A Letter to the Mayor of South Bend IN on the dangers of fake clinics opening next to real ones

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UPDATE*: the Mayor vetoed the bill on Friday evening! See footnote for more details!

Early in the week the South Bend Common Council voted to let an anti-abortion rights group open a new location next to the site of a proposed abortion clinic.

The council voted 5-4 to grant the rezoning which would allow a fake clinic to open a new location at 3527 Lincoln Way W., next door to where Whole Woman’s Health Alliance plans to open a non-surgical abortion clinic.

In Louisville, we frequently see patients deceived by the fake clinic located right next door to KY’s only abortion provider. We decided to add a voice to the efforts asking South Bend’s Mayor to stop this rezoning measure to prevent problems before they start. Here is the letter from one of our ESM volunteers:

Dear Mayor Buttigieg,

I’m writing to urge you to veto Bill 05-18, which would approve a rezoning request and allow a fake clinic to move in next door to the Whole Woman’s Health Clinic. As a clinic escort at Kentucky’s abortion clinic (EMW), I cannot overemphasize the potential problems that Bill 05-18 would pose to the public, and to patients of Whole Woman’s
Health Clinic.

Kentucky’s EMW clinic shares a wall with an anti-abortion fake clinic—John Oliver recently did a segment about fake clinics, which often use deception to pose as abortion clinics, spread misinformation about abortion, offer sonograms without the oversight of appropriate medical professionals, and work to misdirect patients into entering the fake clinic. Though EMW has provided quality care for nearly four decades, patients face many challenges, compounded by the fake clinic next door. Though protesters show up every day the EMW clinic is open, on Saturdays dozens of protesters show up,  necessitating multiple police officers, clogging sidewalk foot traffic, and creating an uncomfortable and unsafe environment. The fake clinic acts as a hub for some of the protesters, and their staff attempt to usher in EMW clients by posting confusing signs about free parking or waving in clients (this is particularly confusing for patients who speak English as a second language)—but there are strings attached. Fake clinics use many tactics to prevent abortion, including offering food and beverages to women so that they cannot undergo general anesthesia, or misleading patients about how far along their pregnancy is: delays to abortion can lead to higher costs or being legally prohibited from obtaining an abortion.

I understand that rezoning requests must be approved if the request would be the “most desirable use” for a property, and rezoning should conserve property values in the area. In my experience, tension between an abortion clinic and a nearby fake clinic has a negative impact on the environment for surrounding businesses, regardless of their stance on abortion. The chaos on the sidewalks  necessitate volunteers like me to reduce (and unfortunately we can only reduce, not stop) the harassment and confusion. Clinic escorts at EMW provide directions, offer to walk with patients and their companions, and provide tactical support—information about parking, reminders about things like bringing IDs, and directions to the entrance of the clinic.

As a graduate student [redacted], I have a personal commitment to advocacy; I love being able to offer support to people from all walks of life at the clinic. But I would give it up in a second if the protesters stopped showing up and I could be confident that patients wouldn’t be misled by the fake clinic. It appears to me that you have an important opportunity to prevent some of the ugliness and chaos that we’ve seen near the EMW clinic, and I strongly encourage you to do that by vetoing Bill 05-18.

To be clear, I am not asking that you pass moral judgement against fake clinics. The protesters at EMW, aided by the placement of the fake clinic next door, are a hazard to public safety, and make the area undesirable, plain and simple. Police officers are frequently called, either asked to support scared or angry clients, to clear the sidewalks of protesters to make foot traffic possible (joggers will often run in the road rather than navigate the maze of protesters on the sidewalk), and even to respond to noise complaints—the loudspeakers street preachers set up in front of the clinic bother guests at hotels blocks away. I’ve even seen one hotel guest so upset she came down (at around 8am) to plead with LMPD officers to get the protesters to turn off their loudspeakers.

I could go on at length about the scene at the clinic, but hope I’ve made it clear why it is imperative that you veto Bill 05-18. Please do not hesitate to reach out to me about this important issue, I am happy to answer any questions you may have. Though I’m not a constituent, I hope that I can offer a valuable perspective in this matter.

Sincerely,

[redacted]

P.S. Congratulations on your recent engagement!

