My Saturday at a Women’s Health Clinic

Keep Abortion Providers Safe (ShareProgress)
Picture from a 2009 NOW rally outside the White House. The rally was in memory of Dr. George Tiller, who had just been murdered by an anti-choice zealot.

It’s been a little over two weeks since the Supreme Court struck down the Massachusetts law requiring a 35-foot buffer zone around abortion clinics, but we’re already seeing changes

The Supreme Court’s job is to do extensive research and fully consider all options before making a decision. Somehow, though, I don’t see Scalia and Thomas taking a morning off to volunteer as escorts at an abortion clinic — so I did it for them. Last Saturday I worked for a few hours with a friend who escorts regularly at the Planned Parenthood clinic in Silver Spring.

Driving to the clinic, my friend gave me the lowdown on a couple of their usual protesters. All-in-all there was close to 10 anti-choice “sidewalk counselors” outside the clinic at any given time. Here are my observations on some of the more determined ones:

One man, small and fragile, didn’t say much, but participated in the rosary circle and occasionally held a sign. Oddly enough, he only showed enthusiasm when one of the escorts brought up a meteor shower happening that evening. The old man spent the last hour at the clinic talking about stars. Apparently, he’s an astronomy expert.

Next to him was an old woman, also quiet, but better dressed. She didn’t partake in the group’s weekly rosary circle, but seemed to know everyone who did and greeted them each warmly. Otherwise, she spent most of her time standing there with religious beads, a cross and a sign with “how-to” information on leading rosary circles.

Another woman, well-known to the escorts (and who I will refer to as “L”), is downright terrifying. She wore all black and her dark hair was pulled back into a tight bun. She also has a sidekick, new to the escorts, who was wearing a black shirt with an orange fetus on it and a slogan about the sacredness of life. Once, I’m told, L ran full speed into my friend’s hand just so she could claim she’d been hit.

Besides these four, there was a reverend and a few other older women who joined in occasionally. The rosary circle went on for close to an hour and, after, only the old man, L and her sidekick were left.

The other escorts and I were in the middle of talking about a recent event at the Greenbelt Planned Parenthood — where a man was arrested for trying to bomb the clinic — when a couple holding hands walked toward the door. My friend told me the best way to spot a clinic patient is if they’re wearing sweats, holding hands with a significant other, and/or aren’t drinking any liquids (which you aren’t supposed to do before surgery).

L moved in on her prey.

“You don’t have to do this. Your baby already looks like you, it wants to be with you!” she screamed.

The sidekick joined in. The old man kept going on about stars.

“He doesn’t want the responsibility of child care! He’s probably telling you to do it for his own selfish purposes.”

It was horrifying to see this in person. These protesters were assuming that this woman could not reasonably make a decision about her body. And it doesn’t stop at verbal abuse. Violence is extremely prevalent at abortion clinics, with thousands of attacks on clinics since Roe v. Wade (1973). Just because a protester looks harmless, doesn’t mean he or she can’t have a huge impact on a woman’s mental or physical health.

SCOTUS does not seem to realize that what these protesters call “free speech” is actually shrewd hate speech meant to scare and belittle women. We need a buffer zone to effectively protect women from both extreme (and not-so-extreme) verbal harassment, because every attack on these women should be taken seriously. Sign NOW’s petition demanding SCOTUS take down its buffer zone so that the justices can experience the “sidewalk counseling” women must deal with every day.


10 responses to “My Saturday at a Women’s Health Clinic

  1. Married Mother of three- my husband and I chose to terminate for no other reasons but my health. We became pregnant while on the mini-pill because I was breast feeding our daughter. This was a hard, sad, difficult decision, but best for my health and family. To have the protesters there-even with the buffer zone at the time- was horrible. They did not know our circumstances. They just yelled out that we were murdering our baby.

  2. What is SCOTUS. It is used several times and not explained. Surely I am not the only one who doesn’t know what you are talking about when you don’t explain your abbreviations.

  3. We need buffer zones. We do not need more hate and violence. These women do not need to put up with these terrible things at such a vulnerable time.

  4. Dear Justices, I feel a stron moral desire to counsel you on some recent decisions you have made that will cost people their lives. Please drop the buffer zone and return to me my free speech rights as granted in the bill of rights. If you fear for your safety, or even just your peace of mind, imagine how women all over America feel now. Thank you.

  5. Please remove the buffer zone to the Supreme Court. for the same reasons they removed the buffer zone at abortion clinics. SCOTUS has determined buffer zones to be public property and a violation of freedom of speech , therefore unconstitutional. SCOTUS MUST TAKE DOWN ITS BUFFER ZONE.

  6. Stop this insanity – Let women act like the adults they are and decide about their own health care!!

  7. I have experienced these “sidewalk counselors” personally. They yell. They needlessly harass and frighten people. They do not counsel, they condemn. And they make ugly accusations at everyone that walks by. They follow patients and escorts. They threaten and vandalize property. If they were truly counselors and they approached the patients with some measure of understanding or respect maybe the buffer zone would not be needed, but they don’t. People should not be forced to run such an ugly gauntlet when they are doing something that is no one else’s business.

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