Archive by Author

“She was on the side of the Lord”- Anti Choice Rhetoric, Religion, and Ownership

19 Feb

This is a guest post by Leigh Sanders. 

One thing volunteering as an escort at a reproductive health clinic has taught me is anti-choice protesters have an exorbitant amount of time to oversee the reproductive lives of their neighbors. Since they believe they are acting on religious orders to participate in this sort of secular voyeurism, they have been willing to physically and emotionally harm those that get in the way of their mission. Therefore, we are trained as clinic escorts to never engage with protesters. I am limited in my intervention to meeting patients at their vehicles and offering to shield them with my big rainbow umbrella from the unholy provocation that loudly follows us to the door. Throughout history women and girls have been subjected to this sort of harassment when they exercise self-determination.

I made the mistake of walking up to a car with two anti-choice  folks this morning and one of the women got out and righteously proclaimed she was “not one of us, because she was on the side of the Lord.” I had to wonder whether the Lord would actually claim her. I mean technically, she is saying the Lord is the kind of guy who would spend his down time shouting, criticizing and frightening the hell out of people. It would seem that the Lord would be busy on the other side of those women’s choices, the side that ensures children never go hungry, employment is plentiful, housing choices affordable and sexual violence eradicated.

So here is what working on the side of the Lord looks like to people who protest at abortion clinics. They stop cars from parking by acting official, as if they might be working for the clinic. When the unsuspecting person rolls down the window, propaganda, void of scientific fact, is shoved inside their car. For instance, the pamphlet uses the picture of a stillborn baby to depict an abortion despite the reality that nearly every single abortion in this country occurs on or before the 8th week. The clinic escort must intercede so the patient can arrive promptly for their scheduled appointment because the protester’s aim is to make them miss their allotted time.

Once the patients proceed to the front door, the protesters start yelling at them about the psychological “trauma” they will suffer afterwards, their impending status as a “baby-killer” and the many “resources” available to them that they are not utilizing. Today, one woman yelled back “Resources? What resources? You mean welfare?”  The male protesters explained they meant the resources that come from “loving Jesus.” There is a less aggressive group of protesters that arrange pictures of Jesus to face the clinic and while holding rosaries sing hymns about hell and damnation. They are the “good” ones because they do not seem motivated to physically harm anyone. Then there are the ones like the woman who specifically addressed her allegiance with the Lord; they greet the incoming cars as if in a funeral procession holding signs that presumptuously proclaim “Your Mother Kept You.”  The protesters surround the clinic until the last patient arrives and then their work is done. It is not known whether Jesus is proud of them for their stamina to harass or disappointed with them for their failure to shame. Either way they will return on Monday, ever seeking the Holy Grail of religious intolerance.

The police do not get called because the protesters are not breaking any laws. Of course, neither are the girls and women who are entering the clinic. Yet, their rights are at the mercy of fanatics who use deception, violence, judgment, intolerance and moral superiority to scar the lives of people they have never met. Because the one thing an anti-women’s health terrorist abhors more than abortion, it is a society that grants women sovereignty over their own bodies.


Same As It Ever Was: The incremental denial of abortion access in Texas

11 Nov

A guest post from Sarah Tuttle, Lilith Fund Board Member. 

The recent HB2 decision by the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals has meant a busy week in abortion access circles in Texas.  Many of us on the ground were unprepared for such swift action.  We were just adjusting to the 20 week ban which had come into effect, and were working to prepare for whatever came next.

Both the summer of action at the Capitol, and the swift motion of the court case, has awoken many people to the cause. We made jokes over the summer about taking a ship to international waters off the Gulf of Mexico where we’d have a doctor available to perform abortions. Joking was one of the only ways to shake the feeling that we were traveling back in time in an unexpectedly cruel way. It has been fantastic to see so many people rally, realizing a right we thought was secured by the Supreme Court was in such a vulnerable position.  For many people it was the first time they stopped to think about the effects that could ripple through the lives of Texans.

I serve on the Lilith Fund board and run our hotline committee. I’ve been with Lilith for a year and a half. And I’m here to remind you of something that I feel is lost, even when we talk with our allies.  Our clients are people. This isn’t just a cause. These are people’s lives, people’s families. Our clients are not just patients, stories, plantiffs, witnesses or data.

Passionate, well-meaning people from all over the country are calling and emailing Lilith to help, to donate,  and we are beyond grateful.  But when we get suggestions that we should start an “Abortion Underground Railroad,” we cringe.  This is not slavery.  This is not the time to appropriate the pain and suffering of generations of African Americans to try and comprehend our own.  Many of our clients our Latina and African American. We refuse to add insult to injury.

