“Don’t smile, you’re entering the death camp!”
That’s what I was told as I arrived at the clinic for a morning of escorting patients past the crowd of protesters to the front door. Let’s just note: I’m Jewish, and the protesters know it. They yell about the second Holocaust occurring “right here!” at anyone who will listen, and at plenty of people who aren’t listening at all. But that doesn’t make it feel any less personal.
I try to tell people that clinic escorting has nothing to do with me. Escorting is about having a hand in ensuring access to medical care. Period. But the protesters? If the morning is getting slow, if they don’t have patients to yell at, they’re happy to make it all about the escorts.
Take one recent Saturday morning, which I spent hearing that I must not be a real, spiritual Jew because I help murder babies. One of the protesters has recently taken to showing up at the clinic in a tallit and kippah, the Jewish prayer shawl and skull cap. “Jesus wore a tallit,” he’s told me, between screaming at women walking into the clinic and preaching from the New Testament. Maybe this protester really believes that wearing a garment that didn’t actually exist in Jesus’s time brings him closer to God – but it still feels like an attack to me.
Still, I think I might have it easy. People of color who escort experience far worse attacks than me, especially African-American escorts. I’ve heard protesters ask “Do you know who Margaret Sanger is? Did you know she founded Planned Parenthood to kill black babies?” Protesters have told us that abortion is another black genocide, like slavery. They’ll talk in circles about how African-Americans couldn’t go to college during slavery, how their parents worked so hard to send them to college, how black parents didn’t work hard to send their children to college so they could do this. This being helping women access medical care, of course.
So as much as I try to make a morning on the sidewalk all about the patients, I always know the protesters won’t allow it. I’ve started practicing strict non-engagement: the only things I say to the protesters are related to my job, like, “You can’t block the sidewalk,” or “She asked you to leave her alone.”
That doesn’t stop the harassment.
“All babies are precious, Rachel. Six million Jews were precious, Rachel,” I’ve been told. It’s those statements that make it perfectly clear to me that the protesters aren’t out there just to “save babies.” If they were, they’d leave me alone. Protesters are outside clinics that provide abortions to shame women for their choices. My choice is, and will continue to be, helping women get into the clinic. People who have a problem with that should stop comparing my work to the Holocaust, and get used to it.
About the author: Rachel Goldfarb has been a feminist since birth, but her mother might regret that after hearing stories about her work as a clinic escort. When she’s not doing feminist activism, Rachel works in communications at a progressive policy organization. Follow her on Twitter at @RachelG8489.