How Scared Should I Be?

I’ve been thinking about fear lately.  People who offer any kind of abortion care do that ~ we contemplate the danger, weigh the risk, and decide how willing we are to continue providing care based on our personal logarithm for safety.

The shooting at Planned Parenthood in Colorado shifts the balance.    The vandalism at EMW clinic here in Louisville shifts it a bit more.  We all have to recalculate.  Some of us do it quickly, others may struggle.  But we haven’t lost escorts – in fact, many new people are volunteering.  Clearly, we won’t be scared off.

So I’ve been thinking about fear, and talking about it with other people who provide abortion care.  As a therapist, I believe that when we are anxious or afraid, we are usually overestimating the risk of the danger and underestimating our ability to deal with it.  I ponder how that applies.

I know there are different types of fear.   We can fear for our physical safety or  fear for our emotional safety.  Those dangers can be realistic or not, but we each have our own tipping point for what’s safe and what isn’t.

If you’re afraid of flying, you may be afraid the plane will crash and you’ll die.  Or you may be afraid that you’ll have a panic attack on the plane and (obviously) not be able to get off the plane and that will be horrible.  The actual risk of either of those things happening aren’t what determines whether or not you fly – a whole range of other factors influence it.

It’s the same with escorting.  We can be afraid that some rabid anti with nothing to lose will detonate a bomb or drive by and start shooting.  We can be afraid that our family and friends who are anti-choice will reject us.  But regardless of the actual danger, escorts typically have deeply held beliefs that lead them to choose to take the risk.

I’m not usually a worrier.  This, however, gives me pause:  The Abortion Vigilante Worksheet.  Created by American Right to Life (not to be confused with the National Right to Life group that we’re all familiar with) the worksheet is a masterpiece of double talk.

American RTL publishes this worksheet to help Christians think through the issue of vigilantism regarding the intentional killing of abortionists. Our directors and leaders at the summit which launched our organization (including the director of Operation Rescue National/OSA, the Rev. Flip Benham) have spent months incarcerated in jails for peaceful civil disobedience by blocking abortion clinic entrances and in defense of Christian liberties.

Disclosure: Prior to using this worksheet, ARTL would like the reader to know our own position:
1) Governments have the authority to use lethal force in more circumstances than do civilians.
2) The Bible’s escalation of force principle prohibits civilian use of lethal force if less force could suffice.
3) Civilians may use lethal force defending innocent life against threats of imminent harm.

If true, these principles do not prohibit the use of civil disobedience to prevent abortions. This worksheet, however, concludes that those who kill, advocate, or even defend the intentional killing of abortionists are morally wrong. Some of those who defend such killings complain that others are unwilling to seriously address their position. To any such, this challenge goes out: take the time and courage to answer these questions, and then email your answers and contact information to…

It seems to me that they’re saying, “Yes, it could be morally justified to kill an abortion provider, no, we’re not saying we think that, but there sure is an argument for it, and maybe you think it’s ok.”

It ends on a similar note, which I won’t bother quoting.

In-between, along with a zillion supposedly logical, ethical questions which supposedly will help you think through the ethical dilemma of whether or not it’s ok to kill abortion providers, is this chart:

Note: The following table presents the casualties of actual known U.S. abortion vigilantes:

Anti-Abortion Violence (non-regulatory)

Perpetrator -Date- City -Victims -Death or Injury -Their Title or Role
Scott Roeder 5/31/09 Wichita, KS George Tiller Death Abortionist

Paul J. Hill 7/29/04 Pensacola, FL John Bayard Britton Death Abortionist
” ” ” ” ” ” James H. Barrett Death Bodyguard, clinic ‘escort’
” ” ” ” ” ” June Barrett Shot twice Clinic ‘escort’

James Kopp 10/23/98 Amherst, NY Barnett Slepian Death Abortionist

Eric Robert Rudolph 1/29/98 Birmingham, AL Robert Sanderson Death Security guard, off-duty cop
” ” ” ” ” ” Emily Lyons Critically injured Clinic nurse

