One of the saddest — and most infuriating — things I witnessed during my time as a Planned Parenthood clinic escort was the relentless, unyielding harassment that women were forced to withstand at the hands of anti-abortion protesters, simply for seeking reproductive health care.
Now that we are in the midst of another annual “40 Days For Life” campaign, which always causes a dramatic increase in protester presence, my memories of escorting are even more vivid.
Buffer zones prevent raging extremists from occupying clinic property and blocking patients’ movement.
Before our clinic on 7th Avenue in Phoenix was relocated, I stood outside every Sunday morning for more than a year serving as an access advocate for women. Not only were our patients subjected to extreme haranguing by Planned Parenthood protesters, I was as well. Not one Sunday would pass where I wouldn’t be (loudly) accused of being some kind of an accomplice to murder — or a “murderer” myself.
I constantly questioned not only their tactics, but also their motivation. What kind of people spend their mornings and afternoons preying on women who are going to get health care? Debasing and denigrating unsuspecting women they don’t know at all. Taking mental snapshots of them. Capturing their identities. Glaring directly into their eyes. And voraciously leering at them as they go in and out of a clinic.
It’s a feral, savage practice if you think about it. Incredibly voyeuristic and wildly invasive.
One thing I absolutely know for sure is that our patients hope to be anonymous and maintain their privacy and dignity when handling their personal reproductive care. They have no interest in being an exhibition for zealots looking to persecute them.
Since 60 percent of women who have abortions are mothers, very often there were children present to witness these abusive attacks on their moms. When you see this taking place — up close and very personally — you realize what a filthy, sickening thing this is to do to another human being.
The one semi-saving grace for patients and clinic employees has been the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act, or FACE Act, enacted by President Clinton in 1994.
After decades of atrocities perpetrated by anti-abortion protesters, including, but not limited to, clinic bombings, arson, vandalism, force and violence against clinic patients and employees, as well as murder, legal measures had to be taken for the safety of all involved and at risk.
Among other things, the FACE Act created somewhat of a buffer zone between the patient and the harasser. It prohibited raging extremists from occupying clinic property and blocking patients’ access to the parking lot or entrance of the clinic. It prohibited the use of physical force (such as pushing, pulling, and restraining) against people trying to gain access to clinics.
Well, after 20 years, abortion opponents want the FACE Act repealed under the guise of wanting to protect their “freedom of speech.”
Speech. The very definition of which is “the act of speaking.”
In actuality, the FACE Act protects their “speech.” It allows them (from a distance) to continue their shouting, shaming, and harassment of patients and clinic employees.
Perpetrating violence, destroying property, and intimidating, blocking, and physically terrorizing others is in no way, shape, or form a type of free speech. They apparently don’t have the cognitive abilities to realize that, in addition to protecting their speech, the FACE Act has protected their safety as well.
Confrontations at health clinics are common when protesters are provoking people in difficult, emotional, high-stress situations. I’m not sure people understand just how invasive “pro-life” protesters can be. They accost you as soon as you park your car on the street. They invade your space. They have no idea why you’re even there. Yet they walk closely at your side throwing gruesome, doctored photos in front of your face, calling you a “murderer.”
During my time as an escort, we were very lucky to have plain-clothes police officers covertly watching next door to keep violence from igniting. I can recall half a dozen instances where they had to intervene when an assault was close to taking place — usually from a very passionate, distraught young man accompanying his female partner.
Imagine the potential violence if there were no FACE Act to keep them from trespassing upon the property and getting a little too close to someone with the potential to cause them significant harm.
So why are many anti-abortion activists now championing its eradication? Because, frankly, they want to strong-arm women, and boundaries prevent their attempts to forcibly intimidate us.
I arrived at the conclusion a long time ago that the abortion itself is actually a moot point. The basic sentiment is that women who patronize Planned Parenthood for any reason should be humiliated and aggressively bullied for doing so.
Examining the history of the more violent members of the anti-abortion movement indicates to anyone with good sense that preventing abortion isn’t what these people are passionate about. The foundation of this movement is unbridled, ferocious misogyny. Its entire premise is rooted in the notion of consequences: Women should have consequences for what they do sexually. Especially if they are unmarried. They shouldn’t have a “choice” whether or not to give birth after they’ve been having sex. Consenting to sex is automatically consenting to childbirth, in their view, and if women weren’t such “slaves to their libidos” they wouldn’t be in this position in the first place.
Even contraception is opposed because, “It’s a license to do things in a sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be.”
Under this way of thinking, women shouldn’t possess the kind of “license” that permits them to enjoy sex freely. Possessing the mindset that women should be forced to give birth — whether they want to or not — dictates that you must be positively strident in the belief that sex needs to come at a high cost for women.
That cost comes in the form of a fetus.
Abortion opponents have gained a lot of ground in their mission to chip away at women’s reproductive rights over the past several years. They’re emboldened by the momentum of their crusade. Aside from personhood (aka “fetal rights”) and overturning Roe v. Wade itself, the next frontier is eliminating the FACE Act.
They’ve decided that if they can’t stop us with the law, they’ll do their damnedest to try to stop us with sheer physical force.
I used to escort at the 7th Ave. clinic, too. The protestors literally walked the line – they would stand as close to the perimeter as possible and harass people. Sometimes they would even try to stop cars from being able to pull into the parking lot. You could tell these people were getting paid and weren’t thoroughly devoted to their cause, though, because during the summer time they would sit in their big SUV with the AC running and just holler out the window.
I dunno, no matter how devoted to my cause I was, I think an Arizona summer would be enough to keep me cooped up with air conditioning. On the other hand, a little astroturfing wouldn’t surprise me!