Tracing the History of a Job That Shouldn’t Exist: The Role of Clinic Escorts in America’s Fight for Abortion Rights


Our bodies on the Line by Lauren Rating examines the position of clinic escorts in America’s struggle for abortion rights, and chronicles the historical past of anti-abortion extremism.

JACKSON, MS – AUGUST 19: Clinic escorts watch an anti-abortion protestor within the again entrance of Jackson Ladies’s Well being Group on August 19, 2021 in Jackson, Miss. (Montinique Monroe / Ms. journal)

Dandy Barrett was soaking moist when she came upon her father had been murdered. In the course of a bathe, her telephone began ringing and she or he stepped out to reply it. Her brother was on the opposite line. “Dad’s been shot on the Girls Middle,” he informed her via tears. “He’s useless, Dandy.”

Barrett’s father, James, was an Air Pressure veteran, neighborhood volunteer and pleasant septuagenarian. He was additionally a clinic escort at his native girls’s well being middle in Pensacola, Fla. On this place, James Barrett and his spouse, June, walked sufferers and medical doctors to the clinic entrance—previous throngs of virulent ant-abortion protesters—offering a protected haven for individuals in search of authorized abortion companies. Barrett seen his volunteering as a pure extension of his navy profession spent defending residents. He was solely capable of provide this important help for a mere 16 months, nevertheless, earlier than being shot by an anti-abortion terrorist on July 29, 1994. That day marked the primary time in U.S. historical past {that a} clinic escort was killed whereas volunteering.

This private account seems in Lauren Rankin’s new ebook, Bodies on the Line: At the Front Lines of the Fight to Protect Abortion in America. Within the ebook, Rankin, a author and skilled on abortion rights, traces the historical past of clinic escorts and defenders within the U.S. from the earliest days of legalized abortion within the Nineteen Seventies via the current day, when the prospect of the overturning Roe v. Wade hovers over the nation like a specter. 

Upon the nationwide legalization of abortion in 1973, longtime abortion rights activists like Carol Downer celebrated their hard-won victory whereas clinics started breaking floor throughout the nation. Instantly on the heels of this success, nevertheless, have been teams of newly organized anti-abortion protesters able to struggle. 

Their actions began comparatively quietly: In 1975, a bunch of six girls entered a clinic in Rockville, Md., and staged a silent sit-in. Different teams handed out literature in parking heaps. However then got here the megaphones, the screaming, the dying threats and the outright violence.

By the tip of the Nineteen Seventies, feminists, activists and neighborhood members had already come collectively in response to rising numbers of protesters, forming advert hoc clinic escort groups throughout the nation.

“It sounds absurd in its simplicity—simply stroll with individuals,” wrote Rankin, “however that’s what makes it so radical.”

By offering sufferers with a comforting shoulder to lean on, a sort phrase to listen to and a transparent passage to the entrance door, a clinic escort lends a humanizing presence to an oft-chaotic scene. Clinic escorts are key to creating “abortion entry a actuality,” mentioned Rankin, who additionally volunteered as a clinic escort in New Jersey for six years.

All through the Nineteen Eighties and early Nineties, anti-abortion groups just like the Professional-Life Motion League and Operation Rescue started to carry coordinated, large-scale demonstrations throughout the nation, forming blockades in entrance of clinic entrances; gluing locks shut; writing down sufferers’ license plate numbers; partaking in intrusive “sidewalk counseling” classes; mendacity in entrance of automobiles; yelling in sufferers’ faces via megaphones; and locking themselves to lab tools and doorways. 

Their actions began comparatively quietly. However then got here the megaphones, the screaming, the dying threats and the outright violence.

Abortion suppliers, directors, clinic escorts and sufferers started to worry for his or her lives. And rightly so: Anti-abortion protesters proved their capability for violence repeatedly. Bombings, arson, kidnapping and homicide have been all dedicated by extremist anti-abortion activists. Basically, these teams “turned the entrance door of a clinic right into a carnival of chaos,” wrote Rankin. 

Regardless of these escalating ways—lots of which have been downright unlawful—the response from legislation enforcement and legislators was tepid. Even after the passage of the Federal Entry to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act in 1994, which offered federal safety to sufferers coming into clinics, police remained largely untrained and have been leery of getting concerned. In instances when picketers have been arrested for his or her actions, they have been usually fined solely small quantities and instantly launched—in some cases, immediately onto buses which introduced them again to the clinic protests.

“Finally, [clinics and patients] have been usually left to their very own gadgets,” wrote Rankin, “understanding that legislation enforcement was reluctant and even unwilling to come back out and cope with an remoted incident of individualized harassment.”

