Sidewalk Snippet ~ {1/14/13}

When it gets really cold, I wear a pair of gloves and a pair of mittens over them. The mittens are made to look like red pandas; complete with eyes, nose and ears. They are warm, fun and are a great conversation topic while walking clients to the door.

One morning I was wearing them. D pointed to my mittens and announced to another person standing beside the clinic entrance, “She is concerned about saving those animals, but doesn’t care about the babies they are killing in there. Her son gave those to her.”

D is always trying to prove she knows personal things about escorts. She listens to what we say to each other and then brings what she hears out to try to shame us. She is frequently wrong in her interpretations.

Yes, my son gave the mittens to me and I love them. No, I don’t wear them as a statement for saving red pandas. I wear them because I care about being warm.

 

Listening

When we train escorts, we stress the importance of listening to what the clients say. Some clients want to talk about their decision and they will tell us personal information. We focus on what they are saying to us. This is important to the client and is part of making space for them.

Many clients cannot share their stories with others in their life. The stigmatization of abortion makes it harder to have an abortion conversation within some families or friends, but our orange vests let them know they already have someone pro-access to discuss their abortion. Many times it is easier to talk to a stranger about why you decided to have an abortion.

Listening and respecting their stories is allowing the clients to express their power to make the decisions that are right for them. We should respond with words that respect the personal nature of what we are hearing. We wait for the client to direct the conversation. They may want to continue sharing other parts of their story, or they may want to move on to lighter subjects.

This point really hit home with me the other day. The companion pulled to the drop off zone and the client went into the clinic. We gave the companion directions for parking and I walked over to the $3 parking lot to help them navigate the parking and payment. As we were slipping money into the payment box, the companion was telling me the health reasons that made it necessary for the client to have an abortion. They were stressing they were there for the client and supported them in their decision.

We crossed the street and approached the clinic. E started walking beside the companion. At first he was saying, “You don’t have to do this today. You don’t have to kill your baby.” The companion let him know they weren’t the patient, but explained the same health reasons making an abortion needed for the client. E immediately said, “You need to talk to her and convince her not to kill her baby.” She then explained to E that the client was making the right decision and she knew it because she had to make the same decision herself. She explained she lost a pregnancy at 5 months because of a health issue. “I laid in the hospital for three days with a dead baby inside me. I don’t want her to go through that.” Without pausing E responded with, “At least that was better than killing a baby.” The companion and I just looked at each other and continued on our walk. I was speechless for a moment considering this touch of cruelty in his words, but we started talking about other things within a few feet.

Antis do not have the same respect for really listening to what the client is saying. They are on a one-message agenda and all facts that refute their world view are rejected. The companion’s experience did not fit into E’s script, so it was discarded as not being relevant.

My hope is that I will always listen and really hear the messages from clients and companions.

Still Not Changing Minds

“Changing Minds – or Not” was published by fml last month. I thought about it a lot this week.

Thursday it stormed in Louisville and it was raining all day. At times the rain was very heavy. After most of the clients and companions were in the clinic, a car pulled up beside the drop-off zone and the driver got out.

They approached the protesters grouped there under their umbrellas and started yelling at them. “You need to stop what you are doing. You need to leave these women alone. My friend doesn’t need to hear you. The decision was hard enough without having to listen to you.” One of the antis responded, “She will have to answer to God for what she is doing. You need to help her. Let us talk to her. Bring her next door to A Woman’s Choice.”

At this point, I was able to identify myself as an escort and asked the driver if they needed to park. “I don’t know where I want to park. I will figure it out.”

I backed away as the driver was telling the antis, “She doesn’t need to talk to you. She has made her decision and it is between her and God now. It isn’t a decision you have any part in making. Leave her alone and go home.”

As I was walking away, the antis grouped around this driver who felt so strong a need to say something to the protesters that they were willing to stand in pouring rain while blocking traffic. The exchange continued for a few minutes before the driver got back in their car and drove away. The driver was able to say what they needed to say.

Then Friday escorts were treated to a personal sermon by one of the antis. After most of the clients and companions had entered the clinic without listening to him, this anti’s attention turned to us. “You either have to obey or disobey. There is only obedience or disobedience. You will be on your knees either in prayer or your knees will be struck and you won’t be able to stand. I tell you this because I love you. You need to obey God.”

