Clinic Protestors Play Different Roles but Share Distrust of Women


Protesting in DC, like in many cities, is not unusual. In a politics-saturated community the telltale signs of a protest–pamphlets, signs, and strangers earnestly approaching passers-by–are nothing new.  There are different yet distinct kinds of protesters outside of DC’s Planned Parenthood on Saturdays although nearly of the protestors seem to identify as Catholic, and operate from their religious worldview. Interestingly none of these individual label themselves as protesters. I’ve heard: sidewalk counselor, truth speaker, and ambassador of love.

‘The Prayer’

They may pray for the patients, the souls of ‘the babies’, for the escorts, for the staff, or the closing of the clinic. The most affected was a young man who looked as though he was suffering some kind of stomach cramp as he genuflected outside of the clinic door. Some show up for an hour, and others spend their entire Saturday morning in a public display of their faith.

‘Truth Speaker’

A little less skilled than the sidewalk counselor the truth speaker often wears a home-made sign and shouts things like ‘women regret their abortion;’ ‘Abortion is violence against women!’ or ‘let me call a doctor.’ Their drive-by style of advice never garners any real conversation with the patients entering the clinic.

‘Sidewalk Counselor’

Exchanging pamphlets with each other (between waves of patients) like so many baseball cards this motley crew exchange stories of saves and loss and swap theories about any woman leaving the clinic. Any woman saying ‘I didn’t get an abortion today’ is of course counted as a ‘save.’

‘Ambassador of Love’

Like their cohorts this protestor might be armed with rosaries, or a vessel (previously a jug of orange juice) of holy water. They are more excited about preaching in general. On a recent weekend their message was primarily about the effect of witchcraft on the G20 protests, and how one can lose weight by doing the rosary.

Unlike the ineffectual sidewalk counselor in the movie Juno, the effect of all of these protesters (while often socially awkward) is intimidating. Even with the highly-publicized fence at the Planned Parenthood in Washington they surround cars, block sidewalks, confuse patients and those walking on the street. They might shun the label protester and offer loudly that ‘they are just offering the truth the clinic won’t give’ but their literature is not vetted by any medical community and their praying serves as spiritual bullying.

Those who interact with anyone going into the clinic rely a lot on sexist assumptions of the gender binary. Men are told to ‘be the man’ and ‘save the woman.’ Women are told that motherhood is rewarding, and worth ‘whatever sacrifice.’ Many of these protesters think that either their message, or the insertion of the words ‘love’ and ‘jesus’ should buffer them from patients anger, frustration, or brusqueness. Thos of us volunteering outside of the clinic are told ‘well we are going to be out here together for a while, so lets be friends.’

I don’t do clinic defense to make friends (though I have made a lot of great friends through this work). Hell, I’ve had patients confuse me for a protestor and share a few choice words with me. Whether or not those outside the clinic praying, holding signs, or screaming are misguided, or ‘have the best of intentions’ is beside the point. The reality of their actions is that they do not think enough of any woman to think the woman has made the best, most educated decision for herself.

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  • invalid-0

    Men are told to ‘be the man’ and ‘save the woman.’ Women are told that motherhood is rewarding, and worth ‘whatever sacrifice.’ 

    I’m confused.  Are these bad things?

  • prochoiceferret

    I’m confused.  Are these bad things?

    Not if you’re a man!

  • amyc

    In effect, they are saying that women do not know how to make choices for their own lives and bodies and so they need a man to tell them what to do.

  • prochoiceferret

    In effect, they are saying that women do not know how to make choices for their own lives and bodies and so they need a man to tell them what to do.

    Arex: “I’m still confused. Is that a bad thing?”

  • colleen

    their message was primarily about the effect of witchcraft on the G20 protests

    Were they in agreement that witchcraft was a real spiritual force?

  • invalid-0

    That’s funny.  You put words in my mouth that you know I don’t agree with, ha ha ha.

     

    My question remains. 

  • invalid-0

    No they’re not.  No one I’ve ever met on the sidewalk agrees with that sentiment.  I seriously doubt the author has actually ever engaged a sidewalk counselor or person praying outside of a clinic.  This seems like a pretty typical case of manufacturing an image of people that you hope is true so you can more easily demonize them.

