On Friday, November 27, 2015, Robert Dear shot and killed three people and injured nine at the Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood. The following day, I did my first shift as a volunteer clinic escort at a reproductive health clinic in New York City. The timing was coincidental, but it underscored the growing unease I’d felt about our increasingly embattled reproductive rights. I didn’t know a ton about reproductive justice, and I had no experience as an organizer, activist, or policy maker. But I knew I could stand outside for a few hours one day a week and keep my cool under pressure.
Clinic escorting, after all, is pretty simple: you’re opening a (literal) door to people seeking reproductive care. Escorts mitigate the chaos and, sometimes, the danger of a sidewalk full of anti-abortion protesters. My shift is from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. on Saturdays, which, for whatever reason, is when our protesters come out. Many Planned Parenthoods have clinic-escorting programs, but you might consider volunteering at an independent clinic—they have the same issues but less institutional support. Call your local clinic to ask if they need help, or Google “[your city] + clinic escort volunteers” like I did. You’ll probably have to attend an hour or two of training—and may have to provide character references or your social media handles—where you’ll learn to protect and walk patients into a clinic where anti-abortion protesters might be present outside. Clinic escorts generally practice non-engagement with protesters (though this varies by location). After all, we aren’t counter-protesting, we’re there for patients. During our shifts, we often wear high-visibility vests (like crossing guards, but for hassle-free healthcare access) and many of us have a little spiel prepared, like: “Hi! I’m with the clinic. You might notice we have some protesters. I’m happy to walk you in if you’d like.”
On good days, protesters don’t show up. In that case, we stick around to make sure the sidewalk stays empty. But when mobs do gather, we talk to patients to drown out the noise of protesters and stand in front of graphic signs. The idea is to radiate calmness and comfort, like being your friend’s wingwoman at a party where they might run into their ex. Most of the time, patients know who we are and why we’re there, and are happy for the help.
Clinic escorting is not a particularly sexy line of activism. It’s just some groggy people out on the sidewalk, stepping up for abortion access, and maybe going to brunch afterward. But rest assured, it does make a difference.
By Caitlin Van Horn
Illustrated by Hayley Thornton-Kennedy
This article originally appeared in the June/July 2018 print edition of BUST Magazine. Subscribe today!
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