The Battle for Abortion at the Clinic Doors

February 10, 2014 | Revolution Newspaper |


The following is from Mary Lou Greenberg:

There is an emergency around abortion rights. Access to abortion is more difficult today than at any time since the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision made it legal 41 years ago. Horrendous state restrictions are forcing clinics to close and are throwing obstacle after obstacle at women who, finding themselves with unwanted pregnancies, do not want to give birth. And even after finding a clinic and overcoming every hardship to get there, women must still face a barrage of harassment outside the clinic door.

The movement to End Pornography and Patriarchy: The Enslavement and Degradation of Women ( led a loud and spirited, uncompromising protest against the 10th annual anti-abortion march in San Francisco, January 25, 2014. Photo:

“Don’t murder your baby!” “You’re already a mother. If you go in there, you’ll come out the mother of a dead baby!” “You’ll regret this for the rest of your life, you’ll be suicidal, you’ll have mental breakdowns”....and on and on, over and over, in shouts and on posters, cruel lie after lie and threat after threat.

This correspondence is to let readers know what women have to go through to get into the clinics, and the example is not in Mississippi—where anti-abortionists (“antis”) besiege women daily outside the sole remaining clinic—or in any of the other states with vicious restrictive laws, but in New York City, in a “blue” state where there are NO restrictions on having abortions to 24 weeks of pregnancy. The battle for abortion here is very real and is heating up.

I escort clients every Saturday morning into Choices Women’s Medical Center, a comprehensive reproductive health center that was founded by Merle Hoffman as one of the first abortion clinics in the country shortly after New York State legalized abortion in 1970, several years before Roe. A woman not long out of college who joined the volunteer escort team one recent Saturday was stunned at what she saw: “I can’t believe this is happening in New York,” she said, at our meeting after the antis had left and most women had arrived for their appointments. “I had no idea.”

Most people don’t. All Saturdays are different, but to escort at Choices on any Saturday means physically joining the front lines of this battle. (Saturdays are busy days for clinic appointments when most women don’t have work or school.) Escorts (organized with the valuable assistance of the NYC chapter of the National Organization for Women) are continually accosted by self-righteous Christian fascists, mostly men, who plant themselves on the sidewalk right in front of the clinic entrance, bibles in hand, and signs featuring vengeful scriptural quotes about sin, repentance and god’s wrath.

One sign directly and ominously targets the clinic: “Babies are Murdered Here” with the word “murdered” in bright red. This past Saturday, some 15-20 antis carried this same identical sign. The antis accost passersby, hold this sign and point to the clinic—trying to inflame passions among people by claiming fetuses are the same as babies and abortion equals “murder.” Antis pull out cell phone cameras and set up a video cam on a tripod less than five feet from the door, photographing escorts and anyone who goes into the clinic.

They take sadistic delight in shouting at women who may come in for prenatal or routine GYN appointments with their small children who can’t help but hear the shouts: “Don’t go in! They murder children in there!” When a clinic escort rightly told them their actions are despicable, the shouters replied that children “need to hear the truth.” Some women respond appropriately to such viciousness. Shortly after the clinic moved to its new location in Jamaica, Queens, I tried to approach one woman who was walking to the entrance. She quickened her pace, waved me off angrily and snapped “Get the fuck out of my face!” A short time later when I walked into the waiting room, her mouth dropped open. She apologized: “I’m so sorry. I thought you were one of them! I didn’t know you were with the clinic.” I said there was no need to apologize, that what she’d done was exactly the kind of response women needed to give to anyone who tried to harass them.

Some antis come from a fundamentalist biblical literalist church in Brooklyn and hold big posters of bloody fetal parts on both sides of the sidewalk in a literal gauntlet that escorts must walk clients through on the way to the entrance. Others lurk on the sidewalk that women walk down, or at the city bus stops nearby, eager to pounce on women before the clinic escorts reach them. One man, in particular, moves at a fast pace and tries to physically get between the clients and the entrance, pushing into the escorts who walk on both sides of the women. (The escorts work together in a “flying wedge” formation, becoming a physical barrier between the clients and the antis, a tactic developed to shield clients and move them quickly through the gauntlet of haters and signs.)

They also try to intimidate and bully the escorts, most of whom are women in their 20s and 30s, telling them not to listen to “that old woman” (meaning me). “You should know better,” they admonish me. “You’re a bad example for these young women.” (Coming from them, this is a great compliment.) The escorts, many of whom get up at 5 a.m. on Saturdays and travel from all parts of NYC and even New Jersey to the clinic, are deeply committed—and become more so as they experience the antis’ viciousness as well as the positive impact the escorts have and also come to understand more deeply the war on women this battle is a part of.

They call me the “deathscort communist.” “You have a wicked heart, Mary Lou,” one man from a particularly nasty group of antis bellowed at me one Saturday, as I stood by the clinic entrance opening the door for clients. “God hates the hand that sheds innocent day the game will be over, when you stand before god...and there will be judgment.” It would be—and is—easy enough to mock them and laugh at their preposterous Dark Ages superstition and pronouncements. But...I can picture them, with their patriarchal swagger, angry denunciations and utter cruelty, being among the first to grab women in the witch-hunts of the 16th and 17th centuries and light the fires that burned those women alive—many of whom were healers and midwives who performed abortions and gave advice on contraception. That was the reality where countless tens of thousands of women were murdered.

Today in 21st-century USA, these antis are the decidedly real storm troopers of a deadly serious Christian fascist movement, given initiative and encouragement by a powerful section of the ruling class whose “respectable” politicians shed tears about the beating hearts of fetuses and unleash hatred towards women who dare to live their own lives and refuse to be incubators—or “hosts” for the “babies,” as one of these scripture-spouting patriarchs calls pregnant women. The most blatant and vitriolic patriarchy (“Man up,” they challenge men who come with their women partners or friends to the clinic. “Real men protect their children! Have courage, save your baby, be a man!”) goes along with their preaching against evolution and “Darwinists,” against feminists and homosexuality, against abortion under any circumstances, including rape, and against “fornication”—any sex not for the purpose of procreation. Theirs is a punishing and terrible world and worldview that is shared and encouraged from high levels of authority and must be actively resisted and fought by relying on ourselves and calling forward millions more.

The movement to End Pornography and Patriarchy: The Enslavement and Degradation of Women confronted anti-abortion marchers in San Francisco, January 25, 2014. Photo:


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