The Time An Abortion Protester ‘Counseled’ Me

The Time An Abortion Protester 'Counseled' Me

Yesterday’s SCOTUS decision striking down a protester buffer ring around MA health clinics made me remember the time I got “counseled” by a man protesting Planned Parenthood. He yelled “MURDERER!” at me and waved a Bible. I was 25, scared, and fresh off a nasty surprise in the form of a broken condom. I blurted out, “Not yet!”

I wasn’t trying to be sassy, believe it or not. I was just being honest. I felt so guilty at having sex outside of a monogamous relationship. I’d never done that before, not really. I was 25 and had been having sex with boys for four years, more or less. I wasn’t particularly “good” at it, or so I thought (it took a few years before I realized sex was not a competition with some imaginary ideal). I had only begun drinking alcohol at 23, during my first year of teaching, and so I didn’t have much experience with what happens when a lot of booze combines with a lack of self-esteem and a determination to live life like women on that documentary series, “Sex and the City.”

I was new to New York City, new to “casual” sex (I’ve since learned that no sex is truly casual, at least not in my life), new to making choices that my 16-year-old anti-abortion, not-so-sure-about-those-homosexuals Catholic self would’ve abhorred. I hadn’t yet found a way to express myself through writing and stand-up comedy, activities that would make me stronger, happier, and an all-around better human being. I was meek and nice and sweet, and I was not skinny enough for my own liking, and I was sad sometimes about the boyfriend who had dumped me right before I moved to New York, and when I saw that broken condom gathered like the world’s grossest Elizabeth ruff around my gentleman caller’s member, I panicked.

“Don’t worry,” I said to the guy, who couldn’t have been 30 yet. “I have this under control.” I don’t think he was worried; I don’t think he cared one bit, to be honest, but I sure did.

An unplanned pregnancy had always been a huge, shameful nightmare of mine. And the thought of an abortion — the greatest possible sin, I was pretty sure — had terrified me since I first saw the photos of fetuses the “health education” lady from church showed us in catechism class. We were in eighth grade at the time. She told us that fetuses could feel pain from the start, even when some people wouldn’t even call them fetuses yet. There was a film called “The Silent Scream.” It was an abortion, 11 weeks after conception. I can’t remember if we watched it (I have an inherited habit of blocking really painful things out of my mind) or if we just saw stills from it.

I remember a poster with an aborted fetus beside a penny, for size comparison. That I do remember.

I went home and asked my parents if I could go to the March For Life, a big annual march on Washington to demand the end to state-sponsored baby murder. They said no, I could not take a day off from school to do this thing. I was very mad, because this was the Most Important Cause in the World, and their insensitivity spoke volumes.

Later that year, my mother told me she hadn’t been a virgin when she married my father (although she had only ever been with him). I called her a slut.

I got on the guy’s laptop (a heavy thing, if I remember 2006 correctly), and found that Planned Parenthood opened in a few hours. So I sat in his apartment and waited until then, patiently checking my cell phone every five minutes while he snored peacefully. I was pretty sure he would never call me again, and as it turned out, I was right.

I went on the street and hailed a cab. It took me to the Sanger Clinic, which probably has some name that’s fancier than that, but everybody I knew called it the Sanger Clinic. I was hungry and tired and anxious and I knew I needed to get Plan B, the drug that people said wasn’t as bad as an abortion really (the abortion drug was different), but it prevented a baby from being conceived and that meant it was at least some kind of evil.

And I got out of the cab, and a man in overalls with a big white beard stared at me, and I just wanted to have a nice interaction with a person, especially a man, and I said “Good morning” and that’s when I saw he was carrying a Bible, and I knew right away that was a bad sign, and then he called me a murderer. He shouted it so loud it almost wasn’t a word anymore. It was a force of nature.

I was rescued by two mid-2000s feminist hipsters wearing “Escort” vests. I looked at the vests and wondered if I had entered the place where sex workers and pro-lifers somehow mixed, which seemed like a very East Village thing, but they were Planned Parenthood escorts, and they were there to help me. They chattered at me about my “cool” clothes and earrings and smoothly walked me the dozen feet or so to the entrance, where a security guard took over. They promised me they would still be there when I left, and they were.

They knew how to talk to a scared young woman as if everything were normal, as if she weren’t being screamed at by the human embodiment of an angry Judeo-Christian sky-god, as if she didn’t already feel like shit. They knew how to make me feel human, and for that I was and remain enormously grateful.

