By the Wench Self-Care Health Collective
Post by Meg Stern
It's 7:20am when the client parks. The car is surrounded by people, two are blocking the doors, one is shoving brochures against the windshield, three are wearing orange vests. As the door opens, everyone starts talking at once and mostly it's nasty. The client is overloaded. Someone in an orange vest steps out and says,
"Hi, I'm with the clinic. Would you like an escort?"
The next minute is a blur of shouting, plastic dolls, God, pamphlets, and rosaries as twelve people swarm the client. Four people in orange vests link arms and nearly circle the client while moving through the crowd. Near the doors they see more signs, there's a crib full of rosaries and a woman holding her own infant out as some sort of offering, there are teenagers speaking in tongues and a sullen group of men with red tape over their mouth.
Walking past protesters holding signs, dodging people shoving pamphlets at them, clients of the only abortion clinic in Louisville often ask,
"Why do they do this?"
There are as many answers to this question as there are to "why do we escort?" In this context, motivation isn't as important as perception and effect. Mother's Day brings out 500 protesters compared to the 40-70 we see weekly. Anti-choicers rally around Mother's Day to assert that the only valid choice in motherhood is to carry all pregnancies to term regardless of a person's goals, resources or experiences. The spectacle created outside the clinic makes a statement of judgment and stigma, not compassion.
As escorts, we struggle to be supportive of clients and their companions while realizing this isn't the place for political rhetoric. We recognize politicking loses sight of the needs of individual people. We walk a fine line between wanting to stand up against the ideals of anti-choicers and not adding to the confusion.
We continually question our role as escorts and what that means. Essentially, escorts are there to tell anti-choicers that it's not OK to bully, judge, and harass people for any reason. Clients make the decisions and we're just there to absorb the knuckles and smashed toes meant for clients. The two minutes we have walking with a client are about their needs, not what we think they need.
Lining the sidewalk, signs and billboards proclaim abortion is 'America's genocide.'
"Stop killing all the black babies" escorts are told.
"Y'all are as bad as Nazis" is aimed at those of us with Jewish features.
"Be a real man, protect your woman!" gets yelled at men.
To improve access to all reproductive health services, we must address the racist, hetero-normative and classist paradigms surrounding abortion. Anti-choicers use these models to ignore the continuum of women's experiences, reducing the range of issues surrounding parenthood into trite rhetoric. Computer classes and diapers won't make a difference in most people's decisions to have an abortion.
We fight against a machine with resources that dwarf ours even in these times of 'Hope and Change.' The Reproductive Justice movement doesn't have billboards, glossy prints, ultrasound machines or time off everyday to attend the clinic. We do have some mismatched orange vests and a lot of hope. While things may be promising in Washington, at the corner of 2nd and Market, sadly we don't see any change. Even without a global gag rule, people aren't talking about abortion. Misinformation, cliché and guilt saturate available health resources today. These themes dominate the circus outside our clinic.
Back on the sidewalk we approach the property line. We stop along with protesters, allowing the client to walk through the doors of the clinic on their own. An escort closes the door behind the client barely muffling noise from protesters.
Emotional manipulation and coercion are as real a barrier to reproductive and sexual health care as waiting periods and consent laws. Unfortunately, there isn't much escorts can do to shield clients from attacks on privacy. We simply strive to empower people around their reproductive and sexual decisions.
Escorts stand shoulder to shoulder, bound to strangers in an effort to offer a kind word or two to clients who are exercising their right to make a compassionate, informed, responsible decision, a motherly choice. The choice is if, when, and how many children to have.
It's our hope this Mother's Day all women having abortions get breakfast in bed, flowers and chocolates too.
Originally published on rhrealitycheck.org