A few weeks ago, I received a letter informing me that “As a way to balance community reproductive health and continued federal and state funding challenges, Essential Health Clinic is closing our Black River Falls, Prairie du Chien and Richland Center locations in July and August.” The last day my clinic, the Black River Falls location, was open was on August 1st.
For the past year, I feared this would happen. The day after Trump was elected, Essential Health Clinic announced it was cutting back hours on some of its locations, including my own, for the same reasons they just shut down three of its satellite clinics. Continued attacks on reproductive healthcare rights certainly didn’t help either.
I will now have to travel to EHC’s location in La Crosse, an hour from where I live, in order to receive any reproductive healthcare services and refill my birth control. I do not drive so I have to make arrangements for someone to take me there. Even if I did drive, we currently only have the one car, which my husband needs for his job. My husband works weekdays and the clinic would likely be closed by the time he got work, picked me up, and drove to La Crosse. I normally go to La Crosse with a friend at least every other week after he gets off his night shift job, but I’ll be screwed if he ever switches to day shift as our days off don’t match up. Switching my days off isn’t ideal due to the requirements of my job. It was certainly much easier and convenient when I could simply walk downtown for my appointments and pills. Being that we live in rural Wisconsin, there really aren’t other suitable alternatives to Essential Health Clinic other than the Planned Parenthood in Eau Claire, which is still an hour drive and also hated by pro-life supporters.
A few ideas of activism came to mind in the weeks leading up to the Black River Falls location closing. While at Joann Fabrics, I saw card stock on sale and got this idea to make a sign that said “Support Women’s Healthcare” in bold, pink letters on a black background to contrast with the white background signs the protesters had. With my Cricut machine, making letters for a sign was a snap! A few days before August 1st, I created an event page named “Essential Clinic Donate-A-Thon” encouraging people to come to the clinic to donate money on their last day of operation. I also created a donation page on Facebook, which earned $30. Then I learned there was a difference between donation and fundraiser pages and created a fundraiser page with a $100 goal. (As of this writing, both pages have raised a total of $140)
“Supportive Activism” I call it.
If this had played out like I imagine in my head, I would have marched up to the front of the clinic like a motherfucking boss and held out my sign proudly. But the cruel reality is that despite my imagination and determination, I’m still an activist dealing with horrible anxiety issues. Normally, there’s two—maybe three—pro-birth zealots outside the clinic standing still in the same spot or walking back and forth like patrol guards on a video game. No amount of anxiety medication could have prepared me for them being in full force on the clinic’s last day, refusing to give women any dignity with their healthcare choices. There were four adults—five when Brian/“Dicktator” showed up—and the four children they dragged along, but only one of me. It took an hour and a half sitting in the library across the street trying to literally shake off a small anxiety attack. I finally managed to go outside and sat in front of the library for ten minutes chatting with my brother, who I ran into on the way out of the door. Eventually, I went across the street blasting Gorillaz through my earbuds to keep me calm and collected.
I wanted to be visible to motorists while not being in the way of patients and I wasn’t brave enough to situate myself in the front of the building where the adult protesters were parading a few feet from the door or the right corner of the building where the kids were situated. Therefore, I sat on the cooler full of water bottles I had brought on the left corner of the building, away from the doorstep and the congregation of zealots. I was out of the way of the patients and the antiabortion protesters, but still visible to the public.
As I’ve learned from counter protesting the annual Life Chain for the past two years and a previous attempt at supportive activism, antiabortion protesters cannot ignore the presence of pro-choice and reproductive healthcare supporters invading their stomping grounds. In my experience, they cannot resist checking out the opposition even when that opposition is far off to the side or even offers a message that isn’t necessarily pro-choice, which is precisely what happened the moment I sat down and exposed my tag board sign. Faust seemed to make a point of walking back and forth to the left corner of the block a couple of time, passing me by along the way. I think he tried speaking to me, but his voice was muffled over the sound of Gorillaz “Dare”.
Once Faust left for the day not too long after I showed up, Brian started hovering by me just like he did when I first protested the Life Chain. I had observed him being on the right side of the block the whole time he was there so I don’t doubt he was there to make sure there was pro-life presence by the Godless woman encouraging support for the clinic. When I was sure he wasn’t looking, I snapped a couple selfies with him lurking in the background.
When he first approached me, he asked what my sign said. I figured he could read on his own so I didn’t respond and let him read the sign.
“Yeah, woman’s healthcare, but not murder. Or homosexuality, which is what your bandana stands for,” he said, pointing out the plain rainbow bandana I was wearing. The comment seemed irrelevant, but in line with Brian’s habit of continually judging others on every little thing. Technically, he’s not wrong: I did get it from Spencer’s line of LGBT+ pride merchandise, but there’s nothing about it that shows it’s specifically for LGBT+ other than the striped rainbow pattern. Honestly, I wore it because the sun was out, sunburnt scalp is the worst, and it was the only clean bandana I had on hand at the time.
He kept trying to engage with me. I could hear his loud and often rude voice over the music, but I continued to ignore him. Not engaging seemed to irritate him. He was like a child that kept trying to provoke any reaction out of me and I wasn’t giving into him.
