In case you haven’t heard the news, our own Lynne Schmidt has been invited to give a speech along side ProChoice activists, supports, and the President of Planned Parenthood. We would love nothing more than if you could come out to Portland on August 27th at 4pm and join in supporting:
This evening, Portland City Counsel met to discuss whether or not to repeal the 39ft “buffer zone” or patient safety zone around Planned Parenthood that was enacted only a few months ago. This area created a safe space for patients receiving care to enter the building without harassment or intimidation tactics.
A motion was passed to expedite the process (taking only one hearing, one week, rather than two). Men and women from the public spoke in support of the patient safety zone, asking the counsel members to not repeal the zone. However, after several people spoke, public comment was closed and the counsel members had a discussion. Many counsel members address that in November, when the zone was first put in place, it was passed unanimously. Since that time, they reported that they have been taken to court over the ordinance. With the recent SCOTUS decision, striking down the 35 ft zones in Massachusetts, many of the counsel members felt like at this point, taking away Portland, Maine’s was the only thing to do.
Each member that voted to repeal the zone reported that they did so “reluctantly.” The only member to vote in favor of keeping the zone intact was Counselor Jill Duson.
All of the counselors addressed the concerns of many of the people in the gallery, stating that by September they hope to have a new ordinance to help keep those entering the clinic safe and free of fear.
It was sunny the day my friend drove me past the Planned Parenthood clinic in Virginia. It wasn’t even 9:00am yet, and there were protesters lining the sidewalk. They held signs, there were men and women, and worst of all, they were there to tell me I was making a huge mistake. My stomach turned just looking at them.
“Hey,” my friend said snapping me out of my inner turmoil. “Let’s go get something to drink.”
Because I was having a surgical abortion, I hadn’t had anything to eat (okay, let’s be honest, I snuck some candy on the drive up) in several hours, and I was only allowed to have clear liquids. We sat at a diner while she sipped coffee, and I drank iced water. No matter how warm it was outside, I couldn’t stop shaking.
When we returned to the clinic, the protesters had gathered in numbers. “Are you ready?” my friend asked. I couldn’t talk anymore, so I just nodded my head and stepped out of the car. We approached the doors that had signs saying, “Please don’t interact with the protesters,” and I pushed a button. Somewhere, I registered the fact someone was shouting. I assumed it was to traffic, telling the cars passing by of the atrocities that happen inside the building.
Instead, my friend put her arm around me, protectively and said, “Don’t listen to them, Sweetie.”
And then it hit me like a baseball bat to the face. They were screaming at me. Finally I could hear their words, “We know you’re scared, but you don’t have to do this!”
(A bit later)
After the procedure, I was groggy from sedation, and sitting in the recovery room. I can’t remember if it was me, or one of the women beside me, but someone asked the nurse taking care of us if she was ever afraid to go to work.
Her face went very still and she answered, “Yes, sometimes the protesters can be very mean.” I was still too sedated to remember what else was said. I do remember feeling upset because here was a woman helping me, who is afraid to come to her job, to help people like me, and yet was still there on that day.
Some time later, my friend had to pick me up from the back door and we left the clinic. As we drove away, I could see that even more protesters had gathered, and they still held signs. It was the first time I’d ever felt real hatred toward people I didn’t know. Yes, I was afraid. I’d never been pregnant before. I’d never had an abortion before. I’d also never been left by the guy who got me pregnant, was awaiting being evicted from my house, a knee surgery, and a plethora of other complications. I was scared out of my mind, that the protesters were right about. But I did need to have my abortion because for me, my abortion meant life, or my pregnancy meant death by my own hand.
Since my abortion, I’ve become an activist attempting to spread some grey area into the world of the black and white abortion debate. I’ve been to ProLife and ProChoice rallys. I’ve been to writing conferences talking about my abortion. And I’ve also been to counter protests outside of Planned Parenthood in Portland, Maine holding signs that say, “We support you!” and “I had an abortion.”
