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If you say you believe blacks lives matter, you’re a hypocrite!” yelled a white man at one black woman helping another out of her car on a cold, wet morning the last Saturday in November.

His vantage spot behind Midori Express overlooked parking spaces for A Woman’s Choice, Greensboro’s only remaining abortion provider. The beefy man shouting into his microphone was one of the anti-abortion protesters who fill up the Midori parking lot on Saturday mornings and show up more sporadically every other morning the clinic is open.

This was my second Saturday observing the protests. Two weeks before, as reported in Race, religion, and Greensboro’s abortion divide, there had been approximately 800 protesters, of whom I’d estimated over 700 were white and over 500 were male. That day, possibly because it was just after Thanksgiving, there were only four women and 10 men, all white.

“They’ll be out in force again,” said Michael Usey, senior pastor of College Park Baptist Church. Pastor Usey is one of the volunteer escorts who direct patients’ cars to the clinic’s parking lot and then walk them inside, often doing their best to distract, or with their multicolored umbrellas, literally, shield the women from being harangued by the protesters.

“I’ve been doing this for about three months,” Usey told. “But I’ve been involved in reproductive justice and access issues since I was in seminary in the early ‘80s. It really hit home when I was a college minister in Waco, Texas, and no one, absolutely no one, was talking about sex ed or sexual ethics or reproductive responsibility in that city at that time except Planned Parenthood. So, I worked with them there, and in Atlanta, and here too, when I was on the Planned Parenthood board for years.”

I was out the cold rainy Saturday after Thanksgiving because of what Usey told me had happened one week before. On Nov. 23, he sent me a Facebook message stating that a protester had shoved a female escort. According to several witnesses, when Usey stepped between the male protestor and the escort, the protester turned and silently walked away.

“That’s not what the protesters, most of whom are white men, do when a woman, or a black man, tell them to stop,” said one woman who has been a volunteer escort for the last year, but asked not to be identified.

Volunteers such as her and Usey are recruited, trained, and approved by Greensboro Clinic Escorts. A spokesperson for that organization emailed me the following description of the process.

“Greensboro Clinic Escorts are volunteers who greet patients and offer them a friendly and reassuring escort to the clinic entrance. Because of the location of A Woman’s Choice Greensboro, our escorts mainly help patients navigate to the clinic, find parking, as well as redirect and shield them from the ‘sidewalk counseling’ of several anti-choice groups stationed along the clinic entrance and in the parking lot of the nearby Midori Japanese restaurant. We wear rainbow vests that identify us as clinic escorts on duty in order to distinguish ourselves from the anti-choice groups.”

At the Nov. 30 protest, and in multiple Facebook conversations over the following weeks, several escorts stated that they used to wear pink vests, but changed to rainbow ones after protestors started wearing pink in an effort to direct patients to a lot outside of the designated parking for A Woman’s Choice, where other protesters could then attempt to convince them to change their minds.

The spokesperson for Greensboro Clinic Escorts described the organization’s vetting process:

“Prospective volunteers must fill out an application, are subject to a background check, and, once vetted, are asked to sign up for a training shift wherein they are assigned to an experienced escort whom they shadow for training. New escorts must also agree to and sign non-engagement and confidentiality policies established by A Woman’s Choice, both of which are sent to new escorts ahead of their training shift and reviewed again upon arrival.”

She wrote that escorts are trained in non-engagement and de-escalation tactics, in order “to keep patients, staff, and volunteers safe, and commitment to patient privacy and dignity,” and explained that the escorts are not counter-protestors. “Instead, we work in service of the clinic staff and patients, and have our own protocols in place to honor our volunteers’ capacity and needs if protesters choose to target and / or engage with them.”

While Usey said that the protestors have not, so far, either targeted or attempted to engage with him, the white and black women and one black man I talked to or corresponded with told very different stories.

“If a cisgender heterosexual-appearing male escort is the one who approaches a patient’s car, the protestors usually just try to talk over him,” wrote an escort who asked to be identified only as Lauren. “When a female escort (or an escort who doesn’t appear to be cisgender or heterosexual) is trying to direct patients, the men from the CPC will directly challenge her.”

