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Each week our dedicated clinic escorts suit up in our bright orange shirts and face the folks who target our clinic for harassment. Many of our regular anti-choice protesters appear to be harmless as they line the sidewalk praying, but don’t be fooled, standing on either side of the sidewalk and thrusting pamphlets with lies and gruesome imagery into the hands of passersby is a tactic used by anti-choice protesters to intimidate patients. We call it walking the The Gauntlet. These protesters are here week in and week out.

Other times, roving bands of extremist anti-choice protesters stop at our clinic and cause general mayhem for the duration of their action. Both groups of protesters are threatening in their own way and are deserving of our diligent photo documentation of their harmful activities; not all protesters appreciate when we follow them around with our cameras (as demonstrated by the one protester  who complained to us that it was very intimidating to have a stranger following them and that there are laws against stalking and harassment….that happened in real life), but  the traveling protesters actually really like having their picture taken, and we are happy to oblige. Here are a few moving pictures that show pretty clearly how threatening these protesters are.

 

 

WHO: Anyone interested in learning more about how to be a clinic escort.

This will be a great introduction for new volunteers and for current escorts who would like to feel more comfortable with their skills.

WHAT: A training on how to be a clinic escort.

We’ll discuss what to expect and how to act at the clinic, as well as L.A. for Choice’s policies and procedures. We’ll also do some hands-on simulations of situations you may experience. You’ll come out of our training knowing everything you need to be an awesome clinic escort!

WHY: Because the women in our communities have a legal right to access health services without the threat of harassment and intimidation.  

Clinic escorting is an important way to take a peaceful, proactive stance against anti-choice activism that targets providers and patients of women’s health services. L.A. for Choice is dedicated to providing women in Los Angeles with friendly faces, supportive voices and protection from aggressive anti-choice activists. Come join us!

WHEN & WHERE: Sunday, May 27, 2:30 to 4:30 p.m., Echo Park

Please RSVP to la4choice@gmail.com and we’ll give you the address and directions! If transportation is a problem, let us know and we’ll see what we can do!

 

Want more info about L.A. for Choice or just want to keep up with what we’re doing? Bookmark this page and follow us on Twitter and Facebook!

An important short film about clinic escorting, brought to you by Ann Onymous.

“Silenced depicts the grim reality for those who work and volunteer — at abortion clinics. Made by an anonymous filmmaker, Silence was first screened at the Womens Medical Fund Spring Reception on May 21, 2009. The event honored abortion clinic escorts in Southeastern Pennsylvania.

The Women’s Medical Fund (WMF) believes that without access to abortion services, the right to choose is meaningless. WMF provides direct financial assistance and other support to low-income women and girls in Southeastern Pennsylvania who wish to terminate a pregnancy but cannot afford a safe, legal abortion. In the state of Pennsylvania, Medicaid (health insurance for low-income people) generally does not pay for abortion. It may be shocking, but sometimes as little as $25 stands between a woman and her ability to exercise her right to choose.

To learn more about Womens Medical Fund, and the ways in which we are working to ensure access to legal health care for all women, visit us on the web: http://www.womensmedicalfund.org.” — Silenced YouTube page

From Doonesbury to Gaga (sort of), outrage over the violation of women’s rights is finally going mainstream.

For more about this video, go here: We Are Caught in a Bad Romance til we have Women’s Suffrage.

Is this week’s Doonesbury running in your local paper? The Los Angeles Times moved the strip to the OpEd section; see readers reactions. And here’s the roundup of what happened with other papers.  Finally, see what Garry Trudeau thinks of all this controversy, and then email the Center for Reproductive Rights at action@reprorights.org to brag about or report your paper.

Well we’re right in the middle of 40 Days for Life’s annual intimidation campaign and so far, so good. Well, it’s been “good” if you count the fact that we’ve seen a steady increase in clinic escort support (thank you all!), while a fewer number of protesters than expected nevertheless harass our clinic by exploiting their own children with funny signs like “I vote prolife”; using bullhorns to shout at passersby (a tactic we’re pretty sure is illegal); and cheering when people honk at their “Honk if you love Jesus” sign, as if with every honk they have claimed some victory. But who wouldn’t honk for Jesus? I would honk for Jesus. I would also honk for people to get OUT OF THE ROAD I AM DRIVING IN, so it’s entirely possible, likely even, that 50 to 100 percent of those honks were directly related to errant protesters ignoring basic traffic rules and disturbing the peace by stepping in front of oncoming traffic to shove their grotesque homemade social studies project boards onto unsuspecting nice old ladies out for their Saturday drive. FOR SHAME.

