Just weeks after Supreme Court Justice Robert Kennedy announced his plan to retire from the bench, President Trump nominated a controversial successor: United States Circuit Court Judge Brett Kavanaugh. If appointed, Kavanaugh would not only take the total number of right-leaning Supreme Court justices to five, he would also increase the possibility of a Roe v. Wade narrowing — potentially leaving the decision of whether or not to legalize abortion in the hands of individual states. According to the Center for Reproductive Rights, the legislative makeup of Michigan puts the state firmly in the anti-choice camp, but the recent Michigan primary election has exacerbated tension around the issue. Metro Detroit abortion clinics are surrounded by protesters daily. So, to protect patients and mitigate harassment, more and more clinics are recruiting volunteers to escort women in and out of their abortion centers. The Ann Arbor Health Center, a branch of Planned Parenthood, is one of many clinics in metro Detroit with frequent protestors and an escort program to combat them. Hour Detroit spoke with Ethan Schmitt, a 25-year-old community organizer, who leads escort training at the clinic.
Hour Detroit: Why did you become a clinic escort?
Ethan Schmitt: I thought it was unconscionable that people who are making decisions for themselves were being accosted and yelled at by those who had no right to tell them what they could and could not do. I thought to myself “if I were in that situation, I would hate for someone to get in the way.” And the more I thought about it, the more I said to myself, “I can be that person to make sure they have access to the safe, legal care they need.” I thought that was a good role for me specifically, as a man, who does not have to deal with a lot of these problems and has better representation in the government.
What are your methods in training clinic escorts?
The first step is to let them know why they’re there. Sometimes, people think of escorting as a counter protest. I don’t want people going in there thinking “I’m going to show these protesters what’s up, I’m going to prove them wrong.” The purpose of the escort program is to be centered on patients and make the patient’s experience better. I started early on telling [the patients] that our firm belief is that people have a right to choose their health options and that people should be able to do that without being accosted. I tell the escort’s that I’m training that their job is to ensure that patients are not harassed, and I don’t want them to go beyond that. The next step is to tell [the escorts] what the protesters do have a right to do. The laws regarding these issues are not commonly known. For example, the protesters do have a right to walk in our cul-de-sac if they stay walking. [However] patients don’t know that the protestors are not allowed in our parking lot. So, they are understandably nervous.
How often are protestors outside?
They’re there every day. There’s usually at least two of them every day, most of the day.
Are there any experiences that stand out to you?
I would say the biggest standout for me is when the patients look at you and just say, “Thank you.” The gratitude that they show makes all the difference. I mean, we’ve had a few times where we’ve had to call the police, but to be honest, those didn’t stand out.
How does being a clinic escort affect you emotionally?
The strongest feeling that arises is motivation. When you make a very real, tangible impact with what you do it makes you motivated to do more. And if I’m being completely honest, anger is a part of that. I won’t lie and say that it doesn’t really, truly, bother me to see these protestors. The thoughts that come into my head are “where are you when this baby is born? Are you helping this baby at all? Are you providing any care for the mother? Are you paying for the medical bills that come with this?“
What are your thoughts on the possible overturn of Roe v. Wade?
I think Roe v. Wade being debated again is definitely a major issue on our minds. It isn’t necessarily from a clinic escort lens because regardless of what happens with Roe v. Wade, what matters is the laws that come up. We have to enforce the laws that exist. We need to make sure the laws are the right laws and we’re going to protect the patients, regardless. That is unimpeachably a value of ours that will never go away. What can we do at a state level to safeguard and ensure that abortion access will never go away in Michigan? We will ensure we push for candidates who support access to abortion rights statewide.
For more information, visit plannedparenthood.org