Why I’m Not Guarding the Abortion Clinic

A Cautionary Tale

I’m not guarding at the abortion clinic anymore. I no longer sit in the snow, slush, wind, rain, or 100 degree plus heat, making sure that the protesters stay on their side of the line demarcating public sidewalk from private property.

I no longer manipulate the space outside the clinic door to get women and their girlfriends, boyfriends, fathers, mothers, or other companions in the doorway with a minimum of hassle from the fanatics. I used to joke that I was playing library lion.

Now, I started doing it in early 2005, and have been there on Fridays, regularly for two years, wearing my day-glow “CLINIC ESCORT” vest that, I suppose, might as well have a bullseye marked on it.

It seems a trivial matter to most, and, should you have witnessed our weekly confrontation, you’d have seen me in my sunglasses, with my walkman (I started out listening to Al Franken and ended up listening to Thom Hartmann), and listening to the PSA that always brought a little smile to my face, as the announcer announced:

Women’s reproductive freedom is in jeopardy …

Well, I was actually doing something about it, more intense than the radio spot asked for, but it was always a bit of wry irony in my guard duty. You may have seen me (if you live here) sitting there, every Friday: rain, snow, sleet, hail, burning sun. And I was happy to do it. Roe v. Wade was decided my senior year in high school, too late for many girls of my generation, who died or were made sterile by botched back-alley abortions. And I remember the massive protests of the 1980s, remember passing them in Orange County, California, where the woman I was living with expressed rage at me for flipping them off when we would pass.

She had an abortion to cover up an illicit pregnancy, but, having had the abortion, decided that not only was she against it, but that she would make up her mind for ALL women, everywhere.

I continued flipping off the protesters. Needless to say that I am no longer with little miss “moral.” Intolerance is the one vice that I cannot tolerate.

But I learned something important in that two-year meditation in front of the clinic: I don’t hate them anymore. I used to be very angry at the protesters. Angry at the really vicious little emotional trip they were pulling on women at one of the most emotionally raw moments of their lives. Angry at their presumption to speak for God. Angry at their self-righteousness and, yes, prejudice. Angry that they cared more for an imaginary “baby” than for a real flesh and bone woman.

But I learned to NOT be angry. They believe what they believe. And so, I learned to be polite to them. To wish them “good morning.” To be friendly. Just because we disagree, that is no reason to add to the already nasty situation.

Well, when I opened up, and said “hello,” it affected them. When I asked an older protester where his wife was (who had always shot little sneaky glances to see if I was looking, after pretending to ignore me on each pass), if she was OK, he was overwhelmed.

And so we all became friends.

Sneaky library lion that I was, I’d inadvertently discovered a wonderful tactic: their innate sense of MANNERS, of POLITENESS short-circuited them. Since we were being polite and tolerant, something caused them to hesitate at that moment of handing the incoming patient their little “TAKE MY HAND” brochure with the picture of the cute baby and the logo “DON’T KILL ME.”

Because it was rude. And they knew it. And because we were now on amicable footing, they would hesitate that split second while they were double-clutching to change gears into kompassion/confrontation mode. In that moment, the door would be open, and the woman would be safely inside.

I can report, with some satisfaction, that, while they handed out SIX brochures in the first six months of my guard duty, after I discovered how not to be angry, the protesters did not hand out more than FOUR brochures in the next year and a half. Not on my watch.

The grand total number of brochures the protesters managed to hand out during my watch was about ten, certainly less than twenty. (I know, I kept tally. But I never managed to snag one — to read it — from the gray plastic wastebasket just inside the front door, where the few brochures handed out ever went. It became such a rare event that I would forget to grab one when it happened. Oh well.)

And that was one of the reasons that I lost my anger: it’s hard to be angry at the opposition when they are losing EVERY battle. Only one time did a patient ever have an extended “intervention” talk with the protesters, and that was after she’d gone inside and been squirming around on it for half an hour.

Hey: if you aren’t sure you want to go through with it, wait until you are, or else don’t. I don’t have any problem with that. But other than that one incident, they consistently wasted their time, and, because of our “cordiality” pact, I can’t recall, after the first six months, a time that one of the girls going in flipped them off, told them to fuck off, etc. etc.

That HAD been a common confrontation when I started. In the last year and a half, it was unheard of. Lao Tzu’s suggestion to “manage from underneath” and a little non-violence went a long, long way.