     

    We don’t think that.  If you want to pretend we do, have fun.

  • arekushieru

    Umm, arex, if your question remains, even after she explained what it meant, then NO one was putting words in your mouth. 

  • arekushieru

    If you DO think that, then feel free to continue to deny the truth.  I have a friend who has coordinated volunteer schedules for clinic escorts at an abortion clinic and who has a clear view of those escorts and the ‘sidewalk counselors’.  These sidewalk counselors have the exact SAME jackets as the ones the escorts wear.  If they don’t want to maximize the confusion as much as possible, as you proclaim ProLifers do, then why don’t they, oh, I don’t know, wear a DIFFERENT JACKET???   And, before you deny this, this has been a tactic reported by many different clinics over the past year.  Also, at this clinic, the ones wearing the jackets were usually the protestors that were standing outside of the clinic in the first place.   They were either standing outside of the clinic when they should be working at a place where they would be making USE of these professional credentials OR they don’t have the credentials at all, in the first place.  Gee, doesn’t sound like they aren’t trying to demonize and scare women, *at all*.

  • crowepps

    Men are told to ‘be the man’ and ‘save the woman.’ Women are told that motherhood is rewarding, and worth ‘whatever sacrifice.’

     

    I’m confused. Are these bad things?

    Whether these are ‘bad things’ depends on the context, doesn’t it?

     

    Yes, men are socialized that it’s their duty to ‘save the woman’, but that context is when she’s actually in danger. She isn’t in danger when she decides to have an abortion but rather avoiding the far greater dangers of pregnancy.

     

    Motherhood is not ‘rewarding’ when you don’t want to be a mother, and while I would agree that EXISTING children are worth any sacrifice, any particular pregnancy is NOT worth any sacrifice, because the woman has the possibility of getting pregnancy AGAIN at any time she wishes to do so.

  • crowepps

    As a client who has had the misfortune of total strangers leaping to totally incorrect assumptions about my life, health and motives, blocking my path, rudely accosting me on the street, and insisting on shoving their bizarre beliefs in my face on posters and screaming them in my ears in a very annoying manner that would never be tolerated in any other venue, the various roles explained in the post all sound accurate to me.

     

    My personal take on sidewalk protestors is that they are enjoying the illicit thrill of participating in a spiritual lynch mob, that they love the smug self-satisfaction of feeling ‘more moral than thou’ and figuratively ‘throwing stones’ at ‘evil women’, and that a higher than normal proportion of them have serious mental health problems.

     

    However, I could be wrong and this is a great opportunity for you to set me straight about what your own personal motivations are.  What DO you think?

  • invalid-0

    Thank you crowepps for at least an honest answer.  Some people on this board seem far more concerned with slander than intelligent discourse.

     

    I think we’re focusing on semantics here, if you don’t mind.

    1. I disagree that people only need to be saved when they’re “in danger”.  Sometimes people just “need help”.  That’s why abortion clinics think they’re there too.  The vast majority of women are not facing life-threatening complications when they obtain abortions, correct?

    2. “Motherhood is not ‘rewarding’ when you don’t want to be a mother” – ideological difference here, I guess.  To me, that’s like saying that water isn’t wet if you’re not dry.  My schoolwork, my career, etc. were all rewarding even if I didn’t want to do them.  I’ve never known of a mother who, after the child leaves home, would say “wow, got nothing out of that!”

  • crowepps

    I disagree that people only need to be saved when they’re “in danger”. Sometimes people just “need help”. That’s why abortion clinics think they’re there too.

    The difference is that help is ASKED FOR and WANTED by the person who wishes assistance and interference is motivated by the desire of the person butting in to stop the person they’re targeting from making their own decisions and substitute instead what the buttinsky thinks they should do.

    “Motherhood is not ‘rewarding’ when you don’t want to be a mother” – ideological difference here, I guess.

    No, I think it’s a total inability to understand that all women are not alike, that some women do not like children, do not like to be around children, when ‘stuck with’ children resent them, and LOATHE the entire process of being ‘mother’ so much their children suffer neglect and/or abuse.

