I. At the clinic, there is the usual bank of protesters at the curb, holding pictures of white skinned Jesus and white skinned babies, along with large crosses. They’re praying loudly in Spanish and English. It’s a scene. It’s always a scene. The protesters in the front and back, and us, in our orange vests, watching, opening doors. Sometimes people ask us if we get paid to stand there. The protesters refer to us as “Satan.”
II. H is a friend of mine who lives in Los Angeles, where he writes and makes tv shows and escorts at a clinic. We talk about how this week, the Supreme Court is taking up McCullen vs. Coakley, a lawsuit against a 2007 Massachusetts law stating that anti-abortion protesters must remain behind a yellow line painted on the sidewalk, preventing them from interacting with patients and staff entering the clinic. We talk about Occupy LA and Occupy Wall Street, how brigades of police officers followed protesters and journalists everywhere, looking for any excuse to arrest them. H says, “Law enforcement and legal communities are not exactly clamoring to expand the liberties of those protesting against capitalism or racism, but protesters trying to destroy women’s lives is okay. It’s bullshit.”
III. One Saturday, a young man with a hipster beard, wearing corduroys, called to a woman entering the clinic, “You don’t have to do this, you know.” P, another escort, put his body between the young man’s and hers and walked her to the door. Later, the same young man leads a church group from Texas in a truncated version of the exorcism prayer, which I recognize from horror movies.
IV. Sometimes, while we’re watching the protesters, we talk about why we come here, why we do this. P says it’s because he can see the result immediately- the patient needs health care, there’s this obstacle of the protesters, you get the patient to the door, you’ve done something. I say it’s because I’m angry, which is the truth, but also, it’s thicker than anger.
V. Shrinking the buffer zone, or getting rid of it all together, would mean that the young man who did the exorcism, and the folks praying on the curb, and the monks who gather at the back of the clinic and follow people who walk out down the street, could get as close to the patients and the clinic staff and the escorts as they want. This means hands that grab and push pictures of “aborted” fetuses at people who are about to undergo a medical procedure, whether that’s an abortion or a pap smear. (If you’re questioning whether or not this “counts” as an act of intimidation or violence, consider if you would want to be in the same situation. If you would like to find out how you’d feel.) In RH Reality Check’s Legal Wrap, Jessica Mason Pieko wrote, “the underlying question…. Just how much violence against women is constitutionally permissible?”
VI. In the United States, we are not sure about women. We’re suspicious. We’re not sure if women think about things. We’re not sure if they deserve space, or trust, or agency. We’re not sure if women are human.