Can I walk with you?
In the wake of the 2016 election, many felt compelled to donate to a cause or volunteer their time with an organization they felt spoke to their values. The ACLU saw a dramatic increase in support, as did Planned Parenthood. In fact, Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania (my local branch) received so many new volunteer applications an appeal was made for existing volunteers to assist with data entry. I’ve been a volunteer with Planned Parenthood for a number of years in multiple roles; they truly have an opportunity for everyone: advocacy, patient assistance, community engagement, administration – you name it. (Well, name it or visit https://www.plannedparenthood.org/get-involved to find out about the volunteer needs in your area. Probably better to do that.) By far the most public volunteer opportunity is Planned Parenthood patient escorts. These are the people you see standing outside your local branch wearing the brightly colored vests, asking if they can walk with you past protesters positioned outside the doors. When people think “volunteer for Planned Parenthood” this is the mental picture conjured.
Yes but why are there patient escorts?
In the ‘80s and early ‘90s violent protest and blockades outside of clinics were on the rise. In 1993, Dr. David Gunn was murdered outside of his clinic in Pensacola, Florida. Dr. Gunn’s murder helped lead to the passage of the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act, signed into law by President Clinton in 1994. The FACE Act prohibits the use or threat of force and physical obstruction that injures, intimidates, or interferes with a person seeking to obtain or provide reproductive health services or to exercise the First Amendment right of religious freedom at a place of religious worship. It also prohibits intentional property damage of a facility providing reproductive health services or a place of religious worship. FACE authorizes the Attorney General to seek injunctive relief, statutory or compensatory damages, and civil penalties against individuals who engage in conduct that violates the Act.
Let’s break it down a bit. The FACE Act is meant to protect facilities or anyone working in facilities that provide reproductive health care services, patients of such facilities, and people accompanying patients of such facilities (aka patient escorts – handy!) without impeding the First Amendment rights to free speech of protesters. Fun fact: The FACE Act applies not only to clinics but to places of religious worship as well.
Okay so what’s prohibited by the FACE Act?
Cool, cool, that makes sense. But what is NOT prohibited?
The following behaviors are not prohibited because they are protected under the First Amendment right to free speech
For real though, why are there patient escorts?
Many patients do not know the specifics of the FACE Act. They may think they have to take literature distributed by protestors or may be intimidated by people standing outside of a clinic and feel they cannot go in. Patient escorts are trained to know state and national laws and have procedures in place to report violations. Most importantly, patient escorts are there to make sure people who need care are able to get in the door and receive the care they require without also receiving threats.
Click here for a handy fact sheet on the FACE Act. If you would like more information about volunteering with Planned Parenthood, please visit https://www.plannedparenthood.org/get-involved.
Seeds for Action
Seeds for Action is a Philadelphia based cohort focused on taking the barriers out of social justice and activism and translating the emotions of the last election into accessable dire