This Clinic Stays Open

It was 1986. A friend passed me a note after math class. All it said was “meet me after lunch.”

When we met, she told me she was going to have an abortion and needed my help. I was the only person that she trusted and was able to tell. Looking back, it may have been that I was the only friend that could borrow my parent’s car as long I put gas in it. I was sixteen, had almost ten years of Catholic school, had no idea what abortion was or what pro-choice meant. I didn’t know what would happen to her or to me.

In the 1980’s abortion was just something far away. I heard about it but didn’t really follow-up on it. I didn’t think it was important. It was something that other people had to deal with. I went to school, had my job afterwards, argued with my parents and teachers. What happened with my friend educated me, made me curious and truly changed my life.

Alex Wolf

My friend set the appointment and we drove the 45 minutes to get there. We didn’t really talk because neither of us knew what to say. The silence was difficult. She had the directions to the clinic and read them off over loud music. The final right and the clinic was there. I took that turn and was suddenly surrounded by people.

Women and men were around my car. They screamed in my window. People pounded on my tiny 1976 Chevette. A man and woman threw themselves on the hood and yelled that we are murderers. We are going to hell. They had gigantic pictures of fetuses. I had never seen a fetus before. (Is that what they look like?)

‘Murder!’

‘Don’t kill your baby!’

‘Sinners!’

‘You are going to hell!’

‘We can help.’

‘Before you were born, god knew you!’

‘Life begins at conception!’

‘Murderers!’

‘Sinners’

Dolls’ heads on spikes. Crucifixes. Palms in the shape of crosses blowing in the wind. Rosaries around people’s necks. Photos of people that looked like doctors. Addresses and phone numbers of the staff were written in red block letters. One of the posters had a face with a bull’s eye on it.

They slammed their hands on the roof of my car. Loud, repetitive. There was nothing I could do. If I moved, I would run someone over. The doors were blocked. It was like we were stuck in a barrier of cement. I was frightened and my friend looked terrified. We just sat there when things became even more confusing.

A woman in a bright orange vest knocked on my window and told me to open the door. It didn’t feel completely safe but she looked like she would help. There was a woman on the other side of the car as well, telling my friend to open her door. I was pulled from the car and basically thrown into the arms of another woman. The keys were in the ignition, standard stuck in neutral, I didn’t have my bag or wallet. They were going to drive away with everything. Maybe we were being robbed and would be left around all these people.

I was covered with this woman’s arms and walked to the door. My friend was right behind me. We were hurled through the entrance, buzzed in and pushed through the door. I do not remember what I said but am sure it was based in confusion and panic and anger and fear. Wondering how I would tell my parents that the car was stolen. My panic increased. What the hell was that? How would I tell my parents that I was here? What would my friend tell her parents? Maybe I could call someone? I simply had to wait.

My 16-year-old brain was going through constant thoughts of the worst when a woman walked in. She had my bag, my friend’s purse and my keys. I don’t remember what I said but do remember feeling relief and confusion. The woman told me where the car was and that they would help us when we had to leave. I asked her what happened. She said the people that blocked us were against abortion, a woman’s right to choose. I didn’t know much about the politics that went with this but remember becoming angry. People could do these things and stop me from going to the doctor’s office?

My friend came back and said she had to wait to be called. She had been given paperwork and looked even more frightened after reading each page. She said she was still not sure. I was given the pages after she finished them. I couldn’t tell my friend what to do but knew, if she didn’t have the abortion, she would not graduate from high school, would not go to college, would never get out of our little town.

My friend was finally called, the nurse opened the door and my friend walked in. The door closed quickly. I sat in the waiting room, going over and over what happened to us when we walked in. I was not sure why people were out there. Did they think that yelling at us was going to get us to change our mind? Why were they threatening us? What if I had just put the car into first gear, gunned it and run them over? Why were they there? I just didn’t understand.

After about an hour, the questions were still spinning in my head so I grabbed my bag and walked outside. I was surrounded, within seconds. Bombarded with statements, had papers and pictures shoved in my face.

People screamed.

‘Murderer’.

‘Going to hell’.

‘You will never be forgiven’.

‘Hell! You are going to hell!’

Some spoke softly.