John Salvi 12/30/94 Brookline, MA Shannon Lowney Death Clinic receptionist
” ” ” ” ” ” Leanne Nichols Death Clinic receptionist
” ” ” ” ” ” Anjana Agrawal Shot twice, bullet by heart Clinic ‘counselor’
” ” ” ” ” ” Antonio Hernandez Collapsed lung, more Accompanied wife to clinic
” ” ” ” ” ” Brian Murray Bullet tore up insides Accompanied friend to clinic
” ” ” ” ” ” Jane Sauer Shot twice Clinic bookkeeper
” ” ” ” ” ” Richard J. Seron Shot arm, shoulder, hand Security guard

Rachelle Shannon 8/19/93 Wichita, KS George Tiller Shot in both arms Abortionist

Michael Griffin 3/10/93 Pensacola, FL David Gunn Death Abortionist

Dec. 1, 2015 Update: As results of the criminal investigation become public, and the motive of the mentally-ill pothead Robert Lewis Dear, the Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood murderer, is known, we will update the above chart if need be.

That chills me!!  This chart, the Colorado shooting, and the vandalism at my own clinic (with limited concern or action from the police) hit my tipping point.  I have to re-examiine my own logarithm for physical safety.

How scared is reasonable?  How high is the risk – realistically?  Ok, I have a lot better chance of dying in a car wreck than getting killed by an anti at the clinic, but this feels scarier.  What is that about?

Is it the malevolence?  If I die in a car wreck, it’s an accident.  If someone targets me and kills me because I’m an escort, it is intentional and personal.  That does feel different.

Is it because I’m choosing to do this thing that puts me at risk?  I couldn’t really survive without getting in a car, but I choose to escort.  Does that make it easier to “blame the victim?” Maybe.  Maybe that makes it feel different, but I totally reject that.  Choosing to support reproductive health isn’t punishable by death.

So how scared should I be?  I have no idea.  Mostly, I am not scared.  Mostly, I like to remind people that if I get killed on the sidewalk, I expect to become a martyr and for the escorts to at least get a buffer zone out of it.  Taking time to think it through just increases my appreciation for all the providers of abortion care ~ doctors, nurses, nurse practitioners, receptionists, medical assistants, and escorts ~ who won’t let fear stop them either.

*********************************

To support abortion access in Kentucky

One Louisvillian’s report from Take Root: Red State Perspectives on Reproductive Justice

Red State Perspectives on Reproductive Justice.  There is a lot to be said for making a point to create a space – a whole conference – for activists, advocates, academics, and service providers to caucus about the challenges they face in their communities around a so many topics. These issues (birth, pregnancy, abortion, HIV, sex, LGBTQIA health, education, economic rights, racism…) face so many attacks, and it is important for those of us working to address these challenges to be able to learn and share with each other. it’s amazing how much there is in common, but surprising to learn how very different things are in other places (and, based on my observations, some things are worse than you can imagine, in a place you probably haven’t thought of…)

So, I feel very fortunate to have been given the chance to attend the Take Root conference for a second year in a row, thanks to the support of Louisville’s Reproductive Rights /Justice communities.

In addition to the support I received from our local folks, I was especially honored to be invited to sit on a panel by the Take Root organizers.  The panel I took part in was titled Visions for Our Movement: Service and Practical Support in Red States. I was proud to represent the Kentucky Support Network, and the Louisville Clinic Escorts alongside individuals from Backline, Trust Women in Wichita, Cicada Collective in Texas, the Bay Area Doula Project, and Defending the Last Abortion Clinic in Mississippi.  It was exciting to stand alongside folks who are also doing client based support work based on the various challenges that are faced by folks in different places.  One of the most unifying (and gratifying) points that was shared by a number of us was the powerful experience of being a space holder, and a story bank of sorts, as we offer an informed ear over a hotline, or a steady hand on the sidewalk, to people who are dealing with stigma, a lack of support, a deficit in resources, and other barriers.  Hearing that point being made by other people, and knowing how large of a piece it plays for me in the work I do was very satisfying.

