A valuable escort service

Shauna Heckert is the executive director of Women’s Health Specialists in Sacramento

Last October, Women’s Health Specialists held a special event to recognize the important work of volunteer clinic escorts. These men and women from our community spend their Saturdays helping women get into our clinic. We have had anti-abortion protesters in front of our clinic since January 1980.

Their protesting is most unwelcome by our clients. Making a decision to have an abortion is a personal and private matter. The last thing in the world a woman wants is to have people she does not know or want to know attempting to talk to her, yell at her, block her car, shove literature at her, take her picture or jot down her license-plate number while she enters the clinic property.

We at Women’s Health Specialists have asked members of our community to escort women, and we are going back to court to control the protesters’ behavior.

Our clients have told us that the protesters were intimidating and threatening to them and that the clinic escorts really helped them get through this unpleasant situation. Women tell us that the escorts provide welcome support and reduce the stress of being confronted by the protesters.

Several years ago, we were successful in obtaining court-ordered restrictions on the protesting activity at our clinic. The judge’s order restrains the protesters from photographing, yelling, taking license-plate numbers, intimidating and harassing the clients and staff at Women’s Health Specialists. The order provides a “picket-free zone” at the entrance of the clinic so that women can enter easily without interference. On November 20, we filed a motion to transfer our permanent injunction against the protesters to our new location. We await a decision by Judge James Long.

The protesters are fighting the motion on the grounds that restrictions, especially a picket-free zone, infringe on their constitutional right to free speech. This is nonsense. Free speech does not mean anyone should be forced to listen. What the anti-abortionists do not want to face is that our clients have no interest in hearing what they have to say.

Anti-abortionists have the right to oppose abortion in public places, but they should not be allowed to target individual women as they are entering a clinic. Health facilities that provide abortion and reproductive-health services should have a “quiet zone” surrounding the premises, just as hospitals do.