In consequence, clinic escort groups have been compelled to evolve alongside the more and more fractious and threatening habits of abortion opponents. Clinic protection emerged. In contrast to escorts, defenders took a extra aggressive position with anti-abortion protesters, partaking immediately with them and making an attempt to distract them in order that escorts might safely usher sufferers inside clinics. On the similar time, methods employed by clinic supporters have been extra broadly shared and standardized throughout the U.S.

The affect of coordinated regional and nationwide protection efforts was manifold. After the “Summer season of Mercy” in 1991—which introduced 25,000 anti-abortion protesters to Wichita, Kan., the place they wreaked havoc for a number of weeks—abortion rights activists organized by Buffalo United for Alternative got here from throughout the nation to defend clinics in Buffalo, New York through the so-called “Spring of Life” in 1992. Protesters have been unable to close down a single clinic within the metropolis due to the sturdy response of escorts and supporters, inflicting Time journal to confer with the anti-abortion group’s effort as “Operation Fizzle.”

Though the work of clinic escorts and protection groups has been overwhelmingly profitable, what got here subsequent within the battle for abortion rights has confirmed tougher to counteract. President George W. Bush “helped usher in a brand new period of institutionalizing opposition to abortion,” wrote Rankin, referring to Bush’s appointment of abortion opponents Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court docket in addition to the passage of the Partial Start Abortion Ban Act throughout his time period.

The gradual erosion of abortion rights previously decade is a logical and insidious evolution of the work began all these a long time in the past in Rockville, Md., when six girls staged a sit-in at one of many first abortion clinics within the nation.

Mass protests towards abortion rights elevated below Barack Obama’s presidency and “helped set off the start of essentially the most restrictive decade for abortion rights in latest reminiscence,” Rankin mentioned. Donald Trump’s election in 2016 energized anti-abortion teams, who acknowledged Trump’s alternative to appoint further abortion opponents to the Supreme Court docket, which he subsequently did with Justice Neil Gorsuch, Justice Brett Kavanaugh and Justice Amy Coney Barrett.

As effectively, the previous few years have seen myriad anti-abortion laws enacted all through the nation, together with Focused Regulation of Abortion Supplier (TRAP) legal guidelines, which impose medically pointless laws on abortion clinics with the intention of shutting them down. Rankin wrote, “Abortion opponents lastly discovered one thing that would finish authorized abortion with out overturning Roe: forcing clinics to shut.”

Clearly, this technique has labored for opponents. In the present day, 89 percent of U.S. counties lack an abortion clinic, in line with the Guttmacher Institute, regardless of the vast majority of Individuals supporting the legalization of abortion. The results of this lack are felt most deeply by girls of shade, households with low earnings and rural-dwelling people, all of whom are sometimes compelled to journey lengthy distances—generally crossing state traces—at nice expense so as to entry protected healthcare.

The gradual erosion of abortion rights previously decade is a logical and insidious evolution of the work began all these a long time in the past in Rockville, Md., when six girls staged a sit-in at one of many first abortion clinics within the nation. “It has occurred slowly, below our noses, for many years,” wrote Rankin. Our bodies on the Line makes that abundantly clear. 

The thought of cardiac hospitals or dialysis facilities being blockaded by 1000’s of protesters is so absurd it beggars perception, but we’ve come to just accept the chaos exterior of girls’s clinics as “regular.” Why?

Rankin’s analysis for the ebook is methodical and exhaustive. She contains interviews with greater than 60 clinic escorts from teams such because the Pink Home Defenders, the Washington Space Clinic Protection Process Pressure, the Illinois Alternative Motion Workforce and lots of extra. The work of help teams in every single place from North Dakota to New York is profiled. By not partaking in discursive debates and wild hypothesis on politics and laws, Rankin retains the ebook targeted on the human-level expertise of escorts and sufferers. The story of abortion entry is the story of individuals, in any case.

At one level within the ebook, Rankin calls the work of clinic escorts a “job that shouldn’t be obligatory in any respect.” The thought of cardiac hospitals or dialysis facilities being blockaded by 1000’s of protesters is so absurd it beggars perception, but we’ve come to just accept the chaos exterior of girls’s clinics as “regular.” Why?

The reality is that the proper to an abortion has by no means been really protected. The struggle for ladies’s healthcare didn’t finish with the ruling in Roe v. Wade, it didn’t finish with the affirmation of abortion rights with Deliberate Parenthood v. Casey and it received’t finish now, regardless of the end result of Dobbs v. Jackson Ladies’s Well being Group.

“For simply so long as there was authorized abortion within the U.S., there was a devoted and concerted effort to undermine it,” wrote Rankin. Fortunately, now we have individuals like Rankin and all of the clinic escorts profiled in her ebook placing their our bodies on the road every single day.

Sign and share Ms.’s relaunched “We Have Had Abortions” petition—whether or not you your self have had an abortion, or just stand in solidarity with those that have—to let the Supreme Court docket, Congress and the White Home know: We won’t hand over the proper to protected, authorized, accessible abortion.

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