Friday, October 30, 2009

I’m Being Watched

I’ve been working for Planned Parenthood in Bremerton, Washington, for 12 years. We always have protesters here, but there are more during the “40 Days for Life” campaign.

I’ve gotten accustomed to seeing them each day, but in the past two years the protesters have become more visible and vocal. They call the staff terrible names and harass the patients. They’ve egged our retaining wall and littered our parking lot with anti-choice materials. We know that some women who need our services don’t come here because they’re intimidated by the protesters.

The feeling that I’m being watched never goes away. Bremerton is a small town, and when I go out to dinner with my family I can’t help but be more alert about being followed. But I love my job and the people I work with. We do important work.

Protesters: 10

I am Emily X.

I am Planned Parenthood.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Planned Parenthood NYC: I Am Emily X

At the End of the Day

Burlington, Vermont: As we near the end of this year’s “40 Days for Life” campaign, I’m reflecting on the daily impact of the protesters.

We’ve become accustomed to facing protesters every morning on our way into work and most evenings on our way home. They either block the steps to create a barrier for staff and patients, or try to shame us from across the street with signs, posters, and banners.

The protesters try to convince the staff that we are doing something morally wrong by coming to work. They try to deter our patients by making them feel guilty for picking up a pack of pills, getting a Pap test, or receiving abortion services. Many of our patients are scared, and feel threatened by the protesters. We do what we can to comfort our patients, yet encourage them not to lash out at the people who are making our job much more difficult than it needs to be.

We understand the concerns of our patients and the motivations of the protesters, but at the end of the day, we’re here to provide valuable services. We will persevere and stay strong, because we’re a resource to those who need us the most.

Number of protesters: 10

I am Emily X.

I am Planned Parenthood.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Flagstaff, Arizona

Our health center is more isolated than the ones in Phoenix. We’re about two hours north of there. It’s a smaller community, but we have rowdy protesters. There were only two yesterday. Last week we had 10. The week before it was 12.

There was a group of anti-abortion extremists that did a lot of training a couple of years ago, all around the country. A young couple here went to that training. They were really excitable radicals, and they had gathered together a ragtag group of people.

They screamed, yelled into a megaphone. A couple of times they came into the clinic. They came to my house twice. Eventually, the couple moved to California. I heard they got into some trouble, some dorm protest, they were put on notice. That makes them successful in the eyes of other protest groups.

We still have a group that stands outside — sometimes only two or three, but usually six, eight, or 10. They’re there with their ugly signs, and they take pictures. They have a lot of children that they keep out there — but I think it backfires. And then this one older gentleman, he holds his signs and screams in front of City Hall. The other week, two women came out of nowhere and tried to take his signs. It made the front page.

Our patients? Some are angry and yell back at the protesters, wanting to argue — which we discourage. Some are offended by the protesters’ signs. They feel like it’s an invasion of privacy. Some people go out the back door — but not many. Most people just dismiss them.

The staff gets tired of it. Some people use the back door. One day, not too long ago, I was very frustrated. The protesters walked up and shoved a camera in my windshield, took my picture. They have our pictures, our license plates, our addresses — we know that. But it was so blatant, right in my face. By the time we call the cops they’re back standing out on the sidewalk where they have to be. It’s like a game of chicken.

I’ve been with Planned Parenthood for 27 years. I remember when we used to have surgeries here in Flagstaff. This was before the bubble law, and the protesters could be right up against the building. It was hard to get the patients in the door. There were altercations.

The work we do is important work. I’m of an age that I know what it was like before Roe. I have good friends and family members who had illegal abortions. My college roommate had an illegal abortion and died of complications.

I feel very, very fearful that this work will not continue. I don’t think that young women generally get that. Women went to Mexico and Puerto Rico and the back alleys of Chicago and New York, and many women died or were mutilated and certainly sustained some emotional trauma.

It’s unthinkable that things could go back to how they used to be.

Protesters: 2

I am Emily X.

I am Planned Parenthood.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Escorting Is Customer Service

Houston, Texas: I was asked by a client's husband why we have "parking attendants," when we offer free parking.

