Until I worked as a canvasser for Planned Parenthood, I had never realized just how awful it could be to deal with anti-abortion protesters.
There’s nothing quite like standing on the street asking people for money only to have even the nicest passersby snap at you. Asking for money to support access to abortion, however, is even harder.
When I was a canvasser, people would catch a glimpse of my Planned Parenthood shirt and immediately make up their mind about my character. Every day, at least one person would see my smile, watch as I sent a big wave, and then respond to my invitation to talk about the work that Planned Parenthood does by saying something nasty about how I was a baby killer or a misguided child who didn’t understand abortion.
What kept me doing that work every day, however, were the positive reactions I got from people: one woman nearly walked by me before seeing my shirt, but immediately exclaimed “Now you’re someone I’ll stop for!” when she did and donated money before I even had the chance to ask; another stopped with her two daughters and asked me to tell them about why access to abortion and voting against abortion restrictions is so important; one woman told me she was so glad to see that there were still feminists in my generation working to protect reproductive rights. The people who stopped and showed their support for what I was doing were in the vast minority, but they really helped to make up for all the hate that I was getting.
In light of the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down buffer zones, I’ve been thinking a lot about how I felt at the end of those days, having listened to four or five folks prattle on about how abortion providers were breaking laws and murdering babies and preying on women. I am very strongly pro-choice, and have been for a long time, but the harassment made me start to wonder if I was right.
Women who choose abortion often face much worse harassment than what I was up against, and frequently they soldier it with far less support. Before they even arrive at an abortion clinic, they have to find the money to pay for the procedure and deal with the possibility of rejection from family and friends. If they don’t feel comfortable telling their loved ones, they may have to go through the whole process without support from the people they care about. By the time they make an appointment, arrive at the abortion clinic, and see the protesters, they’ve already been through a lot. But at the clinics, they’re then often screamed at or lied to by people standing outside, desperate to change their minds.
By ruling against Massachusetts’ buffer zones law this summer, the Supreme Court has made it that much more difficult for women to push past the hate being hurled at them outside of abortion clinics. I remember how hard it was to hold on to what I believed in the face of pressure from random pedestrians; as much as I felt shaken and as often as I questioned my beliefs, those experiences were incomparable to the highly coordinated “counseling” women attempting to enter abortion clinics constantly encounter.
Looking back on the summer I canvassed for Planned Parenthood, I realize that the experiences that stuck with me are those times that people went out of their way to be kind and listen to what I had to say. Those folks kept the smile on my face in spite of all the awful things people might have said.
Now, the more I think about it, the more I want to return to that work. Now, more than ever, I want to serve as an escort for women who have chosen abortion – because they deserve the chance to make their own choice without being manipulated and attacked by hate.