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.