AABORTION FROM AMERICA war is increasingly being fought in the courts. More anti-abortion laws passed in 2021 than in any year Deer vs. Wade half a century ago, in turn sparking a record number of court challenges, and on December 1 the Supreme Court is due to hold one of the largest hearings on the matter in decades. However, every day across the country a louder battle is fought on the sidewalks outside abortion clinics as pro-life protesters clash with pro-choice volunteers.
It is perhaps one of the few public spaces in which representatives of the American left and right directly exchange views. In some places, the clinic escorts, who bring patients past demonstrators shouting “Murder!” “, Laugh at the demonstrators for their religious beliefs. “Is this the validation you want from Sky Daddy?” A volunteer yells at a protester outside a clinic in Charlotte, North Carolina, in a TikTok video that has gone viral. The protesters, meanwhile, are providing what could be a caricature of the white Christian right. “You are a feminist! “A young man wearing a” Repent or Perish “bonnet tells of an escort in another video. “Feminism has led to the murder of babies. “
Such clashes are more and more frequent. In most clinics, volunteer escorts do not confront protesters. The role took off in the 1990s when some anti-abortionists turned violent. But more and more escorts are now calling themselves “defenders” and shouting back.
This contradictory approach is a response to an increase in the number of protests. According to the National Abortion Federation, anti-abortion picketing incidents have increased from 6,347 in 2010 to 123,228 in 2019. Although rarely violent, these protests are often aggressive and intrusive.
At Mississippi’s only abortion clinic, which is at the heart of the Supreme Court case, Dobbs v Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the Pinkhouse Defenders, named after the chewing-gum pink building in which the clinic is located, face off against anyone who challenges women upon their arrival. “No, no, no and no! An escort bellows at a protester who begs a woman, walking upside down in the clinic, not to “spill innocent blood” (“She’s already inside, honey.”)
Kim Gibson, co-founder of We Engage, a nonprofit that raises funds for the group, is a vocal advocate. She says she wants to “let the anti-people know that there is no welcome mat on the sidewalks of the clinic where they can easily throw up their shame and propaganda.”
The main goal, however, is to help clinic patients. By confronting the protesters, the escorts hope to distract from them. And by calling protesters by name, and often making fun of them, escorts hope to make them appear less threatening. “Patients can see that we are confident in our space, and we think it helps,” says Gibson. She says most of the Pinkhouse protesters are regulars; she worries about those she has never seen before.
Sometimes the interaction between the escort and the protester can degenerate into jokes, much like a joke between colleagues. “You’re late,” an escort says to a protester as he arrives and begins unloading gruesome posters of third trimester abortions (which are not performed in the clinic) from the trunk of his car. A few minutes later, he recites bloody passages from the Old Testament and she hurls insults at him.
The impression that, for some protesters at least, all of this is not limited to abortion is reinforced by their lack of interest in the looming legal battle. If he maintains Mississippi’s ban on abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy, which was blocked in 2018 because it violated Roe deer, the Supreme Court will have to severely restrict the constitutional right to abortion – or abandon Roe deer absolutely. But Coleman Boyd, a doctor who protests at the Jackson Clinic several times a week, says he’s not interested in what the judges decide about a “nasty” 15-week abortion ban. “We’re not just here for babies,” he says. “We are here to turn them to Jesus.■
For an exclusive preview and reading recommendations from our correspondents in America, sign up for Checks and Balance, our weekly newsletter.
This article appeared in the United States section of the print edition under the title “Clashing at the clinics”