Several days after the 41st anniversary of Roe v. Wade, eight students took off for Bridgeport, CT to stand in defense of women’s rights. They drove 40 minutes on Saturday, Jan. 25 to serve as clinic escorts at the Summit Women’s Health Clinic.
Four representatives of the Wesleyan Clinic Escorts drive to the clinic three days a week to face pro-life protestors and accompany women entering the clinic from their cars to the doors of the clinic. The club consists of around one hundred students, each of whom escorts once or twice a semester.
Nike Frangules ’14, one of the primary coordinators of the Wesleyan Clinic Escorts, said that Clinic Escorts serve as buffer between the protestors and the clinic clients.
“A big part of [being a clinic escort] is that you take the protestors’ attention off of the people who are entering the clinic, and we can bear some of that burden,” Frangules said. “A lot of times the protestors will personally attack the women who are entering the clinic over a megaphone. So we can deflect some of that negativity when they start attacking us instead.”
The Clinic Escorts’ policy states that they are a calm, supportive presence and will not respond to the protestors. Shannon Welch ’14, another primary coordinator of Clinic Escorts, emphasized that the escorts stand as a silent reminder to the protestors of the legality of abortion.
“It’s a reminder to the protestors that we’re still going to fight them on it,” Welch said. “When we went on Saturday and there was a group of eight of us, they were freaking out because normally there’s four and now we outnumbered them. It was kind of a reminder that they’re not winning and this is legal.”
Although the escorts do not engage the protestors, for Frangules, remaining silent is often a struggle.
“I don’t think people realize how hard it is to watch what’s going on and not say anything,” she said. “When [people] go for the first time, they say ‘How can you not respond?’ To move beyond that and take the higher road and not react is really hard to do, especially since I could yell and put my two cents in every time they say something.”
On the other hand, Lorin Ferris ’16 was an escort for the first time on Saturday and stated that, despite the protest, it was a more positive experience than she expected.
“I went in expecting hatred, and I definitely received the hatred from the protestors, but what I didn’t expect was how positive all of the volunteers were going to be,” Ferris said. “We were chatting the entire time and it was a really great community of support and empowerment, and I really liked that.”
The clinic escorts change every day, but Welch asserted that she encounters the same group of protestors every time she volunteers.
“There’s a group of very religious protestors who stand there and say prayers and then there’s a group that’s just passionately [saying] ‘Women go in there and get hurt. Look at your ultrasound; that’s your baby,’” she said. “I had expected it to be mostly religious, but [the other] group is particularly trying to scare women into not getting an abortion.”
Despite the nationwide legality of abortion, Bridgeport is not the only clinic in the area with a constant protestor presence.
“I think most people don’t know that there’s such an anti-abortion presence in Connecticut,” Welch continued. “When I started going I thought we went to Bridgeport because there’s no other protestors in the area. The fact [is] it’s happening not just in Bridgeport, but [at] every Planned Parenthood in Connecticut…. It happens everywhere. This is an important issue, and not just for the red states.”
The Clinic Escorts will be holding training events for those who wish to join them on Thursday, Jan. 30 at 7 p.m. and Friday, Feb. 7 at noon in 41 Wyllys room 110. Frangules said that she believes escorting is an important part of standing up for a woman’s right to choose.
“Just having the presence of those protestors is a testament in and of itself as to why it’s important that Clinic Escorts exist and why we’ll continue to go,” Frangules said. “Thinking about myself and if I were ever to need a service like that, I would hope that there would be people there to kind of act as a buffer and a supportive presence against that kind of chaotic environment that the protestors are trying to create.”
The club also seeks to raise awareness and is currently in the process of planning a screening of “After Tiller,” a documentary by Martha Shane and Lana Wilson. Welch believes that educating the public is a vital part of the club’s mission.
“Raising education and awareness would help the middle group of people who aren’t standing out there protesting but also aren’t standing out there in the freezing cold walking women from their cars to the door,” she said.
She also noted the importance of the upcoming Supreme Court case McCullen v. Coakley, which will decide on the constitutionality of legally mandated buffer zones. “The buffer zone case that’s up in front of the Supreme Court right now is also extremely important. If they lose the buffer zone, then that’s going to be a huge blow because protestors can block the door.”
Though she believes there is still much progress to be made, Welch is optimistic about the future of the movement.
“It’s really important that we go, but it also makes me really hopeful how many people support us,” Welch said. “When we are in the clinic, sometimes cars will drive by and yell at the protestors…. The protestors might be louder [than us], but I feel like the tides are turning and I feel the support from the community at large.”