My friends and I were met with hostility. A man forcing pamphlets into our hands about “willful ignorance” insulted us. There was a sickening, almost tangible element of fear in the air, not only for the women entering the clinic, but the workers, the clinic escorts, and my friends…it felt like any second the world would explode. People drove by screaming at the protesters, “You’re fucking disgusting!” A man on a bicycle rode by chastising them. It was oppressive, and yet they still yelled at my friends and I, asking why we were “scared” of them. When we left, we were followed to our car.
Now, the Supreme Court has voted against the buffer zone in Massachusetts, which may or may not set the precedent for the remaining states in America. Earlier this year, Portland, Maine enacted a patient safety zone of 39 ft. We’ve heard many positive stories since the buffer zone had been enacted. Planned Parenthood of New England (PPNE) stated in a press release, “What is different since the buffer zone has been enacted is that we no longer see the sort of harassment and intimidation we saw previously. The atmosphere outside of our health center is one of peaceful coexistence – which balances the right to privacy with free speech rights.”
In light of the recent decision to strike down the Massachusetts buffer zone, PPNE stated, “The U.S. Supreme Court Justices’ decision today to strike down the buffer zone law shows a disregard for the safety of patients and staff entering reproductive health centers and we are disappointed by their decision to strike down the Massachusetts law.”
The Education and Outreach Coordinator at the Mabel Wadsworth Women’s Health Center in Bangor, Maine, Abbie Strout, said, “I am dissapointed in the Supreme Court for ruling against a buffer zone. We all deserve the right to make a decision about our lives and should be able to access necessary health care services without facing fear and intimidation.”
In regards to a potential added level of danger to the decision, Abbie stated, “I think it is important to acknowledge that we all face a certain level of danger doing this work. It was only 5 years ago when Dr. George Tiller was murdered at his church, he was a well-known abortion provider and hero. Everyday people across the country face fear and intimidation going to work or while accessing medical care. This is unacceptable. At the same time, we are all incredibly lucky that there are women and men who understand how important access to abortion care is and will risk their lives for it.”
The fact of the matter is, when people are allowed to be hostile, to add tension, it becomes an unsafe environment. Not just physically, but emotionally as well. As someone who is a mental health profession, and who has struggled with my own mental health, these “protests” or “clinic counselors” are a danger to any person walking into those clinics.
On May 24, 2014 the #YesAllWomen hashtag started trending on Twitter. It went well into the night hours of the 25th, and into the 26th, and on until the person who initiated it began receiving death threats and asked those participating to shut it down. Women from all over shared stories of violence, harassment, sexual assault, and rape. As I read these, I found how damn similar, too damn similar, many women’s stories were to my own. We were united in this evil thing called Rape Culture. It shed light into areas many people don’t want to see. It gave voice to so many women’s every day experiences.
In response, I made this small questionnaire to continue encouraging that light in the darkness. I asked 5-10 women to volunteer their answers. Here are the first three who responded back. We’ll have another post as people continue responding.
Holly, 31 years old, is a health and sexuality educator living in Ohio. She is a cisgender woman, and spends most of her time working for a non-profit doing health education and volunteers for a rape crisis center.
Marlene, 42 years old, lives in Maine with her husband of 24 years. She works in retail, and loves her dog, Patrick.
Rachel, is a 36 year old cis woman based out of Alexandria, Virginia. She is a bookstore owner.
Here are the questions.
1) What times of day do you feel most threatened?
Holly: It’s hard to say what time of day I feel the most threatened – it used to be in the evening, when it was dark. However, I’ve noticed that light isn’t protection. Overall, mostly at night but really anytime.
Rachel: After dark, generally.
2) What is a specific encounter you’ve had that changed the way you approach going out?
