My wife has been a clinic escort for over a year. She has helped with new escort training several times, and she discusses with me her experiences as a clinic escort, telling me how various “regulars” among the anti-abortion crowd act and react and how escorts, clients, and client companions manage themselves in what can be a tense environment.
In our discussions, I find that my first reactions to envisioned scenarios are sometimes good, and sometimes not so effective, in light of the primary mission in the Points of Unity the escorts agree to follow: It’s not about escalating. It’s not even about me, or any escort or anti-abortion protester. It’s about providing the space for clients to follow their decision through, with the underlying assumption being that clients have considered their options well enough to make their own decision. The hows and whys of their decision, just like the decision itself, is their own business, to be shared only with people they trust.
Of course, this also means that to focus on the clients, there is no time or space to judge the protesters. They have their own reasons for being there, most often based in their religious belief systems. That I do not share the specifics of their belief hierarchy is irrelevant. They are still people. As discussed later this morning, if calamity were to strike, I would do what I could to help them.
But I digress. Often. You’ve been warned.
I know myself well enough to realize that I would have to be VERY careful if I were to volunteer on the sidewalk. I am too ready to escalate in general. Even so, I have wanted to be there, to see first-hand the intensity, the individuals I hear of by nickname and actions only, and to help.
So, this morning, I went. It’s Easter weekend, a time crucial to the central belief of many Christians, so it was expected that there would be extra and extra-loud anti-abortionists on hand. As it turns out, the call went out via many electronic avenues, and we had students from the University of Louisville Medical School, other college students, and many other folks come out to wear orange vests. I don’t know how many orange vests were in use—one count was in the upper forties, and more people came afterward. I’ve seen posts claiming that sixty or more escorts were on hand—a reality commented upon by a couple of the anti-abortionists, who may or may not have cared that I heard them claiming to each other that our huge turnout was an indication of our concern over the power of their message. Delusions abound.
With all that extra staffing, we had the luxury of posting several volunteers across the entryway to the clinic. We were a moveable wall—tasked with keeping antis from blocking access to the clinic building, moving out of the way when clients and client companions arrived.
It was pretty easy duty, really. Stand there and let the preachers preach, let the antis spew their religious silliness. At times, move aside to allow passage by clients, client companions, and an occasional escort.
Yes, I was more than once reminded of scenes in movies in which drill instructors yell at recruits during boot camp, with the recruits required to stand at attention and all but ignore the verbal abuse. Some of the antis even tried to shame us, speaking derisively of our humanness, calling us names, telling us that their god was going to punish us for our wicked evil abetting of the abortion mill. And then in the next breath telling us that if we confess to their god, and ask forgiveness, we could enter heaven after all. Such hypocrisy. Such ludicrousness.
A couple years ago, I read the book, The God Virus: How Religion Infects Our Lives and Culture, by Darrel W. Ray. The base premise of the book is that an apt metaphor for religion is found in the study of virology. Others have used the expression “thought virus” to describe other applications of the analogy, and I find the expression apt. The idea is that once a thought virus gets into one’s head, it’s exceedingly difficult for a thought counter to the original to take root. It’s hard for someone indoctrinated in religion to see an atheistic viewpoint as even being an acceptable alternative to belief in his or her god. Scripture makes use of this, even without formally recognizing it, when it has passages that demonize those of us who don’t believe.
Of course, it could be viewed in reverse: Those of us who have been “inoculated” against the virus don’t get absorbed into it. Speaking from personal experience, I simply find the reliance on the religious person’s god to be speaking of some imaginary friend, like Santa Claus or the tooth fairy. It’s hard for me to imagine believing in what seems horrendously illogical to me. The hubris in saying that no matter what our sins, the Christian God will forgive if we but ask is astonishing to me. That some sidewalk preacher dares to condemn me to his version of hell, not having any idea who I am or what I do is an insult. It’s meant to bother me.
But, because I have the secret weapon of knowledge of the concept of thought viruses, I am able to let his vitriol go on by me. I am able to focus on keeping my place, keeping my awareness on my surroundings so that I can alert my colleagues that clients are coming our way and that we need to be ready to make room for them to pass into the building.
A couple hours after things settled down, after the group breakfast, after some errand-running with another escort to collect her bicycle, and after starting to type out my thoughts, I realized that the antis were giving me a lot of power over themselves. Because I was able to let their words go by me without effect, they got angrier and more strident in their word choices.By giving me this power, they in effect empowered me to be a better volunteer, and do a better job for the clients and their companions.
I say this because one in particular spent some time in front of a group of us, deriding us, mocking us, telling us we must have been “real men” to stand up to a woman haranguing clients in front of an “abortion mill.” He went on and on, talking about how he imagined us being really proud that we were abetting the killing of babies and all the guilt-trip words he added to that. We mostly ignored him, until he called us weasels. One of our group piped up with “Can I be an otter instead?” which prompted me to chime in with “I’ll be a ferret! People treat pet ferrets quite well!” The guy walked away, disgusted that he couldn’t upset us. He came back a couple times, trying again to shame us, without success. He gave us the power to disgust him with our indifference to his snide remarks. Again and again.
Other of their ilk preached for a bit at us, or more accurately, at each other for my amusement, then moved on to preach at other vaguely-human forms wearing orange vests or clients or anyone who would listen.
A snippet, because I enjoyed seeing it happen: At one point, a fellow escort was standing beside me, and one of the more vocal preachers was haranguing people who had walked into the building. Because the preacher’s words were having less than the desired effect, he focused his attention on my fellow escort, who was at times smirking at the lunacy of the vitriol. “You mock me! You dare to mock me as I speak the word of God! You dare to mock me!” the preacher shouted.
The escort’s response? Indifference, in the main. An occasional chuckle. He removed his glasses to clean the spittle from them, put there by the preacher as he shouted his anger at having a less-than-desired effect on the escort’s mien. My fellow escort and I chuckled to each other soon after the preacher’s departure.
REMINDER: If you are interested in escorting, don’t forget the training on Saturday, April 13th at 9A. Training is not required, but it’s helpful. Please see our Trainings for Escorts page or email us for additional information
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: