On Saturday mornings, I walk nervous young women up to the doors of a New York City women's health clinic.
I watch women turn the corner and steel themselves to pass the flock of anti-abortion protestors who hold heavily doctored posters of alleged aborted fetuses. I see protective boyfriends (or friends, or brothers) squeeze the hands of the women they're going to the clinic with in a gesture of support and solidarity. I hear mothers and grandmothers say, “You don’t even know what the f**k we’re doing here."
By the end of my 4-hour shift volunteering at the women’s health clinic, I’ve been called “barbaric,” "filthy" and "shameful" by an anti-abortion pastor and his cronies.
More than anything, I come face-to-face with reeling misogynists cleverly disguised as protectors of human life.
Perhaps because of the Memorial Day weekend, last Saturday at the clinic was a slow one, with long lulls between patients. This meant a whole of lot of down time, and an opportunity for us volunteers to talk to the protestors.
These particular protestors, or "antis," at this particular New York clinic are all members of the same church in Brooklyn. Each week, they arrive by the carload to stand outside the clinic and yell at women. There is one man who likes to stand directly in front of the clinic doors and scream -- in earshot of the waiting room -- what he thinks are logical and intellectual arguments against abortion, but what are actually misinformed and wildly inaccurate fragments of his hyper-religious imagination.
I avoid as much communication with the antis as possible -- especially this one. I’m not there for him; I’m there for the patients. I’m there for the women who are trying to access constitutionally protected health care services, and who might require a physical barricade between their bodies and the people who show up to shame them.
But as a group of volunteers stood in a line in front of the door last weekend, doing our best to muffle the sound of this man’s incoherent and scientifically inaccurate clamoring, we started talking about condoms. I admitted that I had never actually seen a female condom, and another volunteer brought up the topic of flavored condoms. Do we use them? What are our thoughts? Are any particular flavors better than others?
Interestingly, it was this conversation -- not the many women walking through the doors to access abortions, breast cancer screenings, IUD insertions or Depo-Provera shots, but a group of women openly discussing safe sex -- that made the antis the most frustrated.
The man who screams at the doors of the clinic, upon hearing a group of women talk about condoms, turned to his fellow protestors to complain about our topic of discussion. We -- clinic escorts, also known as "encouragers of murder and barbarism" -- were now speaking of "FILTH and GARBAGE."
A fellow volunteer tried to engage the man in a polite debate.
"Shouldn't you support conversations about safe sex if you're anti-abortion?" she asked. "I do not feel comfortable talking to you about this," he replied. "If you want to talk about this, talk to one of the women."
And so my fellow volunteer did. She approached a female anti-abortion protestor and asked, "How do you feel about women talking about sex education?"
The volunteer responded, "I think women should keep their legs closed."
Shortly thereafter, as we continued to discuss banana-flavored condoms amongst ourselves, we had somehow repulsed the protestors into silence.
These anti-abortion protestors have no issue using grisly language when it comes to yelling about health care centers that supposedly "murder babies" or "chop up babies." But the word "condom" is somehow more shocking, perhaps because a discussion of condoms acknowledges that women can -- and do -- have sex for non procreative purposes.
Ironically, talking about safe sex is something that might actually serve these protestors' crusade for an end to abortions. But they refuse to acknowledge that without access to a clinic like the one they spend their weekends yelling in front of, women will take it upon themselves to end their pregnancies in far more gruesome ways. Just ask the women of Texas, of whom somewhere between 100,000 and 240,000 have attempted to induce their own abortions in the aftershock of HB2.
When abortion access is limited, abortions do not go away. They simply become much, much more dangerous.
After a short discussion of banana condoms, the posters and pamphlets were packed up. The parking meters expired. The anti-abortion protestors drove away, quiet and apparently disgusted.
Women were free to walk into the clinic, undisturbed.