Last summer some friends and I spent several weekends volunteering as escorts at an abortion clinic in the Bronx. The experience was eye-opening in that it brought me face to face with a group of people who I would never have encountered. Growing up in New York, I had come to think of the actively pro-life campaigner as some sort of rare mythical creature only to be encountered from a distance, perhaps on Fox News, at a family reunion, or in a Times article about rural America. But here, in my very own beloved city, I confronted in person the self-same pro-life supporters that I had only seen in the fantastical land of the media.
Last week the New Hampshire senate voted 13-10 in support of a bill which will establish a 25 foot buffer zone around all entrances and exits to clinics offering abortion services. A spokesperson for Governor Maggie Hassan says that the governor believes that all women should be able to access reproductive health-care services without fearing for their safety. She plans to sign the bill, which will add New Hampshire to the growing number of states that offer women such protection.
My experience as an abortion-clinic-escort, though brief, definitely influenced my perspective on this movement. Neither I, nor any of the women that I was helping were ever physically assaulted. (Luckily! Attacks on people at clinics and clinics themselves have continued in America, with one occurring even as recently as last year, while threats are all the more common.) However, the growing popularity of laws for protection against clinic violence (New Hampshire will become the 17th state to instate such laws) clearly reinforces the NH bill’s “Statement of Findings and Purposes,” which explains that recent demonstrations "have resulted in the fear and intimidation of patients and employees of these facilities." Women have the right to pursue healthcare without feeling threatened, right?
Well, some people don’t seem to think so. The protesters that I encountered claimed religion as their primary evidence against the morality of abortion. (One woman claimed to be channeling her deity of choice, and fell to the ground proclaiming against abortion. My co-volunteers informed me that this happened with stunning regularity.) Apparently religious freedom in this country gives them the right to try to force others to conform to their beliefs.
But, in all seriousness, this bill does raise the question of personal freedom. Sister Mary Rose Reddy of the Daughters of Mary in Rochester stated that "I believe as an American citizen, I have the right to walk where I want and pray where I want." In speaking before the House panel, she asked that they “support our freedom of speech and assembly."
The bill, of course, by no means inhibits pro-life protesters’ “freedom of speech and assembly.” Democratic Senator Donna Soucy has stated that the bill is "very narrowly tailored to ensure the entrance and the area around it will be open to traffic." Protesters "can still be heard and their signs can still be read." Of course, some protesters may have a problem with the fact that patients will now have a 25-foot buffer zone to protect them from the "verbal assault, physical obstruction, death threats, anthrax scares and arson" which, according to Laura Thibault, executive director of NARAL- Pro Choice New Hampshire, they have endured in the past. But I, at least, think that their safety is worth that (apparently huge) sacrifice.
Images courtesy of demotix.com, blogforchoice.com, liveactionnews.com, and news.com.au.