Moral Reasoning, Kohlberg, and Escorting

A few escorts and myself have been talking about moral development for a while now. Basic psychological theories of moral development go from very basic levels of thinking (Will I get punished? Did someone tell me this is right/wrong? Will I get what I want?) to higher levels of thinking (What’s the context of the situation? Regardless of whether I was TOLD this is right/wrong, is it?). One theory that I particularly love (and keep coming back to) is Kohlberg’s stages of moral development. I’ve thought a lot about where I fall on this scale, and where others at the clinic fall on this scale.

Kohlberg’s stages go from pre-conventional to conventional to post-conventional, with six stages that fall into those categories. Kohlberg discussed the idea of regressing from higher to lower stages and had other important insights, but I won’t go into all of that here.

Pre-conventional: Common in children, but exhibited in [many] adults. Judge morality based on direct external consequences.

  • Stage One: Obedience and punishment driven. Individuals in stage one consider the consequences of their actions on themselves, and usually think that the worse the punishment, the worse the crime, morally speaking.

  • Stage Two: Self-interest driven. Individuals in this stage wonder what’s in it for them, and define right behavior as whatever is in their own best interest. Limited concern for the needs of others (except in the context of “you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours”). Lacks societal perspective.

Conventional: Typical of teenagers and adults. Judge morality based on societal views and expectations, and accept social norms concerning right and wrong. Major concern for “the rules.”

  • Stage Three: Conformity driven. Individuals in stage three consider the consequences actions might have on their relationships and are concerned with social roles/living up to expectations of others. The intention behind actions becomes important (whether someone means well or not), and there is a desire to maintain rules and authority.

  • Stage Four: Authority and social order driven. This stage focuses on laws, social conventions, and above all maintaining a functioning society. Often a central idea guides judgments of right and wrong (perhaps religion), and morality is dictated by an outside force. Views breaking a law as morally wrong (and potentially leading the way for others to follow, which would break down social order)

Post-Conventional: Recognizes that different individuals will have different perspectives, and these people live by their own (abstract) principles about right and wrong. View rules as useful but changeable (not absolute, not to be obeyed without question). Post-conventional moral reasoning is less common. It is worth noting that “Because of this level’s ‘nature of self before others’, the behavior of post-conventional individuals, especially those at stage six, can be confused with that of those at the pre-conventional level.” (That was a concern for me, honestly.)

  • Stage Five: Social contract driven. Individuals in this stage view the world as full of different opinions, rights, and values, and feel that these should be mutually respected. Laws are viewed as social contracts, and those that don’t promote general well-being should be changed to do the most good for the most people.
  • Stage Six: Universal ethical principles driven. Moral reasoning in this stage is based on abstract reason, using universal ethical principles. Laws are valid only if they are grounded in justice, and a commitment to justice carries with it an obligation to disobey unjust laws (I love that!). This stage involves imagining what you would do in another person’s place. Individuals in this stage act because it is right, not because it is legal or expected.

Ok, so all of these stages are lovely and great, but how do they tie in? Well, as adults who are doing something we believe in (which applies to most of the protesters at the clinic, not just the escorts) we have to have used some method of reasoning (moral and other) to conclude that what we are doing is indeed right.

To me, it seems fairly obvious. It seems clear that many (many, not all – this is a generalization) of the protesters are hung up in stage four. Which is where many people are – I’m not using this as a fancy (long winded) way to say that the protesters are stupid, just that our thought processes are very, very different. Consider the criteria for stage four in the context of the clinic. So often I hear arguments about how god has told us what’s right and what’s wrong, and god has said what to do and what not to do. But those arguments don’t seem to go much further than “Because god says so.” I don’t care of the law or god or aliens tell me if something is right or wrong, it’s still up for question if it doesn’t sit with me, and if it doesn’t appear to be in the best interest of people in general.

As for the escorts, I think that many of us have had to think deeply about escorting, abortion, and the situation at the clinic. It’s not a matter of someone having told us to do this, or someone telling us that abortion is right and us blindly obeying. It’s something that we had to tease out for ourselves, from our experiences, beliefs, intuition, and the world around us. I think that escorts tend to feel a commitment to justice, even when that includes doing something that our families, friends, parents, teachers, peers, and on and on, might take issue with. We feel a commitment to justice, even if that means doing something that can be potentially dangerous. We honor this commitment, even when it means being harassed and bullied. We honor this commitment because we see how important it is, and because we see that the rules and laws may not be doing the trick. Those of us who are at a place where we are able to escort (because there are many factors that make it impossible, and for some it is not the best place to direct their energy)  honor this commitment because once we’ve seen the necessity we realize we cannot ignore it.

