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.


11 thoughts on “How do we do it?

  1. Loving the blog as I read through. That Roy guy is totally insane and needs to be in an institution. I work in a mental institution and he reminded me of some of my patients.

  2. He has issues, for sure. I remember the day the preacher guy insisted on sitting next to me and reading the bible and I got up and started singing starting with Listen by Beyonce. His group stopped watching him and were listening to me sing. I was rolling laughing on the inside. Finished sat down put in my earbuds and went back to reading for awhile. Then sang Lady Marmalade with Sarah right by him-he got up and left.-Laurie

  3. I don’t know if I could do the “not engage” thing. At least, it would be so hard to not scream in their face that they’re a hypocritical bigot, disrespectful, cruel….besides which, what women are doing in a clinic of any sort is none of their damn business. Doc/patient confidentiality??? My other degree was in women’s studies so this is something I take very personally – it’s not just a detached subject or issue.

    Also worth noting such extremism is real bad for men, too.

  4. Thanks for your service and bravery. Would a valet-type system work at least to avoid “The Gauntlet”? (i.e. pull into parking lot and let an escort park your car down the hill) Just curious, don’t know all of the rules and the set up at the MS clinic.

  5. I live in the UK where we’re reading about your trials in The Independent newspaper. I’m not often roused to put finger to keyboard, but this has outraged me more than I can express. Thank you for escorting these women to safety, thank you for somehow managing not to engage with the bullies, and thank you for never giving up. It’s hard to believe that this is permitted to happen in America. We are often told the USA is the leader of the free world, but I can’t imagine anywhere in Europe where the government and its people would allow such bigoted, Dark Ages behaviour to continue. I hope so fervently that you manage to hold on in there. What would the women of Mississippi do without you? Thank you.

  6. Hi, I’m a Dutchwoman. I live in a country where sexual education is good, contraceptives cheap and widely available, and healthcare for women includes everything. Also abortion, legal up to 22 weeks (very late term abortions are extremely rare and can take place up to 24 weeks, usually in medical emergencies). We do have people who protest at clinics, but they’re small in number and get a lot of ridicule (fanatics etc.) Our prime minister has defended a woman’s right to choose. So, that’s where I come from. Then I read the testimonies and experiences of you, volunteers, sometimes as young as 16, having to act like a human shield to protect the reproductive freedom of women. I didn’t know it was that bad in some parts of the USA. I salute you. Your work takes courage. Take heart, be strong, and bless you for your commitment to women in need. I hope the clinic will continue to help women for many years to come.
    Sincerely yours,
    The Netherlands

  7. I only learned of your blog today, and I wanted to tell you to please keep it up. Also, you are amazing. Oh yes, now you’ve got me looking into volunteer opportunities at clinics here in VA, which as you know are also under assault from dangerous TRAP laws. Please keep posting, keeping taking video, keep escorting women and helping them to feel as safe as you can. Thank you.

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