While most students are still asleep on Saturday mornings, a dedicated group of members of Swarthmore’s Pro-Choice Task Force (PCTF) take a 7:30 train into Philadelphia to serve as patient escorts at the Planned Parenthood (PP) clinic on Locust Street. Each week, four or five members go in to the city to offer their support to women who may be forced to face a long line of protesters as they head to the clinic for consultations about emergency contraception or the other services Planned Parenthood provides. This Tuesday, PCTF is sponsoring an escort training on campus to make it easier for Swarthmore students to volunteer to help on future Saturdays.
Escort coordinators Emily Nolte ’07 and Amara Telleen ’06 explained that PCTF arranged for the training to be on campus to make it more accessible for students, because being trained is a prerequisite for volunteering to help at the clinic when protesters are present from 8-10 a.m. on Saturdays. They also hope to clear up myths about Planned Parenthood, protests, and the escort process, since “a lot of people have misconceptions about being an escort,” according to Nolte. The two stressed that escorting is not dangerous–police are always present–and that anyone on campus is welcome to come–females and also males, who Nolte and Telleen said comprise about 15-20% of the escorts who go on a regular basis.
A typical volunteer session for an escort starts during the week, when the two coordinators send out an email to their list of trained escorts–currently at a total of 60 individuals–requesting volunteers for the weekend. PCTF members check with Planned Parenthood staff to provide the names of escorts, and on Saturday morning either Nolte or Telleen goes with that week’s escorts on the R3 into Philadelphia.
Their task is to stand on a street corner a short distance away from the clinic entrance and greet passers-by, offering to walk with any who are going to PP and indicate that they would like someone to walk with them and provide white noise as a distraction from the crowd of protesters. The escort coordinators explained that the crowd of protesters varies in size, though at its largest it can be intimidating. Despite that, “the community around Planned Parenthood is very supportive,” Nolte said. On average, the Swarthmore escorts assist four or five patients each week. They normally take the 10:17 train back to Swarthmore, once the protesters have mostly dispersed.
PCTF has been on its own as an organization at Swarthmore since 1996. About 15 to 20 members come to its weekly meetings, though many more are active on the group mailing list. Asked the group’s mission, Nolte explained that PCTF’s goal is “to educate the Swarthmore community about reproductive rights, access to [those rights]… and to support access to contraception and abortion, not only in Swarthmore.” The Lang Center for Civic and Social Responsibility provides subsidies for the group’s train travel.
Asked whether all the members of PCTF have common opinions on abortion and contraception, Nolte noted that their unifying factor is that “everyone supports a woman’s right to choose.” Both Nolte and Telleen expressed excitement over the group’s plans for the coming semester, which will include movie screenings, condom giveaways, and unveiling events. Telleen said: “we try to ally ourselves as much as possible,” noting that plans are in the works for events with the Feminist Majority and College Democrats–groups which overlap with PCTF but are not mutually inclusive.
PCTF is officially affiliated with V.O.X., or Voices for Planned Parenthood. The escort training will be from 4:30 to 6:00 p.m. on Tuesday in Kohlberg 228.