A message from one of CDSA’s 2018 Bowletariats bowlers, Laura Colaneri:
March 10 was National Abortion Provider Appreciation Day. Doctors and nurses that provide abortion often do so under not just pressure and stigma, but threat of violence from anti-choice extremists. Their courage and dedication to providing necessary healthcare puts me in awe. I honor of that, I thought I’d tell a story from my days clinic escorting at the Troy Planned Parenthood.
This event perfectly encapsulated the moment when I knew activism was important to me. It was a cold morning after a snowstorm, and there were more protesters out than usual. The sidewalks had been cleaned, but the piles of snow made accessing the sidewalk from the street difficult: there was only a narrow path that people could walk through. Usually our protesters were low-key, and would remain on the opposite side of the street to pray at a distance, but that day one protester I had never seen before, a tall, long-haired (and creepy-looking) man in his thirties positioned himself in the middle of the narrow pathway, so that anyone who wanted to go to the clinic from the street would be forced to squeeze past him, giving him a chance to intimidate them into a conversation or into accepting a pamphlet from him. The presumption of physically forcing someone–women who were inevitably much smaller than him–to engage with him struck me as a particularly odious way to frighten, intimidate, and harass.
When I saw a woman in her twenties approaching, and saw that he refused to move out of her way and was going to make her awkwardly squeeze past him, I put my body in between them and told her, “You don’t have to take that pamphlet from him.” My physical intervention, just my body moving in between their bodies was enough to make him back off a bit so that she could pass. Maybe it was my bright orange escort vest, or just being outnumbered or stood up to at all. Whatever it was, when challenged even just a bit, his intimidation fell apart.
The woman came out of the clinic just as the protesters were leaving, and this guy was gone. She thanked me: “I appreciate you doing that, because if he had started anything with me, I would’ve punched him in the face.” This woman was not a victim who needed my protection–I’m 100% sure she could have handled this guy on her own. Women can and will take care of themselves, even when they’re put into frightening situations. But my presence was able to deescalate the situation so that she didn’t have to, so that she could focus on getting healthcare. Being a clinic escort, for me, was about standing with women and other people who need access to stigmatized reproductive healthcare, in solidarity with their own strength. I think about that a lot now, and how that can apply to other organizing.
Making abortion inaccessible and prohibitively expensive is another way anti-choice extremists have gone on the attack to intimidate and harass women and other people who need to access reproductive care, in addition to their healthcare providers. It’s key to stand in solidarity with those who have the agency and strength to make their own healthcare decisions, but not always the means. If you’re able to donate a few dollars to help women in the Midwest access abortion, please donate to the CDSA Bowletariats as we raise money for the Chicago Abortion Fund. You can also join us for a night of beer, dancing and reproductive justice on Saturday, April 14.