For the past year and three months, I have been an escort for Planned Parenthood. So it’s no mystery where I stand in the contentious debate of reproductive rights, but I wish to set that aside momentarily to speak about safety.
Despite your beliefs on the matter of sexual and reproductive healthcare, I believe we all have an expectation of decorum and civility towards one another—even if we disagree philosophically. Yet, civility and decorum are often not the experiences of an escort at Planned Parenthood. Every Saturday morning and throughout the week, protestors show up and voice their opposition to Planned Parenthood. With some of the protestors, their behavior is innocuous; they show up, pray, sing then depart. While other protestors are deliberately hostile, verbally abusive, and invade personal space. As escorts, we are trained not to respond in any way, our focus is on the patients and their safety.
Typically, the racist rants, the intrusion of space, and the scathing comments are disregarded. Because no real threat has occurred and as escorts, we know what to expect by now. But amidst a public health crisis, where social distancing is emphasized, it would be irresponsible to overlook the behavior of the protestors, as they neglect social distancing practices.
Planned Parenthood has taken numerous precautionary measures to ensure the health and safety of it’s patients and facility, including limiting the number of patients in waiting rooms, stringent disinfecting and cleaning health centers and adopting CDC recommended guidelines since the pandemic’s start. But outside of the clinic, control is limited for Planned Parenthood.
The protestors still insist on haphazardly gathering in large groups, and disregarding the social distancing measures among themselves as well as with the volunteers. The responses to this behavior for the volunteers are also limited. Alerting local authorities is ineffective because there is only so much they can do without an actual ‘crime’ committed, and though, trespassing and lack of social distancing is normally a petty offense, in these uncertain times it could be deadly.
Indifferent to your beliefs of Planned Parenthood, at this moment, everyone should be concerned with the health and safety of our community. At what point does their gathering shift from an issue of individual right to protest, into a reckless, myopic, and dangerous behavior? For them to continue their protest in this manner, despite recommendations from public health officials is not only irresponsible and selfish but potentially fatal to not only themselves but the volunteers.
Nicholas Richard-Thompson is an escort volunteer with Planned Parenthood of Illinois