News Abortion

Voice of Choice: Turning the Tables on Anti-choice Bullies

Bria M.

After an anti-choice protest at his child's school, Todd Stave turns the tables on anti-choice bullies by standing up and fighting back.

This piece was amended at 3:24 pm on Thursday, July 5th, 2012 to correct the description of Diane Derzis, who is a clinic owner. An earlier version identified her as a clinic worker.

It seemed one of the most unlikely places for an anti-choice protest — a quiet, suburban middle school during back-to-school night. And yet, there they were, pictures of bloody fetuses in hand, and the picture, name, and phone number of Todd Stave, entrepreneur and owner of a Germantown, Maryland building that houses one the most protested clinics in America: the offices of Dr. LeRoy Carhart, of one of the only doctors in America to openly acknowledge that he performs late-term abortions.

This is a fight that is not new to Stave — his father, Carl Stave, was an abortion provider in the era immediately following Roe v. Wade that operated in the very same clinic. The clinic was firebombed and protesters once gathered to demonstrate outside of his father’s house.

But the targeting of his daughter’s school and the subsequent round-the-clock calls to his home were too much for the normally calm, composed Stave, who decided that enough was enough.

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Quietly, he collected names and phone numbers of the protesters and he, along with a small group of friends, decided to turn the tables on those who had for so long been allowed to harass and bully without consequence. Thus, Voice of Choice was born.

Today, Voice of Choice has been featured on the Rachel Maddow Show, NPR, and in the Washington Post. Stave has also been honored by NARAL for his work. Its volunteers are ready and willing to calmly and peacefully make calls, send e-mails, and engage in other forms of direct action against the scores of anti-choice bullies who have become more and more emboldened by the increasing attacks on reproductive freedom.

Most recently, the target was Tony Massey of Denver, Colorado. Massey posted several videos of himself harassing a local restaurant as they delivered food to the Denver Planned Parenthood. In the video, he can be heard yelling things such as, “The killers are keeping you busy!” and “Your company benefits off the murder of little boys and girls!” At one point, the camera focuses on the license plates of the car being used to deliver the food. At the end, viewers are encouraged to contact the owners of Udi’s in protest of their support of the “baby killers.” In response, Voice of Choice encouraged their volunteer base to contact Massey to voice their opinion of his harassment. His home address and phone numbers were provided. In return, almost 500 informed Voice of Choice that they had spoken with or left messages for Massey.

In another recent campaign, a protester named Jeff White was confronted after he had been caught on video physically assaulting an Alabama clinic owner named Diane Derzis as law enforcement looked on and did nothing.

In an environment where many organizations have taken a stance of non-engagement, it is shocking to protesters when some one stands up to their bigotry and misogyny. And they often do not enjoy having their own tactics turned against them. Results have been dramatic and almost immediate, with many of the targets ceasing their harassment.

But they can’t do it without volunteers. Stave estimates that his current numbers stand around 10,000, but he is aiming for ten times that, an army so numerous and far-reaching that it will drown out the voices of hate and misogyny and leave in it’s place an environment where the voice for choice is clear and unmistakable.

Voice of Choice can also be found on Twitter and Facebook.

Culture & Conversation Abortion

With Buffer Zones and Decline of ‘Rescues’ Came Anti-Choice Legal Boom, Book Argues

Eleanor J. Bader

University of Denver's Joshua Wilson argues that prosecutions of abortion-clinic protesters and the decline of "rescue" groups in the 1980s and 1990s boosted conservative anti-abortion legal activism nationwide.

There is nothing startling or even new in University of Denver Professor Joshua C. Wilson’s The New States of Abortion Politics (Stanford University Press). But the concise volume—just 99 pages of text—pulls together several recent trends among abortion opponents and offers a clear assessment of where that movement is going.

