When I saw calls for a counter-protest at the Planned Parenthood in my hometown a couple of years ago, I thought hell yes! There’s something that just feels really righteous about showing up and showing support in a space where patients are being bombarded with violent messages, disturbing images, and misinformation. I was going to put my body on the line for the movement! I was literally going to stand up for the right to choose! But, it turns out, it may not be a great idea to counter-protest at an abortion clinic.
“I know what counter-protesters are thinking, and I feel it,” Shana Broders, an abortion clinic escort in North Carolina, tells Bustle. “I want to stand out there with signs and play music too, but all it does it cause chaos. We’re supposed to be about the clients — all those distractions are not a good thing.”
Broders and other clinic escorts volunteer their time to make sure that the situation outside their clinic remains under control. They escort patients and their companions into the clinic, sometimes putting their bodies between them and anti-choice protestors. They’re the ones who call the police if a protestor gets violent; who hold the hands of sobbing women; who spend hours taking screaming abuse from religious fanatics. And they’re pretty clear: Don’t counter-protest at an abortion clinic unless the clinic specifically asks you to.
Still thinking you might want to grab a Planned Parenthood-pink placard and go show those protesters what you really think of their nasty names and images? Here are six reasons why you may want to reconsider:
1You May Be Making The Job Harder For Clinic Escorts
Clinic escorts have the already difficult job of trying to keep things calm and safe in a situation that all too often is as far from calm and safe as you can imagine. When you throw pro-choice counter-protestors in the mix, they see your support — but they also see a bunch more people that they have to keep track of.
“It’s important that you support what we do,” New York City abortion clinic escort Pearl Brady tells Bustle. “But could you do it in a way that doesn’t make it harder for us?
While the clinic escorts may have gotten use to the habits and moves of the anti-choice protestors, you’re a stranger to them. They don’t know how you’re going to react or what you’re going to do, and that makes things much, much harder.
2Your Presence Can Escalate The Situation
Picture the situation: Anti-choice protestors yelling at silent clinic escorts and patients who are entering the clinic. There are signs with fetus parts and they’re yelling horrible names. Now throw a group of counter- protestors facing off with the protestors, also with signs, also yelling things. Do you think that there won’t be direct conflict between those two protesting groups at some point? Unlikely.
Abortion clinics are emotionally charged place, for most everyone involved. Adding your emotions and expressions of those emotions to that environment escalates the situation. There’s more yelling, more potential for physical violence, and more everything. While it might be cathartic for you, it’s not great for everyone else.
3It’s Not The Right Place To Get Political
“It’s not the appropriate place to show your support,” Brady says. “People who are going to the clinic just want to get in, see their doctor, and go about their day. They don’t want to have to deal with politics and the sidewalk outside a clinic is really not a place for politics.”
If you want to show your support for the right to choose, Alabama abortion clinic escort Helmi Henkin suggests planning a protest at your state capital, down your main street, at your city hall — basically anywhere but an abortion clinic. Anti-choice protestors are turning abortion clinics into political spaces, but they’re fundamentally not political spaces. They’re health care centers. So if you want to get political, take it to a political space instead of a health care space.
4You Can Scare The Patients Even More
People going into abortion clinics are likely already having a rough day. Add on a bunch of people yelling and screaming outside the doctor’s office, and that day goes from rough to terrible. And, unfortunately, while you might think you counter-protesting is boosting up those patients, you might just be scaring them more.
“Patients get really confused,” Brady says. “They hear a bunch of yelling and see a bunch of signs, but they don’t necessarily read the signs. They just assume they’re protestors. In a lot of ways, counter-protests are even more destructive than protests,” she says.
5You’re Giving The Anti-Choice Protestors Attention
Take a cue from the abortion clinic escorts and do the worst thing those anti-choice protestors could imagine: Ignore them.
“Most of our protestors want attention,” Brady says. “That’s why we don’t get into big long arguments with them. That’s why we, most of the time, just ignore them. They thrive on attention and by giving them attention through a counter-protest, it emboldens them and makes our job twice as hard.”
6The Clinic Might Not Want You There
While some clinics do welcome counter-protestors — I spoke with an abortion clinic escort in Arizona who says the “supporters” at her clinic are very welcome — many clinics find counter-protestors to be more harm than good.
In February, Planned Parenthood requested that pro-choice supporters refrain from counter-protesting after hundreds of rallies were planned at Planned Parenthoods around the country. “Counter-protests can create increased tension for our patients and staff, so we try to channel supporter energy into proactive events like our Pink Out the Capitol,” Iris Riis, Media Specialist of Planned Parenthood Wisconsin, told Cosmopolitan.
So if a clinic says they don’t want counter-protestors? Don’t do it. “You’re forcing yourself on the clinic without their consent,” Brady says. “You’re doing exactly what the protestors are doing. Please don’t do that.”
Despite the fact that the majority of Americans support a woman’s right to choose, the anti-choice faction gets a lot of attention. It’s tempting to fight back by meeting them at their own battleground — abortion clinics — but there are better ways to show your support. Donate to Planned Parenthood or an independent clinic in your area; call your legislators; arrange a pro-choice march; attend a unity rally; volunteer to become an abortion clinic escort yourself. But please, don’t bring your placards. It’s not the place.