ST. LOUIS – Large men puff out their chests at male volunteers in an attempt to instigate conflict. Anti-choice protesters intimidate and follow volunteers as they exit the clinic property. A man carries a rifle bag revealing a shofar-like horn that he periodically sounds between the crowd’s recitations of passages from the book of Revelations. Children pace the sidewalk with red duct tape across their mouths while adults point and shout at clinic volunteers. Large posters damning abortion are held by adult men who call the patients entering the clinic “mommy” and “daddy.”
Operation Save America traveled to St. Louis to rally outside Central West End Planned Parenthood from September 16-20. Operation Save America is a fundamentalist Christian organization based out of North Carolina known for its opposition to abortion, homosexuality, and non-Christian religions. Operation Save America protested outside of Planned Parenthood’s gated property, Barnes-Jewish Hospital, and Hope Clinic in Granite City, Illinois.
This is not an unusual spectacle. But the recent attacks made by conservative legislators and GOP presidential candidates, relying on a slew of heavilyedited videos conducted by a so-called “pro-life” organization activists posing as medical officials, fuel the ongoing hatred of women perpetuated by fundamentalist Christian anti-choice groups such as Operation Save America.
With them, they brought various methods and tactics to harass clinic patients, staff, and volunteers. One particular method was the “Truth Truck,” a van plastered with oversized graphic images of what are supposedly aborted fetuses that zoomed up and down Forest Park Avenue.
A member of NARAL Pro-Choice Missouri notes that these “Truth Trucks” have been used by anti-abortion groups for years. She recalls the first time she saw one: “I saw this 15-foot cargo van that had been plastered with anti-abortion imagery, most of which depicted the gory signage that has been used by anti-abortion protesters for decades. It looked fairly amateurish but I know there are now some that appear professionally done. The unfortunate thing is that they are driven along public streets and highways so it’s hard to look away when they are right in front of your car. It’s typical, however, of many anti-abortion activists, to force this visual brutality.”
Preaching to patients
Many anti-choice protestors trick patients to get the chance to preach to them. Often protestors will place a sign at the front of the gates which reads “Check in here,” with those around the sign wearing bright colored vests, leading some patients to believe the protesters are actually with Planned Parenthood. This is an attempt to manipulate or scare patients with misinformation about the abortion procedure so they will reconsider seeking Planned Parenthood’s services.
Verbal harassment is heavily employed by anti-choice protesters. During Operation Save America’s visit to St. Louis, the anti-choice crowd surrounding the clinic property let loose an unusual juxtaposition of “God wants you to keep your child, please come talk with us” among shouts of “You are responsible for the deaths of millions of babies.”
A volunteer escort for the clinic reports, “I didn’t hear anyone say anything supportive of their actual cause, either. It was more of just yelling at the women or the people they were with…to make them feel bad, not to actually ‘help’ anyone. At one point, a woman I was escorting was almost to the point of tears, just overwhelmed with what was going on around her, probably the loudspeakers the protesters were using and the amount of people around. We got up to the Planned Parenthood steps and she turned to me and thanked me for what I was doing because ‘this is just ridiculous what they’re doing out here.'”
The hypocrisy is nothing new, considering how fundamentalist groups tend to be full of contradictions. Love thy neighbor, unless your neighbor happens to be a woman in charge of her reproductive health.
They play upon people’s sense of guilt in a number of different ways. I spoke once again with a member of NARAL Pro-Choice Missouri who commented that, “A new tactic that one of the anti-abortion protesters uses consists of attaching baby clothes on hangers from the lower branches of trees along the fence at the clinic. He yells at entering patients, ‘Tell me what you need – anything – we can help you! Do you need help with your rent? Car note? Getting a job? We can help you with all of that!’ I often wonder why, if that is so, he isn’t helping women who are presently struggling with those things instead of harassing women who have already made a decision about their reproductive health?”
Anti-choice groups have amplified the harassment directed towards clinic staff and patients and have incessantly pushed for state legislatures to defund Planned Parenthood. These extremist groups carry out the agendas of anti-choice politicians, particularly Republican presidential candidates with well publicized stances against abortion services such as Ted Cruz, Jeb Bush, and Carly Fiorina.
Although Republicans assure Americans that women can thrive without Planned Parenthood, research suggests otherwise. Presidential candidate Jeb Bush defunded Planned Parenthood during his time as governor of Florida, and to no surprise, Florida currently ranks as one of the worst states for women and children’s overall well-being according to a study conducted by the Center for Reproductive Rights. This is a trend among other states that have defunded PP and/or have strict policies when it comes to women’s health care services, including Ohio and Texas.
The need for Planned Parenthood
Planned Parenthood remains the only resource in terms of OB/GYN care for hundreds of thousands of women with few to no other options, especially poor women, women of color, adolescents, and the uninsured.
Publicly funded clinics not only benefit women’s bodily autonomy, but they also benefit the statewide economy. According to the Guttmacher Institute, “the publicly funded family planning services provided at safety-net health centers in 2010 helped save $155,334,000 in public funds. That accounts for savings from reduced maternity and birth-related costs, along with reduced costs related to miscarriage and abortion and savings related to STI screening and cervical cancer prevention services.”
In summary, by defunding Planned Parenthood, society suffers not only from an economic standpoint but most importantly, millions of women and girls are denied their human right to accessible healthcare, something Operation Save America prays to see women go without. Protesters will continue to pace the sidewalks harassing patients, threatening volunteers, and calling for the end of Planned Parenthood but that will not prevent women from entering the Central West End clinic. No matter the deceitful misinformation, nor how many gory images or empty promises offered, women will continue to navigate through all of these obstacles in pursuit of their rightful healthcare.
Photo: Jacquelyn Martin/AP