In less than one week, Operation Save America (OSA)—an anti-abortion extremist group—will be descending on Louisville, Kentucky for their annual national action with the goal to “break America’s covenant with death” by blockading the entrance to the last abortion clinic left in the state.
The embattled EMW Women’s Surgical Center is frequently targeted by extremists. Every morning, Tuesday through Saturday, the political debate over abortion spills to the front door of the Louisville clinic, where anti-abortion extremists gather to hurl insults and fake inflammatory images at women who walk by. Clinic escorts are forced to strategically stand at points around the block to help women safely enter the healthcare center.
OSA performed a test run of their blockade at the health center in May, leading to the arrest of ten people. Among those arrested was Rusty Thomas, leader of OSA, who has publicly advocated for punishing women who obtain abortions by charging them with murder.
Last summer, OSA led a similar siege on Wichita, Kansas to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Summer of Mercy, a 1991 blockade during which nearly 2,700 protesters were arrested for blocking access to the clinic, Women’s Health Care Services, for over six weeks. That clinic was run by Dr. George Tiller who was later murdered in his church by an anti-abortion extremist in 2009. Instead of turning out thousands last summer, OSA managed to recruit less than 200 people to the Kansas protests, and almost a quarter of those participating were children. This year, they are hoping that the recent election of Donald Trump will empower more people to come to Kentucky.
During last summer’s protests, Thomas issued an open letter to police calling on them to “insist their states immediately outlaw abortion, grant the police the authority to shut down any death camp in their jurisdiction, and arrest those who participate in the barbaric act of abortion.”
His message has a receptive audience in Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin, who has successfully shut down every other abortion clinic in Kentucky by pursuing licensing disputes through the State Cabinet for Health and Family Services. So far he has blocked the Planned Parenthood from continuing to perform abortions, closed the EMW clinic in Lexington and worked tirelessly to try and shut down the embattled Louisville health center. He was also behind the passing of a 20-week abortion ban and a law requiring doctors to narrate in detail the ultrasounds performed on women seeking abortion.
The Louisville clinic was ordered by Governor Bevin to stop performing abortions in April because of a “deficient” license, but the clinic was granted a temporary restraining order by a federal judge until their lawsuit against the state goes to court in September. Governor Bevin’s brother, Tim Bevin, has even been involved in a protest outside of the clinic.
In February, Governor Bevin actually addressed leaders of OSA in a 30 minute speech. When Governor Bevin met with Thomas and OSA, he mentioned a self-published book by an on-the-fringes, anti-choice extremist Matt Trewhella, a known signatory of a petition called “Justifiable Homicide” that calls for the killing of abortion doctors. What’s more, Trewhella’s book, The Doctrine of the Lesser Magistrates, advocates for lower ranking elected officials and civil servants to disobey federal laws that they believe do not comport with ‘God’s law’ especially abortion.
Blockading the entrance to a clinic is a federal crime under the 1994 Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrance (FACE) Act, which criminalizes the use of force, the threat of force, or physical obstruction to intimidate, harm or prevent someone from obtaining or providing reproductive health services.
However, OSA is the first group to attempt a blockade since the election of Donald Trump, and it is still yet unclear whether or not the nation’s chief law enforcement officer, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, will enforce federal law. As a Senator, Sessions repeatedly and unsuccessfully tried to undermine the right to abortion through legislation, putting him well out of the mainstream, as evidenced by the support he received