However, I couldn’t remain silent when he stopped hovering around me to go harass a patient exiting the clinic. Her car had been parked directly in front of the clinic’s door. As she walked to her car, he followed her. Over the sound of my music, I could hear him telling her to take antiabortion literature. I didn’t catch if she vocally refused or not, but she clearly looked annoyed and didn’t want to be bothered.
At the foot of her car, he asked the one question he asks every woman when given half a chance, “Are you Christian?”
Annoyed and fed up, she replied, “I am not. Maybe you should worry about your own life!”
He started to spout Christian ideologies when I shouted, “Leave her alone, Brian!”
The woman’s passenger window was down so he continued to preach to her while she argued back until she drove off a moment later. Brian turned to me, scowled, and spoke in a sarcastically angry tone, “Now you have something to say?!” I didn’t reply.
During my time there, I got a couple thumbs up and “You go, girl!”
When someone drove by, Brian sarcastically wondered who it was for. “Was that for you or for me—”
“Probably you!” I replied.
He rambled on and on a few feet away from me. He would not shut up! “Well, after today, you probably won’t see much of us.”
“I hope I never see you again!” I declared.
Two women from the building next door were outside taking a break. Both had worked with my mother at a popular bar and grill twenty-something years ago so I was familiar with them. They greeted me and told me I was doing a good job. We exchanged some words about the antiabortion zealots. One of them commented that they reminded her of the Branch Davidians cult from Waco, Texas or the Westboro Baptist Church. She’s probably not that far off from the truth.
In true sarcastic, “Dicktator” fashion, he finally got to me when my husband drove by and flipped him off. “How horrible! I can’t believe a man would flip his own wife off!”
I should have kept my mouth shut, but my irritation got the best of me and I couldn’t help saying, “That was for you!”
“Oh, thank God!” he said, feigning concern and relief. “I’d rather his hate be directed at me than at his wife!”
I knew he said it to strike a nerve…and it worked. In my experience with protesting Christian pro-lifers, they’ll try to find out what buttons to push and then slam on them like a child playing an arcade machine once they do. I don’t exactly have the thickest skin and sometimes my emotions get the best of me before my brain has time to think things through. The next thing I knew, I was debating Christianity, arguing that God wasn’t real as he called me hateful non-believer.
“God created you in his image! He gave you the ability to get out of bed this morning! He gave you the ability to speak of such hate!” He trailed off on the “gifts” his God supposedly gave me. “But you continue to mock him!”
God wasn’t the reason I got out of bed that morning or any other morning. On work days, it’s the need to earn a living to survive is what gets me out of bed. Sometimes it’s hard to get out of due to depression and anxiety with a touch of autism, which I’m sure people like Brian view as a punishment from God for being an unbelieving sinner.
“You’re a follower of Satan!”
“You mean the same Satan that was created by God, who is supposedly all-knowing and therefore should have known beforehand that one of his angels would turn evil?” I questioned.
He never answered the question yet continued preaching. Figures. He wants to judge non-believing sinners without answering the hard questions. I turned my music back on and drowned him out, which is what I should have done in the first place.
Right before the clinic closed, Kenny, a clinic supporter I’m acquainted with, showed up to donate money (having clicked “Interested” on my donate-a-thon event page) and on his way out made a point to let Brian know, “I love giving them money!” Not surprisingly, they got into a verbal match. Before he drove off, Kenny flipped him off and said “Fuck you” and gave me a thumbs up and said, “You go, girl!”
“Don’t you feel ashamed that’s the people you’re supporting?” Brian asked me.
I didn’t bother to give an answer, but I’m sure it’s far less shameful than standing outside a healthcare clinic to chase women/patients to their cars under the guise of “loving thy neighbor”. Is it possible to love or care for your fellow man through fear, intimidation, anger, harassment, and lies? I’m not sure what scripture dictates, but I don’t think so. It sounds more like control, manipulation, and oppression to me.
By the time the clinic closed, there was just Brian, the other woman that wasn’t Brian’s wife and me outside the clinic. Brian had spoken of plans to the other woman to stay until 4:45pm—it’s typical of him to stay past closing time to try and catch any women trying to go to the clinic that haven’t realized the clinic is closed (that’s how I met him). I’m sure the clinic staff was aware of this as I didn’t see them exit out the front of the building. I assume they parked in the back. I can’t blame them for wanting to avoid a confrontation with the circus, especially when the zealots running it were probably feeling proud and cocky about it being the clinic’s last day of operation. So I stayed put until everyone had left.
Despite my hopes that I never have to see any of these people again, I’m sure this isn’t the last time we’ll see and hear from these “pro-life advocates”. Faust has been writing antiabortion opinion pieces long before Essential Health Clinic took over the Western Dairy Land Women’s Health Center. There’s the annual Life Chain that they hold on the bridge every October. Hell, I wouldn’t be surprised if they continued to leave antiabortion propaganda at the library or even picket outside the clinic until the clinic signage is taken down in order to catch any women that aren’t aware the clinic is closed.
And so the accidental activist plagued with anxiety still has work to do.
If you wish to contribute to the Essential Health Clinic fundraiser, go HERE.