Riding my bike along a busy, one way street in Fredericton, I saw a cluster of people holding signs and thought, “A protest I wasn’t invited to?” Looking closer I could see these messages were not coming from a loving, peace filled place, but from a place of shame and hate.
Outside of a squat, brown and glass building, its unassuming blue letters told the whole story: Clinic. The posters were of blown up images of fetuses and hate messages like “God already has a name for me in heaven, Mommy.” It was disgusting – I was enraged.
As I rode by and gave the finger and a withering look, I noticed another group of more causal, younger people standing around, facing the oncoming traffic, drinking coffee in blue vests – they were the escorts. Positioned between the building and the line of aggression was where I wanted to be. I figured it would at least be more satisfying than giving the finger to a hoard of old, mean, mostly men with more money than brains.
New Brunswick does not have bubble zone legislation, laws that prevent protesters from doing so next to a clinic. No, in Fredericton, the anti-choicers have their headquarters next door to the abortion clinic. One can only imagine the strings they pulled to get away with that. Always ready to strike, always videotaping our movements for their own protection, always trying to persuade patients into their own 'women's care centre' claiming to have other options for women who have already made their decision from the options they already know about.
I called the clinic the same day and set up a meeting with the volunteer coordinator who had the confusingly age-inappropriate name, Peggy. Despite my image of her as one of the 60+, Peggy was a little younger than me, and so smiley I couldn’t have felt more welcome as she assessed whether I was with them or against them.
The anti’s have tried to infiltrate the volunteers before, so she started asking people to come in if they didn’t have a recommendation from another escort. After signing an agreement to refrain from engaging with the protesters (the clinic seeks to be respectful of people regardless of their opinions, humans come first, always) I started volunteering the next Tuesday.
The clinic is only open and operating once a week. This is partially because the doctor has to drive in, or if that one is unavailable fly in, from another city to remain anonymous.
The kind of people who are willing to stand outside a building for an hour and a half once a week while strangers pray at them, sometimes throw holy water on them, and often are generally disdainful them, are a special kind. It was, if nothing else, an excellent opportunity to meet like-minded, politically-active community members.
The clinic accepts patients for about three hours on Tuesdays. Escorts are there as people arrive, to give directions to the parking garage for the drivers and to walk the patients in through the barrage of signs and pleas to save themselves and their '‘babies." Their job is to protect the patients by physically stepping between the protesters and the cars that are dropping the patients off.
There are a number of tactics used to refocus the unfortunate situation, one of mine is to talk loudly about the weather and the almost always very long drive to the one clinic in the Maritimes. An hour and a half a week of that is enough, so it’s split into two shifts of 4 or more people.
One morning, I was chatting away with a couple of escorts waiting for the second shift of people to arrive, when an escort's boyfriend walked up to us and introduced himself. They were memorable as a couple both because they share the gendered versions of the same name (think Michael and Michelle) and that this guy was seriously hot. “Oh well,” I thought, “taken.” I figured I’d make some new friends and that would be that.
I didn’t see that couple together ever again, but I did interact with them socially over the next year or so separately. While she seemed nice enough to add to Facebook, I deliberately kept him at arms length as my crush was developing even as I pretended to ignore him.
Soon, she stopped volunteering and he picked up where she left off. On our first shift together, we had one of the most memorable and surprising conversations of my life. It so surprised me that I went to class later that day and recounted the story to my friends who were duly impressed with this random, intellectually stimulating human. Time passed, I dated other dudes, but I often thought, “I wish this guy was more like the guy from the clinic.”
Eventually, the girlfriend moved to a new city to continue her education, but the boyfriend stayed. He started making a concerted effort to be more social now that she was two provinces away. I was more than happy to spend some time with him. Platonically, of course–I’m no home wrecker.
While I tried to remain friendly yet distant, I had to admit to myself that I was falling for him when he unexpectedly showed up at an annual Thanksgiving supper some of my closest friends host every year. I could hear a familiar voice in the kitchen but I couldn’t place why that voice would be in this inner sanctum I’d created for myself. I went over to ask how he’d come to be there, and of course as small cities go, he was the roommate of a friend of a friend who was invited. I took to introducing him around.
That night he picked up a guitar and proceeded to play part of almost every song we talked about, I was smitten. I begged my roommate to do some digging. What was the status with the girlfriend? Could I get in there? Was all the time we were starting to spend together incidental or did he like me too?
As it turned out, the girlfriend had been on the way out for some time and he was falling for me. But that last part I wouldn’t learn about until the new year, when a respectable amount of non-rebound time had passed.
In fact, the reason we confessed that we liked each other at all was because we learned that the clinic manager, a lovely senior citizen, had inquired about our relationship status to Peggy. While we laughed about it, I realized that he must like me if a 65 year old woman could see it.
I want to interject here to say that I volunteered at that clinic for 5 years and would still be doing so if I still lived in that city. It was, as I suspected, an excellent place to meet like-minded, politically engaged people while actively expressing my own political views and helping ease a very stressful situation for women.
My participation with the clinic led to my involvement with the NB Rebelles, a feminist discussion group which is a branch of a national feminist organization. I met some of the best friends I could ever have.
I was deliberately, consciously on the front line of the abortion problem in New Brunswick. I put myself and my reputation in a very conservative city on the line and on the street for anyone to see. My hour and a half a week contributed to the comfort and safety of women in my extended community.
That is why I volunteered; not because of the hot guy I hardly saw. He came later.
Through this experience I’ve had the opportunity to speak about these issues in a national documentary about the restricted abortion access in New Brunswick. Volunteering provided me with the knowledge and opportunity to speak as an advocate and supporter for the good work and kind environment the clinic provides our city as a citizen and woman. I can’t tell you how many times people would bring me aside at the bar and ask me what really went on there.
Meeting my partner at an abortion clinic told me a lot about him. He is the kind of man who is willing to put his body, politics and reputation on the line for what he believes to be fair. He values humans. He sees women as capable decision makers, able to make hard choices that are right for themselves. He is kind, compassionate, empathetic, understanding, respectful, serious, intelligent, willing to be radical, passionate, political, helpful, patient and one can only assume, pro-choice. The kind of person willing to put themselves out there when they see an injustice.
A year to the day after we had out first "date," and by date I mean "kissed," my partner and I were walking home after our anniversary dinner through the parking lot of the clinic where we met. Although we had talked about it briefly before I had no idea what he meant when he said, “Well, this is as good a place as any.” In -25 degree weather, he dropped to one knee and asked me to marry him in the same place we met.
Unexpectedly enough, abortions opened me up to the possibility of the love of my life.