People are calling the Lilith Fund to offer rooms and rides to support abortion access.  We’re not the right people to talk to. There are practical support networks slowly growing around Texas to pool these resources.  These networks will be critical in the next few months, especially with the danger of the “Ambulatory Surgical Center” requirements looming in September. We could be down to a handful of clinics, and travel will become an even larger problem.

But the scope of the issue, of people being denied abortion because of lack of resources, this is not new. It is exacerbated by HB2, not created.  In just the last three years, we have been able to raise over $100,000 per year. Last year we provided over $80,000 in direct assistance to people who needed abortions. We do not come even close to meeting the state-wide need for financial assistance.

Even before HB2, Lilith was unable to meet the need of all our callers. We serve a portion of Texas (the rest is served by the Texas Equal Access fund).  Our hotline is open 3 half days a week. Each shift we get between 15-30 calls. We can usually fund less than half of them.  Our funds only cover a fraction of their abortion. For those who are earlier in pregnancy, perhaps we can cover a third of their procedure. For those further along we might only be able to cover a fifth, or a tenth. Our clients mostly get referred to us by clinics. We never even see those unable to reach a clinic.

The Lilith Fund has operated for over a decade. We work with our data to try and best meet our clients needs. We recently saw a dip in our redemption rate (how many clients actually redeemed their financial aid vouchers).  Data analysis revealed what you might have guessed: higher voucher amounts lead to higher redemption rates. Giving higher vouchers means helping fewer people. But obviously an unredeemed voucher implies no help at all.  We raised our voucher amounts.

Even this year, which has been an incredibly good fundraising year (for deeply frustrating reasons), we have nowhere near enough resources to meet the growing need for abortion funding. We talk to our clients to assess what their situation is, what other pressing needs they have. They may have a long way to travel.  They may have children that need looking after.  They may be struggling to get enough hours at work. There is not enough money to cover all their needs. When they call us they are already borrowing from friends, already pawning prized possessions. They are postponing their procedure a few more days till they get that next check, or taking from grocery money for a few weeks running.

When I give clients financial assistance vouchers, I am also giving practical support. My voucher frees up money for other things – maybe it is gas, or childcare. Maybe it is to pay rent.  When I give a client funding for an abortion, I am trusting her to decide what she needs. I am respecting her. As a person.

I understand the urge to give things, to share resources. But I think it is crucial to examine our motivations, especially when we reach out to those in need. One of the biggest indignities of poverty is the loss of choice. Not being able to choose the food you feed your family, not being able to choose the gifts you give your children at Christmas.  When I fund abortion, I hope that one of the things I’m giving is agency.  I respect you to look at your available resources and do what is best.

Our clients are people. They are not just stories, or placeholders, or ways for us to channel our activism. They are people who deserve respect, kindness, agency, and support while they live their lives. This isn’t just a cause, or something they can walk away from or take a break from. This is their life. In this moment, I hope we can provide the support they need.

Building a Racial Justice Movement

20 Aug

By Rinku Sen. Crossposted with permission from Colorlines.

This week, the nation will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom with events in Washington, D.C., and many other cities. A hot summer of race news—Moral Mondays to preserve voting rights in North Carolina, the efforts of the Dream 9 to expose the vagaries of our immigration policy, and those of the Dream Defenders to undo Florida’s Stand Your Ground law—have led many to speculate on whether we are at the start of a new civil rights movement.

We are definitely at the brink of something. I hope that it is a racial justice movement, one that builds on the legacy of civil rights while bringing crucial new elements to our political and social lives. We have a chance to explore fundamental questions like the nature of racism, what to do with the variety of racial hierarchies across the country, and how to craft a vision big enough to hold together communities who are constantly pitted against one another.

Using the racial justice frame allows us to fight off the seductive, corrupt appeal of colorblindness, which currently makes it difficult to talk about even racial diversity, much less the real prize of racial equity. Such language also allows us to move beyond the current limitations in civil rights law to imagine a host of new policies and practices in public and private spaces, while we also upgrade existing civil rights laws at all levels of government. Finally, the modern movement has to be fully multiracial, as multiracial as the country itself. The number and variety of communities of color will continue to grow. If allof our communities stake out ground on race, rather than on a set of proxies, we will more likely be able to stick together when any one of us is accused of race baiting.

The Need for Plain Speech

We cannot solve a problem that no one is willing to name, and the biggest obstacle facing Americans today is that, in the main, we don’t want to talk about race, much less about racism. Our societal silence makes room for inventive new forms of discrimination, while it blocks our efforts to change rules that disadvantage people of color. Unless we say what we mean, we cannot redefine how racism works or drive the debate toward equity.