It was too soon to tell if I were pregnant, I learned (I knew this intellectually, of course). I could take Plan B, or I could wait and see. It was up to me.

The escorts were there when I left. The screaming man had gone. I guess he just worked the morning shift.

Weeks later, sitting in class at Columbia University Teachers College after a day of student-teaching in an NYC public middle school, I felt something very tiny inside me snap like a brittle twig. I felt a wave of pain unlike anything I’d ever experienced, worse even than the cystoscopy I’d endured with no anesthesia when I was 15. I left class early so I could lay down on a public restroom floor and cry. It hurt to walk. I don’t remember the blood (remember, I don’t remember things that I don’t want to remember), but I remember crawling up the stairs to my apartment because walking was too difficult. The carpet on the stairs smelled like dogs and dirt. I figured I deserved that.

I took a bunch of Xanax and some Advil and fell asleep clutching my favorite thing in the world. It was a stuffed giraffe my great-grandmother had given me right after I was born. Its name was Mary.



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  • BMW

    Thanks for making the distinction about Plan B not being the abortion drug. It pisses me off when people say they’re the same thing.

    • sarabenincasa

      Yeah, I used to think they were!

      • Mojopo

        Excellent story, thanks for sharing it. Back in my hometown, somewhere at the end of the 80s or beginning of the 90s, Terry Randall’s group came to protest the local Planned Parenthood. I was mostly raised by my older sisters, all 70s feminists, and we trolled the protestors all day with coat hangers. That clinic was providing BC and health care to a lot of low-income women, like I was then, and they were really nice people! I think we exhausted the protestors, though. And we enjoyed ourselves. Sisters, you know?

        • sarabenincasa

          you are badasses!

  • Ned

    Wait, um, what happened?

    • mrsmayhem


  • Haribo Lector

    I have trouble with thinking of sex as ‘casual’. Not because I have a problem with emotion-free no-strings-attached sex. Just because all sex with me is best defined as ‘awkward’, and therefore the antithesis of ‘casual’.

    • goonemeritus

      You should try wearing less formal underwear.

  • So much of our selves are bound up in shame and fear and isolation. It should help to know millions of women have this same experience, but somehow that is cold comfort. Be well, Sara.

    • sarabenincasa

      Thank you so much.

  • JParkerSD46

    Thank you for this very touching story.

    • sarabenincasa

      Thank YOU for reading it.

  • Joseph Stavitsky

    I know I should be a little more well balanced, supposedly being a Mature Adult and shit, but I just cannot read this from the same page as “Rosie Huntington-Whiteley’s Stunning Studded Leather Look”Fucking internet. Fucking country. Fucking planet.Thank you for having the courage to share this. Makes a lot of guys look like pussies (no disrespect).

    • sarabenincasa

      Thank you for reading.

  • Brenda Szuszczewicz

    I can empathize. Not sympathize. Thank you for sharing what must have been an incredibly painful experience made more so by virulent anti choicers. I also was raised Catholic. Back when Plan B was not an option i had to drive past a field with a fake fetus cemetary with hundreds of mock graves each marked with a white cross to signify how many “babies” were “murdered” each day. That was a very long time ago, but I still remember wanting to add a +1 to the number of alleged murders on their sign.

    • sarabenincasa

      I remember those fake fetus cemeteries!

      • Deleted

        This post was deleted.

  • Sorry you had to go through that, Sara. It sucks that people cannot help each other through the difficult times in our lives instead of judging and condemning.

    • sarabenincasa

      Thanks Jim.

  • Joseph Stavitsky

    My favorite musical comment on the subject

  • Jason M

    Guys are callow and selfish, all around. I once had to pick up an ex girlfriend from the abortion clinic because the guy that knocked her up got too wasted to give her a ride home. I knew another gal whose gem of a bf kicked her down the stairs when she told him she was pregnant, to “save the dough” on an abortion. There’s an innate suckiness attached to the Y chromosome, period. Thanks for sharing your story, SB, and having the strength of character not to have become an unfunny and bitter person for it.

    • BMW

      Not all m–*gets hit in back of head by flying shoe*

  • Karlew

    When I hear/read these stories I am so relieved that there were no protesters at the clinic where I had my abortion. Because knowing the way I react to things I probably would have spent the night in a jail cell.

    • sarabenincasa

      Thanks girl.