I told him that we weren’t here to help with parking, but that we were escorts for people walking past the protesters. We alert people in the parking lot that protesters are present so they aren’t caught off guard.

He thanked me and said it was nice that we offer that level of customer service, that too few organizations care about clients these days.

He’s right. It is customer service.

We’re not here to battle the protesters or deny them their right to free speech. At Planned Parenthood, we value diverse opinions and perspectives. We believe that everyone must be treated with respect and allowed the opportunity to access health care without judgment or harassment.

We’re outside, greeting and escorting clients past protesters, to show them that we care. It’s truly the first sign of good customer service for our clients. And it’s a way to ensure that clients are treated with respect and dignity.

It’s a reason that Planned Parenthood has been a trusted community health care provider in southeast Texas for almost 75 years.

Protesters: 150

I am Emily X.

I am Planned Parenthood.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Miami-Dade County, Florida

It was a just another sunny Sunday afternoon in southern Florida — except that nearly 2,000 protesters were gathered along Interstate One, stretching the four miles between LeJeune Road and Kendall Drive. They were standing their ground against what we at Planned Parenthood call basic health care.

I’m accustomed to seeing five or 10 protesters outside our health centers throughout the month — but nothing like this.

These protesters were part of the “The Life Chain,” a group that opposes women making their own reproductive health decisions. They don’t try to hide their stance against contraception, either — they are openly unwilling to find a common ground on prevention. There were the same old clich├ęd anti-choice signs, as well as other signs of varying creativity and offensiveness. Several people held rosaries. Others harassed passing cars with angry chants.

As a native of Miami and a Planned Parenthood employee, I know firsthand how essential it is for the women, men, and teens here in Miami-Dade County to have access to the full spectrum of reproductive health services. Access to sexual and reproductive health care is essential — as is education. The Miami metropolitan area has the highest AIDS rate in the entire nation, and ranks high in cases of other STDs.

When I see these protesters, I can’t help but think, “These people haven’t heard the stories I’ve heard. They don’t know the realities of life in this fast-paced, complicated urban environment.”

This health center offers comprehensive reproductive health care for the men and women of this community. I mean preventive health services: STD testing and treatment, breast exams, contraception, and education and information. And we provide women with a safe space to ask questions and seek guidance on even their most complicated reproductive decisions.

Here, we help them claim their own destiny.

All those protesters gathered along the road, filled with hate and bent to intimidate, they make me sad. But that only strengthens my resolve.

Protesters: many

I am Emily X.

I am Planned Parenthood.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Boise, Idaho

Near the beginning of the “40 Days for Life” campaign, I received a phone call from a patient who was running late for her appointment. She was calling from a few blocks away, and was crying. After taking a few deep breaths, she told me that she had driven by the protesters in the back of our building. There was a large man shouting at the building (although we couldn’t hear much more than a murmur from inside), and the patient was terrified to make her way to the front entrance.

I reassured her that our office is located on private property; the protesters couldn’t block her entrance. I remained on the phone with her as she pulled into our parking lot and met her at the door when she arrived. The patient was relieved, and received her care without further incident.

Later, a woman driving by noticed the protesters on the sidewalk. She detoured into our parking lot, walked into the lobby, and wrote us a donation check. She told our staff, “Keep doing what you do!”

Protesters: 5

I am Emily X.

I am Planned Parenthood.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Bremerton, Washington

Today a patient said something in response to the protesters and their signs that made me pause. In addition to saying, with tremendous sincerity, that she didn't like them being there, she said, "I would never protest at their church, never."

I've heard many people express frustration and disapproval of the protesters, but what she said was different.

I’ve never considered Planned Parenthood to be my “church,” but it does stand for very important rights and values that provide my being with hope, happiness, and faith.

Protesters: 15

I am Emily X.

I am Planned Parenthood.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

They Don’t Know

I’ve been at Planned Parenthood in Tempe, Arizona, on and off since 1989. I was here when they started providing abortion services. I’m here now to witness the “40 Days for Life.”

