Sunday, January 3, 2010

20 Years of Defending Clinics and Keeping the Doors Open

(Reposted as part of our staff picks from 2009, originally written by Will Urquhart on 12/16/2009)

Last night, I attended an inspiring and important event. It was the celebration of the 20th year anniversary for the Washington Area Clinic Defense Task Force (WACDTF). I got introduced to WACDTF as myself, and the other Managing Partner at Sum of Change, Mitch Malasky, began planning a documentary on clinic escorting. As part of our research, we got involved with WACDTF, volunteering at clinics in the DC/MD/VA area.

I would like to take a moment to tell you a little about WACDTF. To start with, it is a completely volunteer run operation. They provide escorts to clinics in the area that request them. When they first started, 20 years ago, escorting was a very different beast. Anti's, their word for anti-choice protesters, would physically block off entrances or literally close doors and refuse entrance to people. Escorts in those days had to lock arms and form walls to keep anti's at bay. It was literally a fight to keep the clinic open. I doubt I need to explain how this could become ugly.

In 1994, President Clinton signed into law, the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act (FACE). For the first time, blocking a clinic entrance became a Federal offense. The impact of FACE was immediate and lasting.
Since its enactment, though anti-abortion violence continues, clinic blockades have dwindled to their lowest levels since they were first used to prevent women from accessing reproductive health care.
WACDTF took a moment last night to recognize the sponsor of the FACE Act, Senator Ted Kennedy. Yet again, I was reminded of what type of champion the late Senator was. I realized, when I got home, that the sentence, "We would not be where we are on (insert issue here) without Ted Kennedy," is always true.

Since 1994, Anti's have altered their tactics. It is less physical. They protest outside the clinics, approaching people immediately to attempt at convincing would be patients to walk away. They hand out literature and hold up signs, with doctored or fake pictures of late term abortions. They will say many things to arriving patients and companions. What they say ranges drastically. There is the common, "We can help you," "Your baby can feel pain," "Please don't kill your baby," "Your baby has a heart beat," etc. Then, there is the crazy, "We aborted the person who would have cured aids," "Mary was raped, she could have aborted Jesus," "We had a Preacher come to this clinic and he found spiritual evidence that these deathscorts (what they call escorts) have sacrificed babies on an altar here," etc. (Every one of those are real examples)

This is where we find ourselves today, and where our documentary picks up. Patients can enter a clinic, after being harassed and insulted first. The anti's are very aware of the restrictions on them. They will use every tactic that is legally available to them.

WACDTF has continued to survive throughout all this history. For 20 years now, they have provided escorts for clinics across DC, Maryland, and Virginia, at the request of the clinic. For 20 years, they have managed to organize and coordinate efforts at multiple clinics without a single person on staff. They operate to achieve one goal, and one goal only, assist patients in entering the clinic in the safest manner, with as little harassment as possible. They use, solely, nonviolent conflict resolution tactics. They do not tolerate counter protesting from WACDTF volunteers. They operate with high level of professionalism and dedication.

It was truly an honor to sit with the crowd of escorts, clinic workers, and WACDTF supporters last night. Being someone that comes from a community organizing background, I am continuously intrigued, inspired, and impressed with the organizers that make WACDTF work.

And you can get involved too. If you are in the DC/MD/VA area, please contact WACDTF. If you are not in that area, you should start by contacting your local clinic, planned parenthood, and local pro-choice organizations like NARAL.

Lastly, our documentary is still in the early stages. We have begun filming recently. We will, shortly, release a lot more information about the film. For now, I will say that we are producing a short piece on WACDTF, and then we will travel the country to document this work all over. If you are interested in hearing more, please sign up to receive Sum of Change email alerts. We will use this list to alert people when the website for the documentary is ready.
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