To use a term from the left, this is a trigger warning. It is a distasteful article. If you do not wish to read it, hit the back button.
It's not yet 7 o'clock on a Saturday morning in New York and I'm confronted by a group of people standing in front of a nondescript doorway, waving four-foot high placards and shouting: "They murder babies here!" There are already a dozen anti-abortion protesters outside the clinic and the day has barely started.
Here to act as an "escort" – ensuring patients, whether they are having abortions or not, enter the clinic safely – I already feel intimidated. So, imagine that you're a woman who has miscarried and someone shouts at you: "Carrying babies in your uterus is a gift from God"; or imagine simply going to the doctor and being told you're "going to hell". Imagine being an African-American woman on your way to a women's health clinic and being surrounded by people screaming: "They want to kill black babies."Can you imagine how upsetting and emotionally traumatising that is for patients?
To help these women, volunteer organisations have sprung up in the US to offer support. Once I'm inside the Choices Women's Medical Center in Queens, Mary Lou Greenberg, the volunteer clinic escort director, gives me guidelines about privacy (for safety, nobody refers to anyone else by name); instructions on how to escort (approach patients, gently inform them you're with the clinic and that you're there to guide them inside); and warnings about proximity (never stand in front of, or block, a patient's path; never have contact with a protester; protect the patient by acting as a buffer). I'm then handed a white medical coat (so as to be clearly visible to patients) and a big badge with "Choices Clinic Escort" on it. I feel like a walking target – I'm in the US, they have guns here. What if an anti-abortionist decided to let off a few rounds?
Eliza, another escort, reinforces my worry. "I am aware that there has been bad violence outside other clinics, that people have come in with guns, that people have died ... They say: 'The people in the white coats – they are butchers,' so if some guy is walking by and gets really angry, we're the ones who are going to get it."