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Abortion clinic volunteer escorts continue to work in a post-Roe North Carolina

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An abortion clinic escort volunteer stands outside Planned Parenthood on Saturday, Oct. 1, 2022.

Editor's note: The subject of this article is referred to by her first name due to safety concerns.

Shannon began volunteering as an escort at one of the busiest abortion clinics in North Carolina over three years ago. 

She still escorts abortion patients in Charlotte multiple times a week, ensuring that those who come to the clinic feel safe and supported. 

A professor of women’s and gender studies, Shannon started her volunteer work with the clinic after learning of the opportunity from her students. She said she started volunteering because she wanted to do more in the community and take a more active stance on the issues she teaches about. 

Volunteer clinic escorts help patients get through the front door with as little harassment from protesters and picketers as possible, according to Planned Parenthood.

As an escort, Shannon begins her volunteer shift by setting up the sidewalk in front of the clinic with chairs, coolers, easels and signs. The signs help clarify for patients which parking lots they can use in the midst of protesters attempting to stop cars and confuse them, she said.  

"Every volunteer has an escort or defender vest, and that is to make sure it is obvious who we are,” she said. “The escorts have big rainbow umbrellas and those umbrellas are not for weather, they’re for shielding the patients from the view of the 'antis.'”  

Volunteer escorts go up to the patients’ cars to speak with them briefly and make sure they are ready to go inside the clinic, Shannon explained. 

Clinic escorts stay in the parking lot and have the most direct interaction with patients, while clinic defenders interact with the protesters, Shannon said. She added that there are a lot of very active protesters at her clinic.

During the pandemic, because defenders and escorts stopped working for safety reasons, Shannon said anti-abortion protestors had greater access to the clinic. 

“In fact, some (protestors) were even arrested because they still were absolutely antagonizing the patients and limiting their access, so when we were able to go back out, I immediately started back, and frankly, started out with a vengeance,” she said. 

Dani Hoffpauir, the patient advocacy program manager for Planned Parenthood South Atlantic, said clinic escorts create a welcoming environment for patients and help them access the health care they need without judgment.

“Going to the doctor is a normal thing, receiving health care is normal – but the protestors have made it a little bit abnormal and scary,” she said. 

Hoffpauir added it's important for patients to have a support system as they are entering the clinic. She said having someone offer a smile or some conversation can really help patients feel safe. 

Shannon said she prefers escorting to defending because she has been in the position of an abortion clinic patient before. 

“The benefit of escorting — although it can be more emotional sometimes — is that you can see exactly why you’re doing what you’re doing,” she said. 

Over the past few months, Shannon said she’s heard from out-of-state patients about how traumatic it has been to get a procedure at an abortion clinic due to states limiting, or completely banning, abortion access in the wake of the United States Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade.

Shannon said she has no doubt that the presence of clinic escorts is a huge relief to patients. 

Clinic defender and co-president of UNC Campus Y Laura Saavedra Forero said she considers Shannon to be her “clinic mom.” She praised Shannon’s ability to form impactful relationships with patients in short periods of time and take care of other volunteers. 

Apart from Shannon’s work as a full-time professor, Saavedra Forero said she puts in countless hours at the clinic. 

“Shannon is definitely the escort I would want if I was heading into the clinic,” she said. 

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Saavedra Forero also emphasized the strength of the volunteer community at the clinic, and how they are often together during difficult times. There are days when the protesters target the volunteers and their identities, which can be difficult to deal with, she said.

Shannon said she has been screamed at by protestors while volunteering as an escort. 

“I’ve had antis tell me where I live, they know my address," she said. "They’ve said things about my teaching, they talk about me being a teacher. They know things about us — they have files on us, essentially." 

Saavedra Forero said Shannon will step in when she sees volunteers need more support — she lets them know they are loved and welcome, and that they should prioritize themselves too. 

It's really rewarding to see volunteers who were unsure about their position as escorts become more confident in themselves, Shannon said.

"I absolutely can feel like I can step away and we've got this phenomenal group that can take over," she said. 

Hoffpauir said that, although abortion clinic escorts are people from different careers and backgrounds, they are united in their belief in access to health care without judgment and harassment. 

@lucymarques_

@DTHCityState | city@dailytarheel.com 




Lucy Marques

Lucy Marques is a 2023-24 assistant city & state editor at The Daily Tar Heel. She was previously a city & state senior writer. Lucy is a junior pursuing a double major in political science and Hispanic literatures and cultures.