When the leaked draft of the Supreme Court’s impending decision on Roe v. Wade came out last week, one of my first thoughts was: I’ve got to get to the clinic. Since early last fall, I’ve volunteered as an escort at my local abortion clinic in North Carolina, helping patients and their companions make it through the front doors without getting stopped and harassed by the anti-abortion protesters that congregate daily outside.
It’s never been the easiest work; despite our best efforts, the “antis,” as we call them, will do anything to get patients to change their minds. They shout hateful words in their faces and even stop cars before they make it into the driveway. But I suspected that the Roe v. Wade draft decision would add terrifying fuel to the protesters’ fires, inspiring them to increase their numbers, double down on their intimidation and become generally more brazen in their tactics.
And unfortunately, I was right.
On Tuesday, May 3 — the morning after the Supreme Court leak — the escorts on duty told our group chat that in addition to there being many more protesters present than normal (several dozen versus six or seven), one “anti” broke North Carolina law to trespass onto clinic property — twice. The trespasser’s apparent goal was to speak to patients already safely inside. (She apparently insisted that she only wanted to give them treats and gift cards. Unlikely.) Police were called, and the woman was given a citation; but it marked an ominous start to the week ahead.
Thursday and Friday (the clinic isn’t open on Wednesdays) also saw larger numbers of protesters than usual, including a distressing amount of young children accompanying their parents and echoing their often factually incorrect and hateful speech. In addition to the routine condemnations that we escorts are “supporters of murder” and “participants in Black genocide” (due to the false yet widely shared belief among anti-abortion advocates that Black women abort pregnancies far more frequently than white women), the protesters accused us of “salivating over dead babies” and bemoaned that we weren’t aborted ourselves. They were cruel and insistent. And, as always but with notably less subtlety than usual, some of them recorded us on video and wrote down patients’ license plate numbers, an unsettling but unfortunately legal act.
I didn’t volunteer on Saturday — the start of Mother’s Day weekend — but those who did reported seeing over 160 protesters, possibly a record for the clinic. As noted by several escorts over text, a few of these “antis” came so close to both escorts and patients, shouting at them from merely a foot away, that police were nearly called again. One protester, furious that an escort was standing protectively between her and a patient, almost chest-bumped her in frustration. Dozens of other protesters spread out around all edges of the street, aiming to stop cars en route to the clinic and reroute them to the “pregnancy crisis center” down the street — one of many places that claim to provide abortion care but in reality have noted anti-abortion agendas.
Most days, my fellow escorts and I are successful in preventing patients from being misled and redirected by protesters, holding signs that instruct cars to keep their windows up and urging them to pull safely into the clinic lot. Yet with so many more antagonists than usual on the scene last weekend, it was impossible for the escorts to get to every patient before a protester did. As a result, it appeared that at least one woman skipped her appointment, escorts wrote in our group chat, and several others walked into the clinic tearful and visibly shaken by the protesters’ actions.
As the countdown to the Supreme Court’s official decision on Roe v. Wade gets closer, things at the clinic — and at clinics across America — will likely only grow more chaotic. It will be hard for us escorts to not feel defeated every time we arrive to find five protesters present for every one of us, or every time we spot yet another 6-year-old joining the fray with a sign spouting some incorrect and harmful anti-abortion “fact.” And although it is the clinic’s escort policy that we don’t engage with protesters ourselves or respond to their claims — no matter how dangerous and absurd they may be — I assume it will become harder than ever to resist responding as their statements grow increasingly forceful and targeted.
At the same time, though, anti-abortion protesters aren’t the only ones coming out in droves following the leak. Since last week, dozens of new volunteers have reached out to our escort lead, ranging from college students galvanized by the decision, to older men and women — some of whom have told us that they once marched for causes like the ERA in the ‘70s — wanting to spend their retirement fighting back. Some who aren’t able to volunteer have expressed their support in other ways, with multiple strangers driving past the clinic stopping to thank us for being there; one man on Thursday even provided Starbucks gift cards to escorts out of appreciation (the escort in turn gave them to the deserving clinic staff.)
It’s gratifying to see these changes, and I hope that in the days ahead, more and more people get involved with the battle for abortion access, whether as clinic escorts, community organizers or even just financial donors. The anti-abortion movement may be emboldened by the court’s decision, but so are we — and it’s our responsibility to help the hundreds of thousands of women who need abortions each year get the care and support they deserve inside and outside the clinic walls.