Americans define racism as individual, overt and intentional. But modern forms of racial discrimination are often unintentional, systemic and hidden. The tropes and images of the civil rights era reinforce the old definition. People taking on new forms constantly look for our own Bull Connor to make the case. We can find these kinds of figures. But there’s inevitably debate about whether they truly hit the Bull Connor standard, as we can see in popular defenses of Sheriff Joe Arpaio and Gov. Rick Scott. Politicians, employers and public administrators have all learned to use codes for the groups they target.

The notion that all racism is intentional and overt is a fundamental building block of the false solution of colorblindness.

The obsession with examining the intentions of individual actors in order to legitimize the existence of racism undermines efforts to achieve justice. This is because the discussion of racism in the U.S. is devoid of any mention of history, power or policy. The person who notices racial disparities in health care, for example, is vilified for so-called race baiting, while someone like Rep. Steve King is virtually unchallenged when he puts up a sign referring to the State Children’s Health Insurance Program as “Socialized, Clintonesque, Hillary Care for Illegals and Their Children.” Hey, he didn’t say Latino illegals, so that’s not racist.

Fifteen years of brain research have revealed that ignoring racial difference is impossible, and that most human beings are unconscious of their biases. Thus getting people to acknowledge and change their biases voluntarily is often very difficult, and if it does happen, is insufficient to address the institutional problem.

Even people who don’t dismiss the need for race talk entirely often have the wrong end goal in mind. They encourage respect for diversity, or multiculturalism. Those are both good things. But neither one is the same thing as justice. It is entirely possible to have a diverse community, city or workplace that is marked by inequity. In restaurants I’ve worked in and observed, the white workers in the dining room get along perfectly well with black and Latino workers confined to the kitchen and dishroom, but they are not in an equitable situation. In being explicit about working on racial justice, our modern movement has a chance to push past the diversity goal and define justice.

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Whose body is it?: On the intersection between eating disorders and reproductive rights

15 Aug

The author of this post wishes to remain anonymous.

Monday morning around 10 am, I walked home from work sick as hell. Nauseous and a fierce case of chills wracked my body, so once home I collapsed on the couch and slept until 4 pm.

I hadn’t eaten in a day and a half.

Before getting up for food, I went to the bathroom. I stepped on the scale and a familiar sense of disgust washed over me. What is the healthiest, least fatty, meal I could consume? And will I be able to keep it down? I need to eat; that was my rational brain talking. An irrational, less coherent feeling told me that my body is disgusting and needs adjustments.
Last month, heroic activists worked tirelessly to stop or at least mitigate anti-abortion legislation that worked its way through state legislatures across the country.

Legislators in Ohio, North Carolina, Virginia, Mississippi, and Texas  attempted to restrict a person’s right to terminate a pregnancy and attached bills anywhere in any way and shoved ’em through. In North Carolina, a motorcycle bill had an abortion law added to it. Another bill (in perhaps the most ironic action ever) banning sharia law had abortion restrictions added to it. And in Texas, the legislature passed laws creating such expensive and unnecessary rules for clinics providing abortion that only 4 will remain in that state- all others are being forced to shut down.

State by state the message is clear: your body is not your own.

I often think of abortion as less of a medical right and more of a human right. Without access to full reproductive choice and justice, one does not have full access to economic equality or bodily autonomy . We can think of this in terms of unequal pay in the work place, discrimination against trans* people within the legal system, and the lack of educational information about contraceptive choices across the country.

In this way I believe that those who attempt to pass laws, over, and over, and over again, each time restricting more and more of our rights, are doing so as an act of violence and control.

They want to control our bodies and they want to control us.

After a binge or a spell of over exercising and under eating I find myself no more in control of my own body than before.

Years ago a school counselor said that girls develop eating disorders because of the overwhelming number of inaccurate depictions of women in magazines. The models are “not natural,” he said. And I think his words follow common wisdom and data on what can contribute to the development of an eating disorder.

What I think is missing though is what is happening with the introduction and passing of these anti-choice bills, that the message of  “you don’t control your body” is being systematically worked into our consciousness.

How damaging is that message? How damaging is it for people to live in a place that allows a majority of cisgender male legislators to control (through restriction of reproductive access) their constituents’ bodies?

I haven’t read any empirical new data on this, and I’m not sure there actually is any at this point. In the coming years, whether these laws are overturned in court or stand pat, the campaigning, the commercials in favor of anti-choice legislation, and all of the negative messages, will likely prove to have had a negative and damaging impact on how we view and love ourselves.

Everyone is fighting a hard battle

15 Jul

A guest post from a writer who wishes to remain anonymous. 

