We had a regular we called “Chuck” who was an old, burly guy with terrible breath. He was incredibly aggressive and would try to shoulder me out of the way to get to patients. He spoke a little Spanish, and so he’d especially go after Spanish-speaking patients. Once he was so aggressive, pushing me with his shoulders and yelling in Spanish at a patient that I had to back off so I didn’t contribute to her fear.
Every time a patient walked down the sidewalk we had to try to get between the anti-choicers and the patients. Technically, the antis couldn’t come within 20 feet of the building, but they did. And even if they hadn’t, bombarding the patients as they walked along the street, getting in front of them as they turned down the path to get to the clinic and holding entire masses in the bushes in front of the clinic were all common practices.
I worked as a clinic escort. Clinic escorts do not provide information to patients. We do not counsel them. We do not protest or carry signs. We are simply there to act as a buffer between them and the aggressive anti-choice protesters. We walk with them to the door of the clinic, we tell them they do not need to listen to the anti-choicers, or to talk to them, but that it’s ok if they want to. We tell them we like their shoes and comment on the weather.
We’re there because even the limited buffer zone laws are ignored by anti-choicers or simply not enough to protect patients from harassment.
And now even this limited protection is being eroded.
“Two weeks after the Supreme Court ruled that Massachusetts’ protective buffer zone around abortion clinics violates the free speech rights of protesters, four other buffer zones around the country have already disappeared or been challenged in court.”
Portland, Maine, repealed its 39-foot buffer zone, and Madison, Wisconsin, and even my adopted hometown of Burlington Vermont have stopped enforcing their buffer zones.
Buffer zones are incredibly important. Anti-choice advocates will tell you they want to peacefully offer information to people entering Planned Parenthood and other healthcare providers, but the reality is that they indiscriminately harass. I’ve seen it happen. I’ve seen teenage girls in tears because they were afraid of the aggressive, shouting men chasing them down the sidewalk as they tried to get inside Planned Parenthood. Antis are creating such a hostile environment that people simply aren’t showing up as much. Huffpo reports that one Planned Parenthood clinic in Massachusetts had more no shows for the week after the ruling than average.
They may seem like a small thing in the face of the more overt attacks on reproductive rights, but buffer zones and safe entrance/exit statutes are essential to reproductive freedom–if you are being harassed, you are less likely to access the health care you need.
For more information on how to become a clinic escort, check out Planned Parenthood’s tumblr.