As many of you know, Roe v. Wade is the landmark case responsible for allowing us, as women, the legal right to abortion care. This was a huge win for women’s rights and one that has given us the chance to take control of our own lives and futures. While I want to get out my party hat and decorate the office with streamers on this glorious day of celebration, I think it is important to talk about something that has largely gotten swept under the rug, remaining unknown to the majority of people.
Comprehensive reproductive health care clinics are under attack.
Not just through a slew of recent anti-choice legislation, but also from harassment and violence by anti-choice extremists which has included eight murders and 17 attempted murders of abortion providers, clinic staff, and volunteers, not to mention the thousands of other incidents of violence and harassment since Roe v. Wade was decided.
During this time, last year, I was at the Jackson Women’s Health Organization helping to develop a clinic defense program for Mississippi’s last remaining abortion care facility. It was being targeted by an extremists group as a part of its ‘states of refuge’ campaign. Their campaign targets the five states with only one comprehensive reproductive health care clinic left and tries to get it shut down. Yes, there are FIVE states with only ONE comprehensive health clinic. The leaders came from all over the country to protest at the clinic and were joined by a few local anti-choicers as well and did everything from yelling at the patients, accusing them of murder and saying things like ‘mommy mommy, love me mommy’, to trying to stop people in their cars and on the sidewalk from entering the clinic by shoving pamphlets into their hands or rolled down windows. One protester even sang a high-pitched version of a song she created that both described how evil she saw abortion along with letting us know that we were all going to hell.
The harassment from these anti-choice protesters and the attempts at shoving inaccurate literature at the patients is horrific enough, but one of the things that I found most disturbing was when a male anti-choice protester found a small opening in the wall of signs we built to give the clinic entrance privacy and used it to glare at the women, with a look of intense hatred. If you have ever experienced the feeling of being watched you know that this can be an incredibly uncomfortable feeling. I want you to imagine that feeling on top of being intensely harassed. This can be an absolutely terrifying experience for patients and is why we need escorts. When clinics have escorts, patients feel safer and are less likely to be intimidated away from the clinic and clinic staff have told us that the patients are visibly more relaxed when they are accompanied by escorts.
I know that this is probably news to a lot of you, but this is a real problem that still takes place all over our country. Even in progressive cities, like Los Angeles, a group I volunteer with, called LA For Choice had to be created to deal with the anti-choice protesters that come out to harass patients every week.
Stories like these are unfortunately not unique. These types of intimidation tactics to try and inhibit access to these clinics and to shame women out of making a choice about a perfectly legal medical procedure are happening in increasing numbers. Roe may have given us the legal right to an abortion, but without access to that right, there can be no real choice.
The Feminist Majority Foundation’s Adopt-A-Clinic campaign is a great way to get involved in the fight to make clinics safer and to show your support for the staff and patients. Clinic escorting programs, like LA For Choice and the one that we helped set up in Jackson, MS are examples of a way you can use this campaign to make a difference in your community.
When I talk about Adopt-A-Clinic with students, many love the idea of being able to get out on the front lines to help defend the clinic, while some are overwhelmed by the idea, which is completely ok. Regardless of which category you fit into, you can still take part in the campaign and show your support. Many clinics need help with administrative work, like mailers or filing, while another option would be to get a group together and make thank you cards for abortion providers and clinic employees locally, or across the country. I have personally worked with clinics in three different states so trust me when I say that little things really can make a huge difference to people who are fighting everyday to provide women with as many options as they can, even in climates where it is not safe to do so.
One of the things that has inspired me the most to continue on with my work as a clinic defender came from a protester. During my time in Mississippi one of them came up to me and whispered, “Did somebody walk with you? Did somebody walk with you to get your abortion? Is that why you are doing this?” While her quote did not relate to something I have experienced, it still ended having one of the biggest impacts on how I view clinic defense today. I think of the women who come to the clinic and are surprised to see that in order to get to her appointment, she will be yelled at and publicly shamed by these complete strangers; the thought that some of these women will be dealing with this at a facility that does not have an escort service to provide a friendly face of support and a feeling of protection is deeply upsetting. I have been screamed at for hours at a time with speech often laden with profane and derogatory remarks, told I was the devil incarnate, threatened, and once even had a man take a swing at me, but the fact that I was able to provide at least a small amount of comfort to these women that they would have otherwise not had, makes dealing with these situations worth it.
The bottom line is that nobody deserves to be scared, shamed, or bullied into, or out of, a decision by anyone and especially when it relates to their health and bodies. If any of you are interested in running the Adopt-a-Clinic campaign, contact me or your campus organizer to help you start up this program or to loop you into an existing one in your area!