Julia Fortier ’18
CCPA Summer Blog Series 2017: Julia Fortier ‘18 at the Philadelphia Women’s Center
This summer, I spent Saturday mornings volunteering at the Philadelphia Women’s Center. Since 1972, this facility has offered women pregnancy testing, ultrasound exams, birth control, GYN care, emergency contraception, STI testing and treatment as well as surgical and non-surgical abortions. Not only has this volunteer experience given me a greater understanding of the medical field, it has also provided me with invaluable connections to further my journey towards a career in medicine. I became interested in this volunteer activity out of a desire to gain a more intimate perspective on women’s healthcare. At PWC, I experienced firsthand the challenges and difficult conversations associated with this specialty.
At PWC, I volunteered as an escort to welcome patients and guests to the clinic. In particular, I helped patients enter the clinic swiftly and without harassment from pro-life protestors. Protestors stand outside the clinic from 6:30am-10 every Saturday morning. Two on-duty civil service police officers are always present to protect the safety of patients, protestors, and volunteers, although they are rarely needed. Some protestors are passive and simply pray and sing religious hymns, others are more active and pass pamphlets to patients walking in, and a handful are very aggressive and harass patients and volunteers. These protestors attempt to dissuade patients from entering the clinic and follow them down the street after their visit to propagate their anti-abortion views.
Patients were typically disconcerted and frightened by protestors, especially the majority of patients that utilize the clinic for its reproductive healthcare services, not its abortion services. In my experience, patients were happy and relieved to be greeted by the smiling face of an escort to direct them to the clinic and prevent the swarm of protestors from berating them.
I at first found it difficult to balance my role as a volunteer, in which I had a responsibility to help the patients enter the clinic as efficiently as possible, and my role as a citizen, in which I was obligated to let the protestors say their piece to patients, so long as they did not become aggressive nor violent. Most patients felt uncomfortable and offended by the opinions of protestors, in which case I was happy chat with patients on our walk inside the clinic to drown out the shouts of protestors. It was difficult to remain silent when protestors were verbally harassing patients and other volunteers, even though it is part of our role to ignore remarks which pose no physical danger.
It was also my responsibility to alert patients when protestors were disseminating incorrect medical information. Some of the information in their pamphlets and on their signs, as well as some of the protestors’ remarks to patients and volunteers, were not factual regarding birth control, abortion, and the history of the Philadelphia Women’s Center. I was surprised by the malicious tactics, such as this, of aggressive protestors who sought to control the reproductive rights of female patients and convince them that choosing abortion was morally wrong.
Volunteering at the Philadelphia Women’s Center has been one of the most formative experiences in guiding me towards what is most certainly my vocation: a career in medicine. It has exposed me to one of the most charged and controversial medical debates, and allowed me to stand by something I believe passionately in: protecting women’s reproductive rights. I look forward to continuing this experience throughout the academic year.