January 17, 2009 by andy

January 17, 2009 by andy

Escorts: 7

Protesters: about 65

Cops: 1

1-17-09-7Jesus, Mary and Joseph it was colder than a witch’s tit out there this morning. It was 6 degrees at dawn with a wind chill of -1, we were out there for almost an hour before the sun came up. And it was as aggressive as it was cold. For the week before the Roe v. Wade anniversary and the week before the inauguration of Barak Obama, the anti- abortion crowd is feeling a little like a cornered animal.

And they are lashing out.

At the women.

Isn’t that christian of them.

I was late of course, with a car full of escorts. When we turned onto Market St. there were two groups of protesters, one on the north side of the street (across the street from the clinic door) and the usual gauntlet on the south side. There were chasers aplenty as the fake clinic had extra people out to as well as Angela (Catholic) and the creepy crew.

Mary and Mary2 were both rabid today, crying and pushing and running and wailing at every client.


We had several young clients this morning and these wackos think if they just scare her enough she will change her mind.

One of the last clients I walked in this morning was a female bodied person with her parents and either partner or brother. This family was completely unprepared for the venom they received from Mary. As they were all getting out of the car and getting their things protesters approached them from the rear of their car with a van next to them, blocking their path. The girl was crying and trying to hide her face from them in her parent’s arms. Her parents were both wide eyed but kept it together.

Mike and Mary

While they were gathering their wits and things about them Mary was yelling at them from around the front of the car. She yelled at the girl that they [her parents] couldn’t make her do this, and that if she wanted help they would help her get away from them. She said the girl would never forgive her parents and they would all hate each other for ever. She admonished the parents not to damage their daughter with this kind of abuse. She called them all abusers and murders. This family held on to each other and put one foot in front of the other through a scrum of shoving protesters, across the street, past Mike wielding his video camera in her face and down the gauntlet past protesters trying to step in her way and yelling at her.

We finally made it into the clinic anteroom, and the girl went straight to the corner and began to sob. Her parents and partner all held onto her and cried. The father grabbed my arm and held on as he held his family. I affirmed the young woman’s autonomy, expressed my faith in their familial strength and tried to offer some kind words.

I have no doubt that this family was going to be ok. They were together and even though this is hard, they had each other.

What an amazing difference unconditional love and kindness makes in a hard situation. My wish for every person who obtains an abortion is to have as strong a support as this family demonstrated.


Instead of these condemning, judgmental, voyeuristic, hateful, busybodies.

Happy Roe v. Wade day every body. Tell the people in your life that have had an abortion that you love them and are proud of them. Tell the people in your life that support other who have abortions you appreciate them. Tell the a-funds, nurses, doctors, escorts, pharmasists, doulas, midwives, techs, educators, and others involved in providing support and access to reproductive health care they are acknowledged, empowered, needed, loved and supported.

Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

Welcome to Every Saturday Morning


Every Saturday morning between 30ish and 60ish people show up at 7 am to protest at and harass women entering EMW Women’s Surgical Center.

Escorts provide emotional and tactical support to clients of EMW. We do this by using our bodies to create personal space for the people entering the clinic. We meet clients at their cars, identify ourselves, ask for consent to walk with them to the door, then escort the client and support persons into the clinic.

We do this because clients of the clinic are often met at their cars by protesters. Between 2 and 5 protesters will follow/chase a client from their car parked in the public lot across the street to the private property line; talking at them, handing out literature, attempting to steer clients into the fake clinic down the block, shouting misinformation, slowing their pace, blocking the door and impeding clients any way they can.

While all of this is going on there are another 30ish-60is protesters lining the sidewalk in front of the clinic door, praying the rosary, holding signs, shouting at women and creating traffic in front of the door.

This happens because this is the only abortion clinic in Louisville KY. The only other clinic in the state is in Lexington. EMW owns both clinics.

This is a pro-choice blog.

Every Saturday Morning is mostly about my experiences escorting. But I will add a few thoughts regarding reproductive and sexual justice, gender, health, education, empowerment and what ever else seems applicable.