Fake clinic sign.jpg

Deception on display at the fake clinic next to KY’s only abortion provider.

*After composing this blog post, we got the following news:

Mayor Buttigieg vetoed #05-18! He even held a press conference and issued a letter explaining why. You can read news coverage here:

https://www.southbendtribune.com/news/local/south-bend-mayor-pete-buttigieg-vetos-anti-abortion-group-s/article_0b08950f-cd02-5b15-93cf-ff3a29fa2515.html.

Blog for Choice Day

Last night around 50 people came out in the snow, after our venue was changed and school was cancelled to the Speakout to Normalize Abortion.

We had a powerful event where people shared their abortion stories and supported each other.  We worked very hard to create a safe space to hear how different every person’s abortion experience can be.

Every one entering our speakout signed a pledge to be supportive, not engage in shaming behavior or use judgmental language and to keep confidential all the stories told.

Because of that promise, I am not going to write about all the different types of people who spoke or about the stories told.  Holding that space still reminds me of the  value of Trusting People.

Honoring the fact that just because abortion is a normal part of our lives does not mean these moments of transition do not challenge our beliefs, or make us grow; giving us time to pause and hopefully validate our strengths.

1 in 3 American people with a uterus will have an abortion in their lifetime, half world wide.  The sooner we recognize that abortion is a normal part of our reproductive lives the better.  The sooner we ensure safe, clean, supportive abortion services to the whole world the sooner we can prove that what happens to individual people matter.

Jill Stanick wants to ask what does choice really mean. I think it means public funding of abortions at 6 weeks, at 12 weeks at 20 weeks, at 24 weeks.

I think the right to parent our children even if we are poor is included in choice.

I think the right to not be forced into cesarean and medicalized birth is included in the right to choose.

I think the right to be unapologetically queer is part of Reproductive Justice.

Choice includes access to comprehensive sex education, birth control and emergency contraception.

Choice means addressing privilege and dismantling rape culture and racism.

Supporting and normalizing the right to access abortion services gives us all more room to build community where the lives of the disadvantage are not denied dignity and respect.

Speakout to Normalize Abortion has moved

Due to the snow, the Speakout to Normalize Abortion will be moved to the Women in Transition office 806 E. Chestnut Street.  There is a parking lot across the street from WIT or street parking is available.  WIT office door is on the ground floor, down the ramp.  Come out and tell your story, hear other people’s experiences.

People experience pregnancy and abortion on a vast continuum of joy and despair, relief and regret. We want to validate peoples experiences. The goal is to take steps towards normalizing abortion. We aim to create a safe and supportive environment for people to share their stories.

Stories can be submitted in advance with an option to have your story read by an actor if you are unable to attend or do not wish to get up on stage. Please email stories or questions to everysaturdaymorning@gmail.com

*note: while all peoples stories are important, it is important to keep our speech personal and not political. any speech that shames, judges, or stigmatizes people or their experiences will not be tolerated in this space.*

Remembering MLK as a Reproductive Justice Advocate

Cristina Page wrote this piece last year, here is the intro.

“The anti-contraception, anti-choice movement has, for years, attempted to portray Margaret Sanger and Planned Parenthood, or as they say “Klan Parenthood,” as racist. On Martin Luther King Day, I thought it would be useful to draw our attention to the words of Dr. King himself on the woman and the organization that the pro-lie establishment attempts to cast as opposed to his vision. As you’ll see, nothing could be further from the truth. The following speech was written in 1966 by Rev. Martin Luther King and given by his wife, Coretta Scott King, on the occasion of receiving the The Planned Parenthood Federation of America Margaret Sanger Award.”

I really love that Cristina posts the whole speech to check out Cristina’s article go here.

And check out our week of Roe v. Wade events here in Louisville KY.

Revisiting one of my favorite posts

This piece was originally posted last year, but I think it is worth another read.  Since I first wrote this piece the protesters have opened another fake clinic right next door to EMW Women’s Surgical Center, making that 2 fake clinics on the block.  If you want more info on why these establishments are so harmful check here.