But then, I’ve been a bar bouncer several times in my checquered career, and I will always remember what the bouncer who trained me, Joe in Boulder, told me: Kid, he said, if you ever get into a physical confrontation, you haven’t done your job. A bouncer’s job is to see trouble and defuse it BEFORE it gets to that.

And that’s what I did as a library lion for two years.

I am an unreconstructed Feminist in that I believe in equality, period, and I do not believe that is possible when women’s own biology can be used against them. I came of age during Roe v. Wade, and I feel an obligation

My second wife and I went through an agonizing decision as to whether or not to carry a pregnancy to term, and in 1981, we went to the Feminist Women’s Health Center on Hollywood Boulevard, where I was the only man in the (full) waiting room. I went in with my wife, and held her hand through the Suction Aspiration.

At first, I could literally feel the focus of all the angry thoughts. But then a funny thing happened. Several women made a point of telling my wife and I that they were impressed that I’d come with her, to support her. At the time, men generally didn’t come with women to the abortion clinics. Not because the women wouldn’t have appreciated it, but seemingly because that was a form of moral courage they weren’t up to.

And a strange thing happened. A friend of mine from our Buddhist school came in, too. And she was alone. My wife and I invited her to sit with us, and we were able to comfort her (the emotional state of women waiting for abortion is not exactly kaffeeklatsch chipper). She had just returned from India, and had gotten pregnant via a ‘hit and run’ suitor. He’d dropped her like a hot potato the second he learned of her condition.

When I was in college a girlfriend and I went with her pregnant best friend to the abortion clinic in Dallas, Texas. It was in the mid-70s, and the same syndrome held true: I was nearly the only male present in a huge waiting room — 30 to 60 women, as I recall.

At any event, I can happily report that boyfriends and husbands commonly escort the woman in question to the clinics nowadays.

It was roughly at this moment in time

Stacy’s Day at the Abortion Clinic
TIME Magazine
Monday, Apr. 10, 1978

First she has to get by the right-to-life protesters

More than 1 million legal abortions now take place in the U.S. every year–six times as many as in 1970. The fight against this increase has also increased, ranging from congressional oratory to outbreaks of fire bombing in such cities as Omaha, Cleveland and Columbus. In most abortion clinics, though, there is only minor harassment as a steady procession of anxious women arrive to undergo what some doctors call “the procedure.

In hindsight, the decision to have an abortion was incredibly important (and agonizing) for both of us. We divorced in the following year, over issues NOT having anything to do with the abortion, and a potential child was spared the trauma of THAT mess. She later had two children, but not with me.

Oh, and two weeks later, the clinic that we had gone to was firebombed. Take a moment and think about that. We had been in there two weeks earlier, and now it had been torched as a protest against the agonizing (and, we felt, ethical) decision we’d made. It chills the blood.

I would give you an exact date, but I can find nothing on the internet about it (sad to say). So, instead, here is the 1983-1984 experience of the FWHC in Everett, Washington:

In the early morning of December 3, 1983, the first fire-bomb exploded at Everett FWHC. Fire fighters stopped the blaze before it spread to the rest of the building, but all our medical and office equipment was destroyed. Phones were melted; paint peeled from the walls. Smoke, soot and water covered everything. Thankfully, no one was injured.

It took two months to rebuild, install and alarm system required by our insurance company, purchase new equipment and reopen. All during construction, harassment continued.

Within a few weeks of reopening, a second fire was set. This one caused much less damage. We reopened within a few days. A large community rally was organized by pro-choice groups led by Everett National Organization for Women. The Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF) began a federal investigation. But it was too little, too late.

In April 1984, a third fire-bomb went off. Damage was severe and widespread. Our insurance company immediately canceled our policy and the building owner canceled our lease.

Debts from the destruction and the financial loss of double startup costs nearly forced the closure of the Yakima clinic.

The clinic that we’d gone to never reopened.

I have watched in sorrow as the vile march of those who believe that a theoretical baby trumps a real woman has intimidated, harassed and murdered — all the while claiming that the women who refuse to behave as brood mares are murderers.

The Terrorist Campaign Against Abortion

Since 1977, there have been 154 incidents of arson, 39 bombings, and 99 acid attacks against abortion providers, according to the National Abortion Federation (NAF). And the severity of violence has steadily intensified. No longer content with damaging property, extremists are now determined to kill. NAF has recorded 15 attempted murders since 1991. And Slepian’s assassination marks the seventh killing of an clinic worker in five years… Slowly and quietly, this campaign of violence is eroding women’s ability to get abortions. The majority of Americans are prochoice, and pro-violence extremists represent only a sliver of the antiabortion movement. But still, a handful of zealots have sowed enough fear in the medical community that it is now harder to get an abortion than it has been at any time in the last 20 years.

