Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Simply Atrocious

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

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

In a situation where the police are clearly ignoring the law by allowing the protesters to block access to the clinic, what steps should someone take? Who should be contacted to address the situation?

Of all the things I read on here that upset me, this really got to me because it underscores the difference between what's legal in this country, and what people are willing to let happen. There was a feeling of helplessness as I realized that if the law enforcement wouldn't do anything, who would?

8:26 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is a very disturbing situation. Blocking the entrance is clearly illegal and is very harmful to the patents who are already in a psychologically vulnerable situation.

I wonder if this illegal practice is habitual and is encouraged by operation rescue. If so, could they be sued or punished under the RICO act? Or for damages like the Southern Poverty Law Center sued the KKK?

If they are simply expressing their opinions and following the law, they have every right to speak out. But if they are breaking the law, there should be consequences.

12:05 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

First, the protesters should not have been allowed to block access to the clinic. In a free society, we don't have the right to stop people from utilizing legal services no matter how repugnant those services might be to some.

But, especially as an ACLU intern, you can't complain about being subjected to harsh, offensive speech in opposition of this practice. People have strong feelings about this issue and under our Constitution are allowed to express no matter how offensive they might be to the reciepent.

12:58 AM  
Blogger Dhalgren said...

Do we know if the US Attorney's office every took notice of this incident? It is not too late to launch a probe into the PPD's actions allowing the violation of a Federal law to take place. Really all that could happen now is a letter warning the police not to do it. But was that done? If not, why not?

Its like letting a terrorist threaten an airline for a limited amount of time. When did a 'window' intentionally open for Federal crimes to be committed?

1:33 PM  

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