that morning and then decide how best to take positions so we will be visible and available for arriving clients and companions.
Many clients have driven for hours to their appointment that morning; negotiated confusing exits and one-way streets; have successfully located the clinic on Market Street and are now searching for parking. That’s a lot of what I do: non-exciting, run-of-the-mill, give directions to various parking lots and garages. The CPC next door has their own private parking lot and deceptively encourages arriving clients to park there with these signs:
This morning my position was to stand in the alley behind the parking garage. It’s a confusing setup as that entrance is for monthly passes only, not day parking. I then explain to frustrated drivers how to get to the main entrance off of Jefferson Street. I directed a car to the correct entrance after they had circled the block twice and were visibly upset. They just wanted to get out of traffic and get parked. I told them I would meet them at the back entrance of the garage with the rest of the information I had for them.
As the pair approached me, I identified myself as a clinic escort and introduced myself. We had a few minutes before the clinic opened and stayed at the parking garage where it was quieter until we got the notice the doors were open. I told them what to expect from the protesters as they make their way to the clinic entrance. It’s an unsettling experience that has become routine for me, but is very intense, chaotic and frightening for many clients.
Sometimes clients will want to share their reasons for needing an abortion. I never ask. It is not my business. I listen because they need to talk. Some want to explain. Some just want to tell another person without fear of judgment. Others choose to share with me more personal stories, many of those are emotionally devastating.
The client that morning introduced themselves as Adrianne and her mother Rose.** This was Adrianne’s first pregnancy and she had been excitedly looking forward to motherhood. Earlier the previous week Adrianne had gone in for a routine check up and ultrasound to see if they could determine if the pregnancy was a boy or a girl. That’s when Adrianne’s planned world exploded in a million shattered pieces.
The news received was the fetus had fatal anomalies and it was dying. In a scramble to consult with other experts to confirm the initial diagnosis, they were in a race against time and the gestational limits set for terminations in Kentucky. Since Kentucky only has one abortion clinic left, mandatory wait times and appointment availability makes scheduling an abortion a desperate race against time. It took my breath away. I was devastated for them knowing what they would face in just a few minutes.
Adrianne was remarkably calm when explaining this to me while also comforting Rose who had flown in just hours earlier to be with Adrianne for the appointment. Rose told me she had not slept much since finding out. Rose was terrified about possible health complications Adrianne could be facing.
I then sadly told them they would hear some of the most awful, cruel things said to them by people that did not know their situation, and did not care. I told them I would walk with them the entire way; they could hold onto me; they could hide behind me; they could use me in any capacity they needed to get through the protesters. I would get them safely to the clinic door. As we set off for the walk to the clinic, I quietly braced myself for the verbal onslaught I knew was coming.
A long-time daily protester masquerades as a sweet old lady. It’s quite an act. I’ve seen her in action for years now and know exactly how she operates and can almost recite word for word what she will say. As we turned down the sidewalk on Market Street to head to the clinic this protester approached. With a soft pleading voice, pamphlets in hand begging, coaxing and cajoling them to make another decision and just go to the CPC next door for another opinion. “What could it hurt? You need all the information. You need a second opinion. You don’t have to do this today.”
The closer we got to the property line the more biting the words became. This protester always saves their most disgusting verbal assault for those last few steps clients and companions need to take to get to the door and into the clinic. “Grandma. what are you going to tell your daughter years from now when she asks you, ‘Mom why did you let me kill my baby?’ She’ll always be a mother, honey. She’ll just be the mother of a dead baby.” Those last words flung at us from a distance of less than 18 inches for maximum emotional impact. It’s a tactic they all use: intentionally cruel, intentionally provoking, vicious verbal assault in the name of free speech and their deity.
I reached the door and held it open for them. As Adrianne stepped in the lobby, Rose, the one running on almost no sleep; devastated for her daughter and the loss of her first grandbaby; the one who was needing comfort at the garage; stopped and turned to face the intentionally cruel protester who spoke those words.
Rose did a transformation I have rarely seen in my years of escorting. With two steps back towards the protesters, Rose let loose with what I can only describe as a primal, heartbreaking roar. She shouted inches from the protester’s face, ” IF MY DAUGHTER DOES NOT HAVE THIS ABORTION I WILL LOSE MY BABY”
At this point, I am standing at the door stunned about what just happened. trying to comfort a sobbing Adrianne as she is crying for her mother to please come in. Adrianne says through tears streaming down her face, “They don’t understand. They don’t care. They’re just cruel. Please come, Mom. I need you.”
I quietly went over and spoke in her mom’s ear, let’s go in, let’s get some space. Your daughter’s calling for you. The three of us stepped into the lobby and shut the door behind us. At that point we were all sobbing, our arms wrapped around each other huddled up. I was devastated for them. I kept apologizing for what they just endured. Adrianne was again comforting Rose who was pleading with me for answers. “Why are they allowed to do this? Why can they get so close to us? Why don’t they leave us alone when we asked them to? Why does Kentucky think this is okay?” I didn’t have any answers. The only thing I could do was keep apologizing saying I hoped it would change. I hoped that more people would understand what it’s like trying to access abortion services in states hostile to abortion. I looked at both of them and said I will do everything I can to try and change it. I will try to make it one less horrifying, traumatic episode to an already devastating day that I knew was full of more legislated inaccurate shaming obstacles to overcome.
Here I am, 5 years later, finally able to put into words what I experienced that morning. Still fighting. Still using my voice to share what it’s really like to access necessary medical care. And in those five years, it has gotten worse. Clinics around the country have been vandalized. Anti-choice individuals have targeted and massacred those providing and seeking healthcare.
We also now have an administration that is venomously against bodily autonomy and working to strip even more from individuals wishing to end pregnancies. The laws, the inaccurate, inflammatory rhetoric spewed by the individual in the presidency, by his followers, and by those claiming to speak for their god, all aimed at people trying to access healthcare. Even the city of Louisville does not see this as a problem and is dragging their feet on the most basic, minimal safety zone for patients accessing medical care in their state.
So yeah, it’s intentionally cruel on so many levels. I’m going to continue to do my part in making this world a safer, kinder place, We need it.
**These are not their real names. They are random names to protect the client’s and companion’s anonymity.