News Abortion

Anti-Choice Protests Target New Orleans Clinics, Homes, Churches

Teddy Wilson

Operation Save America protesters have focused primarily on harassing the staff, volunteers, and patients of reproductive health-care clinics in New Orleans this week. They held a “wake” for what was said to be an aborted fetus in Jackson Square, and gathered at the home of a physician who is an abortion provider.

In the first few days of planned protests in New Orleans, anti-choice activists have disrupted the community by targeting reproductive health-care clinics, personal residences, and even houses of worship in the hopes of intimidating abortion providers and reproductive rights supporters.

Operation Save America protesters have focused primarily on harassing the staff, volunteers, and patients of reproductive health-care clinics.

The organization is targeting two New Orleans clinics that provide abortion care, a construction site where a Planned Parenthood facility is being built, and the home of a physician who is an abortion provider. Other locations throughout the city have also seen protesters, including along busy streets.

Mayor Mitch Landrieu came under criticism for issuing a proclamation recognizing Operation Save America, thoug that proclamation was retracted Tuesday. “It is customary for the city to provide standard proclamations to visiting groups that request them through the city’s website,” Tyler Gamble, a spokesperson for Mayor Landrieu, told the Uptown Messenger. “To be clear, the city does not endorse extreme or violent tactics, and this proclamation was issued in error.”

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According to reports, there was a protest staged inside the First Unitarian Universalist Church on Sunday, interrupting a memorial service for a church member who recently died. The anti-choice protesters denounced the denomination, and referred to the church as a “synagogue of Satan.”

Protesters held a “wake” for what was said to be an aborted fetus in Jackson Square. Arriving around 10:00 Tuesday morning, participants gathered around a white box said to contain “a very large fetus.” The protesters named the fetus “Amos,” and claimed that it came from outside of New Orleans.

During the demonstration, protest director Flip Benham said to the crowd, “In 1995 there were ten abortion clinics in New Orleans, now there is just one [sic]. Our prayer is that the last one will be closed and that the Planned Parenthood under construction will never be built.”

The protesters are no strangers to law enforcement. “Many of us have just come from jail after being arrested protesting at other abortion mills,” Benham told the NOLA Defender.

The Causeway Medical Clinic, one of the two clinics that provide abortion care in New Orleans, was the target of protesters Saturday. The Times-Picayune reported that there were 55 protesters; clinic volunteers told Rewire that there were as many as 75.

Stephanie White, a volunteer escort at the clinic, told Rewire that the situation was intimidating and overwhelming. “In the beginning I was very overwhelmed,” said White. “But by the end I was just annoyed and really angry.”

White says protesters gathered on the sidewalk only a few feet away from the clinic; one male protester used a megaphone to proselytize. The protesters attempted to engage with both patients and escorts. White says that men who entered the clinic with women companions had their masculinity questioned by protesters.

“It’s a hard enough choice to do this in general,” said White. “I was extremely offended that someone would show up and scream at someone as they are walking out of the clinic after getting a very personal procedure.”

Elizabeth Brusseau, who lives in the neighborhood of the physician whose home was the target of protesters, told Rewire that between 20 and 30 people gathered near the physician’s home on Saturday. “If you had never been there before you would have thought it was an abortion clinic they were protesting,” said Brusseau.

The protesters, which included children, held signs with pictures that depicted fetuses, and arrows identifying the physician’s home. They gathered on the sidewalk on both sides of the street, and on the median that separates northbound and southbound traffic.

Brusseau says that when she and her mother joined a small group of people from the neighborhood who were there to show support, they also became a target of the protesters. According to Brusseau, a male protester using a megaphone verbally attacked them. “He accused me of doing lines of cocaine every morning and [said] that I was only mad that they were there because I had abortions myself. He asked my mother if I had a father and accused her of having children out of wedlock,” said Brusseau. “They said all kinds of very nasty things.”

Reproductive rights advocates told Rewire that local law enforcement have maintained a constant presence in the protest zones, stretching thin a police force that also has to respond to violent crime on a daily basis.

The protests come in the wake of legislative efforts to reduce access to reproductive health care in Louisiana, which pro-choice advocates report are already having a negative impact on reproductive health.

Organizer Rusty Thomas told the Times-Picayune that Operation Save America was encouraged by a new Louisiana law, which opponents say will likely shut down three of the five abortion clinics in the state.

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.

