How do we do it?

by Stacey Spiehler

I don’t speak for all of the escorts, but I do tend to get the same reactions from most people when I tell them what I do.  Most people start with compliments, like “brave” and “heroic,” to which my response is:

Because I am a really awkward person when it comes to accepting compliments.

Invariably, the person’s next statement is anger at the protesters and telling me that they would just spend all day yelling at them.  “I don’t know how you do it.”  This was my thought before I started doing it too, because I have never shied away from a public confrontation.  Feel free to ask my perpetually embarrassed husband.  From people who leave kids/animals in cars to that guy playing a casino game with his phone on LOUD in the doctor’s waiting room, I have never hesitated when I feel the need to let someone know they’re being a jerk.

I don’t know why I’m different at the clinic.  Maybe that’s the only place the Holy Spirit is able to shut my mouth.  When a patient is present, my singular and concentrated focus is making her comfortable while she’s being harangued and yelling back at a protester will not accomplish that goal.  My method is starting out by telling the patient that the people on the other side of the fence are going to call out to her and that she doesn’t have to talk to them or take their literature if she doesn’t want to; it’s totally her choice.  Then I talk to her about the weather or something else equally neutral loud enough that she can concentrate on my voice and tune out the protesters.

Another escort, Derenda, has her own method.  She carries a boombox with her, turns it on a rock station, turns it up, holds it high, and walks with the patient.  That drowns out the protesters and makes them maaaadddd.  (She accepts donations of batteries for that boombox.)  James will strategically cough every time the protesters start up, just “ahemhemhemhemhemmmm” the entire way.  HILARIOUS.  Laurie and Sarah will sing musicals in unison across the parking lot from each other.  We all have our own ways of irritating the protesters without talking to them and without making the patient feel uncomfortable.  Most of the patients laugh at “ahemhemhemhem” too.

The whole process is over in about a minute if they park in the parking lot.  We don’t have a whole lot of spots though, so sometimes we have to walk them a block or more, sometimes followed by a protester (or many) the whole time, but usually at least having to walk directly in front of a protester.  That’s a little harder.  I just keep reminding the patient that she doesn’t have to listen to them if she doesn’t want to and do you know if it’s supposed to rain?  If we have to walk past Roy, I offer them my headphones.  Most of them have accepted, so I turn on Pandora and we have an easy stroll.  Roy hates that, boy oh boy.  I like to think I’m responsible for a few of his hemorrhoids.

Now, when there’s not a patient present, it’s a different story.  Some of the other escorts will engage the protesters.  It’s entertaining to watch.  Laurie and Sarah, I think, have memorized everything on Wikipedia and Guttmacher and will make protesters look stupid and walk away frustrated every time.  James has a very distinct look on his face when he’s talking to protesters that makes me giggle – it’s very “how dumb are you?”  I have a very strict do-not-engage policy, because as a former anti-abortion extremist, I know that I’d just be spinning my wheels.  I didn’t even engage when this guy was yelling in my face about going to Hell.  I didn’t even respond when one protester read the article about me in the Clarion Ledger and decided to exploit my ectopic pregnancy for her own gain.  “Stacey, just because you killed your own baby doesn’t mean you have to help other women kill theirs.  Would you kill Ace” (my son) “too?  Stacey?  Staaaacey.  Staaaacey.  Staaacey.  STACEY.”

Girl, bye.  I have 7 years of experience of ignoring “MomMomMomMomMomMomMomMom,” so I just played Words With Friends and listened to Pandora the whole time.  She has left me alone ever since, though, so that’s a pretty good return on investment, don’t you think?  That’s not to say I didn’t mutter “f*** off” under my breath, but I certainly wasn’t going to give her the satisfaction of hearing me.

I do get extraordinarily annoyed when they try to film patients or take pictures of cars in the parking lot, but I keep my Southern Grace ™ when I’m yelling at them and say “PLEASE do not film our patients, this is private property, THANK YOU.”  Other than that, I cannot think of a single time that I’ve wanted to yell at one of them.

Have I convinced you to join us yet?  (Am I sounding like a cult leader yet?  Eeeeeexcellent.)  If so, contact me on Facebook or Twitter and I’ll point you in the right direction.  I am a very high-anxiety person and I am relaxed all day at the clinic so I assure you, you can do it.