Holly: My freshmen year of high school, some friends and I decided to walk down the street to the drug store to pick up some snacks before theater practice. We didn’t change out of our uniforms and I recall a group that walked past us making some obscene comments (I don’t recall what they were in particular). I do recall one of the guys tried to ask one of us out, and I said that i wasn’t interested. His response was that I’d be lucky to hook up with him. While it wasn’t violence, it bothered me and has tuck with me. I’ve also noticed that I don’t get cat called nearly as much when I’m walking down the street with a male (or a few males).
Rachel: When I was about I was about 8 years old, a man tried to abduct me when I was walking home from school. It wasn’t a very well thought out attempt, and I did get away, but I have been more hyper-aware of my surroundings ever since. All the usual precautions (making sure to stay in a crowd, stay in well-lit areas, watch strangers for warning cues, always have an escape route) are layered over that first lesson.
Going out has generally been pretty safe – I always make sure people know where I am, and my friends and family always look out for each other. I have managed to intimidate my way out of most situations (I am usually not seen as a threat because I’m tiny, so I think at least some of that is surprise, and guys who target me expect an easy mark).
3) What is a specific encounter you’ve experienced (firsthand or secondhand) where you’ve (or a friend) have been targeted online?
Holly: I have two encounters that stick out to me. One is Laci Green – she made a video several years back that had a small portion that was offense. She apologized for it, but apparently it wasn’t enough for some people. Rather than just tell her on Twitter or via email that they were offended and why it was wrong (which I fully support anyone doing), people went all out. Lots of offensive and rude comments to her, plus then people started posting her address and phone number. That I can’t support at all. Another friend has a stalker who seems to really go after her on Twitter. He has made multiple accounts (over 20 last i heard) to try to target her. When I first started following her on Twitter, she warned me that the stalker may try to engage me (which he has). I feel so bad that my friend has to be hypervigilant about the stalker (during Twitter chats, I sometimes get messages from her if one of the people involved in the chat is likely to be her stalker). He has much of her personal information, and she has gone to lengths to protect herself (without much help of law enforcement, which is deeply unsettling).
Marlene: My friend has been targeted on her AbortionChat site for sharing her experiences.
Rachel: I have not had too many negative experiences online specifically targeting me. I tend to keep my head down, so any rude or threatening comments are usually one-offs with little follow up. If any of my friends have been targeted online, they have not shared it with me.
4) Do you carry protective means on you? (Protective means=mace, knife, gun, etc) If so, what? How long have you been carrying it?
Holly: I do not carry a gun and very rarely carry a knife. I used to carry pepper spray all the time when I was a bartender (one of the places I worked was not in the best part of town), although I never had to use it. I tend to still carry some form of protection, and hope to never use it. I do dislike feeling like i need to carry something or carry my keys pointing out in my fist.
Marlene: Yes. hand gun 2 years.
Rachel: Occasionally. I used to carry a knife regularly, but I am rarely in places where more than just screaming would be needed in case of threats. If there is a situation where I think there is more of a threat, I will usually just avoid the situation.
I have also taken various martial arts classes, which also helps to feel somewhat safer.
5) Do you receive harassment on a daily basis? If so, can you give an example?
Holly: I wouldn’t say daily but at least a few times a week. At least once a week someone harasses me in person. There’s a lot of sexual comments and often licking of the lips. This past week while pumping gas at the gas station, a man tried to pick me up. He complimented a part of my body, and I thanked him, then he asked if I wanted to go out some time. I said no thank you, and he still persisted. Then I said that I am married, to which he asked if I was sure (I hate that “no” isn’t enough), and I held up my hand with my wedding band. Apparently, that wasn’t enough so he said, “Well, he doesn’t have to know. Does he satisfy you?” I debated just hanging up the pump and leaving without a full tank.
Rachel: Not anymore. This used to be more of a problem. When I was a college student working in Montana, I was harassed often at my job working at the front desk for a hotel (heavy-handed flirting, invitations to come up to rooms, once had a customer grab my hand and kiss it), but I am rarely harassed now.