While all this fanfare was happening amongst the eight or 10 protesters (never doubt that a few people can make a lot of noise), our 17 clinic escorts quietly lined the sidewalk near our clinic, occasionally ushering a patient past the protesters or helping patients or pedestrians understand they are not obligated to engage with the hatemongers, but mostly, we stood by, observed and didn’t draw a lot of attention to ourselves.

Which brings me to this week’s blog topic: The difference between protesting or demonstrating and being a clinic escort. Last week a young fella walked through what has come to be known as “the gauntlet” at our clinic, just looking, reading signs, being a generally curious young fella. He engaged the anti-choice protesters for several minutes in what looked like a healthy exchange of ideas before moving on. This happens occasionally. We are more or less in favor of this if A) the generally curious young person is clearly not a patient seeking health services at our clinic, and B) if this healthy exchange of ideas takes up several minutes of valuable harassment time of say, three to four protesters at once. However, this time, this generally curious young fella moved from the protesters to our clinic escorts to begin his targeted “What’s your position?” questioning. We are more or less not in favor of this if it A) distracts our attention in any way from our role as clinic escorts, which is our sole reason for being there, or B) no, that’s it, just A. (We encourage generally curious young people to stay curious, though. And if you are generally curious about becoming a clinic escort, we will begin offering trainings soon and you can ask all the questions you want and WE WILL ANSWER THEM.)

At L.A. for Choice, our role as clinic escorts is pretty simple. We are there to accompany clients who need to pass by protesters to reach the clinic and make sure their access is not hindered. We are not there to counter-protest, carry signs or engage in debate. To keep these boundaries clear and to make our efforts effective for the women we support, we clearly identify ourselves as clinic escorts; we coordinate with clinic management, property owners and local law enforcement to ensure property boundaries, parking and trespass laws are understood and enforced; and we do it all with a good attitude, because which would you rather look at when you’re walking the angry gauntlet of anti-choice ne’er-do-wells?

This?

Or this?

Lastly, women’s health news continues to dominate headlines–from the all-male House panel on birth control, to Rush Limbaugh using vile language and rhetoric against a women’s health advocate, to one of Rick Santorum’s advisors suggesting that women just put aspirin between their knees–making it almost impossible to narrow down which news is the most egregious/pertinent/important/cannot miss, but we’ll try:

  • What happened in Virginia is happening in your state, too.  Women face all kinds of restrictions and violations in accessing abortion care all across America, and although the transvaginal portion of the Virginia bill was dropped, the bill hasn’t been dismantled and may go through with the other provisions intact. And even if it doesn’t, seven states still require medically unnecessary ultrasounds prior to abortion care.
  • The My Health Is Not Up For Debate campaign is being driven by the National Women’s Law Center as a response to all the recent anti-abortion legislation. While much of the current public debate focuses on contraception, this campaign comes out very strongly in favor of abortion and abortion access. Check it out.
  • The study linking abortion to mental health issues is found to be false? What? You don’t say.

Happy International Women’s Day tomorrow, March 8, and National Day of Appreciation for Abortion Providers on Saturday, March 10! And as always, be safe out there.

L.A. for Choice is joining with other reproductive justice activists and bloggers today to participate in Blogging for Reproductive Rights Day. After what seems like an alarming barrage of assaults on women’s health and reproductive rights lately, we believe it is necessary to take this opportunity to say thank you to all our leaders who are fighting an uphill battle to salvage what rights we have left; to encourage leaders, activists, voters, religious leaders, teachers, public servants, women, men, moms, dads, sisters and brothers to talk to each other about the importance of reproductive freedom and to keep fighting the good fight  for the women in your communities and in your lives; to implore supporters of women’s health and reproductive rights to contact  your congresspeople and make your voices heard; and to demand that leaders who are trampling on our rights to stop that right now!

In the (unlikely) event you’ve missed any of this news, here’s a quick run-down on a couple of kind of major things that happened recently:

Speaking of situations we’re monitoring, 40 Days for Life’s annual Spring Campaign is upon us. It begins February 22 and our local anti-choice harassers do intend to target our clinic this year. If you would like to join us to help women access safe medical care, please email la4choice@gmail.com and we’ll get you set up. Happy Blogging for Reproductive Rights Day, and as always, be safe out there.

Last Saturday morning, the clinic escorts of L.A. for Choice arrived early at the clinic we support to prepare for the Survivors of the Abortion Holocaust’s annual campaign of heightened and targeted harassment, which they promote as the “Christmas Caroling Project.” L.A. for Choice organizers actively monitor local anti-choice websites, so we knew that this anti-choice group, which has a history of promoting aggressive and illegal intimidation tactics, would be joining the regular group of anti-choice protesters the women at our clinic face every week.