I’m 16 and I’m a Clinic Defender

By Sarah Roberts

I’m Sarah, I’m 16 and I am a escort/clinic defender at Jackson Women’s Health Organization. I first started escorting after my mom, Laurie, told me about how women were harassed while trying to come in and out of the clinic. At first, I just wanted to see if it was really true and how bad it was. When I saw it for myself, I knew I had to stay and help.

My mom actually didn’t want me to escort because of the possibility of violence and the aggressiveness of protesters. My sister and I said if you go, WE GO. We also reminded her that she had always taught us about the role of children in the civil rights movement. If children could march, get beaten and sprayed with hoses for our rights why can’t we help women and defend our rights now? My sister and I are also the young feminist committee co-chairs for Mississippi NOW. So I guess if my mother didn’t want us to have opinions and strong voices, she raised us wrong.sarah at clinic

Most people don’t realize how ugly most protesters treat patients. I have heard antis yell things at women like “you’ve partied, now party time is over and you have to pay for your sins”. I didn’t know being pregnant was a punishment. One women got sick and vomited coming out of the clinic, they yelled at her husband “see this is your wife’s punishment for coming to this horrible place”. They didn’t know her story or if she even had a procedure.

 

Most of the pro-birthers-because they aren’t “pro-life”-don’t care about the women’s stories. They just want to shove their religion in their face, slut shame them, and tell them they are going to hell. If you let them tell it, they are helping. Regardless, women have a right to access the clinic without being harassed.

They aren’t just cruel to patients. They harass the escorts as well. On my first day, a older white female protester walked up to my sister Kayla and I and said:

“You should wonder everyday which one of you that your mother wanted to abort. You know that article where your mother talked about the 6 of you? (Um, there’s 7 of us) You should put it on your mirror so you can look at it everyday and wonder which one of you your mother wanted to abort.”

The spokeswoman of Pro-Life Mississippi called my sister and I “little Jezebels” who had “demons” in us. She also asked me if I had “5 or 6 abortions” and if that’s the reason I “hate women so much”. Roy McMillan has told my sister and I to “do the honorable thing and commit suicide”. I’ve also heard I should be scared my mom is going to rip me from limb from limb any minute–they are really sick people. I think they need therapy. There are the times protesters push me http://or stand in my personal space. I am harassed and questioned about whether or not I am really home-schooled. The head of Pro-Life Mississippi also said I’m abused because my mother lets me escort and threatened to call child protection on her.

My all time favs are that I am helping “kill black babies”, “committing black genocide” or that I’m “helping white people kill babies”. This all comes from old white people, by the way, and I’m black! They haven’t gotten the memo that the days when white people get to tell black women what to do about having babies ended a long time ago. Doesn’t that sound like Christian love?

What the protesters don’t understand is their insults don’t make me want to leave-they make me want to stay. Young women my age-who look like me-access this clinic. As long as we are needed, I will be there. Rain or shine. I’ll still be young, gifted and black. So I guess they will have to figure out insults around that!

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*Photo credit to Jackson Free Press published with the article “Amazing Teens” on 4/24/13 (L-SarahRoberts  R-Kayla Roberts)

The Conversion

by Stacey Spiehler

Look back far enough on this blog  and you’ll see that I have my pro-life bona fides.  Borne of what, I don’t know.  Both my parents were pro-choice and I was raised fairly agnostic.  I just always thought abortion was wrong and had never met anyone who could tell me different.

Fervor of the converted kicked in when I became a Christian at 19 and went all-in with a Southern Baptist church.  When I found out in 2000 that federal money went to pay for abortion, I cried, bless my misinformed heart.  I moved to Los Angeles from New Orleans late that year and being surrounded by “pro-aborts” only strengthened my convictions.

I decided at some point to go full-bore and be against abortion in ALL circumstances.  I thought rape and incest were God’s will.  I thought I would NEVER kill my own baby to save my own life so nobody else should either.  The morning-after pill was evil and, you know, in that case, so were hormonal birth control and IUDs.  I became something of a cheese that stood alone in the pro-life world for my extremist views, but was widely welcomed at the rally at the California State Capitol in 2003 to mourn the 30th anniversary of Roe vs. Wade.  Life was cushy then, black and white, and I wallowed in my bed of upper-middle-class privilege.

