Sidewalk Snippet – It’s Always Something

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It’s always something back at the garage behind EMW to disrupt the peace.

Many mornings preachers from various anti abortion cliques from the local area bring their portable amplified equipment to stand at the garage and preach.

They seem to enjoy the sound of their own voices echoing off the multi-level concrete garage.

Those mornings escorts stationed there are often subjected to personalized Bible readings creatively distorted out of context.

When clients park and exit on foot for the block and a half walk to the clinic, the amplified harassers quickly fall into step behind them and then proceed to verbally assault them in the name of free speech to the clinic property line.

Often times these walks are balancing act of escorts quietly reassuring clients, while gently deescalating companions from wanting to shove the individuals following on their heels preaching at them still mic’d up and amplified from a distance of only a few feet.

Today it was not the usual annoying disturbances. It was a car with an alarm going off repeatedly on the second floor of the garage.

Making ample use of the acoustics and clear morning air, it paused briefly every now and then before starting another 3 minute screech fest.

The bright side to this is it did not confront escorts or chase clients down the sidewalk.

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.

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

Sidewalk Snippet – Donuts

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As clinics and states make the news for extreme restrictions and lack of access to abortion, more people across the country are taking notice.

For escorts a simple thank you, or a kind gesture, goes a long way in diluting the hate that gets spewed our way everyday when we guide and allow individuals to be empowered as they make their healthcare decisions at Kentucky’s only remaining abortion clinic.

This morning was a pleasant surprise as escorts arrived to fresh donuts provided by a reproductive justice activist and Every Saturday Morning blog reader from New Mexico.

But as always, you never know what’s going to set off antis into a tirade. This morning it was body shaming escorts and those eating donuts.

It seems their entire purpose is to ridicule and shame individuals in the name of their religion for personal decisions they make, whether it be donuts or abortion.

Sometimes you just shake your head and wonder how anybody has that much hatred. Unfortunately, that’s just a Tuesday on the sidewalk in Louisville Kentucky.

Sidewalk Snippet – Overheard

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“Every Tuesday morning” they hissed quietly at the friend walking with them.

“That one right there,” they gestured pointing up the sidewalk.

I turned to see who they were talking about as they walked past.

“Same thing every week, assuming I am going to the clinic. I’m just trying to get to work, I don’t think he’s ever looked at my face.”

As the conversation trailed off I watched as they continued down to the crosswalk.

Sure enough, the preacher with the loudspeaker gets in front of them yet again.

Because he does not see them as a person. Only an individual capable of pregnancy.

Sidewalk Snippet – Never Assume

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Today was a slightly chaotic morning with new church members coming out to scream and preach at escorts and clients alike.

Many of us this morning were working multiple stations on the sidewalk making sure it went as smoothly as possible for clients and companions with appointments.

One of our wonderful escorts had to leave and go to work. As he walked down the sidewalk taking off his vest he encountered a client that asked to be walked in.

He immediately agreed and was accompanied by two additional escorts that were wearing vests for the walk down the sidewalk.

Not two minutes had passed since he had been wearing an orange vest escorting in front of the antis when his group of four approached the property line.

Five of our most persistent daily protesters then swarmed the 3 approaching escorts and client. Pleading with the now vest-less male escort not to kill his baby, take responsibility be a man, and if you love her you won’t let her do this.

The client entered the clinic and the three escorts turned back thinking about the assumptions and judgment the antis make every day on people they know nothing about.

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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Counting My Way

As a huge supporter of abortion access I have contributed to our Pledge- A-Picketer fundraiser every year.

Louisville Clinic escorts started this fundraising idea after 300 protesters came out one Saturday before Mother’s Day a few years back.

Over the years we have seen the numbers of protesters drop off as we have used their presence to fund raise money for abortion access.

They know why we count and they do not like the fact that their presence raises funds for abortion support.

In 2016 since the numbers of protesters were dropping I decided to modify my pledge a little bit and put a monetary amount not only on number of protesters, but signs, amplification, and other harassment techniques they use.

The turnout of antis on the Pledge-A-Picketer, Spooky Halloween Edition was fairly small, probably due to rainy weather and the fact they knew we were going to fund raise off of their numbers.

I pledged $0.25 an anti for a total of $21 for the two days.

