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Abortion Clinic Escort

Abortion Clinic Escort
Name:Servalbear
Location:Louisville, KY
Gender:F
Age:63
We are a group of volunteers who escort clients and their companions past anti-abortion protesters. We are not security or clinic defense. We are present to support people and create space for them to be empowered while accessing reproductive healthcare. The time escorting can be stressful and emotional, but we feel it is important to support a client's right to make the decision best for them. Abortion is not a dirty word and should be accessible to anyone. Read our blog to find out more.
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Q
You say "Abortion is not a dirty word." While I tend to agree, do you at least acknowledge that it's a "heavy" word that many people, even those who are pro-choice, have trouble throwing around lightly?
A

Freely admitted. The word abortion has been so stigmatized over the course of the past 40 years, it is a word that will create instant division of viewpoints. That is why we say "abortion is not a dirty word." We want to bring the word out of the shadows and let people know there is no shame in using the word, thinking the word, or having the procedure. It is not a word we throw around lightly, but purposefully. People have always sought abortion and will continue to do so even if it is restricted. With 1 in 3 women having an abortion in the US, that is a lot of people having a medical procedure they cannot talk about publicly. By trying to de-stigmatize the word, we are trying to let people know they can let go of the shame associated with the word. When we say "terminating ...More

Q
Have you ever met protesters who presented their position in a respectful manner such that, despite your conflicting beliefs, you still had respect for them? Or do both sides just assume "My way is the right way?"
A

Yes, but it is rare. There was an article in the NY Times opinion page September 2012 titled "Breaking Up The Echo" that pretty well sums up the impossibility of changing opinions on the sidewalk. Neither side is going to change the other side to their way of thinking. It is not what is said as much as who is saying it that will cause examination of strongly held opinions. We do try to practice non-engagement, so discussion is kept to a minimum between the groups at all times. There was one time about two years ago that a church group came out to see what was happening. They had heard of sidewalk counselors (protesters) changing clients' minds and preventing abortions. The minister of the group got into a discussion with me as we were all leaving the clinic after the clients ...More

Q
Do you ever feel like you're in any real danger while escorting patients?
A

Yes. There have been times when we feel there is danger. The dynamics of the sidewalk are so chaotic and volatile, they can spill over into violence very easily. We take every precaution we can. We always work under a buddy system when we escort and never escort alone. We do have the police dispatch number on our phones for quick dialing if needed. There have been escorts assaulted by protesters. There also have been protesters assaulted by clients and companions who are angry with the protesters' interference on the way to the clinic doors. There was one incident last year of a gun being drawn by a companion in a threat to protesters. There is always a potential for real danger, but most of the time it is limited to yelling, harassment and some blocking of the path or shoving. We can ...More

Q
Are there protesters every day at every clinic you volunteer at? Is it mainly picketing and shouting, or does it get violent?
A

There are protesters present every day the clinic is open; Tuesday through Saturday. There are a lot of signs, praying, shouting and shoving. We have soapbox preachers and sometimes we have choral groups singing hymns. Saturdays are the most hectic days and there have been some incidents of violence. Escorts try to keep to a non-engagement policy with protesters to minimize any confrontations. Sometimes clients and companions will lash out as well. The situation is always volatile, but rarely violent.

Q
Are there women who arrive at the clinic who insist that you NOT help them? Or do they all readily accept the offer?
A

We always ask clients if they want us to escort them past protesters. It is their trip to the doctor and we trust their judgment. Many times we will be told, "We have this" or "They won't bother me" or simply "No, thank you." There are more clients who accept our offers, but many are fine with walking by themselves.

Q
What motivated your decision to volunteer?
A

Good question and one that is complicated to answer. Personally, I have always believed passionately in access to reproductive health care including abortion and contraception for everyone who wants or needs them. Since 1 in 3 women have an abortion in the US, like everyone else I have known several friends over the years who have had abortions. These were personal decisions they shared with me that reaffirmed the need for abortion access. I knew about anti-abortion movements, but Dr. Tiller's murder May 31, 2009 was my wake up call. Because Roe v Wade made abortion legal in the US it didn't mean it would always be accessible. The first time I volunteered at the clinic and saw the harassment clients went through to exercise their right to abortion, I could not turn away from escorting. ...More

Q
What are protesters allowed and not allowed to do? I assume they can yell whatever they want, but where's the legal line to how far they can take harassment?
A

The FACE Act protects providers, clients and clinics from " "force, threat of force or physical obstruction." It was signed into federal law in 1994 after the first abortion provider, Dr. David Gunn, was murdered by an anti-abortion protester in 1993. Local city and state laws differ in many parts of the country. There are some cities that have bubble and/or buffer zone laws restricting the distance protesters can approach clients, providers or clinics. We do not have those in Louisville. We have recourse to most laws that apply in other situations. The clinic enforces trespassing on their property by calling the police. Escorts, clients and companions can press charges of assault or harassment individually. Protesters can also file those same charges against escorts, clients ...More

Q
Roughly what percentage of women arrive at the clinic alone?
A

Roughly 3%. Most clients bring a companion with them. Depending on the procedure they are having, they are required to have a driver to take them home when they done.