I moved to Mississippi from Los Angeles in 2004 and was happy to be in a state with so many abortion restrictions.  October that year came along and I found out I was pregnant for the first time and was happier than I had ever been only to find out two weeks later that it was an ectopic pregnancy.  I sat for a long time thinking about living in the woods until I died with my baby, but ultimately thought of my husband and agreed to the termination by methotrexate.

I found out I was pregnant again in December of 2005.  What a truly awesome pregnancy that was – no morning sickness, no nausea at all in fact, no bad cravings, no complications at all until whoops!  My water broke at 28 weeks 2 days gestation.  When I was admitted to the hospital I was told I could be there up to 6 weeks with broken membranes because I still had a teeny bit of amniotic fluid left for Ace to survive on.  I spent the next 5 days on my back, pooping in a bed pan, taking sponge baths, and suppressing the nagging thought that this would be really, really hard for a woman with a lower income or even just a job to go through.  My son was born 5 days later at 29 weeks gestation and spent 8 weeks in the NICU.  Thankfully our insurance paid most of the combined $250,000 hospital bill, but the nagging thought that when a woman gets pregnant she has to accept that anything is possible stayed with me.

I miscarried in 2008 and decided anything would be better than another pregnancy because each one had torn a big piece of my heart out.  I could not do it anymore.  Amazing how your views on things like birth control change when you’re faced with real life.  I started birth control almost immediately.

Early in 2011, I saw a commercial talking about a petition to put an amendment on the ballot in November to outlaw all abortions.  I was still pretty against “elective” abortions so initially I thought it was a great idea.  I got on their website and read the wording of the initiative and saw that there was absolutely no room for birth control, life-saving pregnancy treatments, IVF, nothing.  Just that a fertilized egg would be given the full rights of a person.  It was called Personhood.  I called their number and asked “what about treatment for ectopic pregnancies?”  The man responded “we’re just trying to get it on the ballot.”  I was not quite as outspoken then and accepted that.

In September of 2011, I saw that a woman named Cristen Hemmins filed a lawsuit to prevent that amendment from going on the ballot and checked the wording of the initiative again.  Still, no provisions for anything.  It went on the ballot and I joined the fight, still maintaining that I was against elective abortions.  I helped form a PAC specifically aiming to protect life-saving pregnancy treatments, birth control, and IVF.  Our PAC held absolutely no position on elective abortions and was solely focused on those things.

I threw myself in the spotlight.  I came out with my story about my ectopic pregnancy and my fight up to that point against Personhood in the Jackson Free Press.  I made sure that my social media was lit up daily about the effects no one was talking about.  I stayed firmly implanted on local news outlets’ Facebook pages begging people to read the entire short initiative for themselves and tell me how birth control, life-saving pregnancy treatment, and IVF would be protected.  I became one of the faces of the cause.

As an effect of that, I got message after message after message from women telling me their heartbreaking abortion stories.  The one that hit me in the face the most was a woman who had gotten raped while in high school in a rural Mississippi town.  The cold reality of facing pregnancy in high school shocked me.  This poor girl would either have to be the whore who got pregnant in high school, tell people she was raped, or just drop out altogether.  And then she’d have a baby to take care of.  She had an abortion.  I couldn’t say I blamed her.

I also had a lot of frank discussions with women who had pregnancy stories like mine.  The complications are ENDLESS.  One friend, who is thankfully a software programmer and can work from home, spent 16 weeks on bedrest because she kept going into labor and must have been in the hospital every week.  I couldn’t imagine a woman of lower means or a woman who had to report to a brick-and-mortar building to bring in an income being able to face that.  Or God forbid, a woman without insurance.  Pregnancy can really be a life ruiner.

I can’t say exactly when I changed my mind on elective abortions.  The initiative was defeated but there were many stories written about me and the other main leaders of the movement and the stories kept pouring in.  Eventually I just realized that abortion was a necessary and shitty part of life.  Nobody is happy that they get an abortion but sometimes there really is no other option.