As Wilson sees it, anti-choice activists have moved from the streets, sidewalks, and driveways surrounding clinics to the courts. This, he argues, represents not only a change of agitational location but also a strategic shift. Like many other scholars and advocates, Wilson interprets this as a move away from pushing for the complete reversal of Roe v. Wade and toward a more incremental, state-by-state winnowing of access to reproductive health care. Furthermore, he points out that it is no coincidence that this maneuver took root in the country’s most socially conservative regions—the South and Midwest—before expanding outward.

Wilson credits two factors with provoking this metamorphosis. The first was congressional passage of the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act in 1994, legislation that imposed penalties on protesters who blocked patients and staff from entering or leaving reproductive health facilities. FACE led to the establishment of protest-free buffer zones at freestanding clinics, something anti-choicers saw as an infringement on their right to speak freely.

Not surprisingly, reproductive rights activists—especially those who became active in the 1980s and early 1990s as a response to blockades, butyric acid attacks, and various forms of property damage at abortion clinics—saw the zones as imperative. In their experiences, buffer zones were the only way to ensure that patients and staff could enter or leave a facility without being harassed or menaced.

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The second factor, Wilson writes, involved the reduced ranks of the so-called “rescue” movement, a fundamentalist effort led by the Lambs of Christ, Operation Rescue, Operation Save America, and Priests for Life. While these groups are former shadows of themselves, the end of the rescue era did not end anti-choice activism. Clinics continue to be picketed, and clinicians are still menaced. In fact, local protesters and groups such as 40 Days for Life and the Center for Medical Progress (which has exclusively targeted Planned Parenthood) negatively affect access to care. Unfortunately, Wilson does not tackle these updated forms of harassment and intimidation—or mention that some of the same players are involved, albeit in different roles.

Instead, he argues the two threads—FACE and the demise of most large-scale clinic protests—are thoroughly intertwined. Wilson accurately reports that the rescue movement of the late 1980s and early 1990s resulted in hundreds of arrests as well as fines and jail sentences for clinic blockaders. This, he writes, opened the door to right-wing Christian attorneys eager to make a name for themselves by representing arrested and incarcerated activists.

But the lawyers’ efforts did not stop there. Instead, they set their sights on FACE and challenged the statute on First Amendment grounds. As Wilson reports, for almost two decades, a loosely connected group of litigators and activists worked diligently to challenge the buffer zones’ legitimacy. Their efforts finally paid off in 2014, when the U.S. Supreme Court found that “protection against unwelcome speech cannot justify restrictions on the use of public streets and sidewalks.” In short, the decision in McCullen v. Coakley found that clinics could no longer ask the courts for blanket prohibitions on picketing outside their doors—even when they anticipated prayer vigils, demonstrations, or other disruptions. They had to wait until something happened.

This, of course, was bad news for people in need of abortions and other reproductive health services, and good news for the anti-choice activists and the lawyers who represented them. Indeed, the McCullen case was an enormous win for the conservative Christian legal community, which by the early 2000s had developed into a network united by opposition to abortion and LGBTQ rights.

The New States of Abortion Politics zeroes in on one of these legal groups: the well-heeled and virulently anti-choice Alliance Defending Freedom, previously known as the Alliance Defense Fund. It’s a chilling portrait.

According to Wilson, ADF’s budget was $40 million in 2012, a quarter of which came from the National Christian Foundation, an Alpharetta, Georgia, entity that claims to have distributed $6 billion in grants to right-wing Christian organizing efforts since 1982.

By any measure, ADF has been effective in promoting its multipronged agenda: “religious liberty, the sanctity of life, and marriage and the family.” In practical terms, this means opposing LGBTQ inclusion, abortion, marriage equality, and the right to determine one’s gender identity for oneself.

The group’s tentacles run deep. In addition to a staff of 51 full-time lawyers and hundreds of volunteers, a network of approximately 3,000 “allied attorneys” work in all 50 states to boost ADF’s agenda. Allies are required to sign a statement affirming their commitment to the Trinitarian Statement of Faith, a hallmark of fundamentalist Christianity that rests on a literal interpretation of biblical scripture. They also have to commit to providing 450 hours of pro bono legal work over three years to promote ADF’s interests—no matter their day job or other obligations. Unlike the American Bar Association, which encourages lawyers to provide free legal representation to poor clients, ADF’s allied attorneys steer clear of the indigent and instead focus exclusively on sexuality, reproduction, and social conservatism.