Those protesters have no idea what happens inside these walls.

They don’t know about the 12-year-old who came in. She was raped by her father. We helped send him to prison.

They don’t know about the young girl who was sexually assaulted by a close friend.

They don’t know about the mother of six who brought her 17-year-old daughter in for an abortion. Their family was struggling for basic necessities. They had no food. The daughter excelled in high school and wanted to go to college. She wanted to have a future.

They don’t know about the girl who was raped by the “coyotes” that brought her and her mother across the border. She came to Planned Parenthood, pregnant and seeking an abortion.

They don’t know how we’ve helped these women — and thousands more.

Protesters: 20

I am Emily X.

I am Planned Parenthood.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

This Is Harassment

I knew they were coming, but I didn’t expect to see this many people.

On Saturday, 250 protesters showed up at the Fannin Health Center in Houston, Texas, to harass Planned Parenthood clients. They called the day’s protest the “March of the Surviving Youth,” and circled around the health center seven times in a “Jericho March” intended to collapse the walls of the health center, like the story of Joshua in the Old Testament. No such luck.

I and my fellow escorts were vigilant as we guided clients safely from the parking lot to the health center, despite the efforts of protesters.

At one point, a group of them circled around me screaming, “I’m praying for you, ma’am!” and “You are not God’s child; you speak death!” and “You have no idea who you’re messing with!”

This is not a so-called “peaceful protest.”

This is harassment.

But we will continue to stand together in support of comprehensive reproductive health care — including access to safe abortion care.

We will make sure that despite a few harassing voices, we will be here for the millions of women, men, and teens that need access to basic health care.

We will continue to be here for our patients throughout the “40 Days for Life,” just like we have every day since 1936.

Protesters: 250

I am Emily X.

I am Planned Parenthood.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Prescott, Arizona

We have had picketers since the day we opened in Prescott. We started offering medication abortion in December 2004, and they were here before then. It’s funny — they used to come every Wednesday until they realized we were offering the abortion pill on Thursdays.

There are between four and six people at a time, generally the same people with the same signs. They have been talking more to patients, lately — telling lies. They say we are prescribing low-dose pills so that women will get pregnant, that the abortion pill will cause ulcers or make it impossible for them to get pregnant in the future. Outright lies. It’s ridiculous.

I’ve been at this health center since 1985. I’m a PA (physician assistant). I do basic women’s health care, including birth control, STDs, Pap tests, and mammogram referrals — the full range of services. And at this health center, we see everything.

We saw a vulnerable 17-year-old woman who was molested at age four by her uncle. She hadn’t told anyone until she told us.

We saw a 58-year-old woman who was new to the area. She felt a lump in her breast but couldn’t get an appointment for a mammogram — until we scheduled her in right away and made the necessary referrals.

We saw a mom who came in every so often to purchase condoms that she tucks into the bathroom drawers for her boys.

We saw a woman — a single mother of two girls — who came here first, for affordable birth control. Now her daughters come here, too.

One day, I was talking to a patient for follow up. She was crying. In my experience, people are usually happy and smiling at their follow-up visits. I asked her what was wrong, and she said the protesters yelled at her, saying that she was going to hell.

After that, I signed up for a monthly donation of $100. I figured if I couldn’t stop the protesters, I could at least ease some of the financial burdens faced by our patients.

I’ve been through 24 years of them out there, once a week, praying — or should I say “preying” — on the vulnerable. And I can say one thing — it doesn’t change the good work we do inside this health center.

Protesters: 5

I am Emily X.

I am Planned Parenthood.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Tempe, Arizona

I work in the clinic here in Tempe, and am one of the few men on staff.

Here, the protesters are a fixture — whether or not it’s “40 Days for Life.” I tell patients they wouldn’t find our facility if not for the people gathered together outside.

“Every village has its idiots,” I say, “and we have ours.”

Last weekend, there were 30 people out in front of the building — more than normal — plus the ultrasound van. The van has mobile ultrasound, and free pregnancy tests — like a “crisis pregnancy center” on wheels, ready to scare women with biased information.