    I’ve never known of a mother who, after the child leaves home, would say “wow, got nothing out of that!”

    I’m not at all surprised. It’s not something most women would say to a man, especially one who believes all women SHOULD find motherhood fulfilling. I would guess, in addition, that you have never actually ASKED, have you?

     

    As an older woman, however, I have been a sympathetic ear listening to quite a few women who expressed that having children didn’t live up to the myths, that they felt taken for granted and stuck with all the drudgery and never got any credit for what they did do, that the way their children turned out as adults was disappointing, that they regretted having had children, and felt that doing so ruined their lives.

  • craftingchange

    Arex,

    I’ve been doing clinic work for over 5 years, and have over the course of that time engaged with those protesting outside. I’m sorry if my lived experience is not meshing with yours, but that is how life works. What you feel is peaceful prayer, I have experienced as bullying. Beyond prayer I have been told that I am: unloveable, bound for hell, an angel of satan, fat, probably mentally retarded. I have been hit on the head with a pad of paper while the ‘not a protestor’ yelled ‘I am not touching you.’

    But back to ‘be a man’… for those in heterosexual relationships, I would think that respect, and support from their partner is what they want, not a guy to storm into a doctor’s office and ‘drag her out’ which is what I hear weekly advocated outside my clinic. That kind of disrespect hurts a relationship, and that gender binary view of male-ness as macho and forceful helps no one.

  • crowepps

    The New Abortion Providers

     

    … After I watched Godfrey coach one of the residents she trains through a surgical abortion for a 22-year-old college student who was six weeks pregnant, we went to the clinic’s utility room. The resident floated the pregnancy tissue in a glass dish of water, for a routine check. Amid the uterine tissue was a gestational sac about the size of a dime surrounded by millimeters-long white villi, the fronds that later help form the placenta. …

     

    It has long been an abortion-rights selling point that almost 90 percent of the abortions in the U.S. are performed before 12 weeks; in addition, four years ago, the proportion of procedures performed before 9 weeks reached 62 percent.

     

    http://www.nytimes.com/2010/07/18/magazine/18abortion-t.html?pagewanted=1&_r=2&partner=rss&emc=rss

  • ljdavid56

    in Northern VA I’ve seen the first 3 types at the clinic but not the 4th.  I’ve also been called a “fucking babykiller” by those “nice” people.  I have chatted briefly with one protester only when the topic of conversation was not about what we were both there for because I know we will NOT change each other’s minds.  I’m also amused that these people think that everyone coming to the building is there to have an abortion, like there aren’t dentists, accountants, and a driving school or any other businessesl in the same building.

  • crowepps

    I’m also amused that these people think that everyone coming to the building is there to have an abortion, like there aren’t dentists, accountants, and a driving school or any other businessesl in the same building.

    The purpose of harassing and annoying everyone coming into the building is to get all of those other businesses to complain to the landlord about their clientele being annoyed and hopefully get the landlord to eject the clinic as ‘causing controversy’ – i.e., attracting whackos who harass and annoy.

     

    Personally, I would be as unwilling to ‘chat’ with anybody whose behavior in protesting demonstrated they were unable to behave with civil propriety as I would be to have a ‘chat’ with any other person who thinks their ’cause’ gives them the right to annoy and harass people.  Everyone has the right to their own opinion — no one has the right to inflict it on strangers going about their lawful public business.

  • julie-watkins

    Most of the time life goes better for me if I react as if there’s a good reason why someone did something that annoys me. Often enough, I misunderstood something and not jumping to [wrong] conclusions was the right thing to do. (& I look smarter than I actually am.) However, people who continue with the same “misunderstanding” after being corrected time & time again get bad reputations … and only make their bad reputations worse by pretending they made an honest mistake.

  • crowepps

    I am really tired of people taking over the public space for a demonstration on behalf of their One Big Idea who insist the ‘audience’ around them has to engage with them, and those who insist they get to interject themselves into the private decisions of others, as well as those who knock on my door to ‘bring me the Word’ because they know I’m not already a member of their church.

     

    My time is valuable to me and at my age I have a finite amount left — I get resentful of it being wasted by people who want me to play bit parts in their All About Me productions.