This is what it's like to be harassed for helping women access an abortion clinic

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Shana Broders is an abortion clinic escort. What that usually means is that the 45-year-old gets up on Saturday mornings, drives 30 minutes from her home in Wake Forest, North Carolina, to a women's health clinic in Raleigh. She puts on a pink vest that reads "Clinic Escort" and waits to offer women help getting in and out of the building, past a handful of protestors who greet them with signs of dead fetuses and pro-life pamphlets.

Broders, who's been an elementary school teacher for 22 years, volunteers on Saturdays and days when school's out. But lately, she's been feeling a little on edge. About three weeks ago, around the same time that a pro-life activist called her school and told the receptionist she was a "baby killer," she realized pictures of her have been circulating on Facebook:

The man who made the sign and posted it online is not unfamiliar to Broders. She said Matthew Tringali is a regular protestor outside the clinic, and he's been on her radar since last summer.

"He’s threatened to show up at my school and out me many times," she said. "But, you know, he didn’t show up last year and I guess I just got the complacent feeling that nothing’s going to happen. When he made that poster and put it out there I was stunned. Like shocked."


In the comments on the post, pro-life activists discuss going to Broders' school to "expose what this woman does":

Tringali supports a movement called Abolish Human Abortion (AHA), which is not an organization or a formal activist group, but rather an ideology that some pro-lifers identify with, according to one of its founders, Russell Hunter.

Hunter told me that activists who identify as "abolitionists" do not condone violence. But, he said, publicly singling out abortion clinic escorts and anyone who works in the clinics themselves is absolutely part of the strategy used by activists.


"If you have killers among you like that you should call them out, it says in the book of Ezekiel, you should warn them if they've got blood on their hands. And if you don't warn them, or warn the people in the culture of their presence, then you sort of share in their bloodshed," he said. "So abolitionists across the country do call out the killers. I know that to people who don't agree with us that abortion is killing that might sound crazy, but it is a sort of encouraged and agreed upon tactic for dealing with abortion."

He said that it would be Broders' own fault if something was to happen to her as a result of the public campaign of harassment.


"If someone believes in abortion and thinks it's great, and they want to help other people, they're willingly putting themselves into the work. They're like counting the costs—'I'm going to go help people kill other people'. It's dangerous."

Broders said that even though nothing violent has happened, the campaign against her has made her anxious. She said she didn't sleep for several days after the threat that protestors would come to her school, and that her 11-year-old daughter (Broders has four children) has taken to calling her when she's escorting to check that she's okay.


"I have literally been told to tie a millstone around my neck and throw myself in the ocean because I’m going to hell anyway, so I might as well kill myself," she said.

In many states, laws mandate "buffer zones" between clinic entrances and where protestors can gather or "bubble zones" which mean there must be a certain distance between protestors and clinic workers, patients, and other volunteers. But last year the Supreme Court knocked down Massachusetts' 35-foot buffer zone, leaving other laws around the country vulnerable to challenges too.


There's also the FACE Act (Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances), which makes it illegal to hamper anyone from accessing healthcare using physical violence, the threat of violence, or intimidation of any kind.

For AHA protestors, targeting abortion clinic escorts–and anyone who supports a woman's right to abortion–is like exposing pedophiles or people who cheat on their spouses. Hunter said it's perfectly legitimate for protestors to target Broders at her workplace, even though she keeps her volunteer work separate from her job as a math and science teacher.


Broders was inspired to start volunteering at the clinic after seeing a video of women being harassed while trying to walk into a clinic in New York. She thought of her three daughters, and what they might have to go through as women to look after their health.

"I am trying to raise empowered women who know that they are in control of themselves and their bodies," she said, "And god forbid they should ever be treated that way. I don’t want them, if they ever have need an abortion or any other service at a clinic, to be treated in the manner that these protestors treat women. So that’s why I’m there. In the hopes that someone else could be a smiling face or a kind soul to my own kids."