My first thought was, “Wow, how very compassionate.” The escort standing beside me said, “Does he think he is saying anything we haven’t heard a thousand times?” I laughed and agreed we have heard it so many times. His parting comment was, “I love you. Have a Happy Christmas.” Really?

Both days, no one’s opinion was changed. No one said, ‘Oh, I see your point. You must be right and I am wrong.’ We are still at an impasse.

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REMINDER: Share your story.

January 22, 2013 is the 40th Anniversary of Roe v Wade.  Forty years of legal, safe abortions.  This invitation comes from our allies at Kentucky Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice:

“KRCRC (is making plans for a January 20 event in Louisville, “The Roe Monologues,” to mark those 40 years (four decades, two generations!) since the Roe v Wade ruling, and we need your help.

We’re looking for your story. But also for your mother’s, your daughter’s, your sister’s, aunt’s, girlfriend’s, roommate’s, friend’s story. Fairly brief; 2 to 5 minutes, and starting with the year. (e.g. “It was 1983, and I was trying to finish up my nursing degree, when I found out I was pregnant.” “In 2008, my wife and I had been trying for several years to have a baby. Now she had finally gotten pregnant, but when we got the results of the amnio, …” “1957. I was living in Missouri, and abortion was illegal. When my roommate learned she was pregnant, …” etc)

On Jan. 20 at our event, we will love it if you will present it yourself. But if it’s bad timing, bad location, or you’d just rather not get up to present it yourself, we will be happy to have someone read it for you. Also, you can use your own name or a made-up name, your choice.

We need these stories! – and people need to hear them. Will you help us? Will you spread the word that we’re looking for these stories?

Please email info@krcrc.org if you think you’d like to participate, either in person or by providing a story for someone else to read.”

By stepping out and talking about our experience we reduce the stigma and shame that surrounds abortion.  By sharing our stories, we support each other and continue building a world where reproductive justice is a reality.

Props Antis Use

If you regularly read our blog, you know we write frequently about the props the antis carry with them on the sidewalk. There are signs, posters, large and small crosses, paintings, photographs, pamphlets and handouts, DVDs, bibles, rosaries, and plastic fetus dolls. They carry a lot of things to thrust in front of clients and companions on the walk to the clinic.

The one item I have never understood is the plastic fetuses. Did anyone ever change their mind when they saw one? Ever? M spends extended periods of time holding them up in front of car windshields or windows so clients can view them. Other antis carry them and hold them on their palm towards the client saying, “This is what your baby looks like.”

The plastic toys are supposed to be 12-week fetuses. They do not resemble a fetus to me. This is a photo I found of them for sale on Etsy so you can judge for yourself.

Little One
The regular antis in front of our clinic all seem to carry them. We have had clients slap the toys out of the antis’ hands; yell at the antis to ‘get that out of my face’ or turn away to look in another direction. I have only seen two clients take the offered toy. Both of them later said they wanted to show them to other people they knew because otherwise they wouldn’t believe it.

When I started writing this article, I tried to find out when these plastic items became a regular in the anti prop boxes. All the Google searches I did came up empty for facts. The posters and photos for the signs started being used in the late 1980s and early 1990s. But I couldn’t find when the plastic dolls started being used. Whenever they started being used, they are popular with the antis.

There has been a lot of controversy concerning their distribution by anti-abortion supporters. In 2003, Virginia Republican State Senator Richard Black sent them to all members of the State Senate. It caused outrage on the part of the Democrats in the Senate. In 2008 Wisconsin Right to Life sent 44,000 of them in the mail to residents in Racine.  It wasn’t appreciated by many of the recipients. Then in 2010 a school principal in Norfolk, Virginia handed dolls out to students in his third through fifth grade classes. A minister in Loganville, Georgia handed them out on Halloween 2011 instead of candy. Parents weren’t happy. In spite of the protests by parents and legislators surrounding the use of these dolls, they continue to be distributed.

There have been several people that think they are funny to pose in non-clinic situations. There are websites devoted to photographing them in different costumes and poses. I have seen photos of them on the beach in sunglasses or on a rocket to the moon.


