The NB Media Co-op’s Marie-Christine Allard interviews Kerri Wood, an escort at the Morgentaler Clinic in Fredericton, to find out what it is like being an escort at an abortion clinic today.
MA: What is a clinic escort and what is your role?
The role of an escort is basically to help clients get into the abortion clinic safely. We try to block them off from the protesters and block out what they are telling the women coming in. We want to let people know that we are pro-choice and respect their decision to have an abortion. It would be pretty unwelcoming if we weren’t there. So our role is also to welcome clients, and be friendly and supportive.
MA: Many people may be surprised that escorts are still necessary today for women entering an abortion clinic. Why do you think it is still the case?
I think we still need escorts because without them, a lot of women would decide not to have an abortion because of the intimidation of the protesters in front of the clinic. Women should be able to go into the clinic without people questioning them and condemning what they’re doing. So for that reason, there is still a need for escorts.
MA: On a regular Tuesday morning, what could we expect to see in front of the clinic?
Normally, it’s pretty calm. The escorts are in their own little circle – some in front and some in the back. We generally stay in the same spot until we see people who look like they may be coming into the clinic, in which case we walk over and greet them. The protesters walk around with their religious signs. There is sometimes some yelling and the protesters try to talk to women coming in and change their minds about their abortion. I’ve never seen the escorts engage with the protesters. I see the protesters glaring a lot, as it seems to be their main scare tactic. One man sometimes comes to take pictures of the escorts and women coming in as a form of intimidation, but overall it’s pretty safe.
MA: Why did you decide to become an escort?
Actually, it all started when I began taking sociology. It made me realize that there are a lot of bad things in the world, but also that there are a lot of things that I can do to make them better. I got in touch with Peggy (the Clinic’s Volunteer Coordinator) and she told me to come down to the clinic to do a tour with me. For the first time I realized that women didn’t have equal rights. As naive as it was, I just always thought we had equal rights and that women could easily access abortions. I thought that it would be a simple ordeal, but it’s not the case. It’s really about control over women’s bodies when abortions are made so difficult to access. An abortion is just like any other surgery and I think it should be dealt with like any other surgery that is paid for by the government. However, there is a lot of religious dogma tied into politics which prohibits women to have access to abortions.
MA: What kind of things have you learned from being an escort?
I’ve learned that women are not equal to men at all. I’ve also learned that religion is a huge part of the anti-choice phenomenon, and I’ve also learned about feminism. There are a lot of intellectual women who volunteer as escorts at the clinic, so we have lots of good conversations. I’ve had a chance to learn about all sorts of important things just by standing and talking with the other escorts.
We often hear cars honking to support us as they drive by. Since abortion is still so taboo to talk about, I feel really good knowing that there are lots of people who agree with me on this issue. And though we don’t get a lot of contact with the patients, we do know that they are really appreciative. It’s helped me become a lot less judgmental and realize that we all have different backgrounds. One other major thing it has taught me is to be much more critical of the things around me. I was not nearly as critical before I started.
MA: What are your thoughts on the accessibility of abortions in NB?
They’re very difficult to access. I think you should be able to get abortions at hospitals and have it paid by the government. Women shouldn’t have to work extra to pay for an abortion. For example, there is no access to abortions at all in PEI, so women have to travel all the way to the Morgentaler Clinic in Fredericton. That is the same for all rural areas. Women have to work out transportation and sometimes travel for a whole day to come to the abortion clinic. For some women, it is really difficult to pay for the abortion, work out transportation and take a day or two off from work.
I did a presentation about abortion in my Women in Education class. No one in class knew anything about abortions because it simply was not taught in high school. The fact that there is so little education about abortion also contributes to its inaccessibility and the continued taboo around it.
Marie-Christine Allard is a member of the NB Media Co-op.