In past years the Survivors of the Abortion Holocaust’s caroling event has meant trespassing on private property, filling clinics with dozens of protesters, screaming at and surrounding patients, and physically blocking patients from accessing services, all while singing Christmas carols. They leave only when the police arrive ready to arrest them.

This year the clinic escorts of L.A. for Choice were expecting them. Having been warned about this group’s aggression and disregard for the law, several LAPD officers arrived to check in with us and the clinic, and they stayed on-site or nearby all morning.

Soon after the clinic escorts and police gathered, it became clear that the Survivors of Abortion Holocaust were assembling at a Catholic church across the street. The group sent advance teams to assess the clinic’s vulnerability. Our experienced clinic escorts, in place and alert, identified these teams easily despite the protesters attempts to give the appearance of “non-threatening” nonchalance.

The man in this photo posed as a restaurant patron while he slyly scoped out the clinic.

The Survivors of the Abortion Holocaust then left the church in a line of white passenger vans to begin their campaign of harassment at other area clinics, which unfortunately do not have clinic escort support.

Survivors of the Abortion Holocaust is just one of the groups targeting this clinic, so while they went off to invade a different clinic (tweeting about their illegal activities all the while), L.A. for Choice clinic escorts stayed on-site to protect women from the regular group of anti-choice provocateurs that flank the sidewalks of the clinic and distribute bloody fetus pictures to passersby.

Some protesters avoid direct confrontation and instead pray for clinic escorts' souls. Thanks, guys!

The regular group of weekly protesters line the sidewalks, intimidating clinic workers, patients and local business patrons.

Our regular protesters employ a variety of intimidation tactics, including the exploitation of their own children.

Around 12:30 p.m., as anticipated, the Survivors of the Abortion Holocaust returned. The large group of anti-choice protesters—led by group organizers Jeff White and Cheryl Conrad but made up of mostly young people and children—walked over the property line (their legal boundary) and toward the clinic, congregating in the alcove in front of the building. The clinic staff locked their doors and our clinic escorts lined up along the doors, between the protesters and the clinic.

Anti-choice carolers surround the clinic while clinic escorts block the door.

Then they sang. While they sang, Jeff White—group organizer and repeat offender of trespassing, harassment, and vigilantism, for which he has served multiple jail terms—videotaped clinic escorts and was visibly aggravated after being questioned by police. The group’s other organizer, Cheryl Conrad, was reluctant to give the group’s full name to the officer who asked her for it, calling it only “The Survivors,” until a nearby clinic escort prompted her to speak the rest of the name aloud.

Jeff White and Cheryl Conrad talk to police while other protesters look on.

The hostile group bearing down on the clinic with their joyless singing and gift bags that read “Baby!” was disturbing, but their real malice presented itself when a patient and her companion walked toward the clinic entrance. Their song abruptly abandoned, the “carolers” broke ranks and rushed the patient en masse, many of them screaming but most focused on physically obstructing her from any movement. Clinic escorts blocked this terrifying display of intimidation by promptly surrounding the patient and walking with her to the doors, which the clinic staff quickly unlocked to allow her and her companion inside.

The Survivors of the Abortion Holocaust’s carolers retreated and returned to their song with glares and an even more menacing attitude. Then one of the carolers approached a clinic escort with the gift bags intended for the clinic staff, and said, “Don’t worry; it’s not a bomb.” The caroler stopped urging the clinic escort to take the bags only after she requested several times that the caroler leave her alone, disregard of which is grounds for arrest for harassment.

This caroler claims her "gifts" are not bombs. That's creepy and in poor taste, caroler.

Then the protesters departed.

Local, state and federal law protects freedom of access to clinic entrances, but enforcement is generally left up to the discretion of each officer. The police, who had observed the situation but did not intervene, watched them go. We look forward to continuing our dialogue with LAPD about the importance of their presence as well as enforcement of laws that protect women from harassment.

We celebrated with a victory brunch. It is hard to feel victorious after bearing witness to protesters’ intimidation of patients and harassment of clinic workers and clinic escorts, but we know if we hadn’t been there to protect the clinic and its patients, it would have been far worse. Ultimately, we did everything we could to ensure that patients had safe, peaceful access to reproductive health care. That’s our mission, and we succeeded. Brunch was well-deserved and much enjoyed.

We hope you’ll consider joining us at L.A. for Choice. Email la4choice@gmail.com for information about how you can help protect the women in your community. Happy Christmahanakwanzika, and be safe out there.