Less than two hours after bombings tore through Monday’s Boston Marathon, Jennifer Rubin, who writes the Right Turn column for the Washington Post, tweeted an anti-choice potshot about the trial of Kermit Gosnell, a provider of illegal abortions.
That language—”a local crime story”—is a direct reference to Rubin’s colleague, Washington Post reporter Sarah Kliff, who has been widely criticized by conservatives and anti-choicers for not covering the Gosnell story. When confronted on Twitter about not covering the story on April 11, Kliff said that she had not covered Gosnell because “I cover policy for the Washington Post, not local crime.” As Amanda Marcotte noted at Slate, “It was exactly the wrong response. … By Friday morning Kliff’s tweet was prima facie evidence for conservatives that the media was spiking the story.”
Two hours after Rubin sent that tweet, and four hours after the bombings, Rubin tweeted an agreement with conservative blogger Erick Erickson that the day was not one for beating up on President Obama. At the time of publishing she has not responded to an inquiry about why she feels attacks on President Obama are an inappropriate response to the Boston bombing, but using the tragedy to lob anti-choice potshots at a colleague about the Gosnell trial is acceptable.
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Representatives from radical anti-abortion group Operation Rescue praised Trump’s commitment to its shared values during the event. “I’m very impressed that Mr. Trump would sit with conservative leaders for multiple questions, and then give direct answers,” said the organization's president, Troy Newman, who was in attendance at a question-and-answer event on Tuesday.
Making a play to win over the evangelical community, presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump met with more than 1,000 faith and anti-choice leaders on Tuesday for a question-and-answer event in New York City and launched an “evangelical advisory board” to weigh in on how he should approach key issues for the voting bloc.
The meeting was meant to be “a guided discussion between Trump and diverse conservative Christian leaders to better understand him as a person, his position on important issues and his vision for America’s future,” according to a press release from the event’s organizers. As Rewire previously reported, numerous anti-choice and anti-LGBTQ leaders—many of them extremists—were slated to attend.
Though the event was closed to the media, Trump reportedly promised to lift a ban on tax-exempt organizations from politicking and discussed his commitment to defending religious liberties. Trump’s pitch to conservatives also included a resolution that upon his election, “the first thing we will do is support Supreme Court justices who are talented men and women, and pro-life,” according to a press release from United in Purpose, which helped organize the event.
Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the anti-choice Susan B. Anthony List, told the New York Times that the business mogul also reiterated promises to defund Planned Parenthood and to pass the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, a 20-week abortion ban based on the medically unsupported claim that a fetus feels pain at that point in a pregnancy.
In a post to its website, representatives from radical anti-abortion group Operation Rescue praised Trump’s commitment to their shared values during the event. “I’m very impressed that Mr. Trump would sit with conservative leaders for multiple questions, and then give direct answers,” said the group’s president, Troy Newman, who was in attendance. “I don’t believe anything like this has ever happened.” The post went on to note that Trump had also said he would appoint anti-choice justices to federal courts, and repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA).
Just after the event, Trump’s campaign announced the formation of an evangelical advisory board. The group was “convenedto provide advisory support to Mr. Trump on those issues important to Evangelicals and other people of faith in America,” according to a press release from the campaign. Though members of the board, which will lead Trump’s “much larger Faith and Cultural Advisory Committee to be announced later this month,” were not asked to endorse Trump, the campaign went on to note that “the formation of the board represents Donald J. Trump’s endorsement of those diverse issues important to Evangelicals and other Christians, and his desire to have access to the wise counsel of such leaders as needed.”
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Much like the group that met with Trump onTuesday, the presumptive Republican nominee’s advisory board roster reads like a who’s-who of conservatives with radical opposition to abortion and LGBTQ equality. Here are some of the group’s most notable members:
Though former Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann once claimed that “women don’t need anyone to tell them what to do on health care” while arguing against the ACA during a 2012 appearance on NBC’s Meet the Press, her views on the government’s role in restrictingreproductive health and rights don’t square away with that position.
During a December 2011 “tele-town hall” event hosted by anti-choice organization Personhood USA, Bachmann reportedly falsely referred to emergency contraception as “abortion pills” and joined other Republican then-presidential candidates to advocate for making abortion illegal, even in cases of rape, incest, or life endangerment. During the event, Bachmann touted her support of the anti-choice group’s “personhood pledge,” which required presidential candidates to agree that:
I stand with President Ronald Reagan in supporting “the unalienable personhood of every American, from the moment of conception until natural death,” and with the Republican Party platform in affirming that I “support a human life amendment to the Constitution, and endorse legislation to make clear that the 14th Amendment protections apply to unborn children.