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I repeat, did anyone ever change their mind about abortion when they saw a plastic toy? Ever? Did they decide not to have an abortion because their reasons for the choice were negated by an anti holding up a piece of plastic?

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REMINDER: Share your story.

January 22, 2013 is the 40th Anniversary of Roe v Wade.  Forty years of legal, safe abortions.  This invitation comes from our allies at Kentucky Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice:

“KRCRC (is making plans for a January 20 event in Louisville, “The Roe Monologues,” to mark those 40 years (four decades, two generations!) since the Roe v Wade ruling, and we need your help.

We’re looking for your story. But also for your mother’s, your daughter’s, your sister’s, aunt’s, girlfriend’s, roommate’s, friend’s story. Fairly brief; 2 to 5 minutes, and starting with the year. (e.g. “It was 1983, and I was trying to finish up my nursing degree, when I found out I was pregnant.” “In 2008, my wife and I had been trying for several years to have a baby. Now she had finally gotten pregnant, but when we got the results of the amnio, …” “1957. I was living in Missouri, and abortion was illegal. When my roommate learned she was pregnant, …” etc)

On Jan. 20 at our event, we will love it if you will present it yourself. But if it’s bad timing, bad location, or you’d just rather not get up to present it yourself, we will be happy to have someone read it for you. Also, you can use your own name or a made-up name, your choice.

We need these stories! – and people need to hear them. Will you help us? Will you spread the word that we’re looking for these stories?

Please email info@krcrc.org if you think you’d like to participate, either in person or by providing a story for someone else to read.”

By stepping out and talking about our experience we reduce the stigma and shame that surrounds abortion.  By sharing our stories, we support each other and continue building a world where reproductive justice is a reality.

Mississippi

In September 2011, Operation Save America* started their States of Refuge* campaign. The stated goal was “…to establish the first abortion free states since Roe vs. Wade.”* The targeted states were those with only one abortion clinic at the time. This included Arkansas, Mississippi, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming. With help from anti-abortion legislators, they are nearing their goal in Mississippi.

Center for Reproductive Rights has detailed the fight over a TRAP law that might close the Jackson Women’s Health Organization in January 2013.

  • House Bill 1390, which was signed into law on April 16 and partially blocked by a federal judge in July 2012, imposes medically unwarranted requirements that any physician performing abortions in the state be a board certified or eligible obstetrician-gynecologist with admitting privileges at an area hospital.
  • Although all the doctors currently providing abortions to women at the Mississippi clinic are board-certified ob-gyns, the physicians responsible for the lion’s share of the clinic’s patients have not been granted privileges by any of the hospitals in the area. In fact, several of the hospitals refused to even process the physicians’ applications, citing their biased policies and practices towards abortion care.
  • To quote several hospitals’ letters refusing to process applications submitted by the physicians at JWHO: “The nature of your proposed medical practice is inconsistent with this Hospital’s policies and practices as concerns abortion and, in particular, elective abortions; … [and] The nature of your proposed medical practice would lead to both an internal and external disruption of the Hospital’s function and business within this community.”
  • In his July 2012 order, U.S. District Judge Daniel P. Jordan III allowed the law to take effect, but blocked the state from imposing any criminal or civil penalties on the clinic, its staff, or its physicians for providing services to women while the application process was ongoing. The state Department of Health gave JWHO until January to show that all physicians “associated with” the clinic have admitting privileges at a local hospital. “

This is the ultimate Catch 22 for the providers. Dr.Willie Parker is one of the board-certified ob/gyns who provides abortions at Jackson Women’s Health Organization. He is quoted as saying:

  • “I have dedicated half of my 20-year career to ensuring women have access to the full range of reproductive health care services—because when women get the medical care they need, they thrive,” said Dr. Willie Parker, a board-certified ob-gyn with admitting privileges at local hospitals in both Maryland and Virginia. Dr. Parker currently provides reproductive health care services to women in Maryland, Virginia, Washington, DC, Philadelphia, Alabama, and Mississippi.

