Looking back, I don’t think I ever made a formal, conscious decision to be pro-choice. For me, there’s never been any hand-wringing or laborious thinking about the issue of choice. I have always, always felt that the choice whether to, or when to, become a mother was the basic, fundamental right of every woman alive.
I never really envisioned myself as an “activist” either, but for me the urge to volunteer and advocate for Planned Parenthood came on strong and suddenly.
I was surfing the net one afternoon and came across this video:
I’d honestly never seen anything like it. As a former patient at a Planned Parenthood center in the Midwest, I couldn’t recall ever seeing protesters on my routine preventive care visits. Not even one.
Watching the video, I couldn’t fathom what possessed these people to stand outside of a center, where women seek out private medical care, screaming hateful, often deceptive messages.
I thought they were sick, mean, and crazy to even conceive of doing such a thing.
I hadn’t been a patient at Planned Parenthood since college, but I could only imagine how utterly horrible it would have been to have hateful propaganda screamed at me by strangers while heading into a contraception visit or annual Pap smear.
My initial reaction was one of outrage. Raw and visceral.
But then I felt genuine empathy for the women and girls who’ve been subjected to the venom of these “clinic crashers” trying to impose their will upon someone else’s body. How sad for them to have to encounter that level of intrusion when making such a private and deeply personal choice.
Without being overly dramatic, I have to say what I witnessed in that video changed me and I haven’t been the same since. I felt positively compelled to take some kind of action. Immediately I logged onto Planned Parenthood’s website searching for volunteer opportunities. The moment I came across a “Clinic Escort” position, I knew that it was meant for me.
I’ll admit, I had slight safety concerns since this decision came only months after the murder of Nebraska abortion provider, Dr. George Tiller, but they weren’t strong enough to stop me from applying for the position.
I really wanted to be there for the patients. The women who’d be inappropriately accosted by these people while trying to seek basic reproductive health care. I wanted to be their barrier against the anti-choice rage. In a sea of angry, judgmental faces, I wanted to be the kindest, most reassuring, most compassionate face these women would see. I felt like it really mattered that someone be that for them and I wanted that someone to be me.
A few interviews and training sessions later, it was official and I was immersed in my role as a Clinic Escort.
Every Sunday morning I was screamed at and shamed by anti-choice protesters. It never made me feel vulnerable though. In fact, it heightened my desire to be there. I’d much rather have them scream at me than at a patient who’s feeling vulnerable, apprehensive, and possibly fearful.
I felt that it was important not to shy away from these protesters either. They regularly assaulted my character, my values, my logic, and my integrity, but I looked them in the eye and stood my ground. I simply wasn’t going to be made to feel bad for my decision to defend these women and their choices. They don’t deserve such power.
When I had to speak to them, I spoke calmly, yet assertively. They aren’t allowed on center property and when they defied that, I firmly let them know to back off. They aren’t allowed to block patient access to the center. When they violated that rule (which was constantly), again I made them back off.
They were not going to obstruct our patients’ right to medical care. I had to see to that. My defiance made me more of a target in a lot of ways. When their attempts to anger, shame, and race-bait me failed, they simply tried harder. In some ways it took their focus away from the patients, which was, of course, the preferred outcome.
To say ours was an adversarial relationship would be an understatement.
But, I kept going back.
For the patients…if for nothing else. I don’t even want to describe how women’s faces fell when they stepped out of their cars and were welcomed by the shouting and accusations of complete strangers. Some were moved to tears and kept silent, carefully averting the steely, judgmental gaze of the protesters. Some were understandably angry and found the voice to shout back.
Likely all of them, though, felt invaded and violated by the massive weight of the shame heaped upon them by people they didn’t even know.
Another thing I can say about this experience is that it changed my whole outlook on what “free speech” should really mean in this country.
While I do feel strongly that it’s our right as citizens to peacefully protest, doing so at a private center where people are seeking confidential medical care is a blatant, gross invasion of privacy. I’m fine with protesters exercising their First Amendment rights outside of solely administrative offices where “business” is done, but I don’t think “free speech” should come at the expense of another person’s right to privacy when accessing any form of medical care.
I also don’t think fear-mongering in the form of spouting medically inaccurate falsehoods (i.e., “abortion causes breast cancer”) at patients should be protected as “free speech.”
After seeing the pain and terror inflicted upon these women on a regular basis, I can’t help but believe the FACE Act is in desperate need of revision to stop these patient-shaming, privacy-invading tactics.
My heart really aches for the women forced to encounter this behavior. More than anything, I want them to not have to endure the lies, condemnation, and humiliation these anti-choicers dole out so freely and recklessly.
I never in a million years thought that I could feel such compassion, concern, and care for women who are complete and total strangers, but I remember the faces of every woman I have ever seen walk into our center. I remember the stories they tell me of how they arrived at this critical juncture in their lives.
Days later, when I’m going about my daily routine, out of nowhere I’ll wonder how one of them is doing.
This is not something I want to frame as sad or tragic. When these women leave our center, I am nothing but utterly relieved for them. Not sad. Not regretful. Relieved.
Relieved they had a choice when so many others in the world don’t.
Relieved that they weren’t forced into motherhood and giving birth against their will.
Relieved that they obtained otherwise unaffordable contraception and are now empowered to write their own reproductive destiny.
Relieved that they didn’t have to bring another unwanted child into the world.
Relieved that they’ve been tested and treated for any potential STDs whether or not they are fortunate enough to have health insurance.
These are things I personally care a lot about.
I think my hope is that anyone reading this is spurred to do something meaningful and relevant to support and advance choice. Personally believing in a woman’s right to choose unfortunately is not actively helping women today. That’s not an accusatory statement or an indictment of anyone’s character. I just think a lot of pro-choicers are complacent and not fully aware of how much of a threat the anti-choice movement really is to women.
How we spend our time defending our rights matters. Who we vote for matters. How we take a stand on this issue matters. Volunteering time or money to the causes closest to our hearts matters.
Nothing has made that more clear to me than this powerful, affirming experience. I’m humbled, proud, inspired, and profoundly grateful to stand with Planned Parenthood as a volunteer and advocate. Caring for and trusting women is one of the best gifts I think we can give to the world.
If you’d like to volunteer with PPAZ and help us protect choice, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
I’m here for Planned Parenthood. Will you be, too?