Such a policy, if enacted by lawmakers, could outlaw abortion and many forms of contraception. A source from Personhood USA told the Huffington Post that Bachmann “signed the pledge and returned it within twenty minutes, which was an extraordinarily short amount of time.”
Televangelist Mark Burns has been an ardent supporter of Trump, even appearing on behalf of the presidential candidate at February’s Faith and Family Forum, hosted by the conservativePalmetto Family Council, to deliver an anti-abortion speech.
In March, Burns also claimed that he supported Donald Trump because Democrats like Hillary Clinton supported Black “genocide” (a frequently invokedconservative myth) during an appearance on the fringe-conspiracy program, the Alex Jones show. “That’s really one of my major platforms behind Donald Trump,” said Burns, according to the Daily Beast. “He loves babies. Donald Trump is a pro-baby candidate, and it saddens me how we as African Americans are rallying behind … a party that is okay with the genocide of Black people through abortion.”
Burns’ support of Trump extended to the candidate’s suggestion that if abortion was made illegal, those who have abortions should be punished—an issue on which Trump has repeatedly shifted stances. “If the state made it illegal and said the premature death of an unborn child constituted murder, anyone connected to that crime should be held liable,” Burns told the Wall Street Journal in April. “If you break the law there should be punishment.”
Kenneth and Gloria Copeland
Kenneth and Gloria Copeland founded Kenneth Copeland Ministries (KCM), which, according to itsmission statement, exists to “teach Christians worldwide who they are in Christ Jesus and how to live a victorious life in their covenant rights and privileges.” Outlining their opposition to abortion in a post this month on the organization’s website, the couple wrote that abortion is wrong even in cases of rape, incest, or life endangerment. “As the author of life, God considers an unborn child to be an eternal being from the moment of its conception,” explained the post. “To deliberately destroy that life before birth would be as much premeditated murder as taking the life of any other innocent person.”
The article went on to say that though it may “seem more difficult in cases such as those involving rape or incest” not to choose abortion, “God has a plan for the unborn child,” falsely claiming that the threat of life endangerment has “been almost completely alleviated through modern medicine.”
The ministries’ website also features Pregnancy Options Centre, a crisis pregnancy center (CPC) in Vancouver, Canada, that receives “financial and spiritual support” from KCM and “its Partners.” The vast majority ofCPCs regularly lie to women in order to persuade them not to have an abortion.
Kenneth Copeland, in a June 2013 sermon, tied pedophilia to the Supreme Court’s decision in Roe v. Wade, going on to falsely claim that the ruling did not actually legalize abortion and that the decision was “the seed to murder our seed.” Copeland blamed legal abortion for the country’s economic woes, reasoning that there are “several million taxpayers that are not alive.”
Copeland, a televangelist, originally supported former Republican presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz (TX) in the 2016 Republican primary, claiming that the candidate had been “called and appointed” by God to be the next president. His ministry has previously faced scrutiny about its tax-exempt status under an investigation led by Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) into six ministries “whose television preaching bankrolled leaders’ lavish lifestyles.” This investigation concluded in 2011, according to the New York Times.
James Dobson, founder and chairman emeritus of Focus on the Family (FoF), previously supported Cruz in the Republican primary, releasing an ad for the campaign in February praising Cruz for defending “the sanctity of human life and traditional marriage.” As Rewirepreviously reported, both Dobson and his organization hold numerous extreme views:
Dobson’s FoF has spent millions promoting its anti-choice and anti-LGBTQ extremism, even dropping an estimated $2.5 million in 2010 to fund an anti-choice Super Bowl ad featuring conservative football player Tim Tebow. Dobson also founded the … Family Research Council, now headed by Tony Perkins.
Dobson’s own personalrhetoric is just as extreme as the causes his organization pushes. As extensively documented by Right Wing Watch,
A Fox News contributor and senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Dallas, Jeffress once suggested that the 9/11 attacks took place because of legal abortion. “All you have to do is look in history to see what God does with a nation that sanctions the killing of its own children,” said Jeffress at Liberty University’s March 2015 convocation, according to Right Wing Watch. “God will not allow sin to go unpunished and he certainly won’t allow the sacrifice of children to go unpunished.”
