You can find this post published at This Week in Blackness. If you aren’t familiar with TWiB, go there. Now. Well, after you’re done here. They have excellent bloggers — like the fantastic Imani Gandy, aka the Angry Black Lady, who posted this piece — and enough original radio/podcasts to keep you busy for approximately forever.
“Women have DIED in there!”
“Abortion is genocide!”
“Jesus doesn’t want you to kill your baby!”
“It’s not too late – we can help you!”
We tune them out, preferring to pretend they’re invisible. It’s understandable; they’re always there. In “big cities,” in rural towns. For us, they are a kind of constant din providing background noise to the work we do everyday. Their signs are ridiculous, their taunts complete lies. Our ability to ignore them makes the work we do possible. We shrug them off because to us they can’t matter.
But they do matter to someone: the patient.
As a clinic escort, I’ve watched the faces of women who aren’t expecting to cross a grotesque picket line to access a legal medical procedure. And why would they? Around 70% of Americans oppose overturning Roe v. Wade and reconstituting the landscape of backalley clinics and wealthy-only access that existed in America for nearly a century.
That landscape is the goal of the forced-birth picketers standing between a woman and her rights at women’s health centers across our country. We know that abortions don’t become unnecessary simply because they are illegal. An estimated 1.2 million abortions were performed annually during prohibition. So, why do the faux-life lie screamers spend their days at clinics rather than doing something useful?
Their real goal is to humiliate women, make abortion dangerous, and drive the desperate into the waiting, deadly exam rooms of “physicians” like Kermit Gosnell.
Clinic picketers, in part, kept Gosnell in business. Many of us waging the repro rights battle suppress our rage and take them for granted; we shouldn’t. Public activists aren’t the only ones being trolled and abortion clinic patients can’t simply hit the “block” button, roll their eyes, and move on.
An AP writer tracked down one of Gosnell’s patients, a woman named Davida Johnson, who had an appointment at the downtown Philly Planned Parenthood where she was met with a solid wall of protesters.
Johnson, then 21, had a 3-year-old daughter when she became pregnant again. She said she first went to Planned Parenthood in downtown Philadelphia but was frightened away by protesters.
“The picketers out there, they just scared me half to death,” Johnson, now 30, recalled this week.
Someone sent her to Gosnell’s West Philadelphia clinic, at the Women’s Medical Society, saying anti-abortion protesters wouldn’t be a problem there.
And so Johnson turned to a butcher masquerading as a doctor.
Her experience was not unique. The Philly Planned Parenthood location that offers abortion services held a “Pledge a Picket” fundraiser this year. Supporters can pledge a dollar amount – usually a dime or a quarter – per picketer over the course of the fundraiser; they allow contributors to set a ceiling in advance as traffic is typically heavy.
High profile clinics like Planned Parenthoods are not the only target of picketers. The brave Illinois doctor who’s services have allowed Dr. Tiller’s Kansas clinic to reopen is under continual threat. Her private practice is bombarded and threats continue from the so-called “Right to Life” groups. Prison walls have not stopped Dr. Tiller’s killer from spouting encouragement to those who seek to harm her and other heroes who go to work every day saving women.
”If 100 abortionists were shot, they [surviving abortionists] would probably go out of business,” said Tiller’s murderer, Scott Roeder. “I think eight have been shot, so we’ve got 92 to go. Maybe she’ll be number nine. I don’t know, but she’s kind of painting a target on her.”
Despite the threats and risks, she stoically refuses to allow their tactics to intimidate her.
Her bravery shouldn’t be necessary. We shouldn’t have to ask her to shoulder such a burden. And we sure as hell shouldn’t ask the women who come to her clinic – to any clinic – to suck it up and stroll past the taunts and the venom and the ridicule.
I think the Philly Planned Parenthood has the right idea. They display a banner for picketers to see:
The mock appreciation, proudly proclaimed diminishes the power of their sidewalk theater. It does not pick a fight or engage them in any way. Instead, it is the advertising equivalent of a well deployed side-eye – something one of my clinics back home in Chicago could use to stare down the 14-foot Guilt Jesus erected by the Pro-Life League. (I’m not kidding, it’s taller than the building.)
As we fight to change the shame narrative surrounding abortion care, we should also strive to turn screaming, lying antis and their Photoshopped placards into the next Westboro Baptist Church.
Over the past decade, Westoboro has gone from gawked at or feared because of their shock tactics, raucous taunting, use of their commuity’s children as props and dedication to their bizarre cause to a complete joke. Their protests are increasingly seen for what they are: a fundraising performance on behalf of a fabricated notion that does little more than inflict unnecessary pain on families by intruding on what should be a private event.
Tell me how their picket line differs from the anti-choice loud mouths at our nation’s women’s clinics.
A majority of this country believes Roe should be upheld and everyone I talk to about my time as a clinic escort can’t believe my services were necessary. Why shouldn’t picketers be the outcasts?
After all, picketers kill women. They should be cast out — and without delay.
As more of us come forward and tell the stories of our unplanned pregnancies and the choices we made, we must have a mind for the woman who cannot be public about her decision. We must consider that not everyone crossing the threshold of a clinic spends her days immersed in feminist writings, bolstered by an online and in-person network of encouraging friends who jump to her defense whenever needed.
On behalf of that woman – the one who didn’t know she would need to summon bravery to keep her appointment – I ask for an addition to our discourse. As clinic escort programs get added in presumed safe havens like New York, we must understand that picketers have gotten bolder. They’re standing on victories at the state-level and a political climate that produced candidates for national office who discussed when rape can be considered legitimate.
Dedicated, exhausted, thinly stretched badasses at publications continually quoted and linked to on this site and others are knocking down those victories as fast as they can. While they battle the stepping-stones that make picketers feel taller than they are, let’s knock as many as we can down off their pedestals.
Don’t avert your eyes when you see them. Instead, cross the line and shake the hands of the brave men and women wearing escort badges and vests. Add a banner to your profile picture, a bumper sticker to your car, a pin to your purse. Picketers think they have an army. We have to show them that their numbers are inflated, overstated and exaggerated. They are not welcome in our communities.
Picketers become relics of a bygone era not when they tire of showing up, but when we tire of lending them legitimacy.
Note: Responses to the majority of the anti-choice comments below (through 6/9/13) can be found at my follow-up piece, Pro-Life Illusions. I am reinstating my comment policy in subsequent posts, but felt that publishing the reactions to these two articles was important in proving how radical the beliefs and language often are with not just PLAL members, but picketers in general. I think you’ll find my descriptions of their behavior was hardly an exaggeration. When you scan through them, imagine having these things yelled at you unexpectedly.
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Categories: Finding My Voice