Volunteer escorts help support women entering the Planned Parenthood clinic in downtown D.C. Many potential clients of the clinic are approached by abortion rights opponents when they try to enter.
Two groups are engaged in a tug-of-war of sorts outside the Planned Parenthood clinic on 16th and L streets in Northwest D.C. It boils down to this: anti-abortion activists on the sidewalk, and volunteers with the Washington Area Clinic Defense Task Force by the facility's gate.
Olivia Harrison is the volunteer coordinator. "As patients are coming up, we approach them and let them know there might be some protestors, but that the clinic is open," she says. "They don't have to talk to them; they're welcome to continue in. We want to be a reassuring presence for the most part."
The volunteers escort potential clients to the door of the clinic. Sometimes they run into the unexpected.
"We had a patient and a companion walking into the clinic, and the companion was irritated by the anti- and turned around to pepper spray him and wound up spraying the escort," Harrison says.
The escorts call folks who oppose abortions, such as Dick Retta, "antis." Retta, who frequently protests and approaches potential clients outside of the 16th Street clinic, says he also has a name for the escorts.
"We call them deathscorts, because they're escorting people, women who've come to kill their child," Retta says. "4,000 women are being harmed by abortion every day and they don't care."
Suddenly, Retta begins talking with a woman who's headed into the clinic. Two escorts join them. Everyone's on the move
"Don't let them take your child! We'll help you!" Retta says to her as the escorts walk with her. "Stop, Dick," one of the escorts says to him. "Back away from me."
The woman enters the clinic. The escort, Heather, who will only give her first name, says her presence at the clinic makes a difference to those trying to enter.
"I think it's really powerful sometimes for people to see there's someone there who isn't going to stand in front of them and try to harass them," she says.