After my panel, there was a followup session with breakout activities where small groups from different places collaborated on various topics.  I was excited to brainstorm with a range of folks about ways to move the conversation away from just abortion in order to cultivate a unified movement towards justice across lines of difference.   We talked about how important intersectionality is in this work.  How it is vital for reproductive rights advocates to ally themselves with folks working on voter rights, HIV advocacy, LBGT health, economic human rights, mental health, on and on… so that we are able to stand together as we fight, because it is impossible to separate the various aspects of a whole person’s complex identity.  We cannot expect people to forget that their skin is brown, or their kids are hungry, or that they need access to healthcare, because we also want them to lobby for voter rights, just like we can’t expect a transman to ignore the importance of pap smears while trying to adopt a child with their partner who is up against the fact they have a non violent marijuana charge from ten years ago on their record… for example.

On top of the two sessions about practical support, I attended two other workshops.  One entitled HIV, Self Determination, and Cultural Safety explored the challenges faced by people in various circumstances and we heard from panelists doing work on a national level through various orgs, and on the ground in Louisiana and Mississippi.  A major takeaway from that discussion was that HIV is not the problem for lots of folks that are positive.  The problem lies in a lack of access to care, and in systems that are constructed to continually oppress people who are already facing a lack of resources.

The next session I attended a presentation called We’re here! We’re queer! We’re sober!: Assessing Ourselves and Our Environment.  This presentation focused on intentional sobriety, or intentional use of substances, as a way to foster conversations about safety, stigma, and the reasons why we are taught to suppress our desires, and trained to feel like we need substances in order to be comfortable in intimate settings. We also talked about the problematic nature of a culture that is built on buying and consuming substances as a way to feel like we can come together in spaces that are supposed to be “safer” spaces to be ourselves in.

Outside of workshops, I was delighted to see faces, familiar and new, as we exchanged cards and smiles on the way to lunch or in the halls between sessions. The highlights for me included hearing from Lynn Paltrow of National Advocates for Pregnant Women during her keynote address where she spoke of people being denied bodily autonomy and other human rights for the simple reason that they were pregnant.  Her speech included the stories of people who were not just being denied abortion access.  She spoke of a woman who was threatened with arrest to comply with a doctor’s wish to perform a medically unnecessary cesarean procedure, and told us about multiple people who were jailed in an attempt to prevent them from having abortions including one woman who was sent to jail from a hospital without examination, where she died of an ectopic pregnancy.

The conference was closed out with an incredible closing plenary by Deon Haywood of Women with a Vision who gave us a picture of what is going on in New Orleans where there is a staggeringly disproportionate number of women (especially black women and black trans women) who are being prosecuted for sex work and “crimes against nature” (such as anal sex, and oral sex). As a result, these women are being placed on the national sex offender registry which carries countless repercussions on their entire lives, including but not limited to their rights to raise their children, and also the ability to find a job.

I am very thankful to be part of such a supportive community here in KY that allowed me to access such an amazing and inspiring broader community so I can learn and continue to strengthen the work I do.  Here’s hoping I can go back next year.

here are a few links for more projects that I was fortunate to make connections to this time around:

Native American Women’s Health Education Resource Center

http://colorlatina.org/

http://www.1in3campaign.org/en/

Indy Feminists

http://prochoiceohio.org/

http://www.ircrc.org/

http://www.womendonors.org/

The Cranky Escort

It was an ordinary Saturday.  Pouring down rain, so there weren’t a whole lot of protesters or a whole lot of escorts either.  Clients came, we walked them in, and we all went home.

I stayed up in the front most of the morning.  I took some pictures.  Did some videos too.  I get annoyed when the protesters stand in the drop-off zone, particularly with their umbrellas up.   Here they are:

IMG_2551

But you’ve seen that before.  Old news.  Taking a picture of them is pointless.  If you’ve been reading the blog for long, you recognize them.

IMG_2549

 There aren’t really as many of them as it looks like.   But that’s what you would see if you were being dropped off.

