Thank you Dr. Tiller

Yesterday, I coordinated clinic-escorting efforts outside of the Washington, DC memorial for Dr. Tiller. We were there as an aid to the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice and law enforcement; we worked to spot local and media hog antis (antis that only come out when there are cameras, see Randall Terry or Patrick Mahoney). It also felt fitting that a man who spent so much of his public life surrounded by the protection of others should have his public memorial attended by the same.
Fifteen of us showed up, scanning the streets for the familiar faces that protest our clinics every Wednesday and Saturday. We looked for those who seem to love speaking with the media much more than they care about any particular movement or any particular life.
In a decade of escorting, I have seen a lot of different patients and their companions. Some funny: the butch woman with her friend/sister/lover who when the anti kept bothering her to turn around and “save her baby” yelled in response “I like girls.” The pathetic: the anti who persists on speaking Spanish to a South Asian woman in a sari. The family: the 12 year-old girl supported by her mother, her father, sister, and grandmother.
Over the years, the antis have stayed the same and they have changed. When I started, almost all of the antis were 45 plus, white, male and slightly disheveled. These antis still exist, but they are now joined by the younger antis. Some of these younger antis are hip, especially the Bound for Life crowd. We also have many, many students who come from local colleges, the most prominent being Christendom College. They drive in from Front Royal, VA every Saturday morning (leaving in time for Saturday brunch) to stand outside the local Planned Parenthood. Most of them pray (ending each Saturday with a rousing call of Viva!), but a few of them approach the patients. Nervously approaching the women entering the clinic, the Christendom kids tentatively say “we can help you save your baby. Each baby is a blessing from God.”
These antis are young and fresh faced. Most of them come from home schooling backgrounds. They are usually white and dressed very conservatively: the boys in khakis and pressed shirts and the girls in full-length denim and flowered shirts with hair flowing down their backs.
Yesterday we approached possible protestors and politely inquired if we could help. We walked up to cameramen and asked if they had permission to tape. We diligently approached those who seemed out of place and silently watched the DC choiceraiti pass. We approached cameramen filming the people walking inside. We helped women who struggled with the stairs or mothers with strollers. We watched as the young pro-choice women who make up DC’s nonprofit choice industry go by in clothes fashionable, yet work appropriate.
Another escort and I noticed a young woman who did not fit; she was wearing the Christendom uniform and was with a young man wearing the male version. We silently agreed that they seemed worrisome; I began to follow them in to the church to see how they behaved. I watched as they were handed a program and, in a key moment, to see if they would sign the guest book. The woman walked up and hesitated, but finally picked up the pen and signed. I stepped up to see what she had written and there under the blank for name were two initials and under relationship she had written “former patient.”
I’ve spent the days since Dr. Tiller’s assassination reading the stories of the women who came to him for help. Their hurt, their pain, their difficult relief. As I stared at the words “former patient” I realized that after ten years of this work, I had finally seen every kind of woman walk in to or out of a clinic. Thank you Dr Tiller for helping all of them.

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