CPC or Crisis Pregnancy Center, has become the standard term for “pregnancy clinics” that advocate against abortion. In this case, Lauren was referring to Greensboro Pregnancy Care Center on Fulton Street. That CPC’s staff and volunteers spend a good deal of time protesting in the Midori parking lot, where they regularly station their mobile ultrasound van and attempt to get prospective patients to enter it instead of A Woman’s Choice. They offer “free ultrasounds,” telling patients that the law requires them. But their ultrasounds don’t meet North Carolina’s legal requirement for having an ultrasound before an abortion can be scheduled, as the mandated ultrasound must be done by the abortion provider.

Lauren, who serves an abortion doula as well as a clinic escort, said that she became the latter after the Stop the Bans rally in Greensboro last March.

“Before that, I was unaware of protesters outside the local clinic. I had an ectopic pregnancy two years earlier and had to have an abortion procedure; it was through that experience that I became admittedly Pro-Choice. Once I heard about what patients were experiencing here in Greensboro, I felt like it was important to do something, because no one deserves to have to deal with that nonsense seeking healthcare.”

Lauren said that she’d had the most hardcore protesters, the small group of men who call themselves “Abolitionists,” approach her and “get in my face and yell.” She also said that she’d been approached by “men from the Crisis Pregnancy Centers” while she was either trying to direct a patient to the clinic or when she was walking to her car. She described the following incident.

“One Thursday morning, I was escorting alone, which we don’t usually do, but the other person who had signed up didn’t show, and I was already there. Protesters from the Yadkinville pregnancy center were there. They had one male approaching cars. Each time a car would stop, I would walk up to let patients know to follow me if they were there for the clinic. He shouted at me about obstructing the free flow of information or some nonsense. Once all the patients arrived, I decided to head out early because I was uncomfortable. As I walked up the driveway and across the Midori parking lot, the man from Yadkinville started walking towards me yelling about wanting to talk and about how I ‘had a lot of attitude out here,’ whatever that means. I shook my head and kept walking, but he continued to follow me nearly halfway to my car before he finally just stopped and stared.”

Former escort Forrest Hinton described a more violent experience.

“Since 98% of protestors are white, they use their privilege to call the police on me and pretend to be a victim. They know that the police will be sympathetic to them, even though I was the one who was assaulted. As we’ve seen with multiple black men in Greensboro, the police are not inclined to view me as a victim.”

Hinton described an incident where a protester from the Yadkinville CPC allegedly slammed him into a patient’s car. “To top it off, he called the police on me, claiming I assaulted him.”

Hinton called the police response “nonchalant,” adding that the officer “pretty much assumed that I hit the protester first” and “said that because he didn’t see anything, he couldn’t do anything.”

Hinton also said that the abolitionist protester Chris Pantalone called him a pedophile. (I have witnessed Pantalone call the clinic’s staff pedophiles in his amplified harangues.) Another clinic escort, who asked that neither her first or last name be used, described the following interaction with Pantalone.

“Once, when directing a patient out of the Midori parking lot, Chris walked up right behind me and, with his mic on full blast, yelled at me that I was a pedophile. At that point, I was still pretty new and, while not shaken, was definitely startled and confused by it (besides my ears ringing for an hour afterward). I just turned around and told him he didn’t know me and to back the fuck up.”

A veteran escort who asked to identified only as Brandi said that, when she started three years ago, she was often singled out.

I’ve experienced harassment by protestors both on and off the clinic property. Much of the harassment was targeted towards me because, for a while, I was the only woman of color, asking me things like ‘Don’t Black Lives Matter?’ or ‘Did you know the most dangerous place for a Black baby is inside its mother womb?’ They would direct those statements at me when patients of color were within earshot. There have been times that they have targeted me on social media as well as in public settings.”

I asked Brandi if protesters also seemed to target patients of color.

“Absolutely, we’ve had protestors use statements like ‘Come on homie, I know you didn’t have a dad growing up, don’t you want to do better by your children?’ Their scripts and narrative switch up when they see people of color.”

Those interested in becoming a clinic escort can email gsoclinicescorts@gmail.com, or message the Greensboro Clinic Defense Facebook page.

 

 

If you say you believe black lives matter, you’re a hypocrite,” yelled a white man at one black woman helping another out of her car on a cold, wet morning the last Saturday in November.

