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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.
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.
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.”