On the 4th of July, walking to the metro to catch a train home, my coworker was hit by a drunk driver. She passed away on Wednesday.

What I mean to say is, over the course of the last week, some drunk asshole killed a young woman who was dedicated, funny, fierce, hard-working, loving, and utterly beloved. I hardly know how to begin to grapple with what has happened. My world and my every day have turned inside out. The most ordinary things can leave me panicking, or gasping for breath, or crying, or just plain sad, or utterly grateful.

“Everyone is fighting a hard battle,” my roommate often says, a reminder that when someone shoves into me at Penn Station and mutters under their breath, or criticizes what I’m eating or wearing, or tells me they would never do a thing I do – “Oh I could never do that…” – in a way that passive-aggressively implies that what I’m doing shouldn’t really be done – in short, when people are rude, and ordinary, and difficult, that we are all struggling internally with so much more than anyone outside of us could ever see. We battle moment by moment with our demons, our experiences, our identities, our heartbreak, our subject-positionality; we spend every day of our lives battling and reconciling our own reality. Everyone is fighting a hard battle. It is so easy to forget.

I thought of it this morning as I made room in my aching chest for the grief I feel over the George Zimmerman verdict in the murder of Trayvon Martin. This verdict sits in some of the space in my mind and heart and body not occupied by my anger at the gutting of the Voting Rights Act, my eagerness over Alison Lundergran Grimes’ nascent campaign to unseat Mitch McConnell, my still-present sadness over the shooting of the children who attended Sandy Hook Elementary School, my rage over the Texas state legislature’s decision to discount the voices of the people their policies will directly impact, my ongoing joy over the defeat of DoMA, and, in this moment above all else, my seemingly infinite heartbreak over the loss of my coworker.

I am allowed to be sad and angry at everyone in the world for not grieving as I am right now. I am allowed to be sad and angry that everyone isn’t feeling my precise feelings, that everyone isn’t preoccupied with the memory of a bright and beautiful young woman, but it won’t do any good. I could be angry that people think the death of a young celebrity is more important than utter lack of justice for a young black man, but I’m not. I don’t get to decide what is important for other people, or judge how they spend their love or their grief or their energy or their time or their devotion. I can understand anger and frustration over other people’s priorities, but I won’t support it. I won’t condone it or tell you it is right. Everyone is fighting a hard battle.

Grief, anger, political will, activism – these are not zero-sum games. Making room for one or the other or three at a time is neither a failure nor a success. Grappling with multiple identities that simultaneously exalt in victory and fall to their knees in defeat within you is everyone’s reality: everyone is fighting a hard battle. Your battle is unique and you – and only you – fight that battle, and it is lonely as fuck. But you are not alone.

I support you and I love you. I do. I want you to experience your grief, your anger, your joy, your need and your reality on your own time, in your own way. I want you to heal; I want you to do whatever you must do to heal. I hope when you heal you can pick up and continue your fight; I understand if you can’t. There are days – and god, friends, yesterday was one of them – where I think I can fight no more. But I trust you. I trust that when I can’t fight, you will. I trust that when I can’t talk about structures of racism that are killing children, or the violence killing young gay men in my city, or the ignorance and hate tearing women’s lives and bodies apart, that you will do it for me. And when you can’t, when you’re too tired, I will do the same for you. Trust me.

When you can’t run you walk. When you can’t walk you crawl. And when you can’t crawl…

You find someone to carry you.

Why I Am Not Pro-Voice

2 Jul

A guest post from Renee Bracey Sherman.

I’ve been sharing my abortion story publicly (and privately) for two years now. It’s been a whirlwind experience; I’ve felt elation and anxiety, pride and shame, stigma and empowerment. Sharing my story has brought me closer than ever to some of my friends and family members, and also left some unwilling to speak to me again. I’ve been told I’m very brave and courageous, and also some not-so-nice things not worth repeating. I knew from day one that speaking about my abortion would change my life and the lives of others. I knew that if I was honest in sharing one of the most vulnerable parts of myself, that I could be my most authentic self and could use my voice to advocate for my rights and my people, as I had never done before. So it makes me angry when one abortion storysharing organization belittles some abortion stories as nothing more than political pawns for the pro-choice movement.

When I first started sharing my story publicly, I was shown a different movement; one that valued sharing abortion experiences without politics. I was excited. I wanted to share my story for my own healing and move past the shame and stigma that mainstream rhetoric forced upon me. And like many, I drank the Kool-Aid to shed myself from the ‘politics of abortion.’ I was trained to be pro-storyteller’s-voice. To me, letting go of the politics meant freeing oneself from the pro-choice and pro-life labels. It meant not blaming one political party for anti-abortion legislation, because there are some Democrats to who don’t support abortion rights and there are some Republicans who do. White Republican men at that! Don’t believe me? You should, I’ve dated them. Joining this new movement felt great—I felt heard and honest about myself. I previously felt so isolated and it felt great to be pro-voice.

