Documenting Fear

There have been so many articles written about abortion, abortion access, clinics, anti-abortion protesters and reproductive justice issues in the past five years. It’s not surprising, because since 2010 states have considered almost 400 abortion restriction bills and have adopted … Continue reading

“Someone Grabbed My Arm”

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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!!”


					

Shining A Spotlight

In early April, I wrote an article called “Documenting Fear.” In that article I described the steps Louisville Clinic Escorts are taking to document the actions of the anti-abortion protesters in front of the EMW Women’s Surgical Center in Louisville, … Continue reading

Intentional Cruelty

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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.

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**These are not their real names. They are random names to protect the client’s and companion’s anonymity.

Stepping back for the Bigger Picture

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By now if you own a computer, a smartphone or have even walked past a television set in the last 24 hours you have seen coverage of individuals from the Covington KY Catholic School on the news.

I want to step back a little further to cover what many news outlets will overlook.

The reason this individual was in Washington DC is getting lost among the outrage of how he treated Nathan Phillips, Omaha Nation Elder, and Vietnam War Veteran.

The ugly things they chanted to him, the smug entitlement in their faces, attitudes of complete contempt for individuals unlike themselves. All this is so very familiar to me.

Covington Catholic High School students went on a school-sponsored trip to Washington DC for the annual March for Life, held every year around the anniversary of Roe vs. Wade.

I am a clinic escort at the only abortion clinic in Kentucky. I have seen this very same behavior day after day for years now from individuals just like Covington Catholic students. The same despicable behavior, bigotry and callous disregard for others.

During the week it’s usually older men and women, representing many church denominations. On Saturdays they bring their young kids, teens. Sometimes large groups of religious families or fundamentalist churches will make an event of it.

Catholic churches and schools in the area organize field trips to Louisville for this purpose often with Archbishop Kurtz in attendance offering full support and encouragement, as we’ve written about before.

Once a month Kentucky Mountain Bible College offers a field trip to the abortion clinic. This allows students to get up close and personal with their harassment. Other churches and extremist groups frequent the sidewalk as well.

They chant, scream, stalk, loom and block individuals trying to make their way down a public sidewalk to a doctor’s appointment. This harassment has been documented, but is often tolerated as well.

Many people of all faiths, plus non believers are dismayed that religion is being distorted so badly to allow and even encourage this kind of hate.

For many, the raw display of racism in the news yesterday was shocking. How could they laugh and film? Where were the chaperones? How did their parents raise them? How could good Catholic kids do this?

That’s just it….

This is exactly what their elders do.

They have learned intolerance and hatred from the very people who raise and educate them.

Are you angry and upset that this type of harassment, verbal abuse and shaming still happen in 2019?

Are you willing to look at this from all angles?

Are you willing to tell others that everyone from all races, ethnicities, and beliefs deserve bodily autonomy?

That regardless of your personal beliefs no one should face this discrimination , intimidation and harassment?

Have you read this far? Then please do me one more favor, ask for a safety zone around abortion clinics to allow folks accessing care a little more physical space than the Covington Catholic students allowed Nathan Phillips.

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