What’s more, by collaborating with other like-minded outfits—among them, Liberty Counsel and the American Center for Law and Justice—ADF provides conservative Christian lawyers with an opportunity to team up on both local and national cases. Periodic trainings—online as well as in-person ones—offer additional chances for skill development and schmoozing. Lastly, thanks to Americans United for Life, model legislation and sample legal briefs give ADF’s other allies an easy way to plug in and introduce ready-made bills to slowly but surely chip away at abortion, contraceptive access, and LGBTQ equality.

The upshot has been dramatic. Despite the recent Supreme Court win in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, the number of anti-choice measures passed by statehouses across the country has ramped up since 2011. Restrictions—ranging from parental consent provisions to mandatory ultrasound bills and expanded waiting periods for people seeking abortions—have been imposed. Needless to say, the situation is unlikely to improve appreciably for the foreseeable future. What’s more, the same people who oppose abortion have unleashed a backlash to marriage equality as well as anti-discrimination protections for the trans community, and their howls of disapproval have hit a fever pitch.

The end result, Wilson notes, is that the United States now has “an inconstant localized patchwork of rules” governing abortion; some counties persist in denying marriage licenses to LGBTQ couples, making homophobic public servants martyrs in some quarters. As for reproductive health care, it all depends on where one lives: By virtue of location, some people have relatively easy access to medical providers while others have to travel hundreds of miles and take multiple days off from work to end an unwanted pregnancy. Needless to say, this is highly pleasing to ADF’s attorneys and has served to bolster their fundraising efforts. After all, nothing brings in money faster than demonstrable success.

The New States of Abortion Politics is a sobering reminder of the gains won by the anti-choice movement. And while Wilson does not tip his hand to indicate his reaction to this or other conservative victories—he is merely the reporter—it is hard to read the volume as anything short of a call for renewed activism in support of reproductive rights, both in the courts and in the streets.

Commentary Abortion

Standing Under Sprinklers, Missouri Activists Turn Tables on Anti-Choice Community

Pamela Merritt

Missouri legislators protect and fund crisis pregnancy centers, while ignoring how their constituents are affected by violence and health-care disparities. A new campaign is taking to the streets to refocus their attention.

When I found out in 2015 that anti-choice politicians in Missouri had formed the Senate Interim Committee on the Sanctity of Life, I was outraged that they planned to use valuable time and money to bully Planned Parenthood with yet another baseless investigation.

My second thought was that I wished someone would form a committee to investigate the real issues that threaten the lives of Missourians every day.

Erin Matson and I co-founded Reproaction because we believe in the power of direct action; that the current state of abortion access is a manmade humanitarian crisis; and that people must have the right to decide whether to parent and to live in communities free of violence and oppression.

Those core values inspired us to launch the Show-Me Accountability Campaign in Missouri on June 29. Through the campaign we are leading direct actions to hold members of the Senate Interim Committee on the Sanctity of Life accountable, and demanding Missouri politicians work on the real challenges our communities and neighbors face, such as gun violence and Black infant mortality.

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Missourians deserve access to health care and safe communities, but that’s not the focus of anti-choice legislators. Instead, our lawmakers choose to persecute abortion providers and dish out tax credits to sham crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs).

Missourians have had enough. That’s what brought local progressive activists together, led by Reproaction Missouri organizer Zoe Krause, to launch Show-Me Accountability. We gathered on the sidewalk in front of Thrive, one of at least 65 CPCs anti-choice lawmakers champion despite the fact that the centers have a history of lying to patients seeking reproductive health care. Missouri lawmakers have even pushed legislation to guarantee CPCs aren’t subject to regulation or oversight. We chose Thrive as the location of our launch to illustrate the contrast between what Missouri politicians fund, prioritize, and protect, versus what Missourians actually need them to focus on.