As I continued sharing my story, I began to unpack my invisible knapsack. Inside there was a mix of privilege and oppression; complexities galore. I recognized how much my class background, growing up in an urban setting, and access to (somewhat) comprehensive sexual health education played in to my ability to have a safe abortion. How my privilege gave me access to a great clinic where the nurse held my hand and was waiting by my bedside when I awoke. But also, how my race, gender, and place in society affected the stigma, stereotyping, and isolation I felt. How I stayed silent about my abortion for so long because I didn’t want to been seen as a statistic – ‘another Black teen who got pregnant.’ When I began volunteering to house clients who traveled 5 hours or more to have a safe and legal abortion through my local abortion fund, I began to see how much more complex abortion was, beyond the emotions. Sharing my home with strangers, who I’m only connected to through our abortion experience, made me understand the power of elevating our voices that much more. We never discuss politics, but we do discuss what is political – our bodies and our lives.

I thought that vocalizing my complexities would continue to help me heal and acknowledge the vast gray area of abortion. I thought that was acceptable to others in the organization I spoke with, but I found out the hard way that it was not. “We don’t think you’re ready to share your story publicly” they told me. Wait, what? I was bewildered. How can someone else tell me when I am ready to tell my story? I had been working with them for over a year. I felt so supported, but now I had been dumped hard. I asked for more explanations, yet they gave me none.

Afterwards, I talked to more people and found out I was not the first. I was now at the back of a long line of people who had found their voice, only to be shut down when they began to explore it more. I found a friend who was told by the same group that her story was too political, simply for the fact that her abortion happened on Election Day – an irony she realized as she cast her vote for president.

Time, and more public story telling, has given me perspective in to what the root issue was – privilege. The act of telling someone how, when, where, and why they should, or should not, share their personal experience is one deeply rooted in privilege. It is wrong to identify yourself as the gatekeeper to the stories that the world will hear. It is wrong to filter out the personal experiences of people of color, poor folks, people with various gender identities and sexual orientations, and immigrant folks, all because the world happens to be debating issues related to those identities. Saying that our personal experiences are “too political” is a continued systematic oppression by those with power to silence stories that will not further a specific agenda. This perpetuates the idea that abortion stories should fit one narrative – the one that best fits a social movement’s goals. It is an abuse of power over the most vulnerable.

It is not my fault that people are allowed to debate my skin color. It is not my fault that my healthcare is a matter of public discussion. For someone to say whether or not I can share my story to further an understanding of my life experience is one of the most offensive actions they can take against me. For them to say that I can’t share it in an advocacy realm is ignorant of the fact that I have to stand up for myself and fight for my rights, because who else will? As Amanda Marcotte wrote when questioning the movement, “People who view women as things to be controlled and punished aren’t going to be swayed by women’s voices, when they don’t respect them in the first place.” My community and I are under attack. Is the personal no longer the political?

For the record, I identify as a reproductive justice activist because I believe there is more at play than legal abortion. I want to use a broader framework for change. I actively work for the inclusion of queer identities in our movement, to end the stigma around young parents, and to ensure that everyone has the autonomy to live their fullest lives. Fighting for access to food, education, healthcare, etc. all has an impact on  available reproductive decisions – without access, there is no choice. But that doesn’t mean that I can’t stand in solidarity with my pro-choice friends.

When I share my story, I am no one’s political pawn. I am standing up for myself in a society that deems my voice unnecessary. I am sharing an experience and how it changed my life. And if my friends or I need access to a safe abortion, I want to speak out to ensure that it is available next week and next year. I do it because I want to help shape the pro-choice movement to become a more inclusive one, and increase our understanding of the complexities of abortion experiences. I want to make it better. I want culture change.

By sharing my abortion experience, I jump in to the heated conversation and bring some rationale to it. I often share my experience with people who are fervently anti-abortion. I don’t do it to get them to become pro-choice or vote for the candidate of my liking. I do it because I actually want to create a culture of listening and sharing. I listen to them to understand why they hold the views they do – often it’s because they don’t want me to feel pain through an abortion. When I explain my actual feelings, how feelings are multifaceted, and how the rhetoric on all sides impacts my experience, they begin to understand me a bit better. They understand the quandary I was in. There’s no talk of politics – and we can both retain our separate beliefs, but also share a vulnerable moment.

