I am a clinic escort in Washington DC for WACDTF. While I have been escorting with this organization for five years, every weekend has its own stories. The Roe Vs. Wade decision anniversary is a busy weekend for protests in DC, and our clinic is often on an anti-choice tourist route. On the actual day of ‘The March for Life’ there was little action for our clinic. We were too far, I suppose, from the parade route, and if the metro was a decent survey on the marcher’s ability to get around DC, adding another destination would have been too hard for them to navigate. We did have 1 tour bus show up – a motley crew of mostly 50+ aged protesters – with a pseudo preacher. There were gems shouted like ‘Life spelled backwards is Evil’ and “they might say they are just doing a job, just like the SS were doing their job,” but the interaction from our out-of-state protesters and the local escorts was minimal. Another group in matching sweatshirts showed up only to later ask if were any other clinics in the area, presumably to protest at. It was a light load for such a ‘special’ day, especially when so close to the Supreme Court.
In my five years doing clinic escorting, I have never gone to the protest in DC on Roe. There are often counter rallies organized by NOW, but usually I have opted out to head back into the office, or otherwise spend my time. I think now I know why. Since I had been up since 7 I was already a bit tired and cranky. On a normal office day I am eating cereal, or maybe showering at that hour, not standing on a street in the cold, almost wishing protesters would wander by to validate the effort taken to reach my location. With a fellow escort in tow we metro’d closer in to the protest and followed the ‘Byzateens for Life’ gaggle (complete with own banner of multiple halo’d fetuses) to the steps of the Supreme Court. The scene was almost a reverse of the work that we do in front of the clinic. Pro-choice protesters were in front of the giant (and offensive) sign declaring that the U.S. would be punished for abortion, and there was a group of activists encircling the ‘bound for life’ gang. I soon joined the circle, figuring that if I kept moving I would be useful somehow. While the chanting was invigorating, and I saw more than a few familiar faces it was an emotionally taxing experience. In attempts to break up our circle several of the pro-life protesters began to edge towards us. I kept walking, sometimes brushing their shoulders, or sliding between but never moving my shoulders or hips so as to take up less space. This is a tactic I have to use at the clinic to buffer women, and their friends from the shouts and ‘information packets’ that they have previously refused yet are still offered along with prayers all of the way up to the door. When our group refused to give space the individuals on either side of us began running into us, shouting ‘baby killer’ and like so many high school bullies signing an “L” on their foreheads. I made sure to smile during each chant, and find some balance between not giving up ground, and not agitating them to the point to attract the police on the actual stairs of the court. After what seemed like an hour, but probably only half of that, I had to leave the circle, and mingle a bit in the rest of the crowd. Once the earnest ‘pro life rock bands’ started I decided to leave the whole scene and practice a bit of self care to better prepare myself for the next morning at the clinic.
The following morning started similarly at our clinic. It was quiet, save for two local protesters for a while. Perhaps they had forgotten the significance of the date, because even our regulars had commented on the number of escorts who lined the sidewalk. Our numbers did not deter them from rushing at women holding large and wobbly hand made signs shouting about the dangers of abortion. Within a couple of hours busses were lining the street and the small lawn of the clinic, and opposite side of the sidewalk were lined with 300 protesters and prayers with a sprinkling of the tried and true weekly ‘sidewalk counselors. Their singing was better than average, for the most part they did try to stay out of the sidewalk (although there were two obstinate individuals) and few of them made eye contact with me. At the same time they shouted to each woman entering the doctors office ‘demand to see your ultrasound’ and a known anti-choice activist shouted through a megaphone about the holocaust. The latter action seemed to even anger our local protesters who bravely went up and asked him to stop, and to focus instead on the women entering in a loving way.
I find their kind of love, to be honest, false, and oppressive. It is an insult to a woman to walk up to her on her way to appointment and claim, in no matter how nice a tone, that you know better than her. I will eagerly read the protesters take on their actions both Saturday and Sunday. The patient load was light, but it was a heavy visual of bodies lining the streets. Although, I do wonder, if the Planned Parenthood is a house of serial killing as one protester told me, why were some individuals mugging for photos before they headed home. If it was a horrific place, wouldn’t that be disrespectful and discouraged? Or is it really all a surface show?