One Of Our Own Tells Huff Post Antis Are Racist-Buffer Zones Needed

By Laurie Bertram Roberts
On February 22, 2014 on of the Pinkhouse’s own Michelle Colon went on Huffington Post Live and told the real deal about what happens at JWHO while escorting patients. She revealed that indeed anti choice protesters aren’t just groups of harmless grandmothers <cough Operation Rescue cough>. Instead they are mostly old white men who approach any black person they see near the clinic and in the words of Michelle

say some of the most disgusting, degrading and racist comments to them

The full segment includes Liz Winstead   escort advocate and comedian and Katie Klabusich who escorts at a clinic in New Jersey. It is well worth watching and debunks the lies set forth to the Supreme Court that anti-choice protesters are mostly composed of harmless Aunt Bea looking granny types who just want to pry.  As Liz Winstead said

“Well she exists, the people who pray do exist. They absolutely exist there are people who say rosary and who are peaceful protesters who do that and then there are people who are not. Which is the majority of the people who hold up signs of some like post like post I don’t even know what giant fetus, stillborn baby or whatever it is they hold up and they are verbally assaulting people and so the woman,  I don’t think anyone has a grievance  unless you are chasing someone down with a rosary praying at them”

Unfortunately as Katie Klabusich pointed out some indeed do chase women down and pray at them. They do it here in Mississippi it is disgusting it is not a sign of God’s love it is nothing but shaming plain and simple. If being racist and shaming is the best that anti choice activists have to offer women they should probably stay home.

 

Watch the full segment here:

http://live.huffingtonpost.com/r/segment/abortion-escorts-buffer-zone-laws/52fd282dfe34443f7f000227

This Clinic Is A Refuge

By Laurie Bertram Roberts

She could barely stand she was so sick that day. Every step seemed to take so much effort just for her to get to the door of the clinic. As we walked with her and her family we heard bits and pieces of her story. She wanted to be pregnant. This pregnancy was toxic for her and it showed in her face and her movements. She had went to 3 doctors only to be told they couldn’t help her. So here she was. We walked, she walked, and the street harassers yelled at her and her family as if they knew about her and her life. She owed no one an explanation. We listened, to her and her family. We talked, to her. For that woman on that day the #Pinkhouse, as we affectionately call Jackson Women’s Health Organization was a place of refuge.

Since the JWHO clinic defenders started in January we have walked with hundreds of women. Women of various ages, income levels, and races/ethnicities. Each had a story, each had a reason to be there that was her own. No one reason was more valid than the other. For each one the last abortion provider housed in the bright pink building on a hill was a place of refuge. Yes, I said a place of refuge just as defined by the dictionary- a noun- “a condition of being safe or sheltered from pursuit, danger, or trouble”.

Operation Save America/Operation Rescue, I mean Operation Oppress, is coming to town next week as part of their “States of Refuge” tour. It is odd that an organization that employs terrorists and spends it’s time going around the country harassing patients and trying to intimidate abortion providers would talk about providing refuge to anyone.

It is clear that in their minds they believe that they know what’s best for the women of Mississippi. Only they can provide them the “help” they need. Only they have the spiritual guidance we need. We choose to TRUST MISSISSIPPI WOMEN! We will continue to support the doctors and staff of the clinic who put their lives at risk to provide a safe and legal medical procedure. If or when the time comes that a woman in Mississippi or the surrounding area needs abortion care JWHO and it’s supporters will be here. The clinic is A PLACE OF REFUGE and it will continue to stand as a bright pink beacon of reproductive freedom.

Please join us Nov.1-6th as we show our support for OUR state’s last abortion provider. Clinic eventIf you can’t come in person please consider making a donation either at  the address below or Mississippi NOW’s reproductive freedom fund via Paypal (put in the memo what you want the money to go for clinic defense or abortion funding).  I urge you to support the local people who are on the ground doing the work here in MISSISSIPPI everyday! Thank you!
Donations can be sent directly to
Jackson Women’s Health Organization,
2903 N State St, Jackson, MS 39216
in the memo: Escort activities/events

It’s easy to be pro-life until…..

By Laurie Bertram Roberts

The sun was beating down through the car window, my mouth was dry and my legs felt like lead.  I was trying to figure out how I ended up here. In my mind I knew how- I was a bad girl I was stupid and careless. I kept telling myself all those things. How did I let this happen?  I couldn’t be pregnant now. So there I was 22 years old mother of 5 about to do something I thought I would never do. Have an abortion. See I wasn’t like those other women, you know the ones, the irresponsible ones who didn’t “own their life choices”. The reason I had 5 kids is I owned my “mistakes”.

Abortion had never even been an option for me when I found out I was pregnant at 16. In fact the first place I called to go for a pregnancy test wasn’t Planned Parenthood it was Birthright a anti choice organization that offered services much like a Crisis Pregnancy Center. I couldn’t go to Planned Parenthood when I was 16 because everything in my upbringing had told me they were evil and I had believed them.