Sometime in 2012, I just stated plainly on Facebook that I was pro-choice.  I lost a few friends and got quizzed by quite a few more, but I suspect most of the friends I had made during my pro-life days had seen it coming by how fully I threw myself into fighting a pro-life ballot initiative.  The number of pro-choice friends on my friends list had gone up by about a billion percent over the past year so mostly I was just welcomed to the dark side.

Then, this year, after hearing the call from Laurie Roberts 100 times, I decided to volunteer as a patient escort at Jackson Women’s Health Organization, Mississippi’s only abortion clinic.  My son was 6, in 1st grade, gone 7 hours a day, and anything had to be better than cleaning my house and goofing off on Facebook all day.

I had absolutely no idea how rewarding and equally heartbreaking it would be.  Women cling to me as we’re walking in past the protesters yelling terrible things at her.  “Don’t kill your baby!  You’ll have to answer to God one day!  Would you kill your other children too?  Hell is real?”  I ignore them, tell the women that God loves them no matter what, and get them to the door safely.  Many women will ask me to come inside and sit with them and tell me their stories while they’re filling out their paperwork.  One woman wanted to keep her baby and had applied for Medicaid but was denied.  She tore me apart.  Not a one of those protesters standing outside yelling at her would accept a $250,000 hospital bill like I had if she had a pregnancy complication similar to mine unless she was willing to give her baby up for adoption.  I just held her hand until she was called back.  I had to leave before she came out but I think about her every single day.

I know this won’t change your mind if you’re pro-life, but I hope at least you’ll understand why I made this conversion.  Life experiences, both personal and heard, can absolutely change a person.  I feel like a much more compassionate person now that I’ve made this change and understand where people from all different walks of life are coming from.  Sometimes, the worst option is the only option, the women who are faced with that decision are worthy of compassion and help, not judgment and restriction.

If you want more information on becoming an escort at the clinic, please contact me on Facebook.

(original published on House Wife In Flip Flops on 7/23/13)

Five Lessons of a Clinic Escort

By Laurie Bertram Roberts

Most people know that the 22nd of January marked the 40th anniversary of Roe vs Wade and, as such, the clinic-and really Jackson as a whole-was under siege by an anti-choice “activist” group named Operation Save America/Operation Rescue. I write activist in quotations because they need to be classified as a terrorist organization. Many incidences of clinic violence in this country have links to their members. Several people who hang out with them are also linked to or members of an extremist group known as The Army of God.

These past few months have marked the first time I have worked as a volunteer clinic escort at the Jackson Women’s Health Organization in Jackson Mississippi. JWHO is Mississippi’s ONLY abortion provider in the state. This makes them the target of constant harassment from anti choice groups not only local but national. In this time as a clinic escort I have learned some lessons that I will carry with me for life. I have become the keeper of women’s abortion stories and literally used my body as the shield between people who shame and intimidate women when they access legal medical care in a country that guarantees freedom and privacy. These are the five lessons I want to share.

1) Clinic harassment is worse than you think-
When most of people have the occasion to drive past a clinic they may see people standing outside possibly with big bloody signs. Perhaps they notice people praying or singing while holding pamphlets out to patients. To most they seem awkward, maybe obnoxious, even righteous, annoying but not menacing, certainly benign. Yet if you take the time to sit outside the clinic for even a moment you would see a different scene. You would get to see protesters taking pictures of patients and staff going in and out of the clinic. You would see anti-choice protesters shouting at patients, stopping their cars in the street, following them and yelling into their ears as they walk. Calling them murderers telling them they will NEVER be the same, that the clinic wants to kill them and their baby. You would see grown men stalk women all the way to their vehicles after being asked to leave them alone. You would see protesters scream as if they are being stabbed to supposedly mimic the screams of babies. There is the non-stop preaching and singing on most days. They tell women constantly they can help them get forgiveness only AFTER they admit what they have done. Then claim they aren’t shaming them. You would hear anti-choice extremists harass workers and clinic escorts by saying “you will one day be tried for war crimes”, “you have blood on your hands”, “your work caused the school shootings”, and asking “if they wished their mother aborted them” and “aren’t you glad your mother didn’t know you were short she would have aborted you”. There is a protester at the clinic I escort at that routinely tells my teenage daughters and I to commit suicide and to play in the traffic. It never stops rain, shine, heat or freezing cold they are there to shame and demean women whose only offense is accessing LEGAL medical care in America.

