Buffer Zone at anti-abortion protests the least that can be done

Every Saturday I join a group of volunteers at the West Alabama Women’s Center as a clinic escort. I’m unapologetically pro-choice. Escorting patients from their cars to the clinic’s front door is one way I express that belief, as there are people who believe that not only should someone not have the option of abortion care but believe it so strongly that they, too, stand outside of WAWC. As escorts, we make their walk past the protesters as smooth as possible.

The protesters outside the clinic are seldom the mild-mannered “sidewalk counselors” that the anti-abortion movement insists they are. There’s no real concern for patients’ well-being. The least obnoxious of their signs pictures a preterm fetus underneath the words “Choose Life.” Another warns that abortion kills a life.

In the warmer months, the mother this sign belongs to likes to prop her three small children behind it. Yet another protester enjoys carrying a giant wooden cross as he shout-reads passages from a Bible he carries.

They’ve been kind enough to give us some of their literature, all of which includes either debunked and unscientific information or lots of Bible verses. As escorts we distract protesters, so we’ve spent hours listening to anti-abortion arguments that involve ahistorical statements, hardly theologically sound beliefs, classism, racism and heteronormative ideas about gender.

Purposeful miseducation persists among them. Abortion comes with risks involved, but with proper care taken by both the provider and the patient - care that’s easily done with little effort - it’s by far one of the safest medical procedures anyone can undergo. It’s also several times safer than pregnancy and childbirth, but they’d never mention that if they cared.

We’ve held back friends and family from beating the protesters after slurs and insults have been hurled at them. The clinic director has been stalked. Our cars’ plates have been photographed and tracked. I’ve been pushed into the highway. We’ve been physically attacked - one notable example being that one of the protesters, who happens to be a University professor, chased and hit another escort with a large sign. He’s since been banned, as he was seen by a police officer.

However, we can’t count on the police for help; when they drive by, they often honk in support of the protesters. Protesters have filmed both us and the patients. Protesters have dressed up like escorts (we wear bright safety vests) and flag down cars on their way in to shove anti-choice literature at them.

These people aren’t concerned with the well-being of the fetus or the person carrying it. They holler about available help, but none of them support measures such as comprehensive sex education, Head Start programs, immigration reform, universal health care that emphasizes reproductive health, foster care and adoption reform or increased funding and fewer restrictions on Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits. (Yes, we’ve asked.)

These efforts would encourage peace of mind about raising a child, create a safer environment for pregnancy and childbirth and make it less burdensome for lower-income families to do these things. They responded to these arguments with disdain, dismissal and lots of shaming.

Anti-abortion protesters rely on intimidation, emotional manipulation and bullying. They do little more than harass the clinic staff, escorts and patients. None of them are truly pro-life. They seem to only be for forced births.

Some consider this issue to be one of free speech. It’s not. No one stops any anti-abortion protesters from standing outside clinics. However, it’s absolutely necessary to preserve the privacy and maintain the safety of the patients.

A buffer zone is the absolute least the government can do for this. In the meantime, I wish protesters would understand that there are better ways to support someone faced with an unwanted pregnancy. Standing outside a clinic is the worst way to do so.

Samaria Johnson is a senior majoring in history. Her column run biweekly on Mondays

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