As a little girl sitting in the dark stained wooden pews of our fundamentalist Baptist church I often had questions. I didn’t understand why I couldn’t wear pants when I was younger and then when we switched churches God magically changed his mind and I could. Only I still had to always wear skirts to church ALWAYS! That always made me wonder what would happen if I didn’t would God come down and smite me? I mean I was only one little girl in Wisconsin -I always figured God had better things to do. I often wondered why women couldn’t be church leaders or speak in church except during “women’s events”. I was always full of questions. It was never ok to question the good book and the teachings of God. So even though I was a questioning type I never really thought twice about my church’s stance on abortion or all the things I learned as a child and adolescent about abortion and sex. I did mention I was raised fundamentalist evangelical Baptist, right? Think Jerry Falwell,  (except oddly my grandmother strongly disliked him) John Hagee and Pat Robinson kinds of ideas.  There were lots of rules about life, especially sex and well women we don’t get a say.

Rule one-was sex is BAAAADDDD I mean it bad! It was dirty and bad, until it magically became good when you found the right God fearing (same race) man and got married. Then sex and babies were great- actually required.  In fact if you couldn’t have babies you weren’t suppose to be too shocked if your husband wanted a woman who could provide him children. (that is a whole other post) Rule two- If you were a girl who was dumb enough to get raped or slutty and tempted some good man to have sex with you or weak enough to let some bad man tempt you and you got knocked up- tough cookies for you. Abortion was NEVER an option. Not for rape, not for incest, and especially not for slutty girls who should have heeded God’s will and kept their lady parts to themselves (By the way NO masturbation either y’all if you’re horny just PRAY). Hormonal birth control is abortion and abortion is murder. I am a child of the 80s. Anti abortion rhetoric was very popular in my church then. I heard often about the holocaust being committed against the unborn. How I should be proud as the mulatto child of a single mom that she owned up to her sin and had me. I really couldn’t thank people enough for calling me a black bastard baby on the sly. I was 12 when my mother experienced a stillbirth it was one more reason to demonize women who get abortions. How dare they throw away the chance she would give anything to have back. What ungrateful people they must be. I heard over and over how only selfish women chose to destroy the life God had blessed them with. This was usually paired with the story of some good Christian family who was just waiting to adopt but couldn’t. Of course it was because of abortion they couldn’t adopt. More than anything I heard how Planned Parenthood injured, maimed, and killed women. That they didn’t provide real health care and were only out to make money. The accusation that always stuck with me was that they would give you an abortion even if you weren’t pregnant.

I grew up hearing those things until I was 14 and they were still with me as my friend and I walked past protesters who called me a murderer, told me to “be responsible” and they would “help me love my baby”  and yelled at me not to “kill my baby”. They didn’t know or understand that I had 5 babies at home to care for-one under a year old-and a doctor who had warned me not to get pregnant for at least two years or it could kill me.  I didn’t want to be there but I NEEDED to be there.  I hadn’t wanted to go through the state mandated 24 hour waiting period, the informed consent lecture by phone, the stupid video of what an abortion is. Not because any of it made me feel guilty it all just seem like an insult to my intellect. It just drew out the inevitable rather. I knew what I was there for.

So I sat in the waiting room looking around at the other women thinking “I wonder what her story is”. They all looked different some were calm, some scared, some tired, none of us looked like we wanted to be there.  Some of them may have been “good girls” who would go back to church on Sunday and act like abortion is evil. I held my friend’s hand and I waited. They finally called me back for my ultrasound. The technician, who had been chatting with me, got strangely quiet and then called the doctor in. The doctor introduced himself and said “Ms. Roberts there is no heartbeat and it seem the embryo stopped progressing several weeks ago- you are going to have a miscarriage. You should go home and contact your regular doctor especially if you don’t start bleeding in a few days. If you don’t have a regular doctor you can follow up with us. We will refund your money on your way out” He smiled at me gently and patted my hand. My mind was blown! They were suppose to be giving me a back alley abortion procedure right then and there according to everything I was ever taught. I had already began to question my views but this meant I had been lied to flat out for years! The morning I got up to go and get an abortion I still considered myself pro-life. I was one of those people that said I would never have an abortion but what you do is your business. That was a big step for me from abortion is always murder and those women are going to hell. Still for me I was not one of them. Those women were irresponsible I had a medical reason that made me different, right?

The truth is, it was that day that I realized I wasn’t different than those women and although I was sent home that day I am no better or worse than the 1 in 3 women who will have an abortion in their lifetime. Had they not sent me home I would have had that abortion and several days later when my body spontaneously aborted I was relieved to no longer be pregnant. I will never apologize for not wanting to be pregnant or willing to take the medical risk at that time to have another child.

I learned far from being crazed money hungry boogie bears abortion providers are compassionate health care providers (not saying there are never bad ones there are bad docs EVERYWHERE).  Planned Parenthood took good care of me. They were kind and patient. The exact same things I see every week at Jackson Women’s Health Organization. They also called and followed up with me everyday until I miscarried. They didn’t have to do that. I wasn’t really their problem anymore. After I had almost died during a miscarriage from lack of care at a Catholic hospital this level of care and concern was refreshing and shocking.

The biggest lesson I learned is it’s easy to be pro life (anti choice) until you are the one who needs or wants an abortion. It’s easy to tell other people what to do when you can never get pregnant. It is easy to project your feelings of wanting a child or having lost a child onto another woman’s pregnancy experience (as I did when my mother experienced a stillbirth) when it’s not you who needs one.  At the end of the day none of that matters for the lives and choices of individual women and families.

Families just like mine.

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.