Wednesday, July 8, 2009

More Thoughts on Abortion Clinic Escort Training from Sum of Change Filmmakers

originally posted on June 19th, 2009

From Mitch Malasky, Executive Producer at Sum of Change Productions.

The abortion escort session that Will and I went to on Monday was certainly a wake-up call for me. Abortion has never been a top of the list issue for me personally and I had never even heard of clinic escorting until a couple weeks ago, when we met some escorts while shooting a short piece about one of the many vigils for Dr. Tiller. But now, I am 'trained' to become one. I use quotations because, as they told us, we aren't supposed to feel ready to actually go out and escort (and I certainly do not), just more aware of what it is going to entail and why it is necessary. I have always been socially and politically conscious, but I have not actively fought to support an issue often, much less one like abortion. Abortion is always something that I've long had an opinion about, but doesn't directly affect me (at least not yet), and wouldn't the same way it would a woman. There are many other issues that I care deeply about, probably more so than abortion. But what I've learned in the past few weeks has called me to service and caused me to take action.

The class itself was about half men, something I didn't expect. Personally, I find this significant though. Men seem to be the ones who keep making abortion an issue instead of a right, so the fact that men (at least some of us) are taking a stand is important. The class included a lot of history about how abortion protests have developed, how clinic escorting came to be, and how the Washington Area Clinic Defense Task Force (WACDTF) the group that supervises the escorting and ran the training, came to be. It also gave us a bunch of logistical details, what days and times there is escorting, what to expect from the 'antis' (their term for anti-abortion protesters), and what types of things an escort does. But I am going to focus on two aspects that struck me the most.

The first is that the session was not very hypocritical and wasn't about pushing women to have abortions, but rather to make the best decision. One the things that upsets me the most is the hypocrisy of so called 'pro-lifers' who end lives to prove their point. They want the government to stay out of their own lives, but not the lives of women who are unprepared or medically unfit for motherhood. The pro-choice crowd, on the other hand, believes that it is your decision to make and you should make it. Not once did anyone suggest that you should prevent a potential patient from considering all her options, including those you might not believe in, nor did they tell us that we should encourage women to get the procedure. The escort's only goal is to make sure that the women feel safe, physically and emotionally, to make the decision that makes the most sense for her.

The thing that was most eye awakening to me was a short role play that we did at the end to simulate what actual escorting is like. The role play itself was pretty shotty and low tech, but really made me understand how unnecessarily extra traumatic the experience is. I could feel how close and uncomfortable it can get when you have 10 people swarming around you. We were obviously using very mild language, but I can only imagine how much worse it gets for women when protesters get personal. We ran the simulation three times, and I played all the roles, an escort, an anti, and then a companion accompanying a woman to the clinic. All three attempts were very valuable lessons. As an anti, I could feel how much freedom I had to interfere, to get in the way, to berate my subject and as an escort I discovered what (few) options I had to do my job and how hard it was to actually non-violently protect the women. Most significant to me, however was the final simulation, when I was 'playing' a companion, someone who came in support of a woman getting a procedure. We started very unexpectedly, with very little shift from explaining what we were doing to being in the middle of it, and that abrupt shift I discovered simulates the feeling of being unexpectedly berated from all sides. Even in this safe, un-elaborate, confined, and contrived scenario, I got very nervous and panicky. By the time I got to our 'entrance' to the clinic, I had forgotten all about my friend for whom I was supposed to be a companion and discovered that I had accidentally abandoned her in the mob of antis and escorts. I could tell that if I felt that apprehensive as a fake companion in a contrived scenario, women on their way to clinics must feel exponentially more intimidated.

I am very glad that I went to the class and that we've began to undertake this project. I feel enriched by the experience so far and proud to be taking a stand. Please keep checking back to Sum of Change for blog updates and news about the movie as it gets produced. We appreciate all comments, positive or negative, that could improve our understanding of the issue and our final movie and hope we get your continued support.


Mitch Malasky
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