The number of doctors performing abortions dropped from 2758 to 2380–a decrease of nearly 15 percent–between 1980 and 1992. In rural areas, the number of abortion providers plunged 55 percent during that same 12-year period. During the year following the first murder of an abortion doctor in 1993, one-quarter of clinics reported employees quitting because of the violence. Such resignations have continued over the last few years, though at a less rapid pace. Today, there are no abortion doctors in more than 84 percent of the nation’s counties. (from The VILLAGE VOICE 1998)

But, of course, even though they’re jailing Earth Liberation Front members as “terrorists,” firebombing clinics isn’t considered “terrorism”:

Chronological FBI summary of terrorist incidents, 1980-2004

The FBI defines a terrorist incident as a violent act or an act dangerous to human life aimed at intimidating or coercing a government or the civilian population in pursuit of political or social aims.

In tracking these attacks, it breaks them down in two broad categories — international and domestic terrorism.

Among domestic terrorists, the Animal Liberation Front, the Earth Liberation Front and other militant animal-rights and environmental groups–categorized as Special interest domestic terrorists–have been involved in the greatest number of incidents in the past decade. But none of their actions have resulted in injuries or death.

The FBI does not classify the vast majority of attacks on abortion clinics as acts of domestic terrorism. Thus, almost all of these attacks–tallied at more than 4,200 since 1976 by the National Abortion Federation — are not included in the data base.

No, in that twisted, demonic patois that the “righteous” devils of the Right prefer, it’s a looking glass world, as in:

Bomb – An explosive device. Often used interchangeably with Firebomb. Firebomb is not defined by Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, and is a term used by the abortion industry to generate angry emotions against pro-life.

Butyric acid – A very smelly substance used by one side to close Killing Centers and by the other to close pro-life offices and churches. It is used only because of the smell, and it is not used in any dangerous way.

Deathscort – A term used by pro-lifers to describe an escort at a Killing Center who attempts during a rescue to escort a woman to the abortionist.

Firebomb – See Bomb

from Abortion-Related Violence and Alleged Violence
An Investigative Report by the Life Research Institute*
January 5, 1995 (a radical “pro-life” group)

So, I considered it a duty to volunteer when Planned Parenthood sent out an email to their list in late 2004*, asking for clinic escorts (“Deathscorts” in the terminology of the self-styled ‘righteous’).

[*NOTE: as the author of the following platform plank that was approved by both my county and state Democratic parties:

abortion clinic patients and staff have an inalienable right to freedom from intimidation, harassment and physical harm,”

I sadly must report that the invertebrates now running the party have graciously neutered this (principled, on EITHER side) stance vis-à-vis extremism:


Protect the rights of Oregonians to make health care decisions with dignity and privacy, whether at the beginning or the end of life.


No matter where they live in our state, people must have access to the products and services necessary for a healthy and productive life.


Ensure that a comprehensive health care system includes the right of individuals to make their own reproductive decisions without restrictions.

So, I was willing to put my ‘money’ where my mouth was, although the local Democratic mouths seem to be entirely mealy.]

I don’t want you to think that I’m “dramatizing” this, but I was well aware that what I was volunteering for might well lead to life-threatening situations. (Just like being a bouncer.) Thankfully, it’s been very restrained and even polite over the past two years plus. But that does not mean that the clinic and clinic guard are any less targets. It just means that nobody has bombed us yet, nor shot at us … yet.

Sitting in my dopey little day-glow vest, on a metal folding chair, I probably looked like quite the comic figure. But the serious issue underlying it was this:

Dopey-looking Hart, when he sat there — in all seasons, in all weather — was literally guarding ALL of Southern Oregon. The intimidation and harassment has successfully closed all abortion clinics and frightened off all abortion providers south of my folding chair. And I’m in the middle of the state.

Now, you might be asking: WHY, if it’s so noble a cause, has this guy quit?

Great question, and I’m glad I asked it. It was very perceptive of me:

Because, while I am happy to do the right thing, as a matter of duty, honor, country, I am NOT willing to be treated as chattel. As ‘nothing.’

