Sometimes people want to sign up for an escort shift, but hesitate because they don’t know what to expect when they get there. Fair enough! It’s reasonable – sensible, even – to be nervous about the unknown. I’d like to make it a little less intimidating by giving you a brief sketch of a typical Saturday.
Many patients arrive early – before 8am – and most are inside before 1pm. They leave the clinic anytime until 6pm, though most are gone by 2 or 3pm. The clinic’s security guard arrives early as well, and is a friendly and supportive presence for escorts throughout the day.
A few anti-choicers are at the doors of the clinic by 7 or 7:30am. Most of these are “sidewalk counselors”; armed with pamphlets full of untruths and flyers for the local Crisis Pregnancy Center, they pursue and try to dissuade women who are on their way into the clinic. There are usually between five and ten of them. Some of them bring their young children and send them chasing after patients with rosaries or flowers. Several are quite civil with the escorts, while most of the others ignore us. A few are actively hostile, but generally confine their anger to glaring and promising (threatening?) to pray for us.
It’s important to let clients know who you are as you approach – I always smile as I walk toward them, gesture toward my Clinic Escort t-shirt and say loudly, “It’s okay! I’m an escort FOR the clinic. I’m here to walk you inside.” Some clients, having seen the crowd from afar, will assume you’re an anti-choicer and already be prepared to fend you off; it may take them a second to re-adjust. Most of them will thank you when they figure out what you’re doing, though some just want to get inside without talking to anyone at all (and who can blame them?).
As you walk toward the door, you’ll reassure the client that they don’t have to talk to anyone or take anything the anti-choicers are pushing at them. If they have already taken some literature out of politeness, you’ll tell them there’s a trash can just inside the door if they don’t want to bring it inside the clinic.
Between 9 and 11am, more anti-choicers show up, some to pray, some to harass. Around 11am, a large prayer group arrives. They bring anti-choice signs and graphic pictures, which they post in front of the clinic entrance. They pray the rosary and loudly sing Ave Maria in awful, tone-deaf concert. They stay for about an hour or an hour and a half, and disperse slowly. Most of them ignore the escorts and patients, but some hand out ugly pamphlets, and one or two are very hostile toward escorts. One man in particular has, in the past, gotten right up in the faces of female escorts in a threatening manner, calling them “godless” and “stupid.” Lately, after being warned by police, he has contented himself with glaring from a short distance away.
You’ll escort women away from the clinic as well. The anti-choicers are a little less aggressive then, but some will chase them with pictures of fetus parts and try to harass them. If a woman has had an abortion that day – remember that not all clients are there for that service – she probably won’t be feeling 100% when she walks out, and that can make her feel more vulnerable.
Do things ever get heated? Yes, occasionally. For the most part, confrontation can be avoided by scrupulous selective deafness on the part of the escort. The anti-choicers will bait and taunt you, questioning your motives, your character, and your intelligence. If you refuse to engage them, they’ll generally give up and resort to muttering prayers.
When they ask me, as they always do, “Why do you do this?” I just think of the grateful faces of the clients I’ve walked with that day, and the hugs I’ve gotten, and I smile.
They hate that.