Q
Do you escort the women out of the clinic after their abortions as well?
A

There is rarely a need for escorts after the client enters the clinic, but we can be available. Most procedures take between 2-4 hours. The majority of protesters leave the area at 8A. When the protesters leave, there is no longer a need for escorts.

Q
Do you have to get permission to act as escorts from the abortion clinics you volunteer at? Or do you just show up?
A

Basically, we just show up. We are an independent group of volunteers. We train new escorts as they show up and have guidelines in place to respect the clinic and their clients. We do not work for the clinic, but we have a close relationship with them. We consult them if there are issues we think they need to be aware of and they support us in our efforts.

Q
Are most of the protesters doing so for religious reasons, or are some of them not religious but simply pro-life?
A

To my knowledge all of the protesters who are out are associated with churches in the area. We have at least 5 churches who recruit people to be "prayer warriors" or "sidewalk counselors." They range in affliation between Born-Again to Catholics. I am not aware of any non-religion based protesters.

Q
Do you talk to or console the women you escort about their decision, or is your job simply to get them from car to clinic?
A

Our job is simply to escort clients from their car to the clinic. Everyone is different. Some clients want to talk about their decision and we listen carefully to what they say to us, but console is not the correct term. We can understand and empathize with their situation, but since we are strangers to them we do not reach out with advice. If a client is distressed, we will sometimes refer them to organizations trained to speak about abortion decisions. Exhale is a great non-denominational group with a hotline for counseling . Most clients simply want to talk about the weather, the city, their drive or anything to take their mind away from the protesters. We try to keep our conversations light and relaxing.

Q
Is your volunteer group comprised mostly of women who have had abortions themselves?
A

No. Our volunteer group are a diverse group of people. We have escorts who range in age from 18 to 72; they self-identify as female and male. There are generations of family groups who volunteer together. Some have had abortions themselves, but a great number have not. The one thing we have in common is the firm belief that access to abortion and reproductive health care should be without stigma, shame or harassment of any kind.

Q
Do protesters taunt you guys too, or just the women going to get abortions?
A

Yes, definitely. When they are not focused on the clients, the protesters will turn their attentions to the escorts. They try to convince of the errors in our thinking every day. We have been called evil, devils and have had prayers directed towards us.

Q
Have you ever had a volunteer who was actually pro-life, but simply didn't think it was right for women to get harassed by exercising heir legal right?
A

Yes, but that is also very rare. Their presence on the sidewalk is an indication they are in favor of harassing and shaming clients. There is a pro-life event twice a year called 40 Days for Life where the protesters come out to simply pray and do not interact with the clients. Their presence on the sidewalk is still intimidating and an interference. Those few pro-life volunteers who decide this is not the correct way to get their message out do not come back.

Q
What do you do if the woman going into the clinic wants to talk to the people demonstrating outside (or wants to read the pamphlets they hand out)?
A

We stand back and let them talk. It is always the client's decision to make about everything concerning the clinic trip. If they decide to talk to the protesters, it is their decision and we will not interfere. If they want to take the pamphlets protesters hand to them, we will not interfere.

Q
How many women show up for their scheduled abortion but then change their mind?
A

There are very few. The average is probably about 2 per month, or less than .5%. Once the appointment is made most clients have researched the subject, consulted people in their lives they trust and have made their decision. There is also by law a 24-hour waiting period after receiving mandated counseling before an abortion can be performed. This allows further time to think about the decision before having an abortion. Clinic personnel participate in one-on-one discussions with a client on the appointment day before performing a procedure to make sure the client is sure and they are not being coerced. When a client is still conflicted about the decision as they arrive for their appointment, escorts will answer their questions but will leave them alone unless they ask us to escort them. It ...More

Q
Do you do more than walk clients from their car to the clinic door? If they ask you questions about abortion or law or religion, are you allowed to answer them?
A

