Should Pro-Choice Supporters Counter-Protest at Abortion Clinics?
Most married couples hit the farmers’ market, go kayaking, or meet up with friends at their favorite brunch spot on Saturdays. Not Tina and Grayson Haver Currin, who instead pack up their car to bring signs down to their local abortion clinic, where they counter-protest anti-choice protesters as they try to harass clinic staff and patients.
They document their activities on Saturday Chores, a site that’s gone viral. But not everyone is pleased with the idea of an abortion counter-protest, and some of their concerns are valid: Does it just feed the trolls, or does it actually make a difference?
With the growing war on women’s rights in the United States, anti-choice protests outside reproductive health clinics are escalating in scope, scale and aggressiveness. That’s been brought home with the recent Supreme Court decision striking down Massachusetts’ buffer zone, which had previously kept anti-choice protesters at a distance. Those seeking reproductive health services, along with the staff who support them, are being forced to run gauntlets of people shoving signs and pamphlets in their faces, screaming at them, and intimidating them — so much so that clinic escorts are now a vital part of the scene at such clinics. These defenders of women’s rights don bright vests and usher people through the crowd to the clinic so they can access care.
The idea of counter-protests comes from the desire to send a clear message to anti-choice protesters: They’re being watched, and the pro-choice community supports the right of women to get treatment for reproductive health conditions. Such protests are also intended as a show of support, to let patients and providers know that they are not alone. Some also argue that their presence distracts anti-choice protesters, making it harder for them to harass patients and staff. They say that like clinic escorts, they’re there to make patients and staff feel safer.
Not everyone is so sure about the benefits, though. Clinic directors point out that terrified women just see a sea of people — not a group of supporters challenging anti-choice protesters. Pro-choice activists and organizers note that some clinics don’t want to exacerbate tensions or create protests that could turn ugly, and thus that they don’t want patients, staff or supporters to engage, even when it’s frustrating. When counter-protesters go against the expressed wish of an abortion clinic, it is disrespectful, and it demonstrates a lack of interest in working with those who provide direct services. Well-meant actions can still be harmful when people don’t want them.
The debate over counter-protesters illustrates the fact that situations like these are rarely simple. In the women’s movement, as in other social movements, numerous individuals and groups with a variety of interests and concerns are coming together, and they sometimes find it difficult to cooperate on common goals.
This is a particular concern with groups that don’t respect those working on the ground doing direct service and other work, as this can spur resentments and frustration.
Photo credit: Taber Andrew Bain.