  • timpundit

    Why must you make me cry, Sara. I wish you nothing but the best.

    • sarabenincasa

      I am sorry about the crying!

  • Unholy Moses

    Wow. That was just amazing … beautifully written … incredibly courageous.I’d apologize for the overall dickishness of my gender, but I don’t wanna claim most of ’em.

    • sarabenincasa

      Oh I don’t blame dudes for it…or ladies…I guess it is just the way our culture is set up.

      • Joseph Stavitsky

        I’m sorry, I disagree. 75 cents on the dollar is our culture. Slut shaming is our culture. This is Y’all Qaeda. We have plenty of work to do, but not with these people. These people need to be voted out of office and relegated to the dustbin of history where they belong. Insofar as politics is a product of our culture, then yes it is cultural. But people who (as Maddow showed last night) hold commemorative parties for political assassins are part of no civilized culture that I know of.

        • Whale Chowder

          Stealing Y’all Qaeda.Sarah, that must have been tough, having to do that by yourself. Power, girl.

          • Joseph Stavitsky

            Not mine, I think I got it from HuffPo

  • LeighB

    November 1970 Laguna Beach HS Homecoming Princess and fellow cheerleader tells me she is pregnant. Denny S will not marry her but will pay from her and her parents to move to Newport Beach to finish out the school year and put the baby up for adoption. Because it would ruin his and his wealth family reputation if she stayed in town.In May she calls to say she will be in the Senior Patio at 11 am to pick up her cap and gown. I see her and hug her and then there is about 15 girlfriends hugging her. Denny S walks by and we all turn and hiss at him.After a few years we hear that Denny was on his honeymoon in Honolulu on a catamaran when a storm blew in. He was holding onto the metal mast when it was hit by lightening. Fried brains. Bummer.

    • sarabenincasa

      Now THAT is one hell of a story.

      • LeighB

        Also, we considered Newport to be equal to Diamond Bar, CA.

  • William

    Thank you for sharing that. I am sorry that you experienced it and I admire your courage for telling your story. As a card carrying male, I’m sorry that so many of my tribe are complete and utter tool bags.

  • LeighB

    So I am in the recovery room at SF General with about 5 others girls moaning after our abortions. The nurses walks up to me and say, ‘I have good news and bad news. The good news is that you are O neg and can be a universal blood donor. The bad news is I have to give you this large shot in your hip to prevent future miscarriages.’ Ouch, ouch, ouch, groan.

  • geobill

    This touched a nerve for me. I was one of those horribly naive shamers once upon a time. Not at a clinic, not shouting with a sign, but in personal interactions. I sat in my “God’s last name is not dammit” t-shirt at the Tuscarawas County Right to Life booth at the First Town Days festival, handing out little fetus dolls and explaining to anyone who would listen that women who had abortions were murderers. I rationalized that maybe killing an evil abortionist doctor might be for the greater good. And I can honestly say that I do not recognize that naive kid anymore. I listened to women, I found my compassion, and I got out of that self-important conservative Christian bubble I was in. I hope that another kid in another small town reads this, and the many other stories like this, and finds their own compassion, and abandons their harmful ways. Thank you, Sara.

  • groont

    Sara, this choked me up – for you and for anyone who has walked in those shoes. Thank goodness for those escorts. Do I understand your story correctly, you decided against Plan B and opted to wait and see which led to the bleeding episode on the floor? Was this because you were influenced by the bearded bully?

  • groont

    Sara, this choked me up too – for you and for anyone who has walked in those shoes. thank goodness for the escorts! i got a little lost at the end of the story; would you say the miscarriage happened because you chose the wait and see approach as a result of the bearded bully’s so-called counseling? do you think that he influenced your decision in the clinic?

    • Deleted

      This post was deleted.

  • ShellyM

    If pro life “activists” genuinely cared about the sanctity of life, of course they would be protesting – for parental leave policies, for affordable and accessible child care, for universal health care. The fact that they instead choose to spend their time harassing and intimidating clinic workers and patients is all the proof I need that their primary interest is controlling and shaming women.

    • A-fucking-men!

    • Independently Yours

      Thank you. Well said.

  • Elizabeth West

    I am so sad for that poor young woman that you were, I was living in NYC then, as now, and I would have taken you to the clinic , had I known you and I would have brought you uptown and taken you for breakfast at Amy-Ruth’s on 116th Street for chicken and waffles. Then I would have told you my abortion story and we would have bonded and maybe you wouldn’t have felt so awfully alone.

