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Make Roe Real: Buffer Zones, and Drawing the Line Between Freedom of Speech and Violence

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January 22, 2014

In the summer of 2012, I attended the Youth Organizing Policy Institute (YOPI) hosted by Planned Parenthood.  It was the first reproductive policy conference (or hell, first conference of ANY kind) I’d ever attended. I was excited and energized to get started on meeting other young people passionate about the same issues I was.  The conference itself was being held in Denver, inside the facilities of Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains—a Planned Parenthood clinic that’s known for the anti-choice protesters that hang around outside it.

The hotel where most conference goers stayed was right across the street from the clinic, so we were informed of how easy it’d be to walk to over to the conference. We were also warned about the anti-choice protesters we might encounter outside the clinic. Now, I’d spent the past two months interning at Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri, which has it’s own gaggle of protesters constantly lingering about. As a small group facilitator, I needed to head over earlier than the other conference goers, meaning, on the first day, I walked over to the clinic by myself; meaning, I had to walk at least 30 feet of sidewalk walk past the protesters. They were camped out with lawn chairs, graphic signs, and, as approached, what appeared to be kindly smiles.

I knew what I looked like to them. A young woman, by herself, walking into a Planned Parenthood? In their minds, I screamed out the reason why they gripped their signs. So, as I walked up to them, I wasn’t surprised where the row of them began to question me with sympathetic seeming voices.

“Can we help you?”

“You have other options.”

“Your baby is a gift from God.”

While interning, I’d been taught Planned Parenthood’s non-engagement policy. Don’t speak to the protesters, don’t interact with them, and just keep walking. So I ignored their queries and pleas, and kept heading to the clinic entrance, which is usually where the protesters I had been used to and I’s interactions would end. But, as I kept walking without responding, suddenly I could hear a voice that, just a moment ago, had been asking if she could help me.

“YOU’RE KILLING YOUR BABY!”

It was shout, a sharp and mean sounding shout. I kept walking away, faster now, but it didn’t stop. Suddenly, now there were multiple voices, shouting at me, almost screaming at me as I walked away—all variously calling me a murderer of my non-existent pregnancy.

They didn’t touch me. They didn’t grab me. They didn’t physically, in the traditional sense, harm me. Hell, I wasn’t even there for use of the clinic’s services. I still walked through the clinic doors and felt like I wanted to break down and cry.

There’s been a lot of discussion, because of the Supreme Court case being currently considered, about buffer-zone laws for clinics.

As of right now, the court seems fairly split in their consideration of whether to strike down Massachusetts’s buffer-zone law or not. Eleanor McCullen, the anti-choice plaintiff involved in the case challenging Massachusetts’s law is being profiled in the media as a elderly grandmother who would never hurt and fly and just wants the buffer zone law struck down to be able to “connect” with young women. And I’m sure she is a woman who really would never physically hurt a fly (or, in this case, a person seeking an abortion).

But, for every anti-choice protester like Eleanor McCullen, there’s one like the one who screamed at me and made me feel physically unsafe. Or like the ones that my friends have encountered as clinic escorts, like this man, who have seen too many women both verbally and even physically assaulted by anti-choice protesters. Women made to feel unsafe. Women might be said by Roe v. Wade to have the right to go a clinic and have an abortion, but apparently they don’t have the right to not be assaulted on their way there.

Making Roe Real means keeping access real. And buffer-zone laws are (unfortunately) a necessity in a world where many will do all they can to revoke Roe—and in the process, frighten and harm innocent bystanders.

If you’d like to make a personal or political pledge to help Make Roe Real, go here: http://bit.ly/MakeRoeReal

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