2) Anti choicers/Pro lifers use racially biased messaging-
Awhile back in New York City a billboard popped up with the picture of a young African American child on it with the tagline “the most dangerous place for a African American is in the womb”. The billboard funded by a white anti-choice group that found some black spokespeople put it up during Black History Month. This type of racialized conversation around abortion isn’t new. Groups have also placed billboards around Atlanta saying black children are an endangered species. (although I didn’t know we were another species). This messaging doesn’t stop at billboards it is alive and well at clinics EVERYDAY. I know in Jackson we hear it. While white women hear the standard “don’t kill your baby” or are much more likely to hear “choose adoption, let us help you” black women get barraged with “you are HELPING WHITE PEOPLE KILL BLACK BABIES” “DO YOU KNOW 80% OF THE BABIES KILLED HERE ARE BLACK” “do you know abortion is a plot by Margaret Sanger to exterminate black people”. They even have a handout especially for black women citing a study (incorrectly) claiming that the higher incidence of abortion among black women causes infertility. They hurl racial arguments at the black women who work and volunteer at the clinic too. Even though most will openly tell you they don’t support ANY of the programs that help the disproportionate number of poor women of color in Mississippi.

3) There is no such thing as “elective abortion”-
This is a term I have heard for years it is even a term I myself use to use. However, I am here to say I no longer use it and don’t believe in the existence of such an occurrence Each patient I see enter the clinic has a very real, very critical reason to be there. On that day at that time she needs this medical procedure to carry on with her life. Whether it’s because she is too sick, too young, just not ready, can’t provide for another child, or has a non progressing pregnancy on that day she needs this form of medical care. It may seem “elective” to others but it is critical to HER life at that time. She doesn’t owe anyone or any group an explanation. Regardless of what someone may believe about their God, she is not beholden to another person’s belief system or their interpretation of Christian teachings. What she does have to do is what is right for HER family and HER life.

4) Clinic workers are not evil or greedy
Growing up as a fundamentalist Christian I always heard that people who worked at and owned abortion clinics are greedy, mean, and evil. They would perform abortions on women who aren’t even pregnant. They hated children. They didn’t care if women had problems afterwards they wouldn’t talk to them. They just took their money and tossed them aside. The women and men at Jackson Womens Health Organization are nothing like that. I have watched staff talk women through being scared after losing their paperwork post op. I have heard our counselor on the phone with patients who had procedures weeks ago answering questions and making referrals. Unlike crisis Pregnancy Centers that call and call women to see what they decide, if women chose not to have a procedure the clinic wishes them the best and gives them referrals for resources. They don’t badger them to change their mind. I know clinic staff have come together to help women who are $30 or $40 short for their procedure so they don’t have to resort to some unsafe way of termination. Most are mothers, fathers, loving aunts and uncles so they don’t hate children they love children. Rather than mean, greedy ,evil people I have seen compassionate, caring, ethical people.

5) There is no compromising with anti choice protesters
When people see clinic protesters they often think these people must be the radical fringe of the movement. However, they are not. At the clinic I volunteer at many of our protesters are leaders in not only the pro life movement but the Mississippi Tea Party and the Republican party. This is important because they are also people with whom compromise is impossible. They truly believe that abortion is murder and have told me that I am an accessory to the American holocaust (I always want to ask why they think abortion is just a US problem). For them there is only one way to save ourselves and that is to stop legal abortion and of course to worship the Christian God in the same way they do. When you are dealing with religious zealots reason, logic, and science are all useless.

I find my volunteer work extremely rewarding. I get the privilege of helping women during a scary and emotional time. I get to hear their stories offer them a smile or a laugh, sometimes a hand to hold. I often have patients and their families ask me why I would volunteer to be harassed by strangers. My answer is simple. If I can take some of the harassment so patients don’t have to then that is fine with me. I remember what it was like to walk through protesters to access a clinic. Those people knew nothing of my life but felt qualified to condemn me. No one deserves that. What they do doesn’t bring women closer to God in fact it drives them away. Patients just want to be left alone. They have prayed, cried, chanted, meditated or whatever it is that works FOR THEM before coming that day. They aren’t stupid and don’t need saving.

