I work full-time, have three children still living at home with very active schedules, and am currently training for my second marathon. But most Saturday mornings you will find me standing in the street outside of my local Planned Parenthood proudly wearing a pink vest. Why would I spend some of what few free hours I have volunteering as a clinic escort and willingly subjecting myself to the verbal abuse inflicted by fanatical pro-life protestors? Because the patients who utilize Planned Parenthood for their medical needs don’t get that choice.
Every year, I go to my OB-GYN for my annual exam which includes a screening for cervical cancer. Strangers don’t shout at me as I walk in. There are not posters with graphic images plastered all over the parking lot. No one tries to intimidate me by writing down my license plate number. I’m guessing none of this happens to most of you either. Yet this is what the women who rely on Planned Parenthood for this necessary health service have to endure.
Abortions are only 3% of the services that Planned Parenthood provides. They also offer birth control, STD screenings, Pap smears, breast exams as well as regular gynecological care. All are available at low cost to both men and women. As important as I believe the right to choose is, we can’t let the noise surrounding that one issue detract from the importance of the rest of the work that Planned Parenthood does. Everyone deserves the right to medical care without harassment. The least I can do is help facilitate that.
Pulling into their parking lot for orientation the first time was scary and confusing for me. I was not prepared for the protestors or the signs (which was dumb since I was going there to be an escort for that reason). Seeing the bright pink vests and the calm smiling faces of the volunteers reassured me. I can only imagine what it does for the patients.
Numerous studies have shown that reduction in abortion rates are linked to increased access to contraception. None have shown that it’s due to a man screaming “baby killer” at women as they walk into a clinic. I see no “lives” being saved by protestors. I see visibly upset people being literally chased down and yelled at. I’ve seen a pedestrian walking down the street stopping to take in the signs burst into tears after being told she’s standing next to a baby-killing factory. I saw another bystander break two of those signs in half and then get in his car and drive off. I’ve witnessed protestors trying to instigate the police officers and volunteers working at the clinic into a confrontation. I’ve watched a mother line her seven children up against the wall and have them stand for hours on end reciting the rosary while they hold handmade signs saying things like, “Mommy save me” and “RU-486 = dead babies in the toilet.”
I’ve been cursed to eternal damnation, doused with “holy water,” and told that the hate inside of me will soon come bubbling out and run like blood into the streets. I’ve heard the doctor who works there referred to as being as bad as someone who worked at Auschwitz. None of these things stop abortion. All they do is add stress to an already stressful day.
I’ve also seen the visible relief on patients’ faces when they are greeted by an escort in the parking lot. I’ve been tearfully thanked by many on their way out the door. There are honks of support from cars driving by and strangers who shout out “thanks for being an escort” as they pass by on the street. On cold days, people bring by coffee, and on other days, people bring by treats. There is no better feeling for me than to watch a phalanx of pink-vested people instinctively falling into formation and moving a patient through the protestors into the front door of the clinic. For every awful thing I hear and see, being able to make that walk just a little easier for even one person is well worth it.
Planned Parenthood was there for me when I was a teenager and needed birth control. They were there for me when at 18 and just a few months out of high school, I discovered that birth control had failed. They were there for me when I decided to continue with my pregnancy, and they were there for my friend when she chose not to continue hers. I want Planned Parenthood to be there for my 14-year-old daughter and her friends when and if they need them.
Until the time comes when I can be sure that no one’s daughter, sister, mother, brother, or friend has to walk into the doors of Planned Parenthood without anything but a “Hello, welcome to our clinic” to greet them, you will find me in my pink vest, smiling and waiting to escort you in.