Operation Save America* had a lot of help from Mississippi state legislators in bringing the only clinic in Mississippi to the brink of closing. One of them garnered national attention with this statement:

  • State Representative Bubba Carpenter recently told a group of local county Republicans that “We have literally stopped abortion in the state of Mississippi,” and that “the other side [is] like, ‘Well, the poor pitiful women that can’t afford to go out of state are just going to start doing them at home with a coat hanger.’ That’s what we’ve heard over and over and over. But hey, you have to have moral values.”

Robin Marty has written several articles for RH Reality Check concerning the state of siege in Mississippi. The most recent article included an interview with Dr. Parker who described the anti-abortion protesters in front of Jackson Women’s Health Organization.

  • There are episodic periods at other clinics, like the 40 Days, or when people bus in kids, bring in religious youth groups, or have other organized activities where those who don’t normally get the chance to demonstrate their opposition to abortion on a regular basis. But those activists in Mississippi probably feel like they are as close as they have ever been to achieving their goal of shutting down the clinic and making Mississippi an abortion free state. I would say that there is more sense of fervor and sense that victory is just around the corner. In that way, there is a bit more of a targeted effort in Mississippi. But given that there is only one clinic, and people have always been able to target on that one clinic, I think that in other places where there is more than one clinic and people are trying to coordinate activity, in Mississippi there seems to be more of a sense of urgency and a sense of the potential to prevail.
  • The protesters are acting under the impression that the closing of the clinic is a done deal. As it gets closer, they are certainly tracking things. They seem to feel that they need to agitate now to push the law forward and that seems to animate them.

The protesters are getting more aggressive and more vocal as the January deadline nears. Operation Save America* is so sure the clinic is closing, they are calling for its followers to protest abortion and witness this historic first “State of Refuge” on January 22, 2013, the 40th anniversary of Roe vs Wade. They will be present at the Jackson Women’s Health Organization instead of going to Washington, DC in January.

Where can the clients in Mississippi go if this clinic closes? We know blocking access to abortion does not reduce the need for abortion. If the clinic closes, the clients will face arranging transportation to adjacent states for abortions. They will have to navigate the restrictions and waiting periods in those states. Many will not be able to afford the trip, the time off from work and the financial burdens this closing will impose upon them.

Words fail me. My thoughts are with the staff and physicians trying to provide needed healthcare to clients in the State of Mississippi. It is with immense respect that I follow news of their dedication and continued fight to keep the only abortion clinic in Mississippi open.

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*All links to anti-abortion websites have been omitted purposely. Please use Google or message us separately if you would like a citation for sources.

“Bible Belt” Antis

Is Kentucky really in the “Bible Belt”? When the state has the nation’s only Creation Museum* and plans to build a Noah’s Ark Theme Park*, complete with a full-scale replica of the ark, do we really need to question how firmly we are in the “Bible Belt?”

The real question relating to escorting is how much does that change the tactics of the antis in Louisville compared to other parts of the US?

The antis we face daily use all of the national pro-life talking points. They have the same signs that are used nationally and internationally. In my opinion, the real difference is in the amount of personalized aggression we see in the antis facing us every day.

We published an article this week that drew attention from at least one anti. We have called her Nurse Betty in the past, but that isn’t her real name. Nurse Betty is always telling us how she works in the medical field and knows, really knows, that we are lying and misleading clients. If we would only listen to her, we would know the truth.

Nurse Betty objected to a comment by another escort on our article. She composed a comment filled with invective and advising us to watch “180”*, the anti-abortion movie to see the error of our ways. We deleted the comment without publishing it. This was followed by another comment demanding to know why we didn’t publish the first comment. We sent Nurse Betty a polite email stating the comment did not comply with our comment policy and included a link to the policy. This spurred another comment from Nurse Betty filled with more demands, more statements about how awful we were and another recommendation to watch “180.”* This comment was deleted as well.**

The next morning after this exchange of comments, I joined other escorts on the sidewalk. There were not many clients this morning and the antis were looking for something to do. Nurse Betty was there and came up to me right away; standing right in front of me and demanding explanations. The aura of offended entitlement was coming in waves.

