Clinic Escorting Journal: Day One

“Ignorance, poverty and vice must stop populating the world. This cannot be done by moral suasion. This cannot be done by talk or example. This cannot be done by religion or by law, by priest or by hangman. This cannot be done by force, physical or moral.

To accomplish this there is but one way. Science must make woman the owner, the mistress of herself. Science, the only possible savior of mankind, must put it in the power of woman to decide for herself whether she will or will not become a mother.

This is the solution of the whole question. This frees woman. The babes that are then born will be welcome. They will be clasped with glad hands to happy breasts. They will fill homes with light and joy.”

—Robert Green Ingersoll, “What Is Religion?” (1899)

For several months now, my fiancee has been volunteering as a clinic escort at a local Planned Parenthood. The escorts’ job is to keep an eye on the protesters (because there are always protesters) and make sure they don’t violate the law by trespassing on clinic property or blocking other people from entering.

I’d been wanting to join her, but it took me a while to work up the willpower. (I wasn’t afraid; to be brutally honest, it was more about having to get up early on weekends – as well as the difficulty of scheduling the required training sessions with a full-time job.) But the murder of Dr. George Tiller gave me the spark of motivation I needed, and today was the first day I accompanied her.

When we got to the clinic this morning, there was only one protestor on the sidewalk outside, a man waving a sign that read “Personhood Now”. But three more soon showed up, all waving or carrying similar signs: “Abortion Kills Children,” “Planned Parenthood – The Killing Place”, “They Kill Babies Here”, and so on. Other than a few pictures of sonograms, there wasn’t much variety or creativity in evidence.

None of the protestors tried to block the clinic entrance or seriously harassed any patients that morning. The most they did was approach arriving cars to offer literature (most people ignored them, a few accepted it). On one or two occasions, they yelled at arriving women who were visibly pregnant: “Save your baby! We can help you!” Perhaps they don’t realize that Planned Parenthood also offers prenatal care and checkups for pregnant women, since that is, of course, what pro-choice means. They did shout at one arriving car which apparently was one of the doctors: “It’s blood money! It’s all blood money!”

Mostly their signs were pointed at the road, although they’d occasionally turn and face the clinic. About one in every fifty or a hundred cars honked at them, whether in support or opposition it’s impossible to tell, although I did see several drivers give the protesters a thumbs-up. At one point, the driver of a passing car made an obscene gesture at them, while another slowed down to yell out the passenger-side window: “Get a life!” (I burst out laughing at that, I have to admit.)

My fiancee had warned me that the protesters often tried to test new escorts, and that I could expect to be harassed if they realized this was my first time there. Nothing like that happened, although one of them did try to engage with me at one point. I was standing near the street entrance, about ten feet away from one of the protesters standing on the other side of the chain-link fence. He appeared to notice me, turned so his sign was facing me, and held out a pamphlet: “Hey, young fella! Come and read this!”

I made no move toward him, more than half suspecting he would grab me or try to spit on me. I shook my head slowly, giving him a flat stare.

He persisted. “Aren’t you pro-choice? Don’t you want to read it so you can make a choice? Come on, I’m not trying to insult you. I’m trying to help you!” When I continued ignoring him, he tried one last time – “I guess you’re not pro-choice!” – and then turned away.

More protesters trickled in over the course of the morning, and by the time our two-hour shift was almost up, there was a crowd of about fifteen people. Almost without exception, they were all elderly, male, and white. (There were two elderly white women, and one other exception, which I’ll come to in a moment.) As far as I could tell, they were also all Catholic. Many of them held crucifixes or rosary beads, and one, showing some rare creativity, brought a poster showing the Virgin Mary wrapped in an American flag and looking sorrowful.

That exception I mentioned came near the end of our shift. I was watching the protesters in a desultory way, not expecting them to make much trouble after two hours of relative quiet, when – wait: that new one there, dressed all in black. Wait a minute: he’s not dressed in just any black. Yes, that’s a priest’s collar he’s wearing, all right. Is he really a priest showing up to protest the clinic?

I didn’t have reason to doubt that for much longer. A young woman, probably about my age or a little older, whom I had thought was an ordinary passerby, stopped and embraced him, and I was close enough to hear her call him “Father”. But it wasn’t the woman that disturbed me so much; it was that she had brought her daughter, a little blonde girl who couldn’t have been older than six or seven.