IMG_2550

it is the drop-off zone.  And no, they’re not blocking it, they’re just making it look hard to get through

IMG_2552

I kind of like the little cradle on the ground though.   (Ok, not really.)

I am annoyed by the preacher guy, who’s so loud and obnoxious.  When I start doing my video, he drops it down a notch or two, but when I quit videoing, he ratchets it back up again.

And you’ve seen him before, or some preacher on the sidewalk similar enough.  Ho hum.

Nurse Betty is annoying.  She turns away when I start to video her, puts her umbrella up between us, but then changes her mind.  Instead, she starts talking about my mama.  Thanks, Nurse Betty.

Of course you can barely hear her.  Drowned out by the preacher guy.  My favorite part is at the very beginning, when she decides not to hide behind her umbrella, but turns and starts fussing at me.  But I also like the part where her friend decides to take my picture.

Whatever.  It’s pointless.  She didn’t know my mama.  She doesn’t know anything about what she thought or how she raised me.  And I’ve already heard all this crap from them.  It was shocking the first time.  Now, it just irritates me.

I leave the clinic annoyed.  On the verge of angry.  It’s like a bad frigging version of Groundhog Day.  Over and over, the same stuff.

And I’m sick of it.

I don’t like the way I feel when I leave the clinic, and it lingers for too long.  Am I burnt out?  Where have I misplaced my zen?

This week, I saw this quote:

“You hold in your hand an invitation: to remember the transforming power of forgiveness and loving kindness. To remember that no matter where you are and what you face, within your heart peace is possible.”
~~ Jack Kornfield

And this one:

“Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves.”
 C.G. Jung

And even this:

936445_586407308066798_1852047551_n

I feel ridiculous.  Why am I letting them get to me this way?  They’re not effective.  In fact, they’re relatively insignificant, in the greater scheme of things.  So why do I let them bother me?

Oh, wait, I know why!  They’re symbols.   In my mind, they represent the people who have enough power to really do some harm.   The people in  the legislature in Texas.  And Wisconsin.  And North Dakota.  The people who are going to actually restrict women’s ability to access health care, the people who want women barefoot and pregnant.

I feel threatened by them, in a really primal way, in defense of all the women I know and care about it.  But Donna and Nurse Betty, Camera Joe and Mary, are not really stopping anyone from getting an abortion.  They’re an annoyance.

So how do I shift my feelings?  How do I do this without letting it override my own internal balance?  That has always been the question for me, and is part of what keeps me on the sidewalk, trying to figure it out.

I’ve got more to say, but not right now.  Stay tuned for the next episode of The Cranky Escort.

Shelter from the Rain

Stormy and cold weather when you are escorting has good and bad points to it. The good points: there are fewer antis out; the antis that are out usually huddle near the clinic entrance instead of along the sidewalk; clients and companions arriving move quickly around any of the antis grouped together. The bad points: umbrellas in the hands of antis can be hazardous; escorts get wet and cold, depending on the weather; once in awhile  there are delays in opening the clinic doors. In my opinion for the most part, the good points actually outweigh the bad points. There are always exceptions, but the morning I am writing about had more good in the balance.

The morning was stormy with waves of rain coming at us in downpours. There were only a few antis out and they were standing under the overhang at the clinic entrance. Only a few were walking up and down the sidewalk with umbrellas. A little after 730a clients started lining up near the doors to wait for them to open. We all kept waiting. Because of the bad weather, the staff at the clinic were delayed getting to work. By the time the doors did open, all of the clients and their companions were under the overhang waiting.

This was an empowered group of clients and companions. They were talking among themselves and for the most part ignoring the antis. When we made announcements on why there was a delay in opening the doors, they understood and passed the information along to new clients and companions as they arrived. One escort said, “ It was really heart warming. New people would come, and they would welcome them into the fold.” The clients and companions were supporting each other and blocking the words of the antis, or speaking up to the antis to tell them to leave them all alone.

All of the antis were on the other side of the property line under the rest of the overhang. They had a captive audience who were ignoring them as a group.