6) What makes you feel safest?
Holly: Staying at home makes me feel safest, or being in a group.
Marlene: My husband, my dog, and my gun.
Rachel: I feel pretty safe most of the time now, and I attribute it to a variety of factors that play together:
a) I live and work in a city/neighborhood that is adverse to harassment. It is family-oriented, and the tourist trade is not particularly party-like. I travel mostly by car, which cuts down on situations where I would have to deal with harassment.
b) I am white, short, and have a slight frame, with small breasts. It seems to me that I end up less hyper-sexualized, but that may just be my interpretation.
c) I am aggressively friendly and cheerful. I find that being super bubbly cuts down on more personalized harassment (someone asking inappropriate questions, etc). If someone does pursue harassing me, being absolutely nasty is the next defense. Since I am generally in public, there is an audience, so I am in less danger doing this.
7) When are times you feel least safe?
Holly: I feel the least safe when I’m by myself especially if I’m somewhere that I’m not very familiar with the area.
Marlene: When I am home alone at night. But I have my dog and my gun I WILL not be a victim.
Rachel: I do make house visits for book purchasing for work. This is probably when I feel (and am) least safe. I always make sure to let my husband and my store know where I’m going and when, and I follow up with a phone call after each house visit to confirm I am all right.
My husband does travel quite a bit for work, and I do feel less safe with him gone – it always feels safer with another person who can be trusted, I find.
8) Have you ever had to alter your transportation plans due to fear or harassment? What happened?
Holly: Once an ex of mine started following me (his car had some unique damage and a personalized license plate). I didn’t want to go back to where I was living, since I was trying to not let him know where I was living (he had been known to show up at work places). I took a different route and stopped at a friend’s house, and saw him drive past. He knew that friend so I hoped he wouldn’t stop.
Rachel: I can’t remember this ever happening, other than the abduction attempt as a child. We did arrange for me to get rides home for awhile, or walking home with friends or neighbors. Eventually I went back to walking to and from school.
9) How many women do you personally know that have been targeted by either online or in person harassment?
Holly: Too many to count. A lot of my trans* friends have received harassment online recently it seems.
Rachel: All of them? Every single one of my friends growing up had been sexually harassed or abused. I still remember talking to my sister-in-law as an adult, and her saying that no one had ever been sexually inappropriate with her…and then telling me about one of her foster fathers trying to climb into bed with her as a 15-yr-old. She didn’t consider that abuse because she told him to get out and he didn’t rape her. Low bar!
All of my sisters-in-law have told me stories of harassment. Literally every single friend in grade school, junior high, and high school has told me stories. I am just thankful that I deal with so much less of it now as an adult in my 30s.
10) What do you do for self care when you feel threatened, upset, or overwhelmed?
Holly: I need to get better at self care, but I watch a movie that makes me happy (Labyrinth, Heathers, Terminator, etc) and play with my two dogs. If I’m at home, I will sometimes get a bit hyper-vigilant and make sure everything is locked and keep a close eye on the street if my dogs are outside. I also tend to eat comfort food, which is sometimes not the healthiest, although I’ve been trying to keep fruit around. I call up friends and if I’m feeling rather threatened I will take my dogs to one of my best friend’s house and hang out for a bit. I also typically will cry if I’m alone or with my best friend.
Marlene: I have never felt threatened but when I am upset or overwhelmed I have an ice cream, pet my dog, cry, masturbate, play in my garden.
Rachel: Take a bath, read a book, listen to music. Tackle a craft project. Talk with family.
When people ask what I do and I tell them that I do a lot of work in the field of eating disorders, pretty much without fail, I only ever get two types of responses. Half of the people tell me that they or their daughter or their brother or their friend had an eating disorder at some point and they thank me for the work that I do. The other half become very uncomfortable and usually try to make some kind of joke, oftentimes along the lines of “haha, you mean you work with people that are fat like me?” or “maybe you could help me out, I need to lose some weight.”
