Protecting choice and confronting the past
5:55 am was pushing it. I consider myself a relatively early riser, but I silently groaned when my apartment-mate knocked on my door and announced that it was five to six.
“I’m up. I’ll get up,” I replied.
And I did. After another minute under my comforters, I hurriedly dressed in warm layers, grabbed breakfast, and went outside to meet my apartment-mate, who was starting her car. The snow that had begun to fall the night before had accumulated into three inches of whiteness that covered the ground and the branches of the trees. I looked around at my primarily WU neighborhood near the Loop and felt the coldness through my heavy jacket. “It’s gonna be a freezing morning,” I thought as I took the shotgun seat of her car.
We picked up three other WU students, and headed down Forest Park Parkway to Planned Parenthood. One of the girls was a freshman and novice escort, so the two other girls in the back of the car were explaining the basics.
Abortion escorts volunteer at Planned Parenthood and the Hope Clinic in Granite City, Ill., every Saturday morning. They stand by the entrance to the clinics, greeting and providing support to women about to undergo an abortion. The escorts also help mitigate abortion protestors’ actions. The protestors provide an extra emotional hurdle for these women by standing outside the clinic and condemning abortion. They hold up grotesque (and likely fabricated) posters of unborn fetuses, shout insults, try to elicit feelings of guilt from the patients and discourage them from actually going through with the procedure.
However, this Saturday was not the typical escorting Saturday. Tuesday the 22nd marked the 29th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court Case that legalized abortion nationwide, and the protestors knew it. Workers at Planned Parenthood were concerned that the number of protestors would be exponentially higher than the average Saturday. One Catholic protest group threatened 1,500 protestors. So we, along with a few more students and other members of the St. Louis community, including the Missouri Religious Coalition for Choice, an interfaith group that supports the pro-choice movement, met outside Planned Parenthood at 6:30 am to begin a morning of escorting.
For the next four hours, we greeted and reassured clients. We also talked with the religious pro-choice group. The protestors were not as intimidating as we had feared, but the group that had promised 1,500 people had not shown up yet. At around 9:15, during a small break to the kitchen to fill up on warm drinks, the escort organizer spotted them.
“They’re coming,” she said and we rushed downstairs, chugging our hot beverages along the way.
And, sure enough, they were coming. It was not 1,500, but there were several hundred protestors from a church, holding up signs and chanting biblical hymns. All the escorts stood in a line in front of the clinic, as if to protect it physically from the protestors’ words. The cold had not died down; rather, the snow began to fall again. The religious pro-choice group had also begun to sing and pray, and I glanced from them to the protestors behind the gate, wondering how two groups, both with a strong belief in God and religion, could be on opposite sides of that gate. I looked further at the protestors, realizing that this Saturday, almost 29 years after abortion became legal, people were still fighting it, still holding up posters and chanting rhymes and insulting abortion patients. I knew that the fight for choice was still not over, even after 29 years. I knew that there would still be people on the other side of that gate.
The thing to do is to outlast them. That we did on Saturday. We stayed until the last of that protest group had dispersed, guarding Planned Parenthood, the patients as they entered, and each other from the protestors until they had gone. No, we cannot prevent people from protesting, and it might be difficult to change their minds, but we can outdo them. We can prevent their effectiveness, even if that entails waking up at six on a freezing cold Saturday morning. We can continue to outdo the threat to choice as it persists in our society today.
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