Someone turned the sprinklers on at Thrive just as activists started showing up, providing a nonstop shower that drenched people walking or standing on much of the sidewalk in front of the building. It was an old-school disruption move that made it clear they knew we were coming and weren’t happy about it. We shifted down the sidewalk and started to get in formation.

Several interns from Thrive came outside and tried to physically disrupt our work by repeatedly moving between activists and attempting to surround us. But when we engaged them in conversation, they didn’t appear to know much about the services Thrive provides or that CPCs get tax credits in Missouri. As our speakers began their remarks, Thrive counselors in bright orange vests held signs and guarded the walkway up to the building. I’m familiar with the vests and signs because they are usually seen stationed in front of Missouri’s only abortion provider a few blocks away.

The speakers were amazing, their topics a damning indictment of the issues that wither on the vine in Jefferson City while politicians compete for the attention of anti-abortion lobbyists. Kirstin Palovick, organizer for the grassroots LGBT equality organization PROMO, explained why it hurts our state that lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people in Missouri can be fired from their jobs, evicted from their homes, and denied access to public accommodations and services. Cicely Paine, fellowship manager at CoreAlign and board chair for Community Birth and Wellness, shared her experience as a sex educator in Missouri, where access to comprehensive sex education is not a right enjoyed by all. Mustafa Abdullah, lead organizer for the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri, passionately detailed the real-world consequences of racial disparities in policing and why police violence is a reproductive justice issue.

I was the final speaker and used my time to talk about why the Black infant mortality rate is a public health crisis worthy of attention and urgency. We ended with chants and a few dances through the shower provided by Thrive’s sprinkler system.

The timing for our campaign launch couldn’t have been better. Shortly after the action at Thrive, the chair of the Senate Interim Committee on the Sanctity of Life announced that there would be a press conference in Jefferson City to discuss a report detailing the results of their “work.” So, Zoe and I took a road trip to the Missouri capitol to witness firsthand what the committee had to say and ask some questions.

At around 1 p.m., several anti-choice members of the committee, including chair Sen. Kurt Schaefer (R-Columbia), gathered in the fourth floor mezzanine in the capitol. Neither Sen. Jill Schupp (D-Creve Coeur) nor Sen. Maria Chappelle Nadal (D-St. Louis), the only pro-choice members of the committee, were in attendance. Neither contributed to the report.

As expected, the yearlong investigation found no evidence that tissue has been illegally sold. Sen. Schaefer acknowledged that the report was not an official report of the committee. Instead, the senators used the press conference to fuss about the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt decision and voice their frustration over not having uncovered much of anything.

“What is clear is there are many things that are unclear,” Sen. Eric Schmitt (R-Glendale) said during the press conference.

On that one point, I agree.

It remains unclear how much this investigation cost Missourians. We deserve a proper accounting for just how much we invested in this farce. But when Reproaction’s Zoe Krause asked that question during the press conference, the senators refused to answer.

It remains unclear why a committee formed under the title “Sanctity of Life” failed to investigate why Missourians are at risk of being killed by gun-wielding toddlers, why gun deaths surpass deaths resulting from car accidents, or why Black women are three times more likely to have an infant die before the child’s first birthday.

What is clear is that the committee’s press conference was partisan because the committee formed as a platform for anti-choice propaganda. It is clear that the anti-abortion videos used as the excuse for forming the committee have been thoroughly debunked.

Sadly, it is more than clear that some members of the committee think they can get away with wasting the people’s time trying to score political points with anti-choice groups.

We drove away from the capitol more committed than ever to the Show-Me Accountability Campaign. Missourians deserve legislators who will prioritize real-world issues, and we will demand accountability from those who fail to do so. Media coverage of our launch has already sparked long-overdue discussions about the damaging consequences of our state legislature’s misplaced priorities.

That’s the kind of fertile soil accountability can grow in, and we intend to see it grow in Missouri. We are in this for dignity, justice, and liberation. And we’re just getting started.