The protester with the Virgin Mary poster had also brought several squares of carpet, and the priest, several other protesters, the young woman – and, to my shock and disgust, her daughter – knelt on the sidewalk and started to pray the Rosary out loud. These prayers went on for a good forty-five minutes without a break. Near the end, the little girl was obviously getting bored, if she even knew what was going on. She fidgeted, squirmed around, but didn’t leave her mother’s side.

Of all the things I saw that morning, this was the one that most appalled me. For adults to exercise their right of free speech and protest is one thing; I wouldn’t seek to deny them that freedom, however repugnant and medieval I may find their opinions. (I don’t think it was a coincidence that by far the majority of protesters were male.) But using your young daughter as a political prop, brainwashing her with religious rhetoric from the earliest possible age, and forcing her to participate in a protest whose nature she can’t possibly grasp – this is child abuse, in a moral if not a legal sense. Parents have a right to raise their children as they see fit, but we as a society should react with outrage when parents seek to mold their children into copies of themselves, rather than giving them the freedom to make up their own minds.

There was one impression I got from clinic escorting that heartened me, which was this: Despite the numbers and noise of the protesters, they were far outnumbered by the people who came to the clinic simply to use its services. The parking lot had room for around forty or fifty cars, and it was almost full by the time my fiancee and I left. An incautious observer, seeing just the two of us (and one hired security guard) standing guard duty in the parking lot and facing down a noisy crowd of fifteen or sixteen chanting Catholics, might mistakenly conclude that pro-lifers far outnumber pro-choicers. In fact, if today’s traffic was any estimation, there are hundreds of people from throughout the community who come to Planned Parenthood for medical assistance each week, while the same relative handful of believers show up every weekend to picket. As always, the way religious fanatics concentrate their numbers and act out in highly visible ways makes them seem more numerous than they really are. The majority of Americans already accept the idea that people have a right to control their own bodies, to have sex safely, and to have children only when wanted – and they seem more than happy to let this rest as a settled matter and get on with their lives.

I have one final observation, which is that Planned Parenthood is a clinic. It’s a place where people come for medical procedures, no different than any other outpatient clinic or hospital. It’s not here to advance a political agenda, but to care for women, for couples and for children. Its patients often come under desperate or trying circumstances, people who’ve already had enough shame and misery heaped on them. (One of the other escorts who arrived after us told us a story about a woman who was harassed and yelled at by the protesters until she left in tears, without ever getting into the clinic.) These people need our understanding and compassion, not the hateful shouting or the false front of sympathy put on by these spiteful bigots and their misogynist religion. They affect loving concern, but what they are really seeking is for other people’s bodies to be put under their church’s control. That is something we can never permit to happen again.

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About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, City of Light, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

  • vjack

    That’s a great thing you’re doing by serving as a clinic escort. I look forward to hearing about your future experiences in that role. I’m particularly interested in the training you mentioned. I assume they go over things like what the protesters can and cannot do, how you should respond, etc. I’d be very interested in hearing more about that sometime.

  • Spanish Inquisitor

    There is a Woman’s Reproductive Clinic just up the street from my office here in Harrisburg, PA. I pass it every day coming in to work. It’s actually inspired a few posts on my blog. Here’s one. Here’s another if anyone’s interested.

    Usually there are a couple of older ladies standing around, some with rosaries. Often there’s a huge 10X life size poster of an aborted fetus (which I find a bit repugnant, not to mention distracting to traffic, but what can you do?) Recently, someone had organized a counter-protest, so that there were actually two opposing camps parked on the sidewalk. A sort of Battle of the Placards. The pro-choice camp had a big sign that said “Who Would Jesus Harass?”, among others, that caused me to chuckle, then drive back around the block and stop and tell them to keep up the good work. They were trepidatious when I first rolled down the window, then smiled and seemed relieved when they realized I wasn’t going to yell at them. I would have stayed and chatted, but traffic required me to move along.

    I understand that “Get a Life ” sentiment. I’ve muttered it under my breath many times as I pass by. They also get the kneeling rosary reciters too, along with their share of priests and/or ministers.

    As far as the obviously pregnant, don’t they realize that the ones who are getting abortions will not usually look pregnant? But, one of the hallmarks of religious thinking is ignorance, so why am I surprised?

  • Jim Baerg

    “As always, the way religious fanatics concentrate their numbers and act out in highly visible ways makes them seem more numerous than they really are.”
    See his law #4. He talks about other controversies there, but you have illustrated another case.

