Imagine for a moment that you are a pregnant woman. You’ve been through some tough life circumstances and financial hardship that have led you to choose abortion. It was a really difficult decision to make and you’re sad that it has come to this, but you know you’re not ready to have another child and this is the best choice for you and your family.
Now imagine it’s the day of your abortion procedure. As you're walking up to the clinic for your appointment, you pass by a group of strangers holding scary signs, yelling things like “It’s not safe here! You don’t have to do this. I’ll adopt your baby!” These people don’t know your life or your situation and you have no interest in talking to them, so you look down to avoid eye contact. When you look at the sidewalk, you see that there are messages written in chalk:
- “Mommy, don’t murder me"
- “Mommy, have mercy on me."
- “Your baby’s heart is beating."
You know that nothing in the world is going to change your mind about this abortion, but somehow the words on the sidewalk still hit you like a punch in the gut.
You were already feeling really sad and nervous about your procedure before you even got out of the car… Having to fend off hostile, hurtful words from strangers as you walk into the clinic just adds to your anxiety, guilt, and anger.
It may sound like something you would only see in a movie, but sadly, this kind of thing happens in real life at Founder’s Women’s Health Center. Every Saturday, dozens of anti-choice protesters gather in front of the clinic and cover the sidewalk with inflammatory messages to antagonize patients who refuse to speak with them as they are followed by protesters from their cars to the clinic’s front door.
As a patient advocate who is dedicated to helping women access safe and legal abortions, I cannot stand to see my patients endure this kind of emotional abuse. Choosing abortion is a difficult, gut-wrenching decision, so oftentimes, patients are already dealing with a lot of sadness and grief.
99 percent of the time, standing outside of a clinic calling these women “murderers” won’t change their minds. I know this because patients often say to me: “What’s up with those people outside? They don’t know my situation or my family. I’ve already made up my mind and I don’t want to talk to them. Don’t they understand that this is hard enough?"
After seven months of watching these protesters closely, my hypothesis is that they secretly enjoy making these women feel horrible. They know how to emotionally manipulate vulnerable women and they’re really good at it. I care about my patients too much to just sit back and let these anti-choice extremists control the environment outside of our clinic.
So in an effort to create a more welcoming atmosphere for patients and to pre-empt this negative behavior by the protesters, I invited feminists from the Columbus community to decorate the clinic's sidewalks with positive, uplifting images.
Fifteen women came out to decorate the sidewalk on a Friday night so that Saturday’s patients would be greeted with space owls, flowers, cats and rainbows, instead of hateful, intimidating messages.
We chalked the entire block for nearly three hours, starting at 6:00 PM. During that time, many neighbors and pedestrians stopped to investigate what was going on and to take photos of the beautiful artwork.
Every single passerby provided words of support and several neighbors asked if they could help us next time because they also find the protesters’ presence on the block to be annoying and disruptive. It felt amazing to experience that kind of the support from the community.
I was the last person to leave at 8:45 PM. And according to the clinic’s surveillance footage, it was less than an hour later when a 30-something white male appeared with water and a broom, and washed away all of the artwork in front of the clinic.
I know this person was affiliated with the anti-choice protesters that plague the clinic, because this man only washed off the sidewalk in front of the clinic. The sidewalk art in front of the neighbors’ properties on Broad and Sherman were left completely untouched.
This was not an angry neighbor. This was a cowardly male protester who purposefully waited until we had left and he didn’t even have the courage to do the deed in broad daylight. Instead, he waited until he was protected by the cover of darkness to erase the love and happiness from the sidewalk.
To my patients: Excuse my language, but this man does NOT give a crap about you. He doesn’t care if you already have three children and can barely afford to put food on the table. He doesn’t care that you have a medical condition, so your pregnancy is high risk and the hospital bills are stacking up.
He certainly won’t be there to provide childcare, financial assistance, or food for your family for the next 18 years. All he cares about is controlling your body and your life.