I agree that no one should have their story misused, distorted, or flattened. No one should have their story twisted for another’s gain. It’s not right. But I also recognize that many of the listeners in the room also have abortion experiences and identify with mine. They heard something in my story that rang true. The connection and engagement with the listeners is what’s most important to me.

I don’t believe in order to share your abortion story authentically, you have to move to the sidelines and become apolitical. And if that is what some people want to do, that’s great. That’s their choice. But it’s unethical for them to tell me that how I should share my story. Because it’s just that: mine.

Renee is a reproductive justice activist who shares her own abortion story to encourage others who have had abortions to speak out and end the silence and stigma around abortion. Renee is a Generative Fellow with CoreAlign, a contributor to Echoing Ida, a project of Strong Families, and is currently pursuing a Master’s in Public Administration at Cornell University. Follow Renee on Twitter: @rbraceysherman.

Chronicle of a Clinic Escort in Two Cities

10 Jun

A guest post by Chanel Dubofsky

The first time I escorted at a clinic, it was at a Planned Parenthood in New York City. For the most part,  the protesters stayed across the street from the clinic, praying, holding a giant wooden cross, but some of them spread out onto nearby street corners and attempted to pass out “literature.” I was nervous about interacting with the antis,  being physically attacked, but mostly, screwing up.  The main job of a clinic escort is to make sure the patients can get into the clinic, with the minimum amount of harassment. Under no circumstances are you to escalate the situation by arguing with the antis. On one hand, it’s a lot of standing around, and on the other, you’re always looking around, up the street, down the street, behind you. Every moment matters.

Mostly, I opened doors for women and men and small children, who kept their eyes down and hustled inside quickly. It was relatively low activity kind of day, according to the other escorts. The more aggressive antis hadn’t shown up. The folks with the cross left earlier than usual. I went home atnoon, exhausted.

The second time I escorted was in May, in Los Angeles with LA for Choice. I’m not sure what I thought would happen, but it was very different from my Planned Parenthood experience-more antis, more aggression, more required from the escorts. I was testing myself, I think. (Can I do this, even when it’s scary?)

Saturday, May 25

8:30 am: I’m not caffeinated and I haven’t had enough sleep, because, even after almost a week, my brain and body have still not adjusted to California time. I hope I’m sharp enough to do this.

9:00 am: (Still not caffeinated. Who do I think I am?) There are four of us, wearing orange tank tops that say “Pro choice Clinic Escort.” Antis, mostly women of color with rosaries, amass,  some on  the sidewalk in front of clinic, others leaning against the window of the T Mobile store. They start to pray loudly in Spanish. A tall, white man in a black coat, wearing sunglasses, stands near them. The other escorts recognize him. When people walk by, he tries to give them business cards that have a pictures of a fetus in utero on them, as well as a pool of bloody sludge which are supposed to be the “remains”. Some take them without looking at them.  G, an escort, says to a woman who has a card in her hand, “I can take that from you if you want.” She shakes her head and keeps walking.

9.15 am: It occurs to me that what the man is doing with the cards is actually violent. Maybe people take it and don’t look at it right away, and then they’re halfway down the street, or inside the brunch place near the clinic, or in the clinic, and then they look down, and they’re horrified, triggered, angry. But this is what he wants.

10.00 am:  Another white man, this one wearing white pants and a white shirt, shakes hands with the man who’s been handing out the cards. Lots of eye contact, nodding, and smiling with the women praying loudly.  White Shirt pulls out a cell phone, moves to the corner of the T Mobile store window. He’s really close to blocking the sidewalk leading to the clinic. An escort sidles up to him. He turns around and goes back to his original spot, still talking on the phone. We talk amongst ourselves: Does he seriously think we believe he’s looking for privacy to make a call?

10:15 am: Business Card Man walks away from the window towards the driveway, presumably so he can hand things to the people approaching from that direction. I follow him, stand beside him. I don’t make eye contact. He moves back after a few moments. This is physical in a way that’s different from my first experience-we’re using our bodies more actively, more directly. We spread out, we cover, we go where they go.

11: 00 am: A woman arrives. She’s a regular. She has a sign that says “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you. God.” Predictably, there’s a picture of a fetus on it. (Are there ever any antis who aren’t religious?) She stands near the driveway. N, another escort and I follow her.  She faces the road for a while, holding her sign up so drivers in passing cars can see it. Then she turns to us. “Do you like that babies are getting murdered in there?” she asks. “Does that make you happy when you get up in the morning? Does it make you say ‘yay’?” I have no idea what to do. “You don’t have to say anything,” N tells me. “We try not to do anything that escalates the situation.” “Do you know about Kermit Gosnell? He murdered babies. He cut off their arms and legs. But you wouldn’t know about that.” N and I ignore her. She stops talking to us and turns back to the road.