His vantage spot behind Midori Express overlooked parking spaces for A Woman’s Choice, Greensboro’s only remaining abortion provider. The beefy man shouting into his microphone was one of the anti-abortion protesters who fill up the Midori parking lot on Saturday mornings and show up more sporadically every other morning the clinic is open.

This was my second Saturday observing the protests. Two weeks before, as reported in the article “Race, religion, and Greensboro’s abortion divide,” there had been approximately 800 protesters, of whom I’d estimated over 700 were white and over 500 were male. That day, possibly because it was just after Thanksgiving, there were only four women and 10 men, all white.

“They’ll be out in force again,” said Michael Usey, senior pastor of College Park Baptist Church. Pastor Usey is one of the volunteer escorts, who directs patients’ cars to the clinic’s parking lot and then walks them inside. Often, escorts do their best to distract, or with their multicolored umbrellas, literally shield the women from being harangued by protesters.

“I’ve been doing this for about three months,” Usey told me. “But I’ve been involved in reproductive justice and access issues since I was in seminary in the early ‘80s. It really hit home when I was a college minister in Waco, Texas, and no one, absolutely no one, was talking about sex ed or sexual ethics or reproductive responsibility in that city at that time except Planned Parenthood. So, I worked with them there, and in Atlanta, and here too, when I was on the Planned Parenthood board for years.”

I was out the cold rainy Saturday after Thanksgiving because of what Usey told me had happened one week before. On Nov. 23, he sent me a Facebook message claiming that a protester had shoved a female escort. According to several witnesses, when Usey stepped between the male protestor and the escort, the protester turned and silently walked away.

“That’s not what the protesters, most of whom are white men, do when a woman, or a black man, tell them to stop,” said one woman who has been a volunteer escort for the last year, but asked not to be identified.

Volunteers such as her and Usey are recruited, trained and approved by Greensboro Clinic Escorts. A spokesperson for that organization emailed me the following description of the process:

“Greensboro Clinic Escorts are volunteers who greet patients and offer them a friendly and reassuring escort to the clinic entrance. Because of the location of A Woman’s Choice Greensboro, our escorts mainly help patients navigate to the clinic, find parking, as well as redirect and shield them from the ‘sidewalk counseling’ of several anti-choice groups stationed along the clinic entrance and in the parking lot of the nearby Midori Japanese restaurant. We wear rainbow vests that identify us as clinic escorts on duty in order to distinguish ourselves from the anti-choice groups.”

At the Nov. 30 protest, and in multiple Facebook conversations over the following weeks, several escorts stated that they used to wear pink vests, but changed to rainbow ones after protestors allegedly started wearing pink in an effort to direct patients to a lot outside of the designated parking for A Woman’s Choice, where they could attempt to convince patients to change their minds.

The spokesperson for Greensboro Clinic Escorts described the organization’s vetting process:

“Prospective volunteers must fill out an application, are subject to a background check, and, once vetted, are asked to sign up for a training shift wherein they are assigned to an experienced escort whom they shadow for training. New escorts must also agree to and sign non-engagement and confidentiality policies established by A Woman’s Choice, both of which are sent to new escorts ahead of their training shift and reviewed again upon arrival.”

She wrote that escorts are trained in non-engagement and de-escalation tactics, in order “to keep patients, staff, and volunteers safe, and commitment to patient privacy and dignity,” and explained that the escorts are not counter-protestors. “Instead, we work in service of the clinic staff and patients, and have our own protocols in place to honor our volunteers’ capacity and needs if protesters choose to target and / or engage with them.”

While Usey said that the protestors have not, so far, either targeted or attempted to engage with him, the white and black women and one black man I talked to or corresponded with told very different stories.

“If a cisgender heterosexual-appearing male escort is the one who approaches a patient’s car, the protestors usually just try to talk over him,” wrote an escort who asked to be identified only as Lauren. “When a female escort (or an escort who doesn’t appear to be cisgender or heterosexual) is trying to direct patients, the men from the CPC will directly challenge her.”