But seeing as how dedicated  clinic escorts are for showing up in all kinds of weather and all the stuff life throws at you, I know they are worth so much more.

I decided to pledge $2 an escort and Legal Observer.

Clinic escorts and Legal Observers showed up for choice and access raised $112.

Just doing what you do week in and week out is amazing. I wanted to acknowledge how much I value your presence on the sidewalk.

I’m Glad You Asked

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It seems everyone today has an opinion on reproductive health choices and access to legal abortion.

Escorting at EMW Women’s Surgical Center, assisting clients get to their appointments with as little interference/harassment from anti-choice protesters as possible, my mind is constantly engaged and thinking. So when this screen capture taken off a video Operation Save America posted and I read that comment from a viewer, I pondered on it.


What was I thinking as I calmly stood there that Friday morning, while Rusty Thomas of OSA (in town for a federal court appearance) bellowed, roared and shamed clients, companions, and escorts alike that morning?

I thought back to May 13, 2017 when this man in front of me chose to break federal law and cross the property line, sitting down with about a dozen followers blocking the entry doors until eventually peacefully removed by LMPD after many polite requests and invitations by the officers went unanswered.

I thought about the dynamics I was watching that Friday morning among the anti-abortion protesters. I watched when the cameras came on and when they had an audience, they kicked it into high gear, yelling shaming, preaching.

I thought about theatrics they love to present: escorts as stone-hearted, cold, uncaring people and themselves as poor put-upon saviors.

I thought about the perception their viewers must have when they watch these videos. I wonder if viewers know how much of a show it is to recruit donations and support?

I thought about the distortions they offer, the narratives they speak when they claim a save. In reality sometimes clients or companions tell them just what they want to hear so they will be left alone.

I thought about clients having to come back for a second appointment because they were tricked into the CPC next door and missed their originally scheduled one.

I thought back to last July when we had a very temporary buffer zone and Federal Marshals on hand. How much safer clients felt when they did not have anti-abortion protesters in their face, blocking their path, leaning over and separating them from their companions.

I thought about Rusty Thomas’ court appearance that Friday morning. I wondered if a federal judge would even think about weighing a First Amendment right to free speech versus the safety of citizens trying to just go to their doctor’s appointment?

I thought about how difficult and how politically weaponized someone who wishes to maintain their bodily autonomy and access the legal right to terminate a pregnancy has become.

I thought about the many difficulties people who choose this option overcome just in getting to the clinic.

I thought about the spectacle to have a small strange man in a cowboy hat yelling at them as they approached the doors, shaming them for the decisions they choose to make for themselves.

I thought about if we accept one person’s decisions and choices in life may not be ours, but those are decisions that must be left up to each individual, what they feel and know is best for their family.

So yeah, thanks for asking. I wish you’d take the time to think it over as well. Too many times one only sees what’s presented, not the whole picture.

Sidewalk Snippet 2/15/18

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This morning at the clinic we had a German-based documentary crew complete with camera.28171035_1807159309317514_1145647224_o

To those journalists, and anyone else putting their “reporting” over the experience of patients and their companions:

Our Media Policy states that escorts will not do interviews on sidewalk. Our focus is the clients not your documentary.

We asked that you not film people going to the doctor. Your response was “we will blur the faces”.

You do not see it through a client’s eyes. They turn the corner to walk down the street and mobbed by protesters trying to hand them pamphlets, steer them into the CPC and they see you with a big camera.

It’s frightening to many clients to see this, and the promise to blur faces is not comforting to someone whose family and neighbors will recognize them by their shoes (regardless of who your intended audience is).

But I guess let no ethics or compassion get in the way of dramatic journalism.

Sidewalk Snippet, 11/9/2017

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Sometimes clients will attempt to explain to antis their reasons for coming to the clinic.

Most times, it is countered with the same often-heard-spiel they give to everyone: “sin,” “God,” “murder,” “irresponsible,” “regret that sort of thing…” Pretty much, the same ones that I have listened to over the years.

Today, though, was a new one to me. A young anti began asking very personal, very detailed, very invasive medical questions of a client, after being repeatedly graciously declined on offers of adoption.

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Young seminarians.

If someone has politely asked you to leave them alone, your next question should not be about the status of their internal reproductive organs.