I’m a tough chick. I’ve worked as a fitness instructor for 25 years, and I’m very physically fit. Even still, I have been threatened and harassed for years as a patient at Planned Parenthood by protesters. My most recent unpleasant experience occurred nearly two years ago at a Boston Planned Parenthood health care center.
Since I work seven days a week at three different jobs, it’s not easy for me to schedule doctor appointments. But I had a rare day off in April, 2012--so that was the day I scheduled a routine appointment to check on my IUD. I currently have health insurance, but I still get my yearly gynecological exam, birth control, and breast exams at Planned Parenthood. I’ve been going there for years, ever since I lived in San Diego as a college student. Back then, I didn’t have insurance, so Planned Parenthood was my best option for low-cost preventive health care.
I had seen anti-abortion protesters many times over the years, both in San Diego and in Boston. Usually they had pamphlets they tried to distribute as I walked to the entrance. Often they had big placards with graphic pictures.
But this time was different. I hadn’t realized it when I’d scheduled the appointment, but I was coming in on Good Friday, when apparently the protesters ramp up their efforts. The day before, someone who works at Planned Parenthood called to warn me that the protests might be more intense than usual, and that I should brace myself. As a result, I asked my fiancé to accompany me.
As we were pulling up, we saw a man holding a giant cross. It was bigger than he was. He was walking around with the crosspiece over his shoulder and dragging the bottom part on the ground. He slowly paraded himself in front of the entrance. I don’t know if he was within the buffer zone-restricted area, marked by a yellow painted line, or not. I guess he wanted to carry it as if he himself were Jesus. I started to have a mild panic attack in the car.
When we got out of the car, we saw approximately 15 other protesters. Some of them were the usual pamphlets-and-placards crowd, but one woman in particular came up to me and screamed in my face, “Please don’t kill your baby!” I turned to her--she was within inches of me--and said, “I’m not pregnant.”
If I had been there for an abortion, I really would have felt threatened. I can’t imagine that anyone, male or female, makes the decision to get an abortion lightly. Anyone who has to make that decision is probably already in a fragile state. Imagine the added pressure of having a screaming protester call you a “baby killer” as you are steps away from the front entrance.
This woman didn’t know anything about me. She just presumed that she knew my story and that she was in a position to “save” me and my nonexistent fetus. But I was there for preventive care so that I won’t ever need an abortion. These protesters don’t get the fact that most people are walking in for birth control and Pap tests. How would they feel if I stood outside their doctors’ office, assumed I knew the reason for their visit, and screamed at them in front of crowds of people?
The buffer zone for patients is actually pretty small--35 feet to be exact. But it is necessary. I have a right to go to the doctor without being harassed. The yellow painted line is important because it makes the patient feel protected and, most importantly, validated.