I left my home at the crack of dawn to make it to Englewood in time to meet with the clinic escorts working at Metropolitan Medical Associates. We gathered for briefing and they all slipped neon green vests over their heads. They read “Clinic Escort Volunteer”.
At 7:30am the first protesters were already outside. 3 men and a woman stood around the front door entrance. There is a bright yellow line painted on the sidewalk 8 feet from the door all the way around. This is the only “protection” patients have from protesters. This buffer zone creates a small area that protesters are not legally able to “linger” in.
A man was preaching. He held a speaker to his face amplifying his voice. “Today we will witness murder. A child’s a beautiful gift…The bible says the heart is wicked…It’s no different than rape, which is taking advantage of someone that’s weaker and can’t protect itself.” He wore a black sweatshirt with “Abolish Human Abortion” on the front. I was told his name is Robert Parker. Both signs these men held were also products from AHA, a group focused on abolition, which often butts heads with pro-life groups. The woman saw me photographing and raised her sign in front of her face. I tried to walk around her and approach her from different angles. Sometimes protesters just want to be sure I photograph their signs but usually they don’t want to be photographed. After dancing around a bit, it was clear she was avoiding me.
I asked her, “Can I just get your portrait with your sign?”
“No, no you can’t.” She lifted it higher and pushed it towards my face.
“You don’t want your face shown? Why not?” I asked as she shook her head.
The two men came at me in stereo: “Ma’am, stop harassing her…”
“What are you doing?”
“Stop harassing her. “
“What will you do with it? What will you do with it?”
I stood my ground. They backed away to their posts once they realized I wasn’t going anywhere.
One of the men took his phone out of his pocket and appeared to begin filming me. I was told his name is Don Karns.
Don is from Virginia. Later in the day he agreed to talk to me. He told me that he drove 8 hours from Virginia the previous day so that he could preach outside this clinic.
Don’s attention quickly turned from me to the man who exited the clinic and was walking down the sidewalk.
“Hey dad! Hey dad! Don’t go off without your baby! He’s still in there. Don’t leave your baby!” (Barely audible: “They’ll kill it….”)
Don walks after the man with his sign in hand, repeating himself.
The man turned to Don. “Shut the fuck up.”
A security officer named Kyle is employed by the clinic. He was standing in front of the doorway and immediately made his way to put himself in front of the companion and between the two men. Kyle had been friendly with the companion. They knew each other on a first name basis from chatting about their military history. (I will refer to the companion only as “C”.)
Kyle yelled, “C, C!” and stood directly in front of the man, holding his hands to him as if to subdue him.
“Shut the fuck up!” C yelled. “You don’t know what the fuck I’m going through! You don’t know what the fuck I’m going through! Fuck you!”
Don seemed shocked that this man confronted him and he put his sign down to back away from the companion.
“He’s not worth it!” yells Kyle.
Ashley, the founder of this particular clinic escort group was the team leader this day.
“Lay off!” she yelled at Don.
C yelled various obscenities at Don and Ashley tells him, “He’s a piece of shit. This is what he wants.”
Kyle held the companion back and lodged himself in between the two men. He yelled at Don, “We’re not doing it today Don! Not on my watch buddy.”
Later, we learned that C and his partner’s baby had developed with no spine and would not survive.
Don switched places with the other man and began preaching through the amplifier. It was incredibly loud. I had to walk further away and Ashley told me that the cops used to ticket them for noise violations and not having a permit but they have just given up and no longer ticket. He had been yelling up at the windows of the clinic. I went inside to see how well I could hear Don. I stood in front of one of the windows not too far from the waiting room. I could hear every word.
“You didn’t become a mom last night…You’ve been a mom for weeks….even though you thought you weren’t ready….god provided for you….god gave you a gift….” He barely took a breath.
When speaking with Don about his history as a self-proclaimed “street preacher” he asked if I got pictures of the inside of the clinic when I went inside. I told him I had not. He proceeded to tell me he wished I had because he would like to know where the women are, where they sit. “Why do you want to know what the inside looks like? How come? Why do you want to know where they sit?” I asked. “Well, so I, I’d rather think they can hear me,” chuckling, “not that they can’t hear me.” laughing more.
Another woman showed up and she and the first followed a couple across the street to their car. Ashley stepped to the right of the protesters and behind the couple to shift herself in between once they turned.
“You could be a good mother, you don’t have to kill your baby. You will regret it.” They said.
Some were very quiet. One man only mumbled a couple of times and stood in one spot for 3 hours not saying much else.
Across the street, a row of roughly a dozen Catholics gathered. They stood with rosaries and prayer books and images of Jesus. They chanted prayers while avoiding eye contact.
About 50 feet away another, smaller group of people of mostly older protesters, were huddled together, praying. They clearly wanted to distance themselves from the line of Catholics.
When patients and companions walk through the front door they must sign in with security. In addition to his military and law enforcement background, Kyle has undergone training to deal with volatile situations and does regular sweeps around the clinic.
“What kind of effect do you think having the escorts has had?” I asked. “Huge. It calms the patient…it’s almost a light to a tunnel.”
Sometimes drivers bring patients to the clinic from other medical establishments. When Don noticed a crucifix hanging from the rear view mirror in this van he began to berate the driver. “What’s the cross for sir?! What’s the cross for? Jesus died on that cross. And you’re bringing women to kill their babies….”
The escorts surrounded this patient creating a little floating protective wall. She was walking with arms crossed in front of her. Two escorts walked with her from one end of the sidewalk towards the center where they almost effortlessly switched with the center escorts so they could walk with her through the doorway. Don got as close to her as he could, yelling at her, and suddenly Robert focused his amplified message on her as did the two women against the wall. The other protesters stared and pointed their signs at her and as the patient walked through the door, the escorts told her that she was there.
She had made it.