This is part of our conversation:

NB: Are you one of the ones who write for the blog?
Me: I don’t talk to protesters.
NB: You are protesting too. Do you write for the blog?
Me: I don’t talk to protesters.
NB: Well, I want to know why you don’t want to listen to the truth. You didn’t post my comments. That’s not right to just present one side of the issue. You need to let people know the truth.
Me: This conversation is over. I don’t talk to protesters.
NB: Well, you can evidently hear me since you responded. You need to just listen to me. You are going to hell for what you are doing. You need to see the truth. You are helping to kill babies. You need to watch “180” and see what you are doing.
Me: (Silence)

Nurse Betty soon got tired of me not answering her and moved on to the escort standing beside me. This was a long-time escort and is known to many of the antis. They know his name, where he worked and that he immigrated from another country a long time ago. Since this escort is outspoken against the anti tactics, he is a frequent target of their wrath.

Nurse Betty started the conversation by telling the escort where he worked, where he was from and hinted that there were “bad things” she knew about him. Then went on to say:

NBI heard you say the other day that babies are not real people until they have a Social Security number. You didn’t get a Social Security number until you came to the US. Does that mean you weren’t a real person before you got your Social Security number? …I am not going to say everything I know about you, but I know. I want to show you how wrong you are.

With that, Nurse Betty went to her car and retrieved some color graphics about 11”x 20” of what we call fetal porn. They are the photos supposedly depicting fetuses at different stages of development. They moved away from the clinic doors and continued to argue about what Nurse Betty did or did not know and what the escort should believe.

When we were ready to leave, the escort came back to the clinic doors tearing up the pamphlets Nurse Betty gave to him to read. We have seen them all before; many times. She moved to the other escorts on the sidewalk to display her photos. We never found out the supposedly “bad things.”

This is a common maneuver of our Louisville antis. They pretend to know personal things about escorts. Sometimes they do know our names and other personal information, but usually they are on fishing expeditions to see if we will give them more information than they have in order to shame us. Once they learn our names, they use them frequently. Sometimes they will threaten, “I know where you live,” or “I know where you work.” Their aim is to use any bit of information they can glean to intimidate us. That is just one of the reasons I always refuse to respond to their questions. If they are going to use information against me, I want them to have to work for it.

The antis in Louisville scold us, threaten us with hell fire, plead with us, all from inches away from our faces. It is really surprising more confrontations have not taken place between escorts and antis. They seem to feel empowered by their belief and the knowledge a lot of the community around them is made up of fundamentalist Christians who support their views. They feel free of any social stigma to come out daily to harass clients coming to their doctor’s appointment.

Clients and companions are not so lucky. They are surrounded in the “Bible Belt” by the shame and stigma associated with sex, contraception and abortion.

This week Women’s Medical Fund Wisconsin posted an article on their Facebook page with the comment:

  • “Melinda McKew of the Georgia Reproductive Justice Action Network has written a moving essay about the impact of stigma on women’s experiences of abortion, including the experience of a woman she helped recently – and also her own experience as a teen.”  

Melinda McKew’s article is powerful and points up the force of stigma and shame, especially in the “Bible Belt.”

  • I share this story because it highlights the impact abortion stigma has upon individuals having abortions as well as persons who are in any way associated with abortion—clinic workers, abortion doctors, abortion rights advocates, among many others.
  • I know this is stupid, but… do you think God will take away any of my children because I’m getting rid of this one? I’m just so worried that I’m going to lose one of my children now as punishment for my abortion. 
  • After the procedure, my mother made me vow to never speak of my abortion to anyone—not my father, not my family, not even my close friends—lest they discover my shame. 

Please read the whole article. It brought tears to my eyes because we see and hear these things from clients every day.

Escorting in a “Bible Belt” state presents its own unique challenges. We are lucky in that we have more support for pro-access in Louisville than there is in rural areas of Kentucky.

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*All links to anti-abortion websites have been omitted purposely. Please use Google or message us separately if you would like a citation for sources.

**Since the original comments and email, we have received multiple comments from Nurse Betty on different articles and pages of our blog. These comments still have not adhered to our comment policy. They have all been deleted without publishing them.

Sidewalk Snippet ~ {11/19/12}

There were not many antis present on the sidewalk. The client and companion were able to enter the clinic with a minimum of interference.

