One beautiful sunny morning in Raleigh, a father lifted his towheaded toddler to my face and screamed, “You see that woman there, son? She don’t care one bit about you. She prob’ly wishes you were dead.”
I am an escort at a clinic that performs abortions, and I do not engage with protesters. I use a golf umbrella as a shield and help the patients quickly get to the clinic doors. Once a protester ran his hand down the back of my umbrella and said, “You know, that umbrella ain’t gonna save you.”
There are no buffer zones for patients in North Carolina, so six days a week protesters are allowed to surround the building, film the patients and pursue them when they get out of their cars right up to the property line. Out of 100 N.C. counties, 90 percent do not have abortion clinics, making Raleigh’s clinics busy year-round.
Daily, an otherwise attractive man with a megaphone will stand in front of the building shouting at the patients: “Unsaved people enjoy their guilty pleasures,” “Face your wickedness, woman, turn to God and repent,” “Fear the fury of God,” among other religious threats of hell and damnation.
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If a patient defends her appointment to the protesters, they will attack her sexuality, accusing her of being unable to “keep her legs closed.” If her male partner defends her, they will attack his masculinity, and if the patient is African-American, they will accuse her of committing “negro genocide.”
Opportunities for harassment
When North Carolina instituted a 24-hour waiting period for abortion services and banned the use of telemedicine for medication abortion, protesters were gifted with more opportunities to harass the same patient.
Two senior citizens usually stand in front of the driveway, blocking traffic and motioning drivers to roll down their windows. Then they quickly push anti-abortion brochures created by a nearby crisis pregnancy center inside. The brochures contain several dishonest assertions such as abortion causes breast cancer and birth control is ineffective.
In 2011 North Carolina added a “Choose Life” license plate to generate funds for crisis centers despite the fact that an overwhelming majority of them do no employ medical professionals or provide comprehensive information to pregnant women.
Colorado upheld statewide buffer zones even after the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously voted against them in 2014. Buffer zones give patients 35 or more feet between them and their harassers and are intended to provide medical privacy, freedom of religion and protection against stalking, but the zone is not a panacea for violence.
On the federal level, the Freedom of Access to Clinic Act has been instrumental in helping to curtail the violence against patients and staff members in clinics, but the unregulated daily harassment at clinics sets up a theater of war.
To thwart the inevitability of violence, North Carolina should institute buffer zones at clinics, legally require crisis pregnancy centers to be medically licensed and provide accurate health information, and repeal laws meant to create barriers to legal abortion services.
North Carolina has the dubious distinction of exporting the last eight domestic terrorists. Until extremist views are treated as threats against humanity, a golf umbrella will simply have to do.
E.L. Sanders is a writer in Raleigh.