Kathleen Walsh ‘20
There was a woman just chilling outside the facility holding a bible,” said Luis Toledo ‘20, Vice President of Davidson College’s Planned Parenthood Generation Action (PPGA), of a woman who student volunteers saw as he and members of PPGA underwent training at Charlotte’s newest Planned Parenthood clinic. Protesters like the one Toledo described often intimidate patients in order to dissuade them from using Planned Parenthood services, making volunteers who help escort patients into the clinic valuable.\
The clinic, the fourth one in Charlotte, opened in June of this year against the backdrop of local and nationwide anti-abortion protests. This tension, says Toledo, exists almost on a daily basis at abortion clinics where students involved with PPGA on campus volunteer their weekends to ensure the safety of patients seeking health services. The clinic, located on Torrence Street in South Charlotte, began offering abortions two weeks ago.
Upwards of 40 students on September 7th were trained in escorting, one kind of volunteer service offered at clinics across the country. Escorting volunteers act as the first barrier to the frequent and often harrassing anti-abortion protesters who attempt to dissuade patients seeking medical aid from abortion clinics.
Grace Colley ‘21, the secretary of PPGA on campus, is a frequent volunteer at clinics across Charlotte. Colley detailed the nature of escorting as “primarily emotional” support for patients who might otherwise be dissuaded from entering the clinic by protesters, some of whom, Colley claims, masquerade as volunteers by donning similar vests and attire in an attempt to confuse patients.
“It looks different at each clinic, but just generally what you do is even provide a visual barrier between the protestors and the clinic. So it’s holding usually an umbrella and going directly to the patient’s car,” Colley says.
According to Colley, the job requires nuance, sensitivity, and quick-thinking, especially amid the presence of invasive protests.
“If the patient is getting out, they’re typically really frazzled, and they’re like, ‘Oh, what’s going on’ type of thing. And you’re like, ‘Hi, are you here for an appointment?’ And you make sure that you do not ask any questions that would reveal their identity because protesters can usually latch onto that. So that’s a huge responsibility.”
Colley, in addition to escorting, has volunteered as a legal observer, a role in which volunteers are asked to analyze protesters’ speech and actions to report illegal harassment to authorities. Colley said that escorting requires more volunteer training and an application process.
Colley detailed one particular anecdote that stuck in her mind during her time volunteering. Beyond the run-of-the-mill brochure-toting protesters, some protesters take to invasive and verbally aggressive forms of intimidation. The newest clinic, according to Colley, is in an underprivileged part of Charlotte that statistically supports and treats minority groups and has become a contentious focal point in the community.
Colley recalls in vivid detail a black mother of several children who was harrassed for her racial identity upon entering the clinic.
“We were walking to her car and the protesters were saying, ‘how dare you do this, especially when you’re black. This is a form of eugenics. That’s why this clinic is in your neighborhood.’”
“It became so racialized. The tactics they use become so violent […] I always have wondered what she felt like entering the clinic after that and if that changed her mind about getting the procedure,” Colley continued.
“I think most of the protesters and people just more broadly don’t know that the majority of women who get abortions are already mothers. Seeing that woman very visibly perform motherhood by holding her daughter’s hand while walking to this clinic seemed to hit such a nerve for the protesters. But I [thought], this is the story of American lives.”
Tindall Adams ‘22 heads volunteer coordination for PPGA and emphasized the ways in which escorting humanizes an otherwise nerve-wracking process as Colley described. Along with escorting, the new abortion clinic in Charlotte communicates this intent with its homey decor. Adams along with other members of the PPGA were given a tour by the clinic’s volunteer coordinator, Taylor Pigney, at the beginning of the semester.
“[Pigney] really emphasized how other clinics seem clinical and cold and unfeeling, which is difficult for a lot of patients. She emphasized how they wanted to focus on making it a warm and inviting place and making people feel comfortable there. And I definitely really felt that.”
Toledo, Adams, and Colley all agreed that PPGA’s role on campus is to bring more awareness to the many facilities and procedures that Planned Parenthood offers. Toledo claims that that bridge lies at the heart of the chapter’s involvement on campus.
“I’ve actually seen students reach out to us one day for example about the vending machine that we have on campus, but also with things off campus. I would say that in general, our chapter is transitioning into that: providing that bridge between on campus resources and off campus resources.”