Duluth Abortion Clinic Escorts Gain Viral Fame On TikTok
DULUTH — On a subzero morning in late January, two groups shivered in clumps near the stair entrance to the downtown Duluth parking lot, just yards from northern Minnesota’s only abortion clinic.
A group, wearing brightly colored vests and twirling umbrellas like modern-day Mary Poppins, kept warm by dancing to Snoop Dogg as they waited for the next patient to be escorted to the WE Health clinic. Members of the other group, trying to distribute pamphlets, paced the public sidewalk and occasionally sang a cappella religious music while waiting, hoping to stop patients at the clinic door.
It’s the kind of scene captured every week here and often shared with millions around the world. A TikTok account — mclinicescorts — launched by the clinic’s volunteer attendants, captures in streaming video clips a daily mood of the work they do and what they face while doing it.
Since the start of last fall, it has amassed nearly 254,000 subscribers. Several clips — those that highlight Minnesota winters or poke fun at protesters’ behavior — have been viewed more than 2 million times each. One, showing an escort twerking to raunchy rap music as a protester stands idly by, has been viewed 5.9 million times. That’s nearly 70 times the population of Duluth.
Internet content is not just about the abortion debate. The clips’ popularity often stems from the absurd: a protester passionately describing her opposition to abortion while Joan Jett’s “Bad Reputation” plays on a nearby speaker; to the very Minnesotan: a number of layers worn to keep warm at 10 below zero. And most have catchy music as a backdrop.
Thousands of donations poured in, and Escorts say it raised awareness across the country about how women seeking abortions can be treated even in a progressive-leaning city.
“It went viral right away,” said Cassidy Thompson, who runs the escort program and started the TikTok account.
Clips, which do not identify the patients, show protesters following patients from their cars to the clinic entrance, approaching and pleading ‘don’t kill your little one’ and ‘have mercy on your child’ while escorting them, using their bodies and umbrellas as barriers, attempt to block them from patients.
As patients walk out of the clinic, protesters shout about abortion cancellations, said Thompson, who noted that some patients are there for miscarriage management, are referred by a hospital for fetal abnormalities or are clients. of a rape crisis center that shares the building. But all women who appear to be of childbearing age are treated equally, escorts say.
Protesters are also recording videos. Zoe Nelson, who calls herself a life counselor, is part of Duluth Pro-Life Ministries. She wears a body camera for her personal safety, she said, and is not afraid of being recorded by escorts, although she questions the legality of publishing the faces of protesters. (It’s legal.)
“I think people like having a cause,” she said of the popularity of TikTok clips, of which she’s only seen snippets. “If we weren’t there, I don’t think they would need to escort. So it’s like this battle between sides. And it’s kind of exciting for people to watch, I guess.”
Thompson opened the TikTok account when she saw other Clinic Escorts using the medium to raise money for their Clinic programs. She also knew it was a way to shed light on what patients face in obtaining legal health care, she said, and she is pleased with the feedback from people who share their own stories and thank them for their work.
The account makes a difference, she said, “because it invokes a sense of urgency about what we’re seeing right now. And that may not be the case in the state in which you live.”
More and more protesters
The clinic is the only one of its kind in northern Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. He sees patients from all over the Upper Midwest, providing 10 to 18 abortions a week, either via medication or through an in-clinic procedure. The number of protesters grew ahead of the US Supreme Court’s ruling that could strike down the constitutional right to abortion, leaving it to the states.
TikTok images don’t just raise funds and awareness, said volunteer Ollie Morris.
“If Roe. v. Wade is overturned, evidence of harassment could help us fight for a safe zone,” which Minnesota doesn’t offer, Morris said. In California, for example, some cities have buffer zones in front of abortion clinics.. Morris said protesters routinely violate the Clinic Entrances Freedom of Access Act by blocking the entrance to the property.
The TikTok account has links to resources, information, an Amazon wishlist and a music playlist full of loud songs meant to drown out protesters. Playing loud music and offering patients earplugs for the walk inside were suggested by TikTok followers, Thompson said.
“It’s been helpful if a patient is particularly distraught,” she said.
The money raised was used to buy things for patients that the clinic could not otherwise afford, such as an ultrasound gel warmer. Fans sent in masks, body cameras, gas money, walkie-talkies, umbrellas to protect patients, earplugs and a real Minnesota need, hand warmers and feet.
“People have been so generous,” said Laurie Casey, the clinic’s chief executive. “And customers really like having the support.”
Escorts don’t engage with protesters, said Catherine Conlan, a longtime clinic volunteer, but people still find the content compelling. People aren’t shy about talking about abortion anymore, and Thompson knows it, she says.
“Cassidy has cracked the code on this particular medium, and it’s fascinating to watch from a general social media marketing perspective,” said Conlan, who shot a video that has more than a million views. of times. “That kind of viral reach is amazing. People see it and say, ‘Oh my God, is that happening in Duluth?’ “