  • the chaplain

    When I was a young, married, destitute college student (at a Christian college, no less), I greatly appreciated Planned Parenthood’s provision of inexpensive birth control and free, accurate medical advice. Kudos to you and your wife for supporting them.

  • Scott M.

    Want to have some fun? Before you do this next time, go buy one of those priest’s outfits with the black and collar and everything. THEN be an escort! Let them wonder how it is a “priest” could be an escort.

    Best wishes and good luck.

  • MissCherryPi

    I’m particularly interested in the training you mentioned. I assume they go over things like what the protesters can and cannot do, how you should respond, etc.

    They go over Federal (FACE ACT) and state laws about what protesters can and cannot do legally. They stress not engaging with protesters and deescalating any situations that arise. If the protesters do something illegal, like blocking the entrance you politely and firmly ask them to stop. If they are doing something violent, or don’t stop after you ask them, call the police.

    I started volunteering right after Gonzales v Carhart. I needed to do something with my outrage.

    The protesters in out neighborhood are not violent, thank goodness. But they are obnoxious, as described in the post. Today one of them was sprinkling the driveway with holy water. I’ve learned a lot about free speech as an escort. I am a lot more confident in my support for the First Amendment, having stood toe to toe with people saying things I find repugnant, and finding the strength to just let them be. Besides, the best comebacks are from patients.

    A few weeks ago, a woman, her mother and her infant daughter were going into the clinic – which offers care for babies. The protesters were yelling “DON’T GO IN THERE! DON’T TAKE YOUR BABY IN THERE! THEY KILL BABIES IN THERE!” The baby’s grandmother turned around “They didn’t kill this baby!”

  • Sarah Braasch

    That quote from Robert G Ingersoll is genius. I concur 100%. I agree with everything you have written here. Great post. Planned Parenthood is fantastic. I have made use of their services, and I found them to be kind, competent, and kind. The kindness I experienced there is what I remember most. As a survivor of childhood abuse, gynecological exams are difficult for me – I start sobbing uncontrollably – I can only go to a female doctor. The care I experienced at Planned Parenthood was par none.

    Your last point is something I agree with and struggle with. I wholeheartedly believe that raising a girl child in a religion that teaches her that she is subhuman, that she is merely a baby incubator, that she must serve as a sex slave to her husband, that she must obey the men in her life without recourse to the authorities, even if subjected to abuse – this is abusive. Yet, in too many families to count in the US, this takes place with impunity.

    I also think that simply inculcating any child in a religion that threatens them with demonic torment and eternal damnation for thought crimes is abusive. Yet, again, this takes place with utter ubiquity in the US, and we feel powerless to stop it.

    I struggle with where to draw the line. Children are not the property of their parents. They are human beings with rights.

    Yet, we want parents to raise their children, not the state, if at all possible. And, we want parents instilling values in their children.

    This is one of the reasons why I support public schools and take real issue with public support of parochial schools. At least if the child must attend public school, as I did, even though I was a devout JW child, the child has a recourse, has a safe place, has an outlet, and is exposed to the outside world, sees a different way of thinking, being.

    I do not support the criminalization of religion. I support freedom of religion. But I cry for the millions of children being abused in the name of religion, and in such a way that our state does not recognize this abuse for what it is.

    I struggle with this issue – and I would love to hear what others think.

  • The Ridger

    As far as the obviously pregnant, don’t they realize that the ones who are getting abortions will not usually look pregnant?

    Considering that their side constantly spouts the line that women get abortions on demand up to the 9th month on a whim, they almost certainly don’t.

  • Leum

    My “favorites” are the ones who protest outside Planned Parenthood clinics that don’t provide abortions.

    And anyone who hasn’t read it yet must read The Only Moral Abortion is My Abortion.

  • the chaplain

    Leum – I hadn’t read that piece before. It’s easy to to take a position on principle, as long as it’s primarily a theoretical question for oneself. It’s much harder to stand by that principle when it affects one’s life in a compelling, non-theoretical way.

  • Tommykey

    Way 2 go, Ebon.

    I went to a PP Clinic some years ago after I had a made a terrible mistake in judgment and I was very grateful for them and I donate to them from time to time.

