They Call Me “the Devil”

What it’s like to be an escort at Mississippi’s last abortion clinic.

This article is adapted from The Last Abortion Clinic, a blog started by clinic defenders of Mississippi’s last remaining abortion clinic, the Jackson Women’s Health Organization. The blog’s purpose is to educate the public about the daily life of escorts at the clinic and show what conflicts regarding reproductive rights really look like on the forefront of the battle. You can follow the clinic on Twitter @TheLastClinic.

I’ve known Roy, a constant feature at the clinic and a member of Operation Rescue, (you know, that group who believes they are justified in killing abortion doctors) for about 10 years. I used to write a regular “girl about town” column here in Jackson, Miss. 10 years ago. I was very open about my liberal ideals and opinions. When I finally got pregnant, I wrote a column about it. Roy wrote me a letter in care of the paper telling me he was “happy I was keeping my baby.” This was after several pro-choice columns I had published. So, this idea that he holds the morality for the world isn’t new to Roy. He’s a regular fixture at the Last Clinic and one of the most zealous protesters.

On this particular morning I was doing our regular routine at the clinic. The day for me when I do defense, which I do before I go into my regular employment, starts around 7 a.m. Or rather, that’s when I leave my kid and husband in bed and, during the winter time, wrap up in approximately 14 scarves and head down the five blocks from my house to the clinic. There’s a coffee shop, Sneaky Beans, one block up from JWHO that is my usual stop before I head to the parking lot at 7:30 to await the women who hold 8 a.m. appointments. There’s a ledge along the parking lot where I usually sit.

The first day I did clinic defense—it being around 30 degrees outside and me having a scarf wrapped up to the tips of my ears as I cupped my coffee and bounced my butt off the cold concrete—I was told I was “the Devil,” a “baby killer” and several other choice terms by the Early Risers already sitting outside the gates. We sit there and take verbal abuse for about half an hour most mornings. I’ve tried to beat the “antis” to the clinic but even when I show up at 7:15, I still find at least one. I finally figured out that’s how they know if the clinic is open that day. The clinic is only open three days per week at this point. And those days aren’t publicized to anyone who isn’t escorting or doesn’t have an appointment. So, the only way the antis know if it’s going to be open on certain days is to wait for the early shift of escorts to arrive. They send a “scouter” usually. As soon as he sees me walk up with my coffee, I greet him with a cheerful, “good morning” and then he furiously begins tapping on his phone.

I take my perch on the cold concrete and wait for the other escort on the shift to show up. After the first day, I learned why iPhone ear buds are a constant accessory of the escorts. It just helps to make it through the “Don’t Kill Your Baby!” when you are listening to Beyoncé. When the antis are particularly vocal, or holding “Church,” Derenda—one of the other escorts—carries a boom box behind the patient to drown out the cries of the protesters. Some are so thankful they latch onto us for the 200 feet to the door and ask if these people are going to “hurt” them. We hold a lot of hands and try to make them laugh as much as possible. Sometimes the antis make this easier.

In the beginning of the day I’m a parking attendant. We have precious few spaces at the clinic and they all must be used exactly correctly or the antis will call in a report to the Health Department stating the clinic is breaking standards. So, I usher cars into spaces as tightly as I can—despite the fact that the women driving them are usually not in their best mental state. When the parking at the clinic gets full, we have no choice but to lead them to another public lot down the hill from the clinic. When this happens, usually one or two escorts run down the hill and walk the patient into the clinic. I affectionately call this “Running the Gauntlet,” because once we step off clinic property, we are fair game. The antis chase us to the woman’s car and try to get in between her and us. They will stand outside the car so she cannot open her door. And we cannot do a thing. We are taught to “not engage.” And we keep this rule regularly. But there are days when “not engaging” isn’t something I can do.

The video above is of this exact situation. Me and another escort, Sarah Roberts, were attempting to walk a woman from her car in the public lot, up the hill, and onto the safety of the clinic grounds. Once we get through Roy, we still have to get through the throng of protesters that stay at the clinic waiting to yell at this woman once we step through the gates. And the only point I need to make here is this: In what other place where a human being goes to access medical services are they subjected to this treatment? Because I’d like to remind people some of these women are just here to get birth control pills for a reduced price. And they have to put up with this.