Jeffress spoke about the importance of electing Trump during a campaign rally in February, citing Democrats’ positions on abortion rights and Trump’s belief “in protecting the unborn.” He went on to claim that if Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) or Hillary Clinton were elected, “there is no doubt you’re going to have the most pro-abortion president in history.”
After Trump claimed women who have abortions should be punished should it become illegal, Jeffres rushed to defend the Republican candidate from bipartisan criticism, tweeting: “Conservatives’ outrage over @realDonaldTrump abortion comments hypocritical. Maybe they don’t really believe abortion is murder.”
As documented by Media Matters, Jeffress has frequently spoken out against those of other religions and denominations, claiming that Islam is “evil” and Catholicism is “what Satan does with counterfeit religion.” The pastor has also demonstrated extreme opposition to LGBTQ equality, even claiming that same-sex marriage is a sign of the apocalypse.
Richard Land, now president of the Southern Evangelical Seminary, was named one of TimeMagazine‘s “25 Most Influential Evangelicals in America” in 2005 for his close ties with the Republican party. While George W. Bush was president, Land participated in the administration’s “weekly teleconference with other Christian conservatives, to plot strategy on such issues as gay marriage and abortion.” Bush also appointed Land to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom in 2002.
According to a 2002 article from the Associated Press, during his early academic career in Texas, “Land earned a reputation as a leader among abortion opponents and in 1987 became an administrative assistant to then-Texas Gov. Bill Clements, who fought for laws to restrict a woman’s right to an abortion” in the state.
Land had previously expressed “dismay” that some evangelicals were supporting Trump, claiming in October that he “take[s] that [support] as a failure on our part to adequately disciple our people.”
In February 2013, several other people and I were escorting patients to the Jackson Women’s Health Organization (JWHO), the last abortion clinic in Mississippi. Amid the protesters from Operation Rescue (OR) and Operation Save America (OSA) who were in their usual places holding big gory bloody fetus signs, shouting “Don’t kill your baby,” and reading scripture loudly, I saw a few people wearing “I’m an abolitionist” t-shirts. These picketers seemed a bit more aggressive: When they saw Black patients, they would yell, “Do you know abortion is Black genocide?”
I was gobsmacked. As a Black woman who can trace her family back to a plantation in Alabama, who that very day was standing on the ground that my Black ancestors died cultivating and helping to settle after it was stolen from our Native American sisters and brothers, the slogan on these newcomers’ t-shirts and their messages to patients were deeply, deeply offensive to me.
That was the first time I remember seeing members of Abolish Human Abortion (AHA), the group who has now made it its business to disrupt—and many would say terrorize—Fondren, the Jackson neighborhood that has been home to JWHO for nearly 20 years. Last month, it took its strategy to an even more intense level by launching what its members call the “Project Nineveh March.” But rather than convincing people who aren’t sure where they stand to come to the anti-choice side, their extreme tactics have pushed some locals toward supporting reproductive health clinics.
What Is AHA?
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Before 2013, no JWHO volunteers or other local activists can recall seeing the AHA in Jackson. The small, mostly white and male, Oklahoma-based group is fairly new to the anti-choice scene. Still, reproductive justice activists and clinic defense workers already recognize them to be militant and extreme.
AHA members don’t consider themselves to be “pro-life”; instead, they call themselves abolitionists. According to the organization’s website, “When you call yourself ‘pro-life,’ you are letting people know what you think about abortion. When you call yourself an abolitionist, you are telling them what you aim to do about it.”
The only way to ensure “abolition,” according to the AHA, is to change the sinful culture they feel openly condones “child sacrifice in the form of abortion.” There is no middle ground; they are all or nothing. In addition to abortion, they believe in-vitro fertilization is murder. Hormonal birth control and emergency contraception are too. If anyone reads the AHA’s website or interacts with its supporters, it becomes clear their goal is to convert people to their version of Christianity, which will eventually change the culture at large to a place where it is unthinkable for anyone to attempt to access these services. In its members’ view, there is no way to be Christian and pro-choice, because abortion is evil and against God.