Reproductive Justice is the antidote to Rape Culture

Recently there has been a lot of attention paid to a tactic a group of anti-choice protesters outside of EMW Women’s Surgical Center in Louisville KY is using to deceive the clients trying to access abortion services. Louisville’s Clinic escorts (volunteers provide emotional and tactical support to clients entering the clinic) wear orange vests that say ‘Clinic Escort’ identifying themselves to clients. In the last month the anti-choice protesters have begun wearing remarkably similar vests, the only difference is the wording on the vest: ‘clinic escort’ vs. ‘life escort’. In this post I want to explore the intersection of Rape Culture and anti-choice activism highlighting the places were reproductive and sexual health meet the reality of our cultural norms.

Louisville’s Clinic escorts vests
liar

Rape culture is defined as the cultural normalization of sexual violence. We see this in the social context of blaming the rape survivor for the rape; they were asking for it because they attended a party or had a few beers. Our court system routinely blames survivors of domestic violence for staying in abusive situations without providing viable options for those seeking refuge.Melissa McEwan has an awesome Rape Culture 101 post with lots of examples of what rape culture looks like including this gem of a paragraph.

 

“Rape culture is 1 in 6 women being sexually assaulted in their lifetimes. Rape culture is not even talking about the reality that many women are sexually assaulted multiple times in their lives. Rape culture is the way in which the constant threat of sexual assault affects women’s daily movements. Rape culture is telling girls and women to be careful about what you wear, how you wear it, how you carry yourself, where you walk, when you walk there, with whom you walk, whom you trust, what you do, where you do it, with whom you do it, what you drink, how much you drink, whether you make eye contact, if you’re alone, if you’re with a stranger, if you’re in a group, if you’re in a group of strangers, if it’s dark, if the area is unfamiliar, if you’re carrying something, how you carry it, what kind of shoes you’re wearing in case you have to run, what kind of purse you carry, what jewelry you wear, what time it is, what street it is, what environment it is, how many people you sleep with, what kind of people you sleep with, who your friends are, to whom you give your number, who’s around when the delivery guy comes, to get an apartment where you can see who’s at the door before they can see you, to check before you open the door to the delivery guy, to own a dog or a dog-sound-making machine, to get a roommate, to take self-defense, to always be alert always pay attention always watch your back always be aware of your surroundings and never let your guard down for a moment lest you be sexually assaulted and if you are and didn’t follow all the rules it’s your fault.”

 

An example of rape culture being utilized as social control against women and LGBT people can be seen in the 2009 horrifying gang rape and murder ofEudy Simelane, an out lesbian footballer in Kwa Thema, a suburb of Johannesburg South Africa.

The motive for the attack was “corrective” in nature, that is, culturally sanctioned sexual violence in order to enforce heteronormativity. The Guardian reported”What we’re seeing is a spike in the numbers of women coming to us having been raped and who have been told throughout the attack that being a lesbian was to blame for what was happening to them,” said Vanessa Ludwig, the chief executive at Triangle. The goal of the rapists is social conformity to the broader misogynistic paradigm, or in other words the heteronormative, enforced gender binary with women’s bodies and supporters of women’s bodies the target of socially condoned sexual violence and intimidation.

Dr. George Tiller

 

Now, let’s turn to the sidewalk in front of EMW Women’s Surgical Center in Louisville KY. Five days a week, protesters chase women and their families from their cars to the door of the clinic, yelling at them, calling them murders and whores, in general harassing them. The anti-choice protesters view themselves as peaceful, information bearers. They genuinely believe they have been ordained/ instructed by God to minister to these women. And while they certainly have the right to speak their mind and oppose abortion, we move squarely into the realm of rape culture when there is no place between the interactions ofanti-choice protesters and the women to consent to the interaction. We move even further down the continuum of disempowerment and social control when women clearly DO NOT CONSENT to the interaction. Routinely clients will say something along the lines of “Please Leave ME ALONE” and the anti-choicers continue to aggressively impede their progress, thus crossing the line between free speech and assault.