When you are dealing with volunteers, “please” and “thank you” are the indispensable coins of the realm. And I have never understood WHY, in volunteer organizations, the dumb bastards who run them (in most cases, sad to say) are misers with that capital.

What does it cost to be polite? How much does it cost for a cheap pack of dumbass certificates? What huge price does a Christmas card cost?

Let me put it this way:

I don’t mind the fact that one of the clinic employees goes out of her way to silently express her disdain for me (probably for my gender, which does not figure in her sexual smorgasboard). Her contempt, while never stated, seems astonishingly rude, but I’ve always let that one slide. It’s a minor and meaningless consideration. I’m not doing this for HER.

I don’t mind that they can’t be bothered to send anything like a Christmas card, or some dumb thing to say: We appreciate what you do. We’re thankful that you’re willing to accept what could well be dangerous guard duty, gratis. I don’t mind that I was told that the “guards” were going to be given freebie tickets to a Judy Collins concert as a way of saying “thanks.” (Lagniappes are nice, but in no wise necessary.) They never appeared.

That kind of stuff happens. I’m sure that they MEANT to do something. (Still, meaning to do something and actually doing it are two different things.) No, that’s no big deal, but it IS a reality.

What I DO mind is that during the holiday season, they decided to “change up” their schedule, to confuse the protesters. Only problem is, they didn’t bother to tell ME.

Twice, I showed up, after getting up, showering, borrowing the car (we’ve been in car hell for the past year, with only one of four cars working at any given time), and being on site by 9:30 AM (rough for a Night Owl), only to find the clinic locked. (Trust me: you feel astonishingly stupid.)

Now you might ask: why didn’t I just call first? Well that’s a rough one, but suffice it to say that their phones are only answered SOME of the time, and the service who answers the rest of the time has ZERO clue as to what’s going on all the rest of the time. And, for a year and more (2005-2006), it was my schedule to immediately leave KOPT (the local AirAmerica Radio affiliate) after my Friday guest appearance from 8-9AM and head over for my 9:30-11:30 guard shift, with just enough time to stop off for some fast food breakfast.

But during the holidays of 2006, they couldn’t be bothered to let me know. They couldn’t be bothered to call. They couldn’t be bothered to think that my time might be valuable, and, in this case, volunteerism often meant that we were making some small sacrifices, as my wife would have to arrange her appointments and/or carpooling to accommodate a bunch that were letting me know, little by little, that whatever I was doing was completely immaterial to them.

You can abuse my good nature quite a bit. But you don’t get to delineate me as toilet paper and then use it to wipe your ass. Sorry. That’s a personal boundary issue with me. “Please” and “thank you” are cheap, but increasingly, you’d have thought they were Krugerrands.

And, human rights have got to mean something for the human standing up for them, too. Otherwise, it’s an existential oxymoron.

So, rather than creating a scene, I just noted that things had pretty much died down, and quietly told them I couldn’t do it anymore.

End of story, right? Well, almost.

I considered writing this column at the time, but I decided that it was better to say nothing at all. Because this isn’t about me, after all. My feelings have been considered as utterly unimportant so often in this life that I scarcely worry about personal slights anymore. Each of us is the star of his or own personal movie, and I’m just a bit actor making a cameo, gratis. I understand that. So, the matter slept.

But then, with the Supreme Court decision in Carhart, things ramped up again. The five (Catholic) Supremes have managed to change the way that the clinic does business. All late-term abortions are sent up to Portland now. Which makes it more difficult, and that’s another bit of intimidation to add to the pyre.

As usual, the law only matters when it’s law that THEY agree with. Were the situation reversed, there is no doubt that they would scream bloody murder about the “rule of law,” and how important it is, etc. etc. like the GOP did during the impeachment trial, but now has conveniently forgot in the face of massive, and blatant lawbreaking by their leader Bush.

OK: I was called because there was no one to take my old shift. People were leaving town for graduations, etc. No problem.

And, I have to relate, when I arrived, I arrived to an amazing scene. The protesters GREETED me, and asked where I’d been, if I’d been OK, etc. And when I went inside, the staff, the doctors, the techs all said how they’d missed me.


So I sat. (And got a nice sunburn. I’d forgotten to take sunblock.)

Then, the following week, I went, but no protesters. So I left.

Next week, ditto. So, we agreed that I would CALL them before coming in.