News Law and Policy

Lawsuit Challenges Anti-Choice Laws Passed by Louisiana Lawmakers

Teddy Wilson

The lawsuit comes in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark decision that struck down two provisions of Texas’ omnibus anti-choice law known as HB 2.

The Center for Reproductive Rights filed a lawsuit Friday in federal district court challenging abortion restrictions passed by Louisiana lawmakers this year.

Despite facing a budget crisis, lawmakers passed seven laws that restricted access to reproductive health care, including abortion services, which the Center for Reproductive Rights claims “individually, and cumulatively” unduly restrict the “constitutional right to abortion.”

Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, said in a statement that the laws collectively create a “web of red tape” that restrict women’s ability to access reproductive health care.

“Louisiana politicians are trying to do what the U.S. Supreme Court just ruled decisively they cannot, burying women’s right to safe and legal abortion under an avalanche of unjustified and burdensome restrictions,” Northup said.

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The lawsuit comes in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark decision that struck down two provisions of Texas’ omnibus anti-choice law known as HB 2.

Stephen Griffin, a constitutional law professor at Tulane University, told the Times-Picayune that the Supreme Court’s ruling on HB 2 was a “strong rebuke” of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals that upheld the law.

“I think the Louisiana law and any similar laws are going to be struck down,” Griffin said. “[Justice Ruth Bader] Ginsburg filed a reminder to courts that the five-member majority is going to be looking very skeptically at targeted regulation of abortion providers.”

Among the laws challenged is a law similar to Texas’ HB 2.

HB 488 requires that physicians providing abortion care be licensed to practice medicine in Louisiana and that they be board-certified or board-eligible in obstetrics and gynecology or family medicine. Previously, the law required that a physician be licensed to practice medicine in Louisiana and be currently enrolled in or have completed a residency in obstetrics and gynecology or family medicine.

The bill was sponsored by Rep. Katrina Jackson (D-Monroe), who in 2014 authored the state’s Texas-style admitting privileges law. The law is the subject of another Center for Reproductive Rights lawsuit, and is currently blocked by a Supreme Court decision.

Ben Clapper, executive director of Louisiana Right to Life, told the Times-Picayune that the Supreme Court’s ruling on HB 2 “does not predict a favorable forecast” for a similar law passed in Louisiana.

“The sad thing here as we see it is that these judges are replacing the elected officials and the legislative process as the determiner of what is medically important or not,” Clapper said. “We don’t believe that’s how it should be.”

Among the other laws challenged include those that restrict abortion procedures, require a waiting period before an abortion, impose restrictions on the handling of fetal tissue, and ban public funding for organizations that provide abortion services.

HB 1081 targets a procedure known as dilation and evacuation (D and E), which is frequently used during second-trimester abortions. A growing number of states have passed laws to ban the procedure, while state courts have blocked such measures passed by GOP lawmakers in Oklahoma and Kansas.

HB 386 tripled the state’s waiting period for a pregnant patient seeking an abortion from 24 hours to 72 hours.

HB 1019 prohibits a person from intentionally performing or attempting to perform an abortion with knowledge that the pregnant patient is seeking the abortion solely because the “unborn child” has been diagnosed with either a genetic abnormality or a potential for a genetic abnormality.

HB 815 prohibits the buying, selling, and any other transfer of the “intact body of a human embryo or fetus” obtained from an induced abortion. The law also prohibits the buying, selling, and any other transfer of “organs, tissues, or cells obtained from a human embryo or fetus whose death was knowingly caused by an induced abortion.”

In addition, it “require[s] burial or cremation of remains resulting from abortion,” which acts as a de facto medication abortion ban, since an embryo miscarried at home, through medication abortion, cannot in practice be buried or cremated.

SB 33, similar to HB 815, prohibits the sale, receipt, and transport of fetal organs and body parts obtained from an induced abortion. Any person who violates this provision would be sentenced to a term of imprisonment at hard labor between ten to 50 years, at least ten years of which must be served without benefit of probation or suspension of sentence, and may, in addition, be required to pay a fine of not more than $50,000.

HB 606 prohibits entities that perform abortions from receiving public funding, unless the abortion was necessary to save the life of the pregnant patient, the pregnancy was a result of incest or rape, or the pregnancy was diagnosed as “medically futile.”

Most of the bills were passed with significant bipartisan support, and were signed into law by Gov. John Bel Edwards (D). Each of the laws is set to take effect on August 1. 

”We are asking the district court to immediately block these unconstitutional laws,” Northup said.