Guest Blogger Peggy Cooke is a feminist, activist, writer, gumboot dancer, and cat-admirer from Fredericton, NB, Canada. She is a clinic escort, and a volunteer coordinator at her local Morgentaler Clinic. She regularly blogs at Anti-Choice is Anti-Awesome. Contact her via e-mail for more information.
How I became a clinic escort is still a bit of a mystery to me. The abortion debate is something that never interested me as much as some other issues in feminism; obviously I understand its importance to the idea of women’s freedom, but it never captivated me as much as, for example, body image and the beauty myth, or the intersectionality of feminism and trans issues. I barely knew who Henry Morgentaler was until three years ago; all I knew was from my dad’s insistent rants that the doctor’s Order of Canada was long overdue.
However, when I came back from a post-university, discovering-myself trip to Costa Rica in early 2007, it was to the news that my mother, a counselor, had taken a position at our local abortion clinic (which is not just our local clinic, but the only private abortion clinic in the maritimes). Until then, I didn’t even know people still protested at abortion clinics! Even in our small city, I had never noticed them. I certainly didn’t know that the New Brunswick Right to Life had their headquarters in the house directly next door to the clinic, where they run a highly questionable crisis pregnancy center.
I began volunteering the next week. I had nothing to do, no job and no school, so I wanted something to fill up my days until I figured out what to do with my life (still working on that!). It was February when I did my first shift as a clinic escort. I went outside at 7:30 that Tuesday morning, all bundled up with a blue “clinic escort” pinney pulled over my coat, freezing and miserable. I’ve never looked back.
In case you’ve never done it, clinic escorting is a unique experience. What happens totally depends on where you volunteer and what kind of protester your clinic gets. We have regulars – we very rarely see new faces – and they are for the most part older men and women, retirement age, very religious. They carry signs. They sometimes yell, sometimes plead. They ask the volunteers probing questions about abortion and about their personal lives.
Eventually our volunteer coordinator left and I took over the scheduling of the volunteers, which led to occasionally filling in on reception, and then eventually to my part-time job as office assistant at the clinic. I started blogging as a way to debrief after stressful shifts at the clinic. The blog got a lot of attention; the clinic staff began reading it, then the staff of other Morgentaler clinics began reading it as well. It was featured on Maritime Noon on CBC, and I’ve met tons of cool people out in the blogosphere because of it.
The blog is important to me and one of the projects I’m always working on is making sure that my volunteers have the same opportunity to debrief and to vent. Many of them go straight to work or school after their volunteer shift and don’t have the support system in place to relieve some of the frustration and anger that comes with being a clinic escort. Even if you don’t feel like it has that much of an effect, being called names like “Satan’s helper”, and even witnessing some of the harassment tactics the protesters use on patients, can really take a toll after a while.
I’ve been the volunteer coordinator for two years now, and I still love it. It’s allowed me to meet a lot of cool people in what is undoubtedly a very conservative city, and I think being a clinic escort is one of the most directly rewarding volunteer opportunities that exist. You can literally see how much the patients appreciate your presence, and it’s not hard to imagine how difficult it would be for some of them if the clinic escorts were not there.
For those people looking for an opportunity to be a clinic escort, I would recommend contacting your local abortion clinic or Planned Parenthood and asking what they need. Some organizations have a volunteer coordinator but others simply don’t have the staff to organize, so you may have to call around a bit. Some clinics don’t need escorts because they are protected by bubble zone laws, but may need your help in other areas, especially if it’s a Planned Parenthood or sexual health clinic that provides multiple services. Certainly I highly recommend clinic defense as an excellent direct-action, on-the-ground volunteer position for any pro-choice person.