The companion came back out in a little while to put money in their parking meter and I walked with them to the car. D trailed us to the car talking nonstop, but we ignored her and just chatted together.

The meter fed, we walked back to the clinic still talking. D then said, “Don’t listen to her. She is telling you lies. Her vocation is killing babies.”

This statement registered with both of us. The companion and I looked at each other. I smiled and shook my head. We kept walking and continued our conversation as if nothing had been said.

Sometimes D stretches to find new insults.

Access and Dangers of Clinic Protestors ~ by Oubli

This is a guest post submitted by Oubli. If you’re a regular reader, you probably know her from her comments on our posts and a past article she wrote.   She does lots of work in reproductive justice, and we appreciate her support.

Articles by Eric Veronikis, The Patriot News, captured all of our attentions. The first article included concerns about implementing a buffer zone, like this:

‎”This type of buffer-zone legislation normally is upheld in court so long as it is applied to everyone, including abortion-rights protesters, said Mary Catherine Roper, senior staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania.”

All of the quotes below are from the second linked article by Eric Veronikis..

Access and the Dangers of Clinic Protestors ~ by Oubli

Clinic Access WIN in Pennsylvania!

The Harrisburg City Council unanimously approved legislation preventing protesters from being within 20 feet of entrances of abortion clinics and other reproductive health care medical facilities. 

Council is charged with protecting access to health care for all without passing judgment, Councilwoman Sandra Reid said.

“This governing body has no legislative power to tell anyone what to do with their body,” Reid said. “We’re just here to assure that those persons seeking medical care can get there without being detained or harassed.”

Planned Parenthood offers an array of services and too many people assume that women visiting the clinic are going there for abortions, Councilwoman Susan Brown-Wilson said.

Everyone has the right to enter a health care facility without being interrogated, Brown-Wilson said.

“Women have a right to choose for themselves. And people really don’t know what [women] are going there for. They assume that everyone is going there for abortions and that’s not true,” she said. “Planned Parenthood isn’t just about abortion, it’s also about health care and providing other medical services.”

Rev. Susie Stanley of Mechanicsburg applauded council for adopting the buffer zone bill.

Stanley, who said her daughter escorts patients to abortion clinics in other cities to help get them there safely, Stanley said the argument for free speech doesn’t give anyone the right to harass and intimidate others.

“Sometimes free speech can turn into intimidation, harassment and sadly that is what we see sometimes at these health centers,” Stanley said.

Protesters who violate the buffer-zone bill will be fined $50 for the first offense. A second offense within five years would bring a $150 fine. A third offense within five years would carry a fine of $300 fine. A fourth and subsequent offenses would have fines of no less than $300 and could include up to 30 days in jail.

What do you guys think of the fines for violating the buffer zone? Fair, impractical or too lenient?

Sidewalk Snippet ~ {11/12/12}

“Good morning mortuary workers.”

This was a new greeting from D to the EMW Clinic workers. It was followed quickly by her usual, “You can get another job.”  She followed it up with a litany of the names of other clinic workers who had “gotten another job.”

We had a new escort observing this morning and D was ramping up her rhetoric all morning. There were also clients waiting by the door, so she had an unwilling audience.

I am irreverent enough that this just struck me as funny. The sincere way she said it. The words meant to hurt. The need to make herself look knowledgeable about all of the inner workings inside EMW.

Just because she stands in front of the clinic every day, it doesn’t mean she understands what working there would be like. She shows the same understanding and compassion to the employees of EMW as she does to the clients and companions: None.

Sidewalk Snippet ~ {11/5/12}

The client and companion pulled to the curb and asked directions for parking from another escort. They pulled into the private lot I was standing in.

As they were parking, I noticed their “Choose Life” license plate. Since they had not talked to the other escort very long, I asked them when I approached their car, “I noticed your Choose Life license plate. Are you going to the abortion clinic or are you here to protest?”

After a little confusing conversation, they confirmed they were a client and companion going to the abortion clinic. We escorted them to the doors with no issues.

Another escort pointed out they could have borrowed the car. They also could have had a change of heart when it was their unplanned pregnancy.