While one of these responses is much easier for me to react to (hint: it’s the first one), I can’t help but think about how neither of them are particularly great things to hear. The second response, of course, is steeped in ignorance and stigma. And the first response, while it’s wonderful to be able to connect with people who can speak so openly about struggles and know that I’m making an impact, means that so many people know someone suffering from an eating disorder.
I do the work that I do because eating disorders don’t discriminate. They can impact people of any race, gender, age, class, or body size. I do this work because approximately 24-27 million men and women in the United States are struggling with an eating disorder. And on college campuses, like the one that I’ve called home for the last four years, those numbers are even higher. About 18-19% of college students are struggling with an eating disorder. That means that at UNC Chapel Hill, the school I attend, this beautiful tar heel blue piece of heaven, around 3,200 of my peers (there’s about 18,000 of us) might really be suffering. Many of them in I’ve seen so many people that I know lose themselves to eating disorders. I’ve seen the way these disorders can take over every aspect of life and wreak havoc not only on the body, but on the mind, the personality, the social life, the academic career, the happiness, of so many people that I love. But more importantly, I’ve seen recovery. Through my work, I have met some of the strongest people that I know, warriors and fighters. I have seen people grow and evolve in recovery. I’ve seen them take an awful situation and turn it into a moment of opportunity and learning. And I have seen that the health and happiness once lost can be reclaimed.
This is why I choose to spend my time fighting stigma and raising awareness about eating disorders. While at UNC Chapel Hill, I helped create Embody Carolina, a training program that teaches students how to effectively and compassionately support those with eating disorders. I’ve conducted research on pro-anorexia websites. I’ve smashed scales and lobbied congress and supported friends that needed help. And I will continue doing the work that I do until it’s no longer needed.
Savannah King is a senior Women’s and Gender Studies major at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She enjoys drinking tea, practicing yoga, and painting. Savannah will be attending Boston College next year to pursue a Master’s of Social Work and hopes to continue working within the field of eating disorder treatment and research.
Almost a year ago, I took up the idea of protesting Crisis Pregnancy Centers because, well, they scare me. I’ve heard stories of women being shamed as they come to utilize their “Free Pregnancy Tests” and stories about women who at the abortion clinic, didn’t want one, so a good doctor reached out to a near CPC who stated, “Well, what do you want me to do about it?”
So last year I gathered friends and we car pooled to a Crisis Pregnancy Center. We held signs saying, “We support choice!” and “Come talk to us!” among others. We talked about abortion, -my- abortion. We talked about laws, and old men shaming women at clinics. But we talked in an environment which made us comfortable, and we used the time to spread awareness with each other.
This week, a friend confided in me that she had an abortion this summer. One of the very friends who’d protested Crisis Pregnancy Centers with me. This was her message:
Hey Lynne! I just wanted to say thank you. I had an abortion this summer and the whole time I was terrified, there were men shaming me on the way in but I remembered all the things we had talked about. You had a bigger impact than you can imagine
If you find yourself coming to AbortionChat and wondering what we do, THIS is your answer. We’re not here to cause more confrontation, hatred or fear. We’re here to offer support, no matter the decision. We’re here to spread information, clarify mis-information, and allow you, whoever you are, to make your own decisions about your body, your health, your relationship, and your family.
In other news, we will be taking a small hiatus this month to focus on panel proposals, conferences, and things of the like. Our chats will continue, and we’ll be open to submissions, but the blog will restart in May. Thank you for your patience.
We’re going to do something a little different on the blog this week. Each day, I’m going to post a picture (or two if I feel ambitious) of what people at AWP 14 answered for “I’m Pro__________________ because _________________” Feel free to send us your own pictures (abortionchat at gmail dot com) and we’ll post them either on here, our twitter feed, or ourfacebook page.