Volunteers lend their support to women seeking abortion
As she opened her car door, I could see the tears start forming in her eyes. As I walked her from the parking lot to the doors of the Lincoln Planned Parenthood health center, we both could hear the shouts from the sidewalk out front: “Don’t kill your baby!” “We can help you.” “We have information for you.”
I am one of many volunteer escorts for patients seeking abortion care at the clinic on South 48th Street and have been on and off since Planned Parenthood started offering abortion services in 1995 at the previous site on South Street. Some patients react the way this young woman did, some get angry, others ignore the harassment.
As escorts we do our best to protect them and ask ourselves why? Why they should have to endure these taunts to receive constitutionally protected health care? At least that was the case until June, when a religiously biased majority of the U.S. Supreme Court ended the protection afforded by the Roe v. Wade decision in 1973 and left the right to abortion up to the states. In Nebraska, abortion is still legal up to 20 weeks — with certain restrictions — thanks to the efforts of a tenacious minority in the 2022 session of the Legislature that used the filibuster to stop an abortion ban. Will that right survive the next legislative session?
I was vice president of the board of what was then Planned Parenthood of Lincoln when we decided in 1991 to consider building a new clinic offering comprehensive reproductive health services — including abortion. We brought in outside consultants to help us decide if we could raise the money and stave off both government and religious opposition. We raised more than $1 million with the help of the national Planned Parenthood, Warren Buffett and the Kiewit Foundation. The doors opened in August of 1995 – 27 years ago.
It was met with vicious resistance, including an attempted boycott of contractors. A piece of metal pierced by a bullet was left hanging on a construction fence as a threat. Our doctor found his home picketed until we urged the Lincoln City Council to pass an ordinance protecting him.Then-Mayor Mike Johanns vetoed the ordinance, but the Council overrode it. I personally picked up roofing nails that had been scattered in the doctor’s driveway. He got a protection order against two Omahans.
Protesters at the South Street center became so tenacious they bought the house next door and built a dirt mound in their yard so they could scream over the fence at patients as they walked from the parking lot to the clinic doors. City ordinance prohibited us from raising the fence, but we constructed a pulley system to raise and lower a legal “seasonal banner” to thwart them. Escorts used a leaf blower we named “Fabian” — after the Catholic bishop — to drown out the shouts.
When Planned Parenthood in Nebraska became part of Planned Parenthood of the Heartland, it was decided that a larger, more secure site was needed, so in August 2011, efforts got underway to renovate what had been offices on South 48th Street. Abortion care has been available there since 2012, again over threats of contractor boycotts and harassment.
The protesters who now try to stop cars from entering our facility and holler at patients seem inspired by religious zealotry. They say the rosary on the sidewalk and pray for us. One young woman runs laps around the area sprinkling water and salt — part of an exorcism ritual, I am told.
But we escorts are not fazed. We are bonded in the belief that women should have access to the very best comprehensive reproductive health care. And that includes abortion care.
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