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Fordham LSRJ Founds a Clinic Escorting Program

Submitted by on October 1 – 2013No Comment

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The Fordham chapter of Law Students for Reproductive Justice (LSRJ) is implementing a clinic escorting program at Fordham in connection with Choices Women’s Medical Center in Jamaica, Queens. Choices provides affordable medical services to women seeking cancer screenings, birth control, pap smears, breast exams, prenatal and postnatal care, and New York State Emergency Medicaid services for same-day abortions.

Clinic escorting involves walking alongside patients who are attempting to enter a clinic in an effort to shield them from the intimidation tactics of anti-choice protesters.  The goal is to be a positive, alternative presence for patients and community members in the face of harassment. When women cannot access abortions, there are severe economic and psychological consequences. They are three times more likely to wind up unemployed, on public assistance, and below the poverty line than women who can access abortion services. Women who are denied abortions are more likely to experience domestic violence, stay in abusive relationships and experience emotional distress and health complications. Abortion in the United States has become concentrated among poor women of color who disproportionately have poor access to healthcare, education, and sex education. By attempting to deny these women abortions, protesters aim to keep women and minorities poor, disenfranchised, and under control.

The protesters at Choices in Queens believe that abortion should be illegal in all cases, regardless of the health of the mother, even in the case of rape or incest. They use a variety of methods to shame, guilt, intimidate and scare women and families attempting to enter the clinic. Their goal is to harass women, through any means necessary, to the point that they will forgo the clinic’s services. Protesters regularly film and photograph women entering the clinic; display large, graphic signs with misrepresentative photos; follow women up to the door, sometimes from as far as a block or two away; and lie about the emotional and physical repercussions of abortion.

It is incredible that this level of harassment and shaming is occurring in New York City, one of the most liberal, progressive cities in the country. The majority of Americans support a woman’s right to choose, but politicians courting the conservative vote have attacked reproductive rights in state legislatures where the public cannot directly vote on the issue. These laws are designed to make it so difficult or expensive for clinics to operate that they must close. Two hundred abortion restrictions have been passed in this way since 2011, closing 58 (roughly 1 in 10) clinics. These restrictions also aim to make abortions prohibitively expensive and difficult for women to obtain, requiring overnight hotel stays, travel out of state, unnecessary medical intrusions into a woman’s body and even mandates where doctors must tell patients “facts” that have no scientific basis. The minority of Americans who want to outlaw abortion dominate the national discourse by lying about the medical repercussions of abortion and using distorted language in an effort to change a scientific discussion about women’s health into an emotional one based on unscientific evidence, myths, and a desire to limit the autonomy of women and maintain traditional gender roles and controls.

We know from the counselors at Choices that the patients coming to the clinic really appreciate the escorts’ presence outside the clinic. On a typical Saturday at Choices, anti-choice protesters outnumber pro-choice volunteers. They swarm around patients aggressively, follow them up to the entrance, and shout at them. Sometimes patients are too intimidated, upset, or scared to walk in without our assistance. Many women enter the clinic visibly upset by the intimidation tactics used by the protesters. Escorts act as physical barriers between the patient and the protester, and maintain a welcoming, friendly and calming presence by talking to them on the way to the entrance. This enables patients to focus on something other than the protesters’ shouts.

When protesters outnumber escorts, the protesters are emboldened, act more aggressively towards the patients, break the law more often, and successfully harass more women. Our presence signals that the discussion about abortion is not one-sided, and that there are people who will stand up for women’s rights, not just to the protesters, but also the community at large. When escorts have a strong presence, we can better identify patients and get to them before the protesters do. We often see physical relief in patients’ faces when they realize they have an ally to walk with them into the clinic, and they often thank us for being there.

The protesters are in front of the clinic Saturday mornings from 7am to 11am, harassing women who cannot afford breast exams, birth control, PAP smears, cancer screenings, prenatal and postnatal care or an abortion.  Help us stand up for women’s rights and basic human decency, and become an escort to protect patients from protester abuse.

FLSRJ will lead a clinic escort training on campus on Thursday, October 3 from 12:30-1:30 in Room 430B.  Lunch will be provided!  Completing training is not required to participate in the program, but it is recommended.

To RSVP for the training, sign up for the program or to get more information, contact Fordham LSRJ at FordhamLSRJ@gmail.com or Estelle Wagner at ewagner9@law.fordham.edu.

–by Estelle Wagner, Fordham LSRJ Member

**The inauguration of the Fordham LSRJ Clinic Escorting Program has been led by Estelle Wagner, a LSRJ Board member and Lead Volunteer in the NOW-NYC/Choices Clinic Escorting Program.

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