11.15 am:   A couple walking by stops to check out the scene. The woman  who talked to N and I about Gosnell tells them that “people inside are murdering babies.” S, an escort, positions himself near them. (Sometimes people talk to the antis, and it’s okay to let that happen, unless it’s clear that they want out of the conversation.) I can’t hear what’s being said, but the couple seems attentive. They don’t want rescuing.

11:30 am:  A woman stops to tells us that she’s on the board of a family planning clinic in Cleveland. “I am shocked,” she says, “that you have to deal with this bullshit here.”

12: 00 pm:  A man and woman walk through the protesters towards the clinic. There’s a little kid in pink pajamas between them. They’re all holding hands, tightly.

By 12.30, the antis are gone. The clinic stops taking appointments at one. We take off our orange shirts and bring them back inside the clinic. I keep looking around, expecting a mob with crosses and signs to come streaming around the corner, but it doesn’t happen. I get in the car with N and S, and we drive away.

When we’re on the highway, S asks me what I thought. “It was different,” I say. This was a non answer, I know, but at the time, it was easier than the truth, which is that for me, today was about figuring out if I could keep escorting, regardless of my fears. Escorting is about immersion, and practice, and support. There’s a process to be trusted. So, for now, the answer is yes. I’m still in.

Why it’s totally cool for Farrah Abraham to go to Pace University, and why her “haters” need to get a life

5 Jun

A guest post by anonymous.

Recently, Farrah Abraham, of Teen Mom/sex-tape/DUI fame, decided that she wanted to go back to school. She picked a relatively well-known, but not super high-profile school: Pace University. She’s planning on majoring in Business, because she eventually wants to run her own restaurant. With an Associates in Culinary Arts, the combination makes sense.

What does not make sense at ALL is the backlash that the public has had over her decision to better herself through higher education. First of all, if the girl has got the grades (she does, though she may not speak like it), being in a porn isn’t a reason to deny someone their education. Because, and this may be news, porn stars are people too. Some are very smart people. And these very smart, open, honest people enjoy having sex and enjoy making money to do it on camera. Good for fucking them. Seriously.

Second, many of the comments left on the original TMZ article call this woman “too ugly” to be a chef and business owner. Wait… what do the looks of person cooking your food or running the restaurants you go to matter? That’s the most ridiculous thing we’ve ever heard. When you go to a restaurant, do you refuse to order until you can undress the chef with your eyes? Um, no, you don’t. Because that’s stupid and irrelevant. You really just want to make sure that your steak is well seasoned, or that your vegan curry mayo is spicy enough. Not to mention that her looks have nothing to do with her culinary ability, or with how intelligent she is, or how well she will do in Business school.

Third, the responses from the Pace University traditional student population have been disappointing. A few sample tweets:

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Pace seems to pride itself on acceptance. From their Center for Community Action and Research to their LGBTQA center to their Young Republicans club, they seem to have mastered the art of making everybody just be cool. With a campus in the middle of downtown Manhattan, it would be super challenging to run a school that allowed for hate. There are just too many different people that live in NYC, and like nobody would tolerate that shit. So why is it cool to hate on Farrah? Because porn and perceptions of porn stars (as seen above, totally unfair and awful).

So, with that, we’d like to take this moment to ask that everyone just stop. Farrah made a great decision to go back to school, and we wish her success in that endeavor. At worst, she will earn a bachelors degree so that she can open her own business and support her daughter. At best, she’ll be super successful with her restaurant and not only prove her “haters” wrong, but give Pace the best kind of press.

Good luck, Farrah!

Dr. Tiller was my abortion provider and he changed my life

31 May

A guest post by an author who wishes to remain anonymous.

I remember waking up on my 23rd birthday and deciding today was the day I had to acknowledge the pregnancy I had been carrying since February — my birthday is in August. Although I had been raised in a solidly pro-choice family, I was incredibly ashamed of myself for getting pregnant and found that denial was the easy out. I tried everything I could in the beginning to force miscarriage; I remember hitting myself in the stomach, getting so drunk I would hold a trash bag to throw up into and then drink more, and taking every medication I had in my little apartment in the hopes that something would work. Nothing did.

My boyfriend was living in another state and I will never forget the phone call I made from our little apartment to tell him the news. I’m lucky today that I can call him husband; it was this pregnancy situation that helped me see what a wonderful man he is. After hearing about the pregnancy, he resigned his internship and jumped on a plane the next day to come home. We went to our local clinic and, of course, were told I was too far along for them to help. 24 weeks pregnant. 24 weeks.

