“It can be intimidating at times,” is how Elisabeth Pletcher-Harincar described her volunteer job, but “all the ‘feel good’ makes it worthwhile to be a little uncomfortable. It is some of the most satisfying work I do because the women are so grateful. It’s a fairly simple thing to do.”
Pletcher-Harincar is one of the volunteer escorts for patients at Midwest Health Center for Women, one of only seven clinics in Minnesota that provides abortions among their other services. Volunteers offer a friendly face, safe passage into the building and a barrier between patients and sidewalk protesters.
“Every single day I hear patients say thank goodness there is someone out there to walk me past the protesters,” explained Kristen Perron, program and outreach manager at Midwest Health Center for Women. “It really does bring comfort to patients. Our protesters are somewhat reasonable as far as physical safety, but there is mental safety when someone is screaming medically inaccurate info at you. It is helpful for someone to be with you saying everything will be OK.”
Escorts don’t just fit into one demographic. Retired couples, college students, middle-aged moms and both men and women volunteer. Those under 18 are asked to come with a parent. Some people work downtown and come on their lunch hour and others take the light rail in from farther away to do their one- to two-hour shift.
Training is provided for volunteer escorts, including learning the legal aspects of what protesters can and cannot do, some dos and don’ts about engaging with protesters and actual time on the sidewalk with other experienced escorts.
Why do people voluntarily show up to stand outside to be yelled at when it’s 20 degrees below zero or 98 degrees above?
“It is one of the most important things I do in a week,” explained Chris Farmer-Lies, another Midwest Health Center for Women escort. “For me personally, it is just sticking up against bullies. I am pro-choice but it is kind of divorced from my political thoughts. Not many people can look at what happens to those patients and say that it’s not wrong. You see a lot of people getting kicked when they are down and that doesn’t sit very well with me.”
Pletcher-Harincar has been active in the pro-choice community and served on an organization board, but the escort role gave her an opportunity to make a direct and immediate impact, different from policy setting and budgeting. “Giving that sanctuary is not an easy thing to do but it is an important thing to do,” she said. “I can’t imagine not doing this. It feels so vitally important.”
If you’d like to be trained as a clinic escort contact:
Midwest Health Center for Women
Planned Parenthood of MN/ND/SD
Where do you see women connecting and making change in your world? Send me your story, magnuson@womens press.com