Two Women Share Their Stories Volunteering as Abortion Clinic EscortsDecember 16, 2016 9:00 am Lauren Sega
No other medical procedure requires it, but for patients of Ohio’s abortion clinics, an escort system is often the only way to get women through the door to safely obtain their legal abortion.
The volunteers on the frontline, sometimes acting as physical barriers between anti-choice protestors and clinic patients, are passionate and unapologetic. While Columbus clinics like Planned Parenthood of Greater Ohio and Founder’s Women’s Clinic never used to have a problem with protesters, clinic escorts Michelle Davis and Claressa Page said that times have changed.
Over the last year, since the release of doctored videos accusing Planned Parenthood of harvesting fetal organs for profit, protester attendance has soared and become steadily more aggressive. What started out as prayers and singing has transformed into screaming, sign-waving, chasing and swarming.
“Once I escorted the first day, when I saw what was happening outside of the clinic, I could not believe what I saw, and it made me passionate about reproductive justice,” said Page, a Planned Parenthood escort.
Reproductive justice has since become a full-time job for Page and Davis, stay-at-home moms who met at a “Gynotician protest” in Goodale Park. The protest against Governor John Kasich’s anti-choice record (to which this Facebook page has been dedicated) spurred a friendship between the two that’s a reflection of Columbus’ pro-choice community: welcoming, supportive, and active.
“She was dressed like a vagina,” Page said.
“And you had kitty leggings on,” said Davis, an escort at Founder’s. “We saw each other and we were like, ‘Ahhh.’ We were living the same life but in separate clinics.”
When they’re not escorting, the duo regularly joins the rest of the pro-choice community at the statehouse to protest the rapid passing of anti-choice legislation. They admit the fight has become more reactive than proactive. Though they have dreams of easily accessible birth control and comprehensive sex education for everyone, they’re too busy putting out fires in the form of more restrictions on reproductive rights, the most recent of which being the 20 week ban signed by Kasich this week.
They attribute this state of the pro-choice movement to stigma and misinformation.
“It’s not a big deal. One in three women have them, and everybody needs to get over it,” said Davis, mother of three.
She speaks about stigma from her own experience of needing an abortion at a young age. A high school senior, baby already in tow, Davis and her husband found themselves expecting — again.
“When I got pregnant, it wasn’t even a question,” Davis said. “We didn’t pause. We were like, ‘What day this week can we make an appointment?’”
Davis doesn’t regret the decision, doesn’t feel bad, and equates it with getting her wisdom teeth pulled. Since then, she’s had two more children. Still, she stayed mostly silent about her abortion, keeping it between close friends and her husband.
“Women don’t feel like they’re able to tell their story,” she said. “Being in this movement, I realized I had stigmatized abortion, like, within myself and not known it.”
Page said experiences like Davis’ are common and should be heard, so that women know that it is okay to feel okay about their abortion. Silence allows for further stigma, leading to legislation that leaves the right to choose only to families wealthy enough to send the expecting mother away for an abortion across the state or in another state entirely.
“The only reason these people get away with what they do is because of the stigma related to abortion,” Page said, referring to clinic protesters.
“What they do” involves handing out brochures for crisis pregnancy centers and telling clinic patients these centers offer abortion services. If they fall for it, women will find themselves in a room with no real doctor, being pressured to go through with their unwanted pregnancy. Along with brochures, they spread misinformation, using false phrases and concepts like “partial-birth abortion” and “abortion as birth control” for their attention-grabbing persuasion.
“That’s the problem, though,” Davis said. “The other side loves catch phrases, pictures. It’s really hard to be like, ‘But, read!’”
Still, for Davis, the argument isn’t about literature, graphics or catchy slogans. It’s about control.
“That’s the bottom line for me. Above everything else, I am not a person if I don’t have body autonomy,” she said. “Any other debate around the issue doesn’t matter, because if I am not an autonomous person, I don’t even have a voice. If you’re telling me I don’t have control over my own body and my own person, then I can’t even debate anything, because I’m less than.”
For a moment, Page and Davis thought the movement was finally pushing forward again. They had two wins this summer, first in the form of a buffer zone for Columbus clinic patients to be further protected from protesters. Second was the Supreme Court overturning of HB2 in Texas, which required all abortion providers to meet hospital-like standards. Since November, their optimism has waned.
The country elected Donald Trump — a man calling for punishment for women who obtain abortions — to succeed President Barack Obama. This week, Kasich tossed the Heartbeat Bill in favor of a 20 week ban. A second bill, identical to one recently passed in Texas, requires burial or cremation of fetal remains and is awaiting approval from the Senate.
“We’re sliding backwards so far,” Page said. “It’s dangerous what’s going on right now.”
She’s referring to the increasing number of women making Google searches for how to perform DIY abortions. Desperate women in desperate circumstances aren’t discouraged from exercising choice by state governments placing bans on it; they’re just forced to take care of it themselves in unsafe environments, using dangerous, unsanitary methods.
In order to turn it around, the silent majority of pro-choice people need to get involved, they said.
“We need to get people to show up to the statehouse,” Page said. “We need for people to be aware that this is even happening.”
Since Ohio’s abortion bills were up for consideration, Page and Davis, along with activists from Women Have Options (WHO), Feminist Flag Corps and other organizations have gathered for demonstrations and protests at the statehouse, one of which involved bedecking the fence with coat hangers, the symbol of an era before reproductive justice. Counter protesters stole their thunder, though, removing the coat hangers shortly after.
“Next time we’ll use zip ties,” Davis said.
Another protest on Thursday — led by UltraViolet, Equality Ohio and NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio — was aimed at shaming Kasich for signing the 20 week ban into law. Members of the groups submitted more than 200,000 signatures to Kasich’s office, along with copies of the Constitution.
Moving forward, Davis and Page hope to see a power surge in the pro-choice community. Their suggestions for the lone pro-choicer looking to get involved are protest, “fund your local mom and pop abortion clinic” (like Founder’s), and hold state representatives responsible for the legislation they approve.
“They need to be worried that the people who are pro-choice are going to be as bad for them politically as the people who are pro-life,” Davis said.
Page added, “We need to undo the burden.”
For more information on local pro-choice groups, visit:
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