I want to pay tribute today.
As anyone who knows me knows, I am one of those allegedly “frightening,” crazy people who believe in all women having complete autonomy over their lives and especially their bodies. Yeah, real crazy, hey? Totally out there.
There are only a few things I’ve encountered that evoke fierce laser beams of anger inside a shaking ribcage and/or the heavy desire to projectile vomit; one of them being the disgusting, severely misguided and mentally-blocked anti-choice protestors who seem to have the time to gather like brainwashed vultures outside women’s health clinics, specifically places where abortions are performed or talked about as an option.
I recently stumbled across a Q&A on Rewire with Benita Ulisano, the woman who launched the Clinic Vest Project in 2013, which seeks to provide “free clinic escort vests to groups that service facilities that support the full range of reproductive health options including safe and legal abortion.”
It may seem like such a simple thing, volunteering as a clinic escort — it is anything but.
Physical support would help tremendously to provide a boost during what is a mentally exhausting and heavy decision, especially in the presence of what is usually very vicious harassment. I cannot imagine having to fight off the verbal abuse from condescending, cruel and unempathetic protestors on my way to take control over my body. No one should have to fight against that. Clinic visitors are doing nothing wrong and I can’t stand that some think they are deserving of a groundless religious punishment. Get off your high, bloodthirsty horse. Reproductive rights are human rights and the world is a better place when motherhood and pregnancy isn’t forced on anyone.
The Huffington Post reports violence outside such clinics has escalated since 2015 when “heavily edited” and later “thoroughly debunked” videos of Planned Parenthood selling fetal body parts were circulated.
“The percentage of clinics reporting violence and threats by anti-abortion activists nearly doubled after the videos were released, from 19.7 per cent of clinics in the first half of 2014 to 34.2 per cent in the first half of 2016,” the article wrote.
“The most common types of violence and intimidation that clinics have reported include stalking, bomb threats, death threats and people blocking access to clinics. In 2015, at one Colorado Planned Parenthood facility, a man broke in and shot 12 people, killing three. He cited the alleged sale of “baby parts” as his motivation. Nearly half of clinics (49.5 per cent) reported at least one incident of severe violence or harassment in 2016, such as a break-in, robbery or instance of arson or vandalism. A quarter of all facilities said they experience harassment by anti-abortion protesters on a daily basis.”
This is why the Clinic Vest Project (CVP) warms me to the core. It is indispensable, especially in this misogynist age of Trump.
Ulisano says it best herself in the Rewire piece: “It is important for patients to know that they have that support when they’re face-to-face with people who don’t agree with their choice.
Being a clinic escort outside a women’s health clinic is the closest you can get to the issue of people being able to exercise their reproductive rights without being political.”
CVP has clients in Toronto (a local connection for me!), at Pink House in Mississippi and at Whole Woman’s Health in McAllen, Texas.
“The group in Toronto found us through our Facebook page”, Ulisano said. “I was contacted by the clinic escort co-ordinator and was over the moon! I was excited to hear from them because it was wonderful for us to know that we would be helping our friends north of our border, and that word of the project was traveling fast. Toronto does have its share of anti-choice protesters; however, I have heard that they are not as plentiful or aggressive as ours [in Chicago].”
I hope to find out who the group in Toronto is that uses these vests and offer to volunteer. In many ways it is exactly the type of work I have been looking for; it is exactly the type of thing I feel called to do on my Saturdays. Like Ulisano, I cannot think of anything I’d rather be doing than offering a non-judgemental arm to a woman “exercising her right to choose” and the right the healthcare.
Who are some of your unsung heroes when it comes to safeguarding women’s choices and women’s spaces?