 

white male privilege says “yes, you can and are”

 

 

The first week the anti-choice protesters showed up wearing their very deceptive vests one of the regular chasers told a group of escorts they (the anti-choicers) were simply trying to “level the playing field”. Which I feel is one of the most disgusting displays of social privilege I have witnessed in my 10 years of escorting in Louisville. What I think this young woman was trying to get across is that they feel entitled to the time and attention of the women entering the abortion clinic for reproductive health care services, and that if it is necessary to be physically imposing to do so, obfuscation and misinformation are appropriate tools to such an end. This entitlement is at the core of rape culture. The attitude that the bodies of women and queers are fair game as a battle field for social conformity is exactly the place where reproductive justice and rape culture intersect. Eudy Simelane and Dr. Tiller’s bodies were destroyed in attempts to isolate and stigmatize the ‘other’.

Tim Tomeny and another bully stand as close to the door as they legally can. from these posts they jump out at clients, shove or trip escorts and sometimes snap pictures. nice guys, real nice.

 

Well, we are all the ‘other’. There is no ‘other’. Rape Culture hurts us all. Rape is a tool of war. Gender equity is destroyed by rape. And the only way to combat these evils is to fight for the autonomy and empowerment of all people.

 

New Event Added to Roe v Wade Celebration Week

Queering Reproductive Justice: a Community Conversation

In Louisville, the queer movement and the reproductive justice movement remain divided, under the misguided perception that the two issues do not intersect. This conversation is meant to bring all sides together to dialogue about the intersectionality of the queer movement and reproductive rights.

http://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=184507844902318

Access to abortion supports families. Yelling at people does not.



Read this family’s story here.

Dear Arron,

I would like to express my condolences to you, your wife and child regarding the loss of this pregnancy.  I cannot imagine how hard this must be for you.  Thank you for sharing your experience.  Thank you for confronting people you perceive to be bullies.  Thank you for supporting your  partner in such a compassionate way.

Sincerly

andy

 

Boundaries

Our world is filled with boundaries. They seem to be something we humans are particularly fond of. We have divided the globe into geographical and political regions, defined their perimeters, named them, claimed ownership of them, and defended them to our deaths. We put up fences around our yards to define our space, limit our children and pets, protect our belongings, and keep strangers out. We obviously put a lot of effort into clearly delineating that which is yours and that which is mine.

We set, maintain, and respect our boundaries for very good reasons. Robert Frost wrote, “Good fences make good neighbors.”  You may not know the poem, but the concept is well-known and easy to understand. Our boundaries allow us to practice our own personal idea of freedom as long as it doesn’t harm or infringe upon the rights and freedoms of others. Knowing our boundaries keeps the peace in this crowded world and allows us to pursue our own personal happiness within them.

The boundaries which I find most intriguing are those we have learned from our social interactions. From the time we become aware of ourselves and others in our first year of life we begin to learn and establish our behavioral boundaries. Through trial and error we learn what gains us favor among our families and peers and what gets us into trouble. We learn which subjects not to discuss publicly, how far to stand from the person we’re talking with, and how loudly we can speak in various environments. We learn not to touch people we don’t know, and when we do touch people, we know what kind of touching is appropriate. The list goes on and on. While most of these boundaries can be simply described as “good manners,” at their core, they are built upon respect, for both self and others–respect for the boundaries between courtesy and offense. We “do unto others as we would have them do unto us.”

By their simple nature, we can naturally expect unpleasant things to happen when boundaries are crossed. By extreme example, people who crossed the Berlin Wall were shot on sight. Similarly, intruders on private property can be arrested. On the social level, we see children who sass their parents or wander out of the yard get punished, and rowdy patrons ejected from the premises. Scolding another mother’s child will likely result in your own scolding, and questioning the integrity of a friend may find you minus a friend.

Living within our physical and social boundaries allows for a generally peaceful life, but some of us choose to occasionally dwell right on the edge of boundaries. I’m speaking, of course, about those of us who escort and protest at Louisville’s abortion clinic. Life at the very edge of boundaries can be precarious. Your every word and movement is carefully watched and scrutinized by your opponent who is ready to defend their territory at the first hint of a border crossing. Any participant on the front lines of this raging cultural war over abortion will attest to the truth of this. Cross words and threats are exchanged for the tiniest of infractions of the physical, social, and philosophical boundaries we are all there to defend, and any hope of maintaining any kind of peace and order relies entirely on respect for those boundaries.

