Walking the talk: How one PA woman became a patient escort at Planned Parenthood

Planned Parenthood volunteers stand outside a clinic to grant clients free access to the facility without being harassed by protestors. (Photo by Bastiaan Slabbers/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

By Ashley Adams

February 1, 2024

According to Planned Parenthood, volunteer patient escorts are the first line of defense for abortion rights, serving as a buffer between a patient and protestors outside the clinic.

The first time Jayne Frankenfield went to the Planned Parenthood in Warminster, she was intimidated.

She wasn’t intimidated by the facility. Or the staff. Or the services offered there. Frankenfield was intimidated by the protestors outside.

She wasn’t even at the clinic to get reproductive health care. She was simply scoping out the medical center prior to starting her new volunteer position as a patient escort.

“The first time I went, my husband and I drove up just to get an idea of what it was like,” Frankenfield said. “I wasn’t going for any health reasons. I was just going to scope it out and I was intimidated by the number of people that were lining the street that go into the health center. Now, if I’m intimidated and I have no cause to be upset, what does it feel like if you are a patient?”

In the eyes of Planned Parenthood, patient escorts are the first line of defense for abortion rights. Escorts are tasked with walking patients safely into their medical centers, serving as a buffer between the patient and the often loud and insulting protestors outside. 

Today, Frankenfield has been escorting patients into the Warminster Medical Center since September 2020.

“I had no idea what a patient escort was when I first heard about it on a podcast,” Frankenfield said. “My first thought was, ‘What do they even need them for?’ I just can’t believe you have to shield people from this kind of thing.”

Jayne Frankenfield

When the US Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June 2022, Planned Parenthood made a commitment to people of reproductive age across the country.

“It is a dark day for our country, but this is far from over. We will not compromise on our bodies, our dignity or our freedom,” the organization said in a statement.

Since the federal right to an abortion was overturned, Planned Parenthood clinics in Pennsylvania have not only seen a surge in patients from out-of-state, but harassment has also increased, according to Signe Espinoza, executive director of Planned Parenthood Pennsylvania Advocates.

“We need to do everything we can to ensure that we are able to create a Pennsylvania where every single person has access to the full range of sexual and reproductive health care, and is able to do so without fear of violence and without having to navigate a regulatory obstacle course to receive basic health care,” Espinoza said.

While abortion is still legal in Pennsylvania, numerous other states across the country have enacted (or are trying to enact) complete or partial bans. In fact, without a Democratic majority in the state House, and a Democratic governor who supports reproductive rights, the commonwealth’s abortion legality could be drastically different. 

The judges who sit on Pennsylvania’s highest courts matter, too. In 2023, the race for a seat on the state’s Supreme Court turned into a battle for reproductive rights as Republican nominee Carolyn Carluccio was caught removing a resume promoting her anti-abortion views from her campaign website. Judge Daniel McCaffery’s victory gave Democrats a roadmap to controlling the court going into the 2030s and protects reproductive rights for years to come

In an effort to minimize the effects protestors have on patients visiting Planned Parenthood clinics, the organization deploys volunteer patient escorts to “help get patients to the door of our clinic with as little harassment from protesters and picketers as possible,” according to its website.

At the Warminster Planned Parenthood, Friday is the only day for abortion procedures. Frankenfield volunteers weekly for a two-hour shift.

“When I first signed up I thought ‘I’m only here once a week, surely I can do more than one 2-hour shift,’” Frankenfield said. “Well, you might think that except when you are doing the patient escorting you are on alert all the time. It is much more draining than you think and if it’s draining for me, what is it for a patient?”

Frankenfield has had as many as 75 protesters at once shouting awful things through bullhorns, holding graphic posters, and generally trying to intimidate the people walking into Planned Parenthood for their reproductive health care. She said she even sometimes uses big golf umbrellas to shield a patient from aggressive tormentors.

While she’s never had a physical encounter with a protestor, and doesn’t fear for her safety, she has had to step in between a tormentor and a patient before. When the protestor wouldn’t stop badgering the patient, Frankenfield started singing the ABCs.

“Our job is to be there for the patient, not to engage with the protestors,” Frankenfield said. “We have to be aware of them, but our focus is on the patient. [The protestors] are intimidating and they are judgy and they are awful.”

To become a volunteer patient escort, Frankenfield had to submit to background checks and attend training courses. But she said it was worth it, as escorting patients has become a rewarding experience for her.

“I had an abortion in 1974,” Frankenfield said. “There were no protestors there. I can’t believe you have to protect someone just so they can get the health care they want and need.”

Author

  • Ashley Adams

    In her 16 years in the communications industry, Ashley Adams has worn many hats, including news reporter, public relations writer, marketing specialist, copy editor and technical writer. Ashley grew up in Berks County and has since returned to her roots to raise her three children.

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