Juan Antonio Labreche / AP Photo

What it's like to volunteer as an escort at an abortion clinic

Comedian and former bouncer describes protesters' threats while escorting patients: 'I've cried on my way home'

Brock Wilbur, a 31-year-old stand-up comedian in Los Angeles, is tall — 6 feet, 7 inches, to be exact. His height has been an asset, helping him score work as a bouncer at a nightclub when he lived in Chicago.

And it was his imposing size that led one of his more diminutive comedian friends to suggest that Wilbur join him as a volunteer clinic escort at two independent clinics that provide abortions in the Los Angeles area. “I thought, ‘Yeah, I should do that,’” he said. Every weekend for the past year he has traveled from his home in Los Feliz to take a volunteer shift at a clinic in downtown Los Angeles and another in Downey, a city southeast of LA, helping clients through parking lots filled with shouting anti-abortion picketers.

Brock Wilbur, 31, volunteers as an escort for patients at two clinics that provide abortions in the Los Angeles Area.
Courtesy Brock Wilbur

Wilbur grew up in Kansas, where Wichita physician George Tiller, one of the few doctors in the country who performed late-term abortions, was shot to death in 2009 by an anti-abortion activist. “I’ve never not associated abortion clinics with a place with potential violence,” Wilbur said.

He knew what he was getting into, he said, but he didn’t expect the intimidation he sometimes feels.

“It isn’t for everyone, and even as a big guy with a big shell, there have been plenty of times that I have gotten in my car and cried as I’ve gone home, and it’s rough when people go after you,” he said.

One weekend an anti-abortion activist took a swing at him while his back was turned, though he didn’t actually land the punch, Wilbur said. During another shift, a man driving a large SUV barreled across the clinic driveway toward Wilbur and nearly struck him. “That was my first day on the job, and I was like, ‘Oh, everyone’s playing for keeps,’” he said.

Not all the threats are physical. In Downey, for example, the clinic waiting room has a very thin wall, doing little to muffle the sound of dozens of protesters chanting anti-abortion slogans, amplified by karaoke machines and bullhorns. Everyone in the waiting room can hear every word. “It’s the world’s worst open mic,” Wilbur said. He thinks being a comedian makes the work easier because he has developed a thick skin. “There’s not that much that these people could say that a heckler at a show couldn’t,” he said.

The weirdest part, Wilbur added, is when kids come around. Campers from the ProLife Training Camp, which is sponsored by a Southern California Christian activist group, are taught how to be anti-abortion protesters and come to clinics to practice what they’ve learned.

“It’s a magical couple of weekends in the summer where a school bus will pull up, and they [the kids] tell you about how they are going to shoot you in the face,” he said.

The activist group that runs the camp, Survivors of the Abortion Holocaust, hadn’t responded to a request for comment by the time of publication.

Wilbur’s experiences aren’t unique. Bryn Greenwood, a writer from Lawrence, Kansas, who, in the wake of last week’s Colorado Planned Parenthood shootings, recounted on Twitter her experiences while working at Tiller's Planned Parenthood clinic from 1996 to 1999.

“We received hundreds of phone calls, threatening to torch our clinic & to kill the ‘murdering whores’ who worked there,” Greenwood wrote.

Clinics that provide abortions have long been targets of violence. The National Abortion Federation, a national clearinghouse of abortion providers, has documented eight murders of doctors and staff at such clinics since 1977, along with 17 attempted murders, 42 bombings and 186 incidents of arson.

In Colorado Springs, where Robert Lewis Dear is alleged to have opened fire at a Planned Parenthood facility last Friday, two of the three people who were killed had been accompanying friends to the clinic. The third person killed was a police officer who worked at the local University of Colorado campus and was responding to the shooting.

Wilbur said he feels that the violence confirms that more people need to step up and volunteer at clinics, even if it is challenging. When patients walk out of the clinic, “and you get a small wave, or they mouth, ‘Thank you’ out the car window,” Wilbur said, “that makes it worthwhile.”

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