    I’ve written in comments in one or two other blogs that one of my twisted comedy dreams is to go to an abortion clinic with two female friends done up to make themselves look 9 months pregnant, walk past the anti-choice demonstrators with them and go into the clinic, and then come out an hour later with them with their prostheses gone, and when we walk past the demonstrators again, call out to them, “Whew, I just saved myself a fortune in child support payments!”

  • Abbie

    Reason #323 Vermont is the best state: complete lack of crazy pro-life protesters.

  • Leum

    Reason #323 Vermont is the best state: complete lack of crazy pro-life protesters.

    Erm, no.

  • Stacey Melissa

    Hell, I’m proud just to have some friends who were escorts at Tiller’s clinic. Good on you for helping out at your local clinic, Adam.

  • Abbie

    Oh, crud. That is the PP in my home town, ew. Looks like they’re only doing it one hour per month…

  • Yahzi

    Good job, Ebon.

    I’ve never understood this ability to make special exemptions. I guess my brain is defective or something. Or maybe it was Sesame Street, with all that “which one of these things doesn’t belong with the others?” propaganda. It’s a Liberal Conspiracy!

  • exrelayman

    None of this is easy. If we cannot agree whether or not a soul exists, or God exists, then we of course cannot agree upon what actions to take. Thus conflict. Hopefully the light of reason will ultimately prevail, although the persistence of faith in the face of evidence to the contrary is certainly disheartening.

    Just as we say ‘child abuse’, when in point of fact if you believe God, heaven, hell, etc. instructing your child so as to save them from hell is the most loving thing you can do, so they say ‘murder’ when in fact saving the mother’s life or terminating an unviable fetus is the most loving thing we can do.

    A thought to toss out there about abortion, re Christian belief – if the fetus had a soul, then for sure the abortion would insure it did not go to hell, whereas being born assures that most likely it will go to hell (only a few will enter via the strait gate). So it is better not to have any children if you truly accept Christian teachings. If you truly were consistent in your thinking, that is.

    The slice of real life was nice. I applaud Ebon’s walking the walk as well as talking the talk.

  • Sarah Braasch


    I think I have to disagree with you, even though I appreciate your comment.

    The conflict is not about whether or not anyone’s beliefs — no matter how “crazy” or accepted — are true or false.

    The conflict is whether or not anyone may impose his or her beliefs on another, regardless of how heartfelt those beliefs may be, including whether or not parents may violate the human rights of their children.

    The fact that they believe that they are saving their children’s souls is irrelevant.

    I make this point, because I think it’s a trap to which it is easy to fall prey — and a trap often set by believers.

    My father sincerely believed that he had a god given right to beat me into submission.

    He had every right to believe this.

    He had no right to impose this belief upon my person thereby violating my personhood and autonomy.

    But, I really like your last point about sending souls to heaven. Although the Mormons would take issue with this comment. For some reason — they think they have to get from the ether to earth and then onto heaven. Which is why Mormon women are treated as baby incubators and plural and celestial marriages are part of the doctrine.

  • mike

    Thanks for that link, Leum (#13), that was a very interesting read.

  • Demonhype

    First of all, good for the both of you for volunteering in such a way. I’d love to, but I’m terrified I’d just get into a screaming and/or punching match with the hate-filled god-soaked morons.

    The part of the story with the little girl got to me. I was raised grades K-8 in Catholic school, though nothing ever soaked in. When they started in at six, I hit the ground questioning! (not out loud, of course) Unfortunately, not everything got spit out right away.

    I came across something disturbing to me couple of years ago as my mother and I were happily rooting through all the things she’d saved from our childhoods. I looked over various religious junk with nostalgia if not reverance, until I came across an anti-abortion drawing from sixth grade. It was of a very pregnant woman at a counter, taking a bottle of pills from the hand of an off-page speaker, who was instructing her to take all the pills and before she knew it that kid would be out of her hair, or some such flippant callously-murderous sentiment. The memories came flooding back about how evil these people were, to be killing babies without and kind of godly remorse, and what horrible women (they stopped short of using the word “whore”) would do anything but dutifully give birth and raise their sweet, innocent, wonderful little God’s gift to them. And how the world was sooo evil and godless and mass murder of infants was the result. The emphasis, BTW, was more on the women than on the abortion providers, too.

    I was so infuriated, just as I was when they told me that in public school, you’d be suspended if the school officials ever heard you breathe a word about Jesus. Apparently, from my drawing, I envisioned women just popping in a few days before their water broke, getting a bottle of over-the-counter pills from some uncaring, godless corporate dealer, and…well, I dont’ think I ever thought much further than that.