The main purpose of escorting is to walk clients from their car to the clinic door. Since we are always interacting with the clients, we do talk to them about a lot of subjects and answer questions if we know the answers. If we do not know the answer, we say we don't and we can find out or refer the client to the correct resources. We answer general questions about abortion and the law, but refer specific questions concerning the client to the clinic staff. There is a set of guidelines all escorts try to follow that are a part of our training. Our presence should always be de-escalating and calm. We do not engage in political speech. Religion comes up in conversation because of the protester presence, but we keep those conversations to a minimum and can only answer from our own beliefs. ...More

Q
Have you ever turned down someone who wanted to be an escort? Would anything completely disqualify me?
A

Yes, but it has rarely come up. Once someone decides to volunteer to escort they already have a sense of commitment to providing space to clients. We do have guidelines to follow and training we provide. Some reasons we might suggest a volunteer focus on other ways to help keep access to abortion in other ways besides escorting: a potential volunteer who does not respect women and other clients; a volunteer who escalates the chaos instead of engaging in de-escalating words and actions; a volunteer who has physical confrontations with the protesters; a volunteer who engages in counter-protests. There are many ways interested volunteers can contribute assistance besides escorting.

Q
Do protesters bring their young kids to join in? As an American, do you respect their right to free speech, even when it's abusive and insensitive?
A

Yes. We see babies in arms and small children out frequently. Saturday mornings will bring whole families out to protest and the children will range from newborn to teenagers. Sure, we respect their right to free speech. We do not respect their abusive, insensitive and harassing speech directed towards clients, companions and escorts. They have the freedom to say whatever they please. We have the freedom to be offended by their speech. Because someone can be free to speak their mind in public does not mean there won't be reactions to that speech.

Q
You escort the women as they enter the clinic. Do you escort people past the protesters as they leave the clinic?
A

This is a duplicate question. Here's what I answered above: There is rarely a need for escorts after the client enters the clinic, but we can be available. Most procedures take between 2-4 hours. The majority of protesters leave the area at 8A. When the protesters leave, there is no longer a need for escorts.

Q
Have pro-life nuts ever tried to pass laws restricting clinic escorts, maybe thinking that might be an indirect way to make women less likely to get abortions?
A

Not to my knowledge. Federal law protecting escorts would take precedence over a state or local legislation. The FACE Act prohibits interfering with clinic escorts. It protects "People accompanying patients, such as a parent, partner, or clinic escort." There have been clinic escorts present at abortion clinics across the US for as long as there have been protesters. Many cities support the work escorts are performing. In fact, New York City is training volunteers to be clinic escorts. (Link to FACE facts: http://www.prochoice.org/about_abortion/facts/face_act.html ; Link to New York City: http://www.rhrealitycheck.org/article/2012/10/28/good-new-york-city-embracing-clinic-escorts ...More

Q
Is your position paid? I thought you were volunteers.
A

No, the position is not paid. We are all volunteers.

Q
It must be stressful, confronting and sometimes depressing facing the Antis all the time. What keeps you coming back, and how do you "let go"?
A

Yes, it can be very stressful. We talk among escorts about the need for self care. A large part of our formal training classes are spent discussing how to cope with stress, self care, and recognizing the drama triangle. We are supportive of each of the escorts' need to back away at times. We just sit out a day or two, or a couple of weeks, if we need to readjust our outlook. We all have our limits. Everyone is different and we all have our own ways of handling the stress of escorting, from quiet time spent reading or watching a movie to marathons or other physical sports. I think the best way we cope with the stress at the clinic is getting together and just talking about our experiences with other escorts. We do this frequently. What keeps us coming back is the clients. I always answer ...More

Q
I'm sorry if this has been asked before, but how many protesters are there during the week. If one was to arrive around 9 would most of them be gone? It's admiring what you do as escorts, and for answering questions. Thank you for your time!
A

How many protesters present at the clinic depends on the day of the week and the weather, but there are protesters present every day the clinic is open. We will have 5-15 protesters on the weekdays and then 30-70 protesters are usually present on Saturdays. The Saturdays before Mother's Day, Easter and Father's Day we have hundreds of protesters present. The Saturday before Mother's Day 2013 we had 315 protesters present. We count them that day every year for our annual fundraiser. It is not unusual to have 200 or more protesters the Saturdays before Easter and Father's Day. Escorts leave between 8:15a and 8:30a and most of the protesters leave at the same time. You are correct, if you were to arrive around 9a most or all of the protesters would be gone. Sometimes one or two protesters are ...More

Q
Are there people there everyday! If your just looking for the medical abortion pills do you know how long that takes. Is there a certain time they leave. Is there a good time to arrive.
A

There are escorts there every day the clinic is open. Escorts arrive close to 7a. Questions about the medical procedures and times for patients should be addressed to the clinic. EMW Women's Surgical Center's website is:  http://www.emwwomens.com/