Lastly, I think whether you believe abortion is right or wrong we should all be able to agree harassing, shaming, and intimidating women accessing LEGAL medical care is not right. It is not a symbol of God’s love and it shouldn’t be allowed in a free country.

The Singing. Oh My God, The Singing.

Cal Zastrow was a fixture at the clinic when I first began escorting. From what I know of him (little FB research and other stuff) he is a traveling “preacher” who brings his children around the country to “preach” in front of abortion clinics. He was there almost every single morning at the JWHO this late winter/spring–he and his children. His children dress very modestly and we affectionately refer to some of the rest of his “crowd” as the “Children of the Corn”. Mainly because they all wear those creepy wide-brimmed straw hats. We could get a little more creative but that came out one day and stuck.

Cal uses a microphone to “street preach”. But really, the worst part is when he starts to sing hymns over the personal PA system. We have to turn on the music you hear in the background to drown him out. We’ve been told we could get him on a noise ordinance, but because of the music that we have to play in order to drown him out, we’d get in trouble as well. So, it begets a vicious circle of chaotic sound that surround a patient from the time they leave their car until they are called into the back of the clinic (you can still hear all of this in the waiting room). Another reason we all wear earbuds. The first time I showed my husband some footage of the sound level on a regular morning he was incredulous. As well we should all be. I think most of us get used to it really quickly.

There is one table and chairs outside on the patio for escorts and patients to rest or smoke–depending on their mood. This video was taken as I was sitting at the table and Cal started to sing. I walked along the fence and put my camera around the gate. You will notice the gate in the pictures is covered with tarps and signs (they lovingly refer to this gate as “The Gate To Hell”). We do this to protect the patients. But, because of regulations, these tarps and signs go up every morning and come down every night. We spend approximately forty-five minutes of every morning threading signs back through iron railings and using tie-downs to get the others in place. James Parker, our FABULOUS male escort, even tried to devise a system of white placards on boards to place along the fence line to block out the ability of antis to scream over it, but we were ultimately told they couldn’t be used. The signs and tarps are the best thing we’ve found yet. And, as totally low tech as it is, that radio saves us from listening to THIS all day long. One thing I would like for everyone to notice is the fact that everyone films every other person ALL DAY LONG. They film so they can PR the heck out of any slight they receive and it can be put out as them being “persecuted Christians”. If they get arrested for actually breaking a law, they will tape their arrest, post it to pro-life websites and state it wasn’t justified (Basil was taping Laurie with his phone in the “Aggravating Women for at Least Fifty Years” post. He was attempting to trap her into stating it was an “anti-Christian organization”) We tape everything due to very real fear of assault. But, one thing we always know, we are being filmed.

(sorry about the white earbud string in the video. But, once again, EAR BUDS! We should get stock in them)

The Morning Shift

By Lori Garrott

I’ve known Roy McMillan (a constant feature at the clinic and a member of Operation Rescue–you know, that group who believes they are justified in killing abortion doctors? That one) for about ten years. I used to write a regular “girl about town” column here in Jackson, MS ten years ago. I was very open about my liberal ideals and opinions. When I finally got pregnant, I wrote a column about it. Roy wrote me a letter in care of the paper telling me he was “happy I was keeping my baby.” This was after several pro-choice columns I’d had published. So, this idea that he holds the morality for the world isn’t new to Roy. He’s a regular fixture at The Last Clinic and one of the most zealous protesters.

On this particular morning I was doing our regular routine at the clinic. The day for me (when I do defense–as I do it before I go into my regular employment) starts around 7am. Or rather, that’s when I leave my kid and husband in bed and (during the winter time) wrap up in approximately fourteen scarves and head down the five blocks from my house to the clinic. There’s a coffee shop, Sneaky Beans, one block up from JWHO that is my usual stop before I head to the parking lot at 7:30 to await the women who hold 8am appointments. There’s a ledge along the parking lot where I usually sit.