And, that week, even though my wife really needed the car (she had meetings across town, and she doesn’t like being unable to check in on her father, who lives with us, was in the hospital last month, and turned 100 a few days ago), she graciously made it available so that I could go and play library lion.

I called.

The Portland service picked up (don’t ask). They said that the clinic must have forgotten to turn their phones back on, and to call back in 15 minutes.

Since it was quicker to just go, I went.

I got there, and it turned out that because of the holiday, they had decided to open an hour later that day. All of the employees had been called, of course.

But they couldn’t be bothered to call me.

There were no protesters. I wasn’t needed.

And when I got home, my wife and the woman who’d ferried her around — so that I could have the car for guard duty — drove up, and I couldn’t help but feel bad about all the pointless hassle they’d put up with for this volunteer to render services not needed.

“Please” and “thank you” be hanged. Forget Christmas cards or any other expressions of gratitude (that would be considered obligatory in virtually ALL world cultures, BTW, “manners” are a much bigger deal than we let on — probably because ours have become vestigial, like the Tyrannosaurus’ forelimbs, or the lynx’s tail). Nope.

This week, I had to go either beforehand or afterward to have blood drawn and donate a urine sample for my annual comprehensive checkup, and it simply became inconvenient to go down for my shift-that-is-not-a-shift. So I blew it off. I guess I just couldn’t be bothered to care about it anymore. I’d been snookered back into it with the same results. And I realized that I was done.

I am happy to put it all on the line for something that I believe in. But I am not willing to have that taken for granted, nor am I willing to waste my (life)time on an enterprise in which my time/life is held to be worthless. Or the time of those who have “volunteered” their inconvenience time to that enterprise as well. Normally, I wouldn’t say anything, but it strikes me that the clinic needs to KNOW why I’m not going to show up anymore.

My career as a “deathscort” now comes to an end.

But they need to know why.



© 2007 Hart Williams. Cross-posted from Zug - Hart Williams' Blog
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Skiing Uphill and Boregasm, Zug is 'the little blog that could.'

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About Hart Williams

Mr. Williams grew up in Wyoming, Nebraska, Kansas and New Mexico. He lived in Hollywood, California for many years. He has been published in The Washington Post, The Kansas City Star, The Santa Fe Sun, The Los Angeles Free Press, Oui Magazine, New West, and many, many more. A published novelist and a filmed screenwriter, Mr. Williams eschews the decadence of Hollywood for the simple, wholesome goodness of the plain, honest people of the land. He enjoys Luis Buñuel documentaries immensely.
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6 Responses to Why I’m Not Guarding the Abortion Clinic

  1. Ginny Cotts says:

    Great insights Hart. There really is a difference when we decide to treat our ‘enemies’ as humans. Maybe if Jesus had suggested to know our enemies first, the love would have followed.

    I absolutely agree on the manners. It actually has been put across in a variety of ways. In this country it is for sales quotas, not sincerity.

    The clinic certainly needed to know this.

  2. Nathan says:

    It was April 19. From a May 1985 wire story:

    A debate over abortion has erupted in three arson fires at a clinic in less than five months, sparking anger and accusations in both camps and a threat of eviction.

    ”I’m sick and tired, but I’m ready to reopen,” vowed Diane Hale, director of the Feminist Women’s Health Center — shut down by an April 19 fire that resulted in $100,000 damage and cancellation of the clinic’s insurance.

  3. Nathan says:

    er, that was a May 5, 1984 wire story syndicated on UPI. Not 1985.

  4. Hart

    Thank you for sharing this… all of it. Volunteers do need to hear thank you and volunteers do need a pat on the back every now and then. And being nice to the people with opposing views often works quite well. Aside from that thank you for doing what you did to protect women’s rights.

  5. Thanks all for the kind words.

    And thanks Pamela (on behalf of women).

    I appreciate the info, Nathan.

    Just to clarify:

    The Hollywood Blvd. FWHC clinic that was firebombed in 1981 never reopened. The story I quoted was about an Everett, Washington FWHC that did reopen. There were several FWHCs all over the country in the mid-80s.

    I checked with some LA friends (and my wife) who all remember the firebombing, and the never reopening. But I can’t find that date. (and it probably isn’t as important WHEN it happened as THAT it happened.)

    You DO have a weird, spooky feeling about something like that firebombing. Like learning that an airplane flight you were bumped from crashed.

  6. Darrell Prows says:

    A little differnt perspective, but I don’t see it as only women’s rights, and I too thank you for the service.