‘Jesus loves you’.

‘You need to believe’.

‘We can help you’.

‘Adoption, not murder’.

Some said they would pray for me.

It was like I was being surrounded by noise in a tornado, not sure which person or quote to focus on as each tried to get louder so I would hear them.

One of the women that helped us in came over and told me to go back inside but I told her that I wanted to talk with her.

The woman explained that she was a “clinic escort” and she, along with others, volunteered at the clinic every day. They helped people get in and out of the clinic. They stopped the antis from blocking the doors and threatening people. They were there for our safety. The fights they had, the threats the staff experienced appeared to be never-ending. She told me that she was exhausted when she left the clinic but knew she had done something good. She had protected people and their choice.

The escort told me that she was often scared but did not show it. She was aware of the danger, spoke about the bombings that were threatened and some doctors were followed home, received mail that they would be killed. While we were talking, the protesters eavesdropped and told me she was lying. I finally looked at them in fear and laughed. It was fake and forced but I did not want to give them the satisfaction.

The conversation was interrupted as the escort ran to a car, hip-checking people and grabbing a man and woman out of a station wagon. She did this another two times and each person was as confused as my friend and I.

I was at the clinic for another two or three hours until my friend came out. She had many pieces of paper in her hand. The woman behind the desk asked for the make of our car. She radioed outside. A woman came in, grabbed the keys and told us to wait behind the doors.

The Chevette pulled up slowly, between people, trying not to hit them. The antis did same thing they did when we drove up. Screaming, hitting my car. My friend did not have the energy for this and I could see it. The escort was trying to get close so we could get into the two door. I got in the passenger door, my friend squished in after me. We were blocked in. The driver was swearing and telling them to get out of the way but they refused.

The escort shifted into neutral and slammed on the gas, terrifying the protestors enough to get out of the way. They split up in fear. She laughed and said that is why she loved standards so much. She drove up around the block. When she got out she said that was pleased that we talked and that she was able to help. I remember asking if she wanted a ride back and she smiled and said that would defeat the purpose of driving us away.

That was the last time I saw her. I remember thanking her but not what else I said. The drive back to my friend’s house was long. We didn’t speak about the abortion or the protestors. I asked what she was going to tell her parents we did. The stories had to be the same in case they were compared. She said that we went to the mall and she didn’t feel well.

I thought about this activity non-stop for weeks. I couldn’t talk with people about it because they would ask how I got there and why. I read a lot about abortion, pro-choice, politics and women’s rights but did not speak about it much with others.

Reading and thinking about it faded as the year went by and I graduated. I had my college chosen. A tiny place in NH, smaller than my high school, in the middle of nowhere. Lots of places to hike and small classes, was what made me choose that college. It was about twenty minutes from the ‘city’.

I was in college for about two months when someone older asked me if I wanted to go into the city and help out at a women’s center. When I asked about it, she described what I had experienced with my friend. They escorted people in and out of the clinic.

I went in with a group to the clinic that Saturday. There were many anti-choice people blocking the entrance, it was like a weird flashback. I went through training for a couple for weeks. An orientation, a record check, photos of the antis. I was trained on the job, was given a walkie-talkie and verse to tell people as I got in their cars. Ways to protect myself and to scream ‘fire’ if anyone touched me.

I was at this clinic for almost six years. This tiny clinic had to be evacuated twice due to bomb threats. It was set on fire three times. Doctors followed home. Escorts stalked.

I have been an escort at four other clinics since then. There were deaths and bombings and murders in the pro-choice community. I was verbally, emotionally and physically assaulted. I saw a friend get her arm broken. I had buckets of cow’s blood thrown on me. I fought with the police and antis.

I will always remember the women that helped me the year before I left high school. I have been a clinic escort because of what they provided for me. They helped me so I can help others.

These women changed my life and the lives of people I have escorted for almost 30 years. I wish I could find them and let them know the difference they made. They are my inspiration.

About

Margaret Zoe Fasolo is a social worker, activist and writer. She has been active in clinic escorting since 1988. In September 2016, Margaret spoke about pro-choice activism at The All Access NYC Conference. She is collecting work by clinic escorts for an anthology "This Clinic Stays Open."