The basic job of an abortion clinic escort is to get a patient from their car to the front door of a clinic — which often involves shielding and distracting them from anti-abortion protesters.
But volunteering rarely is that simple. Here are some things you might not know.
Special thanks to the abortion clinic escorts who provided intel and anecdotes for this post: Becca Ballenger, Shana Broders, Mike Scheinberg, Caitlin Van Horn, and the escorts who wished to remain anonymous.
1. Yes, it's a volunteer position so no, we don't get paid.
This seems fairly obvious to us, but we run into a lot of people — mostly protesters — who think we get paid for what we do.
2. There is no such thing as a normal day.
While our basic mission is always the same — get patients to the door — different days bring different obstacles.
3. But a lot of the protesters are regulars, so we come to know what to expect.
Usually, we can count on who we're going to see and how they're going to act. Some protesters are polite and quiet, and are only there to pray or pass out pamphlets — others we know are going to yell, try to get physical with patients, or even break the law. Most seasoned escorts know the regular protesters by name.
4. We're there to make patients feel as safe and comfortable as possible and to deescalate situations, not to engage with the protesters.
We're not counter-protesters. Our job isn't to argue even if we disagree vehemently, because we're there to keep things calm. And confrontation doesn't help that.
5. We're not all women — there are male escorts, and escorts who are gender fluid and non-binary as well.
Which also brings up another point: the patients at our clinics are also of all genders.
6. We're a diverse bunch in other ways, too.
We have a range of ages, identities, orientations, races, cultures, and religions. Some of us are quite active in our Jewish, Muslim, Christian, Baha'i, Sikh, and Wiccan communities, among others.
7. And even though most of us are aligned on the issue of reproductive rights, we have diverse political opinions on other issues.
Like gun control, education, etc.
8. Some days, we match or outnumber the number of protesters, but sometimes, they outnumber us.
And when they outnumber us, the vibe can be overall more aggressive.
9. Some of us have been harassed in our personal lives by protesters.
Protesters do things like track us down on social media to harass us, contact our employers to tell them that we're "murderers," create memes using our pictures, or even show up at our homes or places of work.
Because of that, it's not uncommon at all that we take on fake names on the sidewalks so protesters won't overhear and have an easier time tracking us down.
10. It can get really, really loud and intense.
It's not just people holding signs. At any given time, there might be protesters running after patients, trying to block their way, spreading out across the street — and yelling. Lots of yelling, at both us and the patients.
11. Our relationships with some of our regular protesters can be weird — because in the very least, we both recognize that we're here standing up for something we believe in.
It's not quite camaraderie, but we always acknowledge each other and sometimes say hello and chat. We might never agree on reproductive rights, but many protesters are polite towards us.
12. We've learned the art of being patient, calm, and good at letting things go.
If we internalized everything that got screamed at us, there's no way the job would be sustainable for our mental health.
13. Sometimes, protesters get physical with us.
We're basically human shields, running interference by placing ourselves between protesters and patients. And some protesters have no problem grabbing or pushing us.
14. We basically become experts in both harassment and reproduction rights laws.
And most days, we run into protesters breaking laws. For example, in most places, there is a "buffer zone" around the clinic door that protesters are not allowed to enter, but they try to all the time.
15. A lot of us get up really early to be able to escort and yeah, it sucks sometimes.
We're talking, like, 5 AM to be able to get there by 7 AM on a Saturday morning. It's not fun, but if the protesters are there, we're there.
16. We're really good at bundling up and layering for the cold.
Because otherwise, we'd freeze. (OK, sometimes we still freeze — it gets really cold out on the sidewalk.)
17. Not everyone that we escort is coming in for an abortion.
They might be coming in for birth control, a pregnancy test, STI screenings, or a whole host of other things that family planning clinics offer.
18. And regardless, we often have no idea what the circumstances are behind someone's visit.
Maybe they have to end a wanted pregnancy, maybe they have a tubal pregnancy that would never be viable — there is no single reason patients come to our clinics, and it's not our job as escorts to know.
19. We get to know our fellow escorts really well, so we've gained a lot of friends.
We're outside for hours at a time together and only have each other to talk to to drown out the protesters — so yup, bonding happens.
20. Not to mention, we're part of a greater community of escorts and lean on each other a lot.
We connect with fellow escorts through Facebook groups, newsletters, meet-ups, and happy hours. Being able to have people to commiserate with about the crazy shit we deal with is invaluable.
21. We've definitely seen a bump in volunteer applications ever since the election.
And in bigger cities, there are even waitlists — because when it comes to escorting, there is a cap on volunteers. Having too many people on the sidewalk can be overwhelming for patients.
22. We don't all escort for Planned Parenthood.
Just because Planned Parenthood gets the most attention in the news doesn't mean it's the only option. Many of us escort at other private clinics, too.
23. Just because a city feels more ~liberal~ doesn't mean there isn't a high demand for escorts. Protests happen everywhere.
We run into a lot of people who are surprised that there are groups of protesters coming out to abortion clinics in big liberal cities — but pretty much every clinic deals with protesters.
24. We provide support for the partners, family members, or friends of patients, too.
Sometimes, companions who came with a patient need to get some air — and we can protect them from protesters who try to confront them.
25. Patients don’t always want our help and that’s totally fine.
Sometimes people prefer to walk in alone.
26. And sometimes, we get yelled at by patients or their companions too, and we totally understand.
It can be such a stressful, overwhelming experience to arrive at a clinic and be met with a big group of protesters and escorts, and patients sometimes just don't want anyone to talk to them.
27. We have to call the police on occasion when protesters get really out of hand, but we try hard not to.
Because that escalates the situation, AKA the exact opposite of our goal.
28. The job is emotionally and physically demanding, so we've had to learn how to take care of ourselves.
As much as we have to let things roll off our backs when we're on the sidewalk with patients, the strain it puts on us is real. So self-care when we get home is crucial.
29. And because of that, we sometimes need to clear our entire schedule after escorting.
Because, well, it really takes it out of you and we can't imagine doing anything else for the rest of the day.
30. We like it when it's boring.
A boring day at an abortion clinic = a day when people are able to get into the building unimpeded. And that's the best case scenario.
31. We all have a lot of stories that will stick with us for a long time.
It doesn't happen all of the time, but sometimes, patients will open up and share their stories with us — and they can be gut-wrenching, heartbreaking, or just very, very personal. And those are hard to forget.
32. At the end of the day, escorting at a clinic can be really freaking hard, but it's worth it.
If we can make one person feel a little less scared and a little less bullied on such a hard day, then we've done our job — and that's incredibly empowering and rewarding.