I woke up at this time a few Saturday mornings a month for 5 years to volunteer as an escort at my local Planned Parenthood clinic. In all that time, I never saw a protesters change anyone’s mind.
But an escort, within 35 feet of the door I did experience the following things:
- I had holy water thrown on me
- I was threatened by protesters so often we only reported the highlights
- I was assaulted by a protester and supported a FACE Act case against her
All of that was part of the gig. I grew up big and have strong opinions about standing between people about to get hit and those hitting them. What happened to me as a volunteer was infuriating and wrong. What I saw happen to women and men seeking medical treatment at the clinic was far worse:
- I saw a young woman driven to hysterical tears, so terrified she could hardly walk, by a protester following her for 3 blocks, hissing in her ear from inches away
- I met women at their cars several blocks away, because they were so scared of the protesters they couldn’t leave their vehicles alone
- I watched protesters videotape clients’ faces from inches away
- I watched protesters body-check patients on the slippery sidewalk
- I heard protesters yell, hiss, and whisper everything from “I regretted my abortion” to “contraception causes cancer”
- I saw protesters throw baby dolls on the sidewalk to force clients to step over them to get to the clinic entrance
- I heard protesters shout at companions: “Are you a man or a mouse?”
- I watched protesters put out a “Life Choices” sign in front of a white van and try to convince women it was the clinic, and that they could provide services (they couldn’t)
All of this abuse, intimidation, and misogyny made patients scared, worried, and hunched. But it never worked. I saw women go in, discuss their options with a nurse, and choose to leave leave. But that 30 seconds of “sidewalk counseling” never had any impact on patient’s choices, just their mental health.
Clinic protesting is often a form of protected speech, ineffective and awful though it certainly is. When protesters become violent, when protesters assault and kill escorts like happened at the Massachusetts clinic involved in the this this week’s Supreme Court decision, they are no longer protected.
This is part of the constitutional distinction between protected speech and prohibited actions. No matter how strongly a protester feels about people’s access to reproductive justice, they cannot assault people. I have made the argument that buffer zones don’t prohibit speech, they merely require an increase in volume, which is an action. Though I find myself in disagreement with the Supreme Court, it will not be the last time. I stand by my interpretation.
There are many productive things to do with the anger many of us are feeling. I will be donating to Planned Parenthood. I’m wearing my I Support Planned Parenthood t-shirt and prepped to discuss the decision with people on my cross-country trip today:
But the hardest and most vital action is to keep talking with pro-life friends. Though I had major problems with the protesters outside of my clinic, I also had a number of pro-life friends. Friends who protested outside of clinics, and then after long discussions, came to use their passion in other ways: advocating for access to natal care on campus, getting more young people access to contraception and comprehensive sex ed, supporting mothers of children with disabilities.
Though many of us are furious today, we can make change. We can tell the truth: about our reproductive health needs, about what it means to be terrified to go to the doctor, about how useless and damaging clinic protesting is.
And we can keep fighting.
“Just to be clear, the Supreme Court has a very active ban against demonstrators on its own grounds.”–Aura Bogado