The first day I ever did clinic defense, it being around 30 degrees outside and me having a scarf wrapped up to the tips of my ears as I cupped my coffee and bounced my butt off the cold concrete, I was told I was “the Devil”, a “baby killer” and several other choice terms by the Early Risers already sitting outside the gates. We sit there and take verbal abuse for about half an hour most mornings. I’ve TRIED to beat the “anti’s” to the clinic but even when I show up at 7:15, I still find at least one. I finally figured out that’s how they know if the clinic is open that day. The clinic is only open three days per week at this point. And those days aren’t publicized to anyone who isn’t escorting or doesn’t have an appointment. So, the only way the anti’s know if its going to be open on certain days is to wait for the early shift of escorts to arrive. They send a “scouter” usually. As soon as he sees me walk up with my coffee, I greet him with a cheerful, “Good Morning” and then he furiously begins tapping on his phone. I take my perch on the cold concrete and wait for the other escort on the shift to show up. After the first day, I learned why iPhone earbuds are a constant accessory of the escorts. It just helps to make it through the “Don’t Kill Your Baby!” when you are listening to Beyonce. When the antis are particularly vocal, or holding “Church” (more about that later), Derenda-one of the escorts-carries a “boom box” behind the patient to drown out the cries of the protesters. Some are so thankful they latch onto us the two hundred feet to the door and ask if these people are going to “hurt” them. We hold a lot of hands and try to make them laugh as much as possible. Sometimes the antis make this easier.

In the beginning of the day I’m a parking attendant. We have precious few spaces at the clinic and they all must be used exactly correctly or the antis will call in a report to the Health Dept stating the clinic is breaking standards. So, I usher cars into spaces as tightly as I can–despite the fact that the women driving them are usually not in their best mental state. When the parking at the clinic gets full, we have no choice but to lead them to another public lot down the hill from the clinic. When this happens, usually one or two escorts run down the hill and walk the patient into the clinic. I affectionately call this “Running The Gauntlet”. Because once we step off clinic property, we are fair game. The antis chase us to the woman’s car and try to get in-between us and her. They will stand outside the car so she cannot open her door. And we cannot do a thing. We are taught to “not engage”. And we keep this rule regularly. But there are days when “not engaging” isn’t something I can do.

This video is of this exact situation. Me and another escort, Sarah Roberts, were attempting to walk a women from her car in the public lot, up the hill and onto the safety of the clinic grounds. Once we get through Roy, we have to get through the throng of protesters that stay at the clinic waiting to yell at her once we step through the gates. And the only point I need to make here is this. In what other place where a human being goes to access medical services are they subjected to this treatment? Because I’d like to remind people some of these women are just here to get birth control pills for a reduced price. And they have to put up with this.

Ready Boots? Start Marching

by Lori Gregory-Garrott

(Originally published in the Jackson Free Press on 2/2/11)

profile_2435582_75sq_1342728749I’m not used to fighting for my rights. A lot of women braver than I crossed those waters years ago and paved the way for my generation to enter the educational and career worlds in whatever field we chose. I think because of this, my generation of women doesn’t really respect the rights afforded us: We never had to fight for them. My boots have seen no marching. I’ve never been involved in a riot, and the closest I ever got to being arrested for “civil disobedience” had a lot more to do with vodka than “rights.”

Two recent events have me thinking that it may be time for all of us to invest in a new pair of boots—the kind that kick ass. The U.S. House of Representatives voted to stop federal funding to Planned Parenthood in a propaganda-led campaign where they told people that federal funds were used for abortions. In fact, last week, standing outside the last Women’s Health Organization in this state, I saw two women protesting—holding signs that stated “No Federal Funds for Abortions.”

I almost pulled the car over and informed them they could stop protesting and go home as federal funds don’t actually pay for abortions, and I was pretty sure there was a chauvinistic man somewhere waiting on them to cook dinner. I wanted to inform these women (and all the rest of the people buying the same FOX News sound bite) that abortions make up approximately 3 percent of the services Planned Parenthood provides. And none of those are paid with federal funds.

The other 97 percent of services are free health care to poor and underprivileged women—care these women cannot normally afford. Want to increase the number of abortions? Want to increase infant mortality? Stop funding Planned Parenthood.

The contraception and testing for sexually transmitted diseases, as well as cervical cancer screenings, yearly PAP tests and prenatal care that Planned Parenthood provides helps prevent unwanted pregnancies and support wanted pregnancies in a population of women who historically have limited access to sexual education and expensive contraception. So please, let’s stop funding this horrible program and go back to women performing abortions in their home, or in back alleys, or in dirty rooms with unlicensed “medical” providers.