For the AHA, belief in religion is central to being part of its movement, and its supporters disdain “pro-lifers” who do not use religion as the central justification for their beliefs or work toward immediate abortion abolition as their only goal. Even so, AHA members attend OSA and OR events, and vice versa; while these anti-choice groups are deeply rooted in fundamentalist Christianity, they often focus on attacking abortion access through regulation rather than on eradication altogether. According to the AHA website, one can be a secular “pro-lifer,” but not a secular abolitionist, since, “To be an abolitionist you must believe in a higher law. One does not need to believe in a higher law or deity to embrace an adverse opinion regarding abortion.”
If the title abolitionist calls to mind images of the United States’ history of slavery, that is by design. AHA is known for its use of imagery and language borrowed from anti-slavery organizations and civil rights groups. Its members are not opposed to using slavery metaphors and imagery of enslaved Africans in their literature, videos, and protest language. One YouTube video posted by the AHA, for example, shows a white male member pointing to a white Jackson police officer and telling his Black colleague, “A couple hundred years ago, this guy would have owned you as a slave.” The AHA member went on to describe the way the Black officer would have been dehumanized if he had been enslaved by his white co-worker, claiming that the white officer would have enjoyed doing so.
AHA members see nothing racist, wrong, or problematic with these kinds of statements, which co-opt civil rights struggles for their own use. They have said as much in many of their online videos as well as their written posts; they have also stated such things when directly confronted by Black citizens of Jackson. Somehow, the fact that they exploit images of Black pain or that they are a group of mostly white men targeting and harassing Black women at clinics is lost on them. They think being in-your-face and offensive is needed to bring change and “shine a light,” as they say, on the “sin and evil” of abortion, IVF, and hormonal birth control.
Most of all, though, they seem concerned that the residents of Jackson are not distressed enough that these things exist in the area. The AHA named Jackson “The City of Blood” this year in its literature and several videos, even though Mississippi has one of the lowest abortion rates in the nation and little access to birth control. It also has one of the highest rates of church attendance in the country. Still, any reproductive rights at all are apparently too much for the AHA.
Why the Fever for Fondren?
Except for its supporters’ appearances at clinic protests and one attack targeting me and my children on Twitter, the AHA was pretty much invisible in the Jackson area during 2013 and early 2014. In late 2014, though, there were rumblings online and throughout the activist community that AHA was starting a specific chapter in the Jackson area. This would mean rather than just parachuting in and causing chaos, they would be building a base of people to keep up a persistent presence like they have done elsewhere.
Now, to understand why AHA—and every anti-choice group in the country—wants to be in Jackson, you need only reflect on the last three years of legislative and legal activity around abortion rights. JWHO, or the “Pink House,” is the only clinic in Mississippi, and its ability to stay open hinges on the latest court ruling from the federal Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. The clinic has been to court several times, but every time, anti-choicers hope this will be the time they can dance on the grave of the Pink House and say they helped make Mississippi “abortion-free.” As the case bounces through the courts, more anti-choice activity has been arising—including the establishment of the Jackson AHA chapter.
The residents and businesses of Fondren have long ago become somewhat accustomed to the people who occupy the sidewalks outside the clinic. And if there is one thing I’ve learned in my time as an escort, the president of Mississippi National Organization for Women, and the co-founder of an abortion fund, it’s that even in Mississippi, the buckle of the Bible Belt, clinic protesters get very little love from the community. Business owners who are “pro-life” and do not actually support the clinic, per se, will all come together in agreement that the harassment outside the clinic isn’t “sidewalk counseling” or good for anyone. It creates a hostile and abusive environment around the clinic that, by design, spills over onto other businesses. Fondren is also full of vocal supporters of the Pink House.
When this new chapter of AHA arrived at JWHO toward the end of 2014, the well-trained Pink House Defenders who volunteer to do clinic defense and escorting were ready for their arrival. They had made a few signs specific to AHA. One had a host of things AHA could stand for, like “angry hateful adults,” “annoying hecklers awaiting,” “anti abortion hoax advocates,” and “Americans Hating Americans.” Another sign took the AHA logo and turned it into a logo that says PHD, for Pink House Defenders. AHA members expressed their discontent with these signs verbally at JWHO, then later railed against them on social media.
But unlike OR, OSA, and other local anti-choice efforts, the Jackson AHA—with some out-of-town help—has decided to go several steps further than yelling at patients in front of the Pink House. On Easter Weekend 2015, the national AHA began a series of campaigns it called Project Nineveh, in which its members “go out into the cities, highways, and byways calling all to repent of their apathy and participation in child sacrifice.” In Jackson, that means going to local schools, protesting churches near the clinic on Palm and Easter Sunday, and interrupting the Zippity Doo Dah parade held by the Sweet Potato Queens annually to raise money for Mississippi’s only children’s hospital.
