Two men who appear armed walk toward my car. What does a gal do next?
The parking lot is empty. I’m in a secluded, industrial area void of traffic or pedestrians. It’s 10:55 a.m. and the clinic doesn’t open until 11. The car doors are locked. The windows are tinted and rolled up. I debate driving away. Why should I have to drive away? Who are these people? I have an appointment.
The men, thick-chested from body armor under their button-downs, get halfway across the lot. They have uniforms. They’re security guards, not cops. Are they armed or do they have bulky utility belts? Does it matter? Why are security guards coming to my car? All I did was park in the lot. They can’t ticket me for being there. Can private security even give tickets? Damn it, I have an appointment.
Both wear aviator sunglasses. The one with the mustache knocks on the window. What harm can happen by rolling it down? They want to talk. But why should I have to talk to private security before I go to the doctor? What would happen if I don’t open the window? The path of least resistance is to just do it.
“What can I do for you, gentlemen?” I ask. I like to think that nonchalance drips off the words, but in reality, my legs are wobbly. Every time a police officer (and apparently even security guards) have approached my vehicle, I get the shakes. I know there are hard-working, nice cops out there. I also know that every interaction I’ve had with the police since I was 16 and living in or near Chicago was not a positive one.
“Ma’am,” says the closest. He drapes his arm on my car and hangs his head by the window. “Do you have an appointment?”
I’m not in the habit of talking about my doctor appointments with strangers. There’s nothing abnormal or erroneous with me having an appointment on my lunch break to renew my birth control prescription, but why should I have to talk about that with cops?
What I wanted to say was, “Yeah, I have a goddamn appointment, what’s it to you?” Instead, the calmer, more practical, “Yes, sir, I do. It’s at 11 a.m.”
They nodded at me but didn’t back away.
“I was early. I was going to wait in my car,” I said. I rolled up the window. I got out of my car. I walked to the guards. “Why are you out here anyways?”
In non-judgmental tones, the guards talked about safeguarding those who entered and worked in the clinic. Then, they asked to check my bag. Turns out, main guard is training the other guard. They both look in my purse. Because I travel alone and everyone has their own tricks to feeling safe, there’s a large pocket knife in my bag. “Ma’am, you’re going to have to leave that in the car.”
Sheepishly, I look at my boot. Main guard’s gaze follows mine. “That one, too,” he said.
I put the gear on my passenger seat. Lock up.
“Why do you check people’s bags?” It’s a naïve question.
“To make sure people do not have the means to harm the staff or clients of the clinic upon entry.”
“Do people try to harm people here often?”
“Just being cautious, ma’am.”
They walked me to the door. Unlocked it. I stood in a foyer and had to be buzzed in to Planned Parenthood’s waiting room after staff confirmed that I had an appointment.
Then, I renewed my prescription for birth control.
My life had to be guarded from those who purport to guard the lives of the unborn, even though the services I was about to acquire had nothing to do with abortion, even though the majority of Planned Parenthood’s services are about prevention, education, outreach, and health care. Even if I had made the difficult decision to have an abortion – maybe for my health, because of sexual assault, or after realizing I wasn’t monetarily or emotionally equipped to raise a child – why would exercising logic equate to someone having the right to intimidate or harm me?
Author Ursula Le Guin said, “The only questions that matter are the ones that you ask yourself.” Maybe it is time we stop asking a person why they are walking into Planned Parenthood and start asking ourselves why is it only the unborn that we have compassion for?