I know it can be intimidating to have to get through a bunch of protesters, but do I think they’re deterring patients from coming in? No.

It’s a year-round phenomenon — heavier on Fridays and Saturdays. There are going to be protesters out there, five or 50, depending on the day and who’s organizing.

If I don’t call the cops once a weekend, I’m surprised. It’s part of my daily routine. I make a point, on the days we provide abortions, to walk out there and make our presence known. We count them, and note if there are any new ones or weirdoes.

I am a soldier on the frontline of what we do.

Typically, I am one of the first people that a patient sees when they come in. Maybe because I’m a guy, they often think I’m the doctor. But when I start talking they realize I’m not. I sit and talk with women, crying women — and by the time we’re done talking there are no more tears. I’m helping them through the process.

I have three sisters, and I know they’ve have some tough decisions to make. So I get up every morning to fight for these women’s rights.

Protesters: 30

I am Emily X

I am Planned Parenthood.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Chicago, Illinois

There’s been an uptick in the activity recently. We saw it first when Obama was elected, and again after Dr. Tiller’s murder.

It’s both the number of protesters who are outside, and the aggressiveness of their tactics. We’ve got protesters who are impersonating medical personnel, giving “advice.” And we’ve got protesters wearing bright yellow vests with “Parenthood volunteer” and a cross that looks amazingly like Planned Parenthood’s logo—so they look just like our volunteers. Anything they can to do confuse, harass, and intimidate. It’s gotten really bad, especially at our Near North health center.

That’s why we pushed for the buffer zone ordinance. It was introduced at a city council meeting last month, and went for a vote in the human relations committee two weeks ago. The full city council voted on Wednesday. It passed 28 to 13, and should be in force by mid-November.

Starting then, protesters will have to stay at least eight feet away from people outside health centers. The safe space will exist within 50 feet of the entrance of all health centers. Those who get too close will face a fine. It doesn’t stop the harassment, but it’s a start.

Some people have gotten used to the protesters and say they’re fine as long as they obey laws and stay out of our way. But the patients aren’t fine. They’re coming in upset, angry. It’s not fair for them to be in the middle of this war zone.

I am so proud to work for Planned Parenthood, to be fighting for the issues I care about—reproductive rights, women’s health care, and access to health care, which is my passion. I fight for those issues every day. Particularly when you hear stories of what’s going on on the front lines, to be able to change public policy to make a difference in the lives of teens, women, and those in need — it’s very rewarding.

Protesters: anywhere from 8-20

I am Emily X.

I am Planned Parenthood.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Bucks County, Pennsylvania

We’ve got “40 Days for Life” protesters in addition to the regulars. Most of the protesters are peaceful, but there’s one with a bullhorn who verbally harasses our escorts and patients.

As our patients get out of their cars, they’re greeted by our invaluable escorts, who guide them into our health center and help them feel safe. However, it’s difficult to protect our patients from the protesters who shout at them with a bullhorn. The harassment goes way beyond demonstrating one’s opinion — it’s abusive and disrespectful.

We need to continue to serve our communities, as comprehensive reproductive health care providers. We’re here to ensure that our community receives quality reproductive health care and information, including annual exams, sexually transmitted infection testing and treatment, and counseling. We do a lot more than the protesters think we do!

Stand UP against the protesters! Stand UP for our rights! Stand UP for reproductive health!

Protesters: 48

I am Emily X.

I am Planned Parenthood.

Update from Houston, Texas

We’ve had more than 450 protesters at our health centers in Houston since the “40 Days for Life” began. Last Saturday we had more than 90 protesters at the main location alone.

Police have been called several times when protesters have attempted to put their hands on clients.

New tactics are being tested, including:

· stopping cars in the street before patients can reach the health center driveway

· visibly and aggressively filming clients

· trespassing on health center grounds to leave hateful brochures on cars in our parking lots

Protesters: 450

I am Emily X.

I am Planned Parenthood.