 

The pillars mark the property line.

The pillars mark the property line.

The anti we call “Camera J” was holding his camcorder up trying to intimidate the clients and companions. One companion threatened to “..slap your camera out of your hand. You better not film me.” He backed away a little, but still kept holding his camcorder up. If he was recording, he got a lot of shots of the backs of people. D and AR were standing toe-to-toe with the escorts between the two pillars, saying the usual things they say to shame and harass clients.

The last client and companion to arrive were close to the property line. The companion had their arm around the client and they were both responding to AR’s words. They kept telling her to leave them alone and that she didn’t understand. Not phased a bit, AR kept on saying “Just come to A Women’s Choice and talk to us about your options. You don’t have to kill this baby.” Finally the client said, “My baby doesn’t have a heart and neither do you. Leave us alone.” At that point I said to AR, “She has asked you three times to leave her alone. Now it is harassment. You are harassing her and that is illegal.” The expected response was received. “I am not harassing her. She knows I just want to help.” The client said, “You are harassing me. Leave me alone.” Compassionate as always, AR responded, “Then you are truly alone,” but she did remain silent after that.

What was really great to watch was after this exchange the other clients and companions immediately moved to the client, who was now crying. They talked to her and brought the client and companion into the center of the waiting people to buffer them from any further encounters with “sidewalk counselors.”

The other amazing thing was the actions of the group also spread a blanket of silence over the other antis for the remainder of the time waited. Some of the antis, including Camera J, wandered to the overhang of the CPC to shelter from the  rain. AR stood alone where she was, but silently. The doors opened and everyone went in without further exchanges.

I agree with the other escort. The clients and companions made what could have been a difficult time standing in front of the doors one of mutual support and compassion.

*********************************************************

REMINDER: Our annual  fund drive Pledge-A-Picketer is NOW!

The Saturday before Mother’s Day is the biggest protester day of the year.  It also is the date  where we count protesters for donations to support the pro-choice effort and the escorts.  You can pledge a certain amount for each protester showing up that morning. If you prefer, you can also make a straight monetary donation.

Use this form to make your pledge:

 

 

*********************************************************

Self-Care of an Activist

We talk about it often.  Given the kind of work we do ~ whether it’s a volunteer gig, like escorting, or a full-time job in the world of community service ~ self -care is an issue.

We tend to put our energy into taking care of other people, and then, when we’re exhausted and half burnt-out, we fuss at ourselves for not practicing better self-care.  Sometimes, we believe we don’t have time to take better care of ourselves, or we think it would be selfish, or we just get pulled into the feel-good satisfaction of helping someone else.

I’m developing a workshop on self-care, so it’s on my mind.  Doesn’t mean I remember to practice it, but I’m thinking about it.  Actually, I’d much rather think about it, figure out things to tell you about how to take care of yourself, than sit out a Saturday of escorting because I don’t feel 100%.

Fortunately, I get lots of reassurance from other escorts not to worry about missing, to do what I need to do to take care of myself.  Since we’re not actually an organization and no one is “expected” to be there any particular day, I really already know it’s ok to miss.

But it amuses me to realize how much I appreciate having their permission to stay home.   Like the notes we write for our kids to take to school:

“Please excuse fml for missing school yesterday.  She was sick.”

It’s a magic “get out of jail free” card.  No one can fuss at you for not being there, and you get extra time to make-up your work.   That’s how I feel about the facebook notes I get from other escorts ~ “don’t worry,” they say, “we got it covered,” “stay home and rest.”

That’s support for self-care, and we need that culture around us.  Subtle or not-so-subtle guilt trips about missing can add to our own reluctance to let anyone down.

Speaking of letting anyone down, I had a blog post ready for today ~ it was not about self-care or not feeling well myself.  But I decided it needed more work, so that left me here ~

~ not feeling well enough to go escort, without a clear thought for a blog post, sorely in need of an excused absence note.

So, you might consider this blog post part of my own self-care!  And stay tuned for a workshop in December.