HUFFPOST PERSONAL

I’m A Clinic Escort In Alabama And I’ve Been Subject To Harassment And Physical Violence

"Some of my most precious memories are interactions with patients," the author says.
"Some of my most precious memories are interactions with patients," the author says.

I’m a 65-year-old woman living in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. I just became a statistic of violence against the escorts, staff and physicians at clinics nationwide.  

I became interested in escorting nearly 10 years ago when I was living in the Triangle area of North Carolina. I was a keyboard warrior in abortion debates via Facebook, and I became aware of the clinic in Raleigh. After hearing that they always needed volunteer escorts, I reached out to their volunteer group.

I wanted to get out and see what happens at clinics with my own eyes. When someone challenged me with, “You don’t know what goes on at an ‘abortion mill,’” I could respond, “Oh, but I can find out.”

As a volunteer, we were instructed on proper engagement and how to talk to the patients as a buffer between them and the protesters. Once you finish training, you get thrown in the deep end.

You go toe-to-toe and face-to-face with people who hate your guts. Each clinic has certain groups of protesters: quiet ones, loud ones, obnoxious ones, absurd ones and downright hateful ones.

Unfortunately, I was only able to go to the Raleigh clinic three times, and transportation issues made it impossible for me to continue, so I continued to sit on Facebook and debate many anti-abortion individuals, wondering if I’d ever be able to help at a clinic again.

I moved back to Tuscaloosa, and in 2018, I had to retire from my job as a medical transcriptionist. It took some time, but last year in July, I contacted West Alabama Clinic Defenders’ volunteer escort program, went through training and started escorting at West Alabama Women’s Center. We have a very concise training program to attend initially, then we begin as observers shadowing the more trained escorts until we get enough experience under our belts to do it alone.

The part I love the most, and I do mean love, is engaging with the patients and their companions. We are not there to judge or to talk anyone into or out of their choice.

A number of us always try to be there early, before any protesters show up, so we can set up a speaker or two in case we need to play music to drown out their screaming. We have a great buffer zone in front of the clinic, so they cannot physically approach a patient or their companion, but we have a vulnerable area at the back of the clinic. The protesters split up between the two areas, and we have to split up also to monitor both groups. They want to come to the back because they can get really close to the building, and they try to scream and preach so anyone inside can hear.

On a few occasions, we do not have a single protester or they come long after all the patients have arrived. On hectic days, we may have a dozen or so protesters standing in the parking lot competing to be heard. Some protesters act like “sidewalk counselors” and try to coax patients into changing their minds, while others try to shame and intimidate patients by verbally attacking them. After a few protesters became dangerously aggressive, we hired an off-duty police officer to come two days a week and monitor their behavior.

But the part I love the most, and I do mean love, is engaging with the patients and their companions. We are not there to judge or to talk anyone into or out of their choice. We are there to give them support and a feeling of safety and a buffer against so much of what the protesters yell at them. When they leave the clinic, we escort them back to their cars while they’re still being harassed. They thank us all and some want to give a small hug, and they give you that trust and appreciation for being there for them.

Some of my most precious memories are interactions with patients who may be still groggy as they leave, and we help them and they show they trust us. One companion even asked me to go get his car and drive it to the front of the clinic so he and the patient wouldn’t have to walk toward the protesters.

We have no engagement whatsoever with our protesters, but you learn their names, temperaments and how they react to situations. They’ve ranged from a few who just sit or stand and silently protest to some of the loudest, most obnoxious people you can imagine. This year, we had an apostolic woman bring a shofar and blow it right next door to the pediatric clinic.

You have to develop a certain skin to continue escorting. You focus on your job, which is to help patients and companions feel safe. You learn how to read their body language so you can let them know it’s OK, they’re going to be fine.

I was never afraid of the protesters until the beginning of February this year when our intimidator showed up for the first time. He came barreling into the lot in his matte black SUV, threatening to hit us. He showed up sporadically, on Saturdays mostly, and would do slow donuts in the parking lot around patients’ cars, letting us know he was watching.  

I was never afraid of the protesters until the beginning of February this year when our intimidator showed up for the first time.

It was a Tuesday morning when the black matte SUV owner showed up. My site coordinator and I walked over to where he was sitting in his SUV talking to another protester. As he saw us coming, he became aggressive. I was filming to document his being in the lot so we could identify him and get his tag. As I walked down the lot toward the back of his car, he made a sharp turn and hit me on my right side with the side of his SUV. 

I had slight injuries, but I feel much better every day. My contusions are healing, and I’m surrounded by the best friends and family one could ask for. They are all supporting me and all my fellow escorts as we endeavor to continue.

I was shocked at first, but it has become anger at our lives being treated so cavalierly and because some feel we deserve what happened to us. We are on our guard for him returning. But I haven’t missed one day since. These men are not going to silence this voice now that I’ve found it.

We always have an uptick in protester numbers after things like this abortion ban being passed, and we are going to continue being there every day the clinic is open, escorting and protecting the patients and their companions. This ban has no purpose to help anyone and is simply a chess piece in a much bigger game that we can all lose if it continues.

State legislatures have told us that those of us who had/have/could/will have a pregnancy will no longer have a voice regarding our bodies, ourselves and our families. However, we still have a voice — and we have brains and funds and supporters, and we won’t go down without fighting these bans.

I implore people everywhere to react. Donate your time and money to funds and politicians that care for us. Let’s not sit back and allow these politicians to continue to strip away our rights. Find your local abortion clinics. VOLUNTEER and DONATE and speak up for ALL of us.  

In lieu of donations to the clinic, the clinic asks that people donate to Yellowhammer Fund at yellowhammerfund.org. Yellowhammer Fund is the only statewide abortion fund in Alabama and provides financial and practical support to abortion seekers at any of Alabama’s three clinics and Alabamians seeking abortions in other states. Alabamians interested in getting involved with Yellowhammer Fund can apply at bit.ly/yhfvolunteer. 

Others interested in getting involved in the reproductive rights movement can check out a list of reproductive rights-related organizations in their area at postroehandbook.com and a list of abortion funds at abortionfunds.org/need-abortion. It is important to reach out to local groups and see what kinds of support they need.

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