    Then I grew up, found out the reality of abortion (the methods, the actual statistics, that sort of thing), realized the non-representative strawmen and outright lies the faithful hateful had told me (uncorroborated, unproven, emotionally-manipulation-based stories, made up scientific “facts” and fabricated statistics, that sort of thing), and now I’m completely pro-choice.

    And arguing with parents who repeat uncorroborated anti-choice horror stories about how they broke into a clinic and found “a warehouse of barrels of still-alive little innocent unborn babies, yea, as far as the eye could see!” and claim that my more reliable evidence is just “whores and baby-killers lying so they can keep slutting and murdering”. They love that twenty-year-plus-old story, with it’s over-the-top true-crime-style horror and they are not willing to give it up. Plus my dad is certain they are just setting us up for a baby-killing industry, wherein the doctors will get to use discarded fetuses for their stem cells and that women will be encouraged to get abortions as often as possible. It would do no good to tell him he sounds not much better than his brother, my aluminum-hat-wearing insane uncle who fried his brains on heavy drugs many a year ago and now believes he is being pursued by both aliens and the Mafia. (Yes, he is walking around loose. Yes, that is very terrifying.)

    It’s nauseating that these people will indoctrinate their kids like this, before they even know what’s going on, deciding what they think before they’re old enough to form a real opinion. It hits a more personal note with abortion to me, because that’s one area of my rational thought armor they actually managed to cut through (however temporarily), what with the cute babies and whatnot. I’ve never held a grudge that there was no Santa Claus or Easter Bunny or Tooth Fairy, but the fact that they had me drawing little posters of misinformed religious hatred before I was old enough to understand any of the situation pisses me off like you wouldn’t believe.

    That said, I’d love to do what you guys are doing (since apparently girls can do it too), but I’m afraid that I couldn’t let the crap slide, not even what you’re describing, and I’d do more harm than good. I’ve lost a lot of tolerance for wilfull ignorance and hate, and it’s hard for me to believe that anyone has a right to be so completely and proudly stupid. After some shouting, and then some punching, I’d end up on trial for assault. I think my brother might too. I commend your patience and self-control!

    Again, good for you!

  • Demonhype

    Sorry for the redundance on the punching and shouting. That’ll teach me to read over from the top of my post before submitting my comment!

    I miss the preview. This never happened when there was a preview. *sigh* :)

  • Leum

    I still have a preview. I’m using Firefox on a PC.

  • velkyn

    Hey, spanish Inquistor! I’m from Harrisburg too. I’m sure you have also noted that there are only protestors out in front of the clinic when it’s a nice day. Utter hypocrites and liars. What ‘good’ Christians.

  • katiescarlett

    My little daughter came home from school in 1988 (she was 8 years old and in an enormously expensive private school) upset and crying. She said that the teacher had told the class, during a lesson on civics and the ongoing presidential race, that Michael Dukakis wanted to “cut open mommies’ stomachs and kill little babies.” I was instrumental in getting this teacher reprimanded, but my daughter had nightmares for a long time.

  • vel

    reprimanded? I would have insisted on the teacher being fired and suing the school for psychological harm done.

  • Spanish Inquisitor

    I would have looked him up and cut the religion out of his soft underbelly, if he made my daughter cry.

    Sorry. Father’s prerogative. :)

  • Alex Weaver

    I would have looked him up and cut the religion out of his soft underbelly, if he made my daughter cry.

    Sorry. Father’s prerogative. :)

    Sadly, we can’t even be sure it was a “he.”

  • Demonhype


    That’s a huge problem–the anti-choicers have a habit of lying to the little kids about what abortion really is. When they’re not making the attempt at subtlety, just planting the idea and encouraging it to grow into any number of absurd and gruesome untruths. It’s really hard to get someone to see the facts when their brains have been marinated in images of babies being forcibly cut out of their mothers and killed, warehouses full of barrels of still-living babies, and of course the conveyer-belt of brazen and irresponsible whores at the demonic family-planning clinic. When they’re marinated in it at an early age, I’d imagine it gets even harder.

    That is absolutely nauseating that that bastard would say such a thing to little kids. It’s too bad he was only reprimanded–if it had been nearly anything else, he’d probably be fired.

  • Doug


    Congrats on the engagement. Also, I want to salute you for having the moral courage to do this.