  • Ugh. Sorry you had to go through that. This whole buffer zones being unconstitutional thing is bullshit. I read an article about the woman in Mass. who sued over it a while back, and she actually said something like, “I only target women who I think are going into PP for an abortion…” based on her “observations”. As if that makes it any better? You can say what you have to say from 35 feet away. They don’t even need to say anything at all, really; *everyone* knows why these people are there. Now the risk of physical violence has just been increased. Harassment and intimidation are not protected speech.

  • Clevelandchick

    My first entry level job after college (late 80s) paid squat and the insurance didn’t cover birth control (even if you needed it for medical reasons) which I needed badly due to an extremely heavy painful cycle. My mom put me on them when I was 16 because I’d miss school. The pill gave me my life back. I could only afford them by going to Planned Parenthood. I encountered those angry old men with their bibles calling me a baby killer. 97% of the women walking past those bullying cretins are just trying to access affordable gynecological care.

  • Brendan_M

    I drove a friend of mine to a PP clinic and went around the corner to my favorite Columbus dive bar and drank bloody marys for a couple hours while I waited for her. Not quite the same thing, maybe, but…

  • lesterthegiantape

    My ex and I had an unplanned pregnancy on our hands while she was still in college. Had absolutely no trouble with protesters or anything like that. We both went in, I held her hand. Procedure was over in twenty minutes. It was depressing and it was unpleasant, but it wasn’t particularly significant. I’ve had more complicated root canals.That’s what it’s like in a sane world. If there’d been protesters and shouting and all that, given the pressure we were under, I would probably have gotten into a fist fight. The way I see these things, women’s clinic = dentist’s office. Until people are picketing your root canal, you have no right to picket whatever lady business is going on inside the clinic.

  • Bill Schmalfeldt

    Probably the most moving story I’ve read in awhile. Heroism is the act of doing the right thing even though it scares the bejeezus out of you. I thanful that neither I nor anyone I loved had to make that decision. You story reinforces a feeling that grows stronger as my own Parkinson’s disease progresses to the end-game portion of the tournament. We are here for such a short time. Why be assholes to each other? Wouldn’t just be a much better place all around if the idiots would just realize that the people they flame and troll and insult and slander are living, breathing human being?I’m 59, have had PD for 14 years and am profoundly affected. My wife survived throat cancer but is getting older and weaker. We’re not sure what’s gonna get us, the Zombies or the Ebola. Not sure how painful Ebola is, but I imagine have my head cracked open like a walnut by a zombie won’t be a walk in the park either. So, whichever can happen faster.I believe most people are inherently good. But there aren’t enough of the really good ones to make up for the assholes.Anyway, I hope you are well and happy and unscarred by the trauma this “penisarchy” has inflicted on you. I don’t know you, but you are an artist, you write very well, and and you are my sister.Be well. Be happy. And root for the zombies.

  • Independently Yours

    Heartfelt hugs, Sara.

  • motmelere

    Wow. I mean that in the “Thank you for sharing” kind of wow and not the “Holy shit, did she really say that?” kinda wow.

  • Brave girl, Sara, for telling your story.I’m so sad to hear that things have grown worse, not better, for young women facing the possibility or reality of unplanned pregnancy. It was a lonely, scary place to be back in the 80s; how awful that it’s an even worse place to be now, given the political climate. And for that we can thank the many scumbag politicians who relentlessly (and successfully) play the god-guns-gays card in return for votes.Pro-life, my ass. They could be fighting to make healthcare free, or even just truly affordable–and accessible to *everyone*; they could be fighting to make healthy school meals accessible to everyone; they could be fighting to make high-quality childcare accessible to everyone. How much do they care about the lives those things would improve? That deafening silence you hear is the sound of several thousand rats’ asses not being given.

  • Zyxomma

    Thank you for sharing your story, Sara. I’ve never had to go through that trauma, or childbirth, or miscarriage. What you went through outside that clinic was akin to rape (which I have survived). I’ve always opined that if men carried the pregnancies, abortion would be available on demand, probably free, and maybe even at a drive-thru. (When I said that earlier, I was answered that if men had the babbies, abortion would be a sacrament.) Health and peace.

  • Thank you for sharing this.

  • canaduck

    Just another impressed and grateful commenter thanking you for sharing your story. I’m hoping to become a clinic escort soon myself.