We went to see a later abortion provider 70 miles away and were again told no. We traveled three hours to another clinic, but I was just days beyond their limit. Another no. But they had one last little tiny bit of hope. As we left the clinic one of the women behind the counter handed me a card with a name and a phone number written on it: Dr. George Tiller, 316-684-5108. Little did I know, this card would change my life.

My boyfriend and I made the long drive back home and made the phone call. The woman on the other end of the line was one of the kindest, most caring individuals I had ever spoken with. She didn’t start the call asking how far along I was or how much money I had, she asked if I was okay. She walked me through the scheduling process with care and love, and checked in with me multiple times in the days before we again made the long trip to Dr. Tiller’s clinic.

I was terrified as I rode in the car, couldn’t sleep the night before we went to the clinic for the first time, and watched my hands shake as we walked into the clinic for the first time. We couldn’t afford to pay the cost of the abortion on our own but were lucky my parents agreed to help us with funding; many women don’t have this luxury. Later I would learn of many funds throughout the United States who exist solely to help women pay for their abortions.

From the moment we checked in it was clear this was the place I was supposed to be. Looking across the room at the faces of the people who were there with us: husbands and wives, boyfriends and girlfriends, mother and fathers with their daughters, I felt less alone; I wasn’t the only one. As Dr. Tiller walked into the room, everyone silenced. He smiled. “Welcome,” he said. His first word was exactly how I felt.

I was lucky to have Dr. Tiller provide my abortion. I was lucky to have been taken care of by his incredible staff. I was lucky to be part of the program he had built for his clients, including counseling, care, and love that was needed during a very difficult time. When it was time for us to return home, I remember feeling conflicted. I didn’t want to leave this safe space. I wanted to stay here with the people who understood and supported what I had just been through, but I knew it was time to go home, and I knew I had support in Wichita whenever I needed it. I was ready to move on and not let this experience hold me back. Thank you Dr. Tiller for your wonderful care. You are missed every day.

The Anti-Choice Movement is Creating More Kermit Gosnells

12 Apr

A guest post from Sarah Erdreich, the author of Generation Roe: Inside the Future of the Pro-Choice Movement.

Dr. Kermit Gosnell is currently on trial in Pennsylvania, charged with eight counts of murder. For decades, Gosnell provided abortion services to primarily low-income, minority, and immigrant women in an unsafe and unhygienic clinic. Despite numerous complaints to state agencies and the forty-six lawsuits filed against him, Gosnell’s clinic was only inspected five times after it opened in 1979; the last inspection occurred in 1993. When officials finally did raid his clinic in 2010, it was on suspicion of drug violations. The eight counts of murder that Gosnell faces include one for a woman that died from a painkiller overdose before her procedure, and seven infants that he allegedly killed with scissors after they were born.

Those acts, together with a grand jury report that spares no detail in describing the squalid and unhygienic conditions of Gosnell’s clinic, paint a grim picture of a man that never should have been allowed to practice medicine. They also call into question just why state agencies did so little to investigate the many complaints that were made over two decades.

The state of Pennsylvania has responded by enacting new anti-choice laws that make abortion care more difficult for people to access and afford. Clinics that provide surgical abortions now must meet the same medical and construction standards as outpatient surgery centers; while clinics were exempt from some regulations, such as having elevators of a certain size, a number of the new regulations required clinics to undergo expensive renovations. In 2008, 82% of all Pennsylvania counties lacked an abortion provider; five clinics have closed in the last year, meaning that that number is undoubtedly even higher now.

Pennsylvania is hardly alone in requiring only abortion clinics, as opposed to all freestanding outpatient surgical clinics, to adhere to specific and extensive standards. From insisting that providers have admitting privileges at local hospitals to mandating the size of operating rooms, states around the country have enacted numerous laws in the past several years that sound benign on paper but have devastating real-life effects. The rationale for many of these laws is that they are necessary to safeguard the health and well-being of people who need abortion care. But when legal abortions are performed by trained medical professionals, the health risks are already very low; according to the non-partisan Guttmacher Institute, “[f]ewer than 1% of all U.S. abortion patients experience a major complication and the risk of death associated with abortion is 10 times as low as that associated with childbirth.”

When a woman dies during childbirth, politicians do not insist that all hospitals adhere to new structural requirements, and activists do not claim that since a woman died, no OB/GYN should be trusted. Yet the anti-choice movement has shown no such common sense and sound judgment when it comes to Kermit Gosnell. Instead, they have exploited this tragedy to enact laws that either force clinics to charge more for their services so they can pay for renovations, or close altogether. Making abortion more expensive and less accessible will not lower the abortion rate in this country. Instead, it will create an environment that drives women to desperate measures such as self-abortion or turning to untrained, but inexpensive, physicians.