AHA has also made handouts specifically targeting the Fondren neighborhood, in which it used a local landmark’s logo and called the clinic—as well as surrounding businesses and churches—“bad neighbors” to embryos. All of Fondren is “evil” and “full of blood,” according to one AHA video, because the community stays silent rather than “rises up” against the “child murder” occurring in its midst—not that the AHA ever defines what “rising up” would entail. These are different from the one-size-fits-all-cities fliers the AHA normally uses. Its supporters are leaving these slickly produced pamphlets, which are full of bloody fetus imagery, all over the Jackson metro area, placing them on shelves (often next to Plan B) and even alongside items at local businesses.
Stephen Wilson and his partner found this out firsthand when they visited Bass Pro Shop in Pearl, Mississippi. Wilson told me, “When I found the literature, I was appalled that those images were within reach of children.” Wilson continued, “I photographed the literature, and placed it in the trash where it belonged. I’m strongly pro-choice and it struck one of my liberal chords.”
Wilson isn’t the only resident who is disgusted and fed up. Since the incidents beginning on Easter weekend, the ongoing campaigning has many residents commenting on public forums regarding their dislike for AHA tactics, which have also included leaving their drop cards at pharmacies on shelves next to Plan B and aggressively talking to and taping local children without parental permission. On the AHA Facebook page, locals have expressed both their support for the clinic and their disgust at the tactics of the group.
Fondren residentScott Crawford commented, for example, “I’m proud to live just down the street from Jackson’s Woman’s Health Organization, and I stand with women and their right to choose. Those circulating hateful literature are the bad neighbors.” Some neighborhood residents have been talking about ways to combat the group’s aggressive strategies. No one has come up with a clearly defined way to let AHA know it is unwanted yet, but many people in the area have simply committed to collecting and throwing away AHA literature whenever they see it.
Michelle Colon of the Pink House Defenders thinks that AHA likely made the Fondren-specific fliers after exchanges with her and other members of the PHD, in which Colon said JWHO was “the heart of Fondren.” JWHO has been unapologetic about providing abortion services and being a part of the neighborhood, a message AHA clearly wants to turn into a negative.
However, the AHA members are betraying their ignorance of the community they’re invading. “They don’t even know Jackson,” Colon pointed out. “They thought the Zippity Do Dah parade was a Pride parade,” she said. The Sweet Potato Queens, who have hosted the parade in Jackson for over a decade, are mostly made up of cisgender, middle-class, straight white women. AHA described the parade on a YouTube video as being full of “pole dancers and drag queens.”
From the ground, it seems as if AHA is making few friends and many enemies with its blatant racism and extremism. A coalition of activists, residents, and business and community leaders is beginning to call for action to combat the group’s manipulation of the law in order to push its message. But overall, the best weapon against the AHA is showing its members they aren’t welcome and no one wants to listen to them. People aren’t receptive to being harassed on the street as they conduct their day-to-day affairs—and when they make the connection that this is what women experience as they enter clinics, they tend toward empathy for patients rather than support for the AHA.
AHA’s presence is helping to create the kind of dialogue among people who usually wouldn’t work together necessary to fight the harassment of anti-choice extremists. For me, that doesn’t make dealing with them in our city worth it. But it is a good thing for the abortion rights, pro-choice, and reproductive justice movements.
In the South, it is rare that people who are on the fence or even timidly support abortion rights would come out and vocally oppose anti-choice groups. Mostly people turn their eyes away, or see them as a benevolent educational, religious, and caring force. But AHA’s tactics are revealing the ugly, extreme face of the movement, and their true views regarding birth control and IVF too. Jackson’s lone pink clinic has been enduring this abuse for years. Now that the harassment is consistently spilling out into the community, people are finding that they have to make a choice. They can buy into the terroristic narrative that the harassment is the clinic’s own fault, or recognize that this kind of behavior is not OK and must be stood up to.
It appears that many people in Jackson—and Fondren specifically—are realizing that bullies must not be tolerated, even if you don’t fully like or support the target of the bullying. And this should be a wake-up call for AHA supporters as they attempt to spread their hateful messages across the country: If they can’t find a receptive audience in the buckle of the Bible Belt, they are unlikely to find one anywhere.