Saturday was my first day as a Patient Escort at the Philadelphia Women’s Center, and it is a day I will never forget. I approached Appletree Street from 8th Avenue expecting a large crowd of anti-abortion protestors, but I was not prepared for what was to come next.
Nervous and fearful I would recognized as the opposition, I quickly walked through the crowd. Approaching the clinic door at 6:35 am, I noticed a group of people sitting on the entrance steps. At first, the thought of a blockade did not register… I had learned that this was illegal… and could not believe that this could happen… but there they were.
Confused and disturbed, I frantically searched for escorts in yellow pinnies. I crossed the police line and tried to make sense of the situation. I soon learned that the Operation Rescue protestors had trapped some employees and patients inside and were barring entrance to anyone who attempted to pass.
While trying to make sense of this unbelievable situation, I repeatedly asked, “Isn’t this illegal? How can the police allow the protestors to do this? Shouldn’t they all be arrested for blocking the entrance? What about the safety of the patients, the staff and the volunteers?” My mind was spinning while I did my best to act as a visual barrier between the patients and anti’s.
For what seemed like hours, the police allowed the protestors to block the entrance while the patients either stood out in the cold or waited in nearby cars. The anti’s got really close to the patients, their family and friends. They used scare tactics and offered fake money in an attempt to change their minds. They insulted the escorts by insinuating that we are “not pro-choice” and that we are “harming women.” While the patients were free to speak with the anti’s, to us, they only expressed anger or fear in regards to their presence.
Even though this happened more than 3 days ago, my mind has not yet processed these events and it is still difficult for me to find the words. It is absolutely unbelievable that something like this can happen in light of the federal Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act, which forbids the use of “force, threat of force or physical obstruction” to prevent someone from providing or receiving reproductive health services. Is this not clear enough? I just don’t understand.
Stephanie Chando, Duvall Project Intern