History proves that no matter the legality of abortion, someone will perform them. Let me say that one more time for the men sitting in the cheap seats: “No matter the legality of abortion, they will be done.” It truly comes down to people understanding that if they are a woman, love a woman, or came out of a woman’s vagina, they should protect a woman’s access to basic reproductive health care. Otherwise, we are quickly approaching another time in this country where women will die seeking abortions they chose to have. One of these women may be a woman you love.

A representative in Georgia introduced a bill into that state’s legislation that would enforce an “investigation” into every miscarriage a woman experienced. Never mind that one in five pregnancies end in natural miscarriage. Never mind that many of these are devastating to the women who experience them. Never mind that most of these women miscarried because they were attempting to get pregnant with a child they loved; none of that matters to the men introducing the legislation. It only matters that a fetus “died,” and the woman carrying it must have done something criminal for her womb to expel it. It vilifies women during a time of their life that is already tinged with an enormous amount of pain.

I cannot begin to explain to you the anger I felt when I read about this bill. I was angry at the arrogance of the man that introduced it, the arrogance of a country currently embroiled in a culture and class war where this is allowable—a deep and raging anger that caused a 40-minute phone conversation with my mother where I screamed and railed against the present political climate. I became so angry I wanted to march. I became so angry I thought about buying those boots.

A generation of women that enjoyed the fruits of the fights of their mothers and grandmothers is once again called to stand up. We are called to be vocal and to tell people that we will not stand for this. We will fight against this. We will stand up in Congress and tell our stories about abortion. We will tell legislators that they are not allowed to use our uteri to breed hate. We will not be shamed or silenced.

In 20 years, I will not tell my little girl that while the country was stripping her of the rights she deserves, I sat back and allowed it to happen. I will tell her, “I stood up for you,” because I am a mother, a woman, a friend, a wife and the owner of a fabulous uterus.”


And while the House of Representatives may want to poke around in there just to make sure nothing untoward is going on, I’m quite sure I’m not going to let them in. And, if need be, I’ve got a pair of boots that will make that statement a little clearer.. I own a uterus that is loved by my husband, my mother, my grandmother and all my female friends, a uterus that nourished a wanted child for nine months, a uterus that doesn’t belong to anyone else.

Who’s Moral Now?

Laurie_Bertram_Roberts_TB_2012_t180by Laurie Bertram  Roberts

In my last column, I wrote about the importance of Medicaid expansion to our state–and specifically to me. Sometimes we pay a price for publicly sharing a story; my price was being told that I have no right to health care from complete strangers on social media. I have been told repeatedly if I am too poor, too stupid and too fat to be healthy, that is my fault–and if I die then that’s just too bad.

These people are echoing the private and public statements of many lawmakers. It is strange to be attacked by the same people who claim to be moral standard bearers for everything from guns to my uterus in Mississippi. Most will tell me they stand on the side of the Christian God, yet, when it comes to policies affecting their fellow citizens’ health, they seem to have traded Jesus for Ayn Rand.

One bright spot has been watching video of events in North Carolina, which has a lot in common with Mississippi, politically. It has a GOP-controlled House, Senate and governor’s mansion, just like us. North Carolina’s Republican elected officials are absolutely against expanding Medicaid, and they rail against Obamacare.

The difference in North Carolina, though, is that every Monday since April, faith leaders and community members have held protests against these policies. They’re calling the days Moral Mondays, directly challenging the GOP’s assertion that it is the party of Christian values and morality.

To Moral Monday protesters, it is immoral to disregard the condition of your fellow citizen. Instead, they believe the Christian God directs us to care for the least among us.

For those Mississippians who believe that the GOP lawmakers in control don’t speak for them, it is time to speak up. Let Republicans know they aren’t the only voice for morality in this state. Lots of us–from theistic and non-theistic beliefs–believe it is immoral to let working Mississippians go without health care. If you believe that these policies are wrong, write letters, make phone calls and start organizing. It’s time to put boots on the ground.

There is an old saying, “Closed mouths don’t get fed.” Lawmakers can’t hear what we do not say. When we don’t have money or a lobbyist, our power is our bodies and our voices. It’s time we use them, Mississippi.

 

*original published in the Jackson Free Press.