CPC or Crisis Pregnancy Center, has become the standard term for “pregnancy clinics” that advocate against abortion. In this case, Lauren was referring to Greensboro Pregnancy Care Center on Fulton Street. That CPC’s staff and volunteers spend a good deal of time protesting in the Midori parking lot, where they regularly station their mobile ultrasound van and attempt to get prospective patients to enter it instead of A Woman’s Choice. They offer “free ultrasounds,” telling patients that the law requires them. However, those ultrasounds don’t meet North Carolina’s legal requirement for having an ultrasound before an abortion can be scheduled, as the mandated ultrasound must be done by the abortion provider.

Lauren, who serves an abortion doula as well as a clinic escort, said that she became the latter after the Stop the Bans rally in Greensboro last March.

“Before that, I was unaware of protesters outside the local clinic. I had an ectopic pregnancy two years earlier and had to have an abortion procedure; it was through that experience that I became admittedly Pro-Choice. Once I heard about what patients were experiencing here in Greensboro, I felt like it was important to do something, because no one deserves to have to deal with that nonsense while seeking health care.”

Lauren said that she’d had the most hardcore protesters, the small group of men who call themselves “Abolitionists,” approach her and “get in my face and yell.” She also said that she’d been approached by “men from the Crisis Pregnancy Centers” while she was either trying to direct a patient to the clinic or when she was walking to her car. She described the following incident.

“One Thursday morning, I was escorting alone, which we don’t usually do, but the other person who had signed up didn’t show, and I was already there. Protesters from the Yadkinville pregnancy center were there. They had one male approaching cars. Each time a car would stop, I would walk up to let patients know to follow me if they were there for the clinic. He shouted at me about obstructing the free flow of information or some nonsense. Once all the patients arrived, I decided to head out early because I was uncomfortable. As I walked up the driveway and across the Midori parking lot, the man from Yadkinville started walking toward me yelling about wanting to talk and about how I ‘had a lot of attitude out here,’ whatever that means. I shook my head and kept walking, but he continued to follow me nearly halfway to my car before he finally just stopped and stared.”

Former escort Forrest Hinton described a more violent experience.

“Since 98% of protestors are white, they use their privilege to call the police on me and pretend to be a victim. They know that the police will be sympathetic to them, even though I was the one who was assaulted. As we’ve seen with multiple black men in Greensboro, the police are not inclined to view me as a victim.”

Hinton described an incident where a protester from the Yadkinville CPC allegedly slammed him into a patient’s car. “To top it off, he called the police on me, claiming I assaulted him.”

Hinton called the police response “nonchalant,” adding that the officer “pretty much assumed that I hit the protester first” and “said that because he didn’t see anything, he couldn’t do anything.”

Hinton also said that the Abolitionist protester Chris Pantalone called him a pedophile. (I have witnessed Pantalone call the clinic’s staff pedophiles in his amplified harangues.) Another clinic escort, who asked that neither her first nor last name be used, described the following interaction with Pantalone.

“Once, when directing a patient out of the Midori parking lot, Chris walked up right behind me and, with his mic on full blast, yelled at me that I was a pedophile. At that point, I was still pretty new and, while not shaken, was definitely startled and confused by it (besides my ears ringing for an hour afterward). I just turned around and told him he didn’t know me and to back the fuck up.”

A veteran escort who asked to identified only as Brandi said that when she started three years ago, she was often singled out.

“I’ve experienced harassment by protestors both on and off the clinic property. Much of the harassment was targeted toward me because, for a while, I was the only woman of color, asking me things like ‘Don’t Black Lives Matter?’ or ‘Did you know the most dangerous place for a black baby is inside its mother womb?’ They would direct those statements at me when patients of color were within earshot. There have been times that they have targeted me on social media as well as in public settings.”

I asked Brandi if protesters also seemed to target patients of color.

“Absolutely, we’ve had protestors use statements like ‘Come on homie, I know you didn’t have a dad growing up, don’t you want to do better by your children?’ Their scripts and narrative switch up when they see people of color.”

Those interested in becoming a clinic escort can email gsoclinicescorts@gmail.com, or message the Greensboro Clinic Defense Facebook page.

Ian McDowell is the author of two published novels, numerous anthologized short stories, and a whole lot of nonfiction and journalism, some of which he’s proud of and none of which he’s ashamed of.

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