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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Landrieu came under criticism for issuing a proclamation recognizing Operation Save America, thoug that proclamation was retracted Tuesday.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.

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