Most abortion clinics in this country are able to establish solid and obvious boundaries between their clients and those who would oppose their choice with fenced, private lots, parking garages, and the like. Some cities have stepped up and defined boundaries between clients and protesters, maintaining a physical distance between them with bubble laws or buffer zones. But at Louisville’s abortion clinic, no such thing exists. The opposing participants mingle.

The boundaries between protesters and clients, and the escorts who walk with the clients, are defined by nothing more than the “good manners” of the participants. Even the one, single, obviously defined, physical boundary–the indentation on the sidewalk which supposedly marks the boundary between clinic property and the public sidewalk–is subject to the practice of good manners as it cannot physically bar anyone from crossing it. So, in reality, our boundaries are defined by our morals, our principles, and our self-control–basically, those behavioral boundaries we’ve been learning since we were toddlers. Luckily, the majority of the participants at the clinic know these boundaries well enough, and are able to avoid the more drastic forms of violence and aggression. But, we are not good neighbors. There are gaps in our fences. There are boundaries that protesters fail to acknowledge, and breach routinely.

There are two boundaries which, for escorts, basically define our presence at the clinic. The first is personal space, that comfort zone we each establish in the physical space around our bodies and claim as our own. I briefly mentioned this previously in noting how most of us know how far to stand from the people we’re talking to. The boundary of this comfort zone fluctuates based on things like who is approaching, where the encounter is occurring, and who else is present, or one’s current state of mind, current activity, the other’s motivation, and so on. The other boundary, personal privacy, is a social boundary which fluctuates similarly to personal space. We are willing to share and discuss our personal matters with others based on the same who, what, where, when, and why criteria. Crossing either of these boundaries steals away a person’s comfort. It can make them defensive, even fearful, but always raises their stress level. Crossing this boundary by mistake is regretful, but doing it purposely is an attack on human dignity.

These are the two boundaries that clinic protesters, or as they like to call themselves, “sidewalk counselors,” cross continually as they approach complete strangers (the clinic clients), walk shoulder-to-shoulder with them, and discourse on subjects like the client’s sex life, the state of their reproductive organs, mate selection, life choices, and many other intimate subjects one simply doesn’t discuss with strangers. I always marvel at how these otherwise decent people who were raised in the same culture as the rest of us, completely lose their sense of good manners and acceptable social behavior, and present their opinions so rudely. Don’t they understand that putting people in defense mode cancels out their message?

If you read the previous blog entry entitled “Trespassing and Invasion,” you’re familiar with the story of Stephanie, the protester who recently found herself on the wrong side of the clinic property line. She crossed a boundary that is acknowledged and generally respected by protesters. She argued, she lost, she was physically coerced to the proper side of the boundary and peace was restored. Her disrespect for this boundary and her willingness to cross it are duly noted. Defending the property line boundary is important, but her infraction was minor when compared to the continual assaults she and the rest of the protesters inflict upon the women who have come to the clinic for private medical attention that is none of anyone else’s business. This is the reason we escort: to uphold women’s dignity as they seek essential medical care. This is the boundary we defend. Approach this boundary and we will watch you like a hawk. Cross it and we will do all we can to neutralize your threat, while taking care to stay within the boundaries of good manners.

Written by Dan

Dear Stephanie

As a comment to the post “Not Making Things Worse” I got this:

Andy,

I am a life escort and I escort almost every Saturday morning. And I realize you probably won’t post this on the blog. But I do want you to know that there are quite a few of us who do not wish to hate or speak hateful words to you, any escorts, or any clients. I know that there is a good chance that we will never really find much common ground on this issue. But Ken did say something to me last week about both the clinic escorts and life escorts that I believe is true. He said that we are essentially all there for the same reason…to show compassion. I believe he could not have been more right. I read about the compassion you have for clients almost every week.

I respect you for being so honest in this post. Believe it or not, I too have felt much the same way as you have. I too have been pushed around and hated especially on Saturday mornings. And I too have had a hard time controlling my tongue. And as a result, I too have said and done things I have regretted. And I too have not wanted to apologize for them. But the Lord compelled me to do so. I did apologize and seek forgiveness from that escort I wronged. And here is the part where Stephanie feels the need to tell me all about how I was hurt by my ex, she can empathize, knows what it is like to be me and god can fix it and how great he is for a paragraph or two.

Blessings,
Stephanie

And here is the response I sent her via email today.

Stephanie,

To clarify, I did not write the post about de-escalating. ESM is a collaborative blog and several people write for us. I also want to point out that while you may be able to identify with something that is written here, please do not assume you know about the lives of the escorts and especially the lives of the clients. What is shared here is limited, and certainly not the whole story.

You are correct that I will not post your comment in its entirety. But not for the reason you think. I am not a Christian. I have no desire to hear about your god, beliefs or opinions about the lives of others based on the lack of compassion you and your friends show the rest of us.

I understand you disagree with me and feel like you show nothing but compassion.

We feel judged, harassed and most importantly disempowered by you and yours.

There is a huge difference between intention (what you think you are saying/showing/acting) and perception (what I feel/perceive/interpret).

It is not up to you to tell me that I should not be offended by you if I am in fact hurt by the way you push your opinions on me.

Escorts are a motley bunch with beliefs ranging from very devout Christians, Jews and Muslims to atheists and pagans, but mostly we are people who are just willing to admit we do not have the answers.

We have in our culture a great respect for the faith of our citizens and thus give massive latitude to religious speech. As a person in the cultural majority (Judeo-Christian world view) you may not be able to see that your faith colors every aspect of my life.

And I object.

The protection that grants you the right to speak your faith limits my right to set boundaries rejecting it. This is clearly the Right to Free Speech v. the Right to be free from Harassment social dichotomy acted out everyday in front of the clinic.

And so, this is my blog, and I will not provide space for you or anyone else to prosthelytize.

We know.

We have heard you tell us all about your faith and god ad nauseum.

And the fact that you REFUSE to accept no for an answer puts you in a position as the aggressor. I do not want you to aggress against me or the clients or my escorts any more.

As women we are taught No means No.

I am saying to you, and the clients say to you NO all of the time.

Your faith in god does not change the fact that you are in that moment no different from a rapist. To be clear I am simply making an analogy: person A says no to a certain type of interaction, person B does not accept those boundaries and forces themselves upon person A.

Lastly, I want to point out to you that to escort someone is to safely ensure they arrive at their intended destination.

You do not escort anyone anywhere.

You literally chase people, who are telling you to leave them alone, down the street.

While I understand the literary point you are trying to make, it falls short in every way. You and your friends are engaging in deception.

Your orange vests cause more confusion than they create calm.

I was told the first morning you all showed up in those vests you all were trying to “level the playing field”.

It seems you all view this as a game to be won, strategy to be put into place, and no matter how you spin that statement, I think it was very honest.

And disgusting.

I disagree with Ken on this point.  I don’t think any of you care about these women and the torment you put them through by your actions.

You may disagree with the choice they are making, but many of these women are caused 100% more hurt by you than the abortion will ever cause them.

I know you disagree with me. Which is your right.

But the reality is that this is a choice they must make and live with.

It does not matter one little bit if you and I disagree. What matters is that in my 10 years of escorting I have spoken with thousands of women and most of the ones who talk to me about their decisions are confident they are doing the right thing. And none of the ones who were not sure felt like you all were really there to give them a better option.

I trust you speak with women who are grateful for your services, and while I find the services provided at AWC to be dishonest and disingenuous, it is not my choice make. And I will ALWAYS provide support to every person regardless of what I think about her decisions. This is not the same for you and your friends.

The climate on the sidewalk in front of the clinic is more than just the words we speak.

Can you even imagine what it must be like for women to be surrounded by 15 people, half of them shoving lit in your face, calling you a murderer, shoving in front of you to block you from taking another step?

Your words are the smallest of the ways in which you and your friends intimidate and cause fear.

We are all human and say things that we regret. There are always better ways to interact. But I can not stress enough that you contribute more to the hurt that women feel through your disempowering actions than anything else they are dealing with that day.

I don’t want to be your friend. I certainly do not want to develop a relationship with you so that you can have secret, or overt for that matter, plans to save me. I don’t need saving nor do any of the escorts or clients. Please leave us alone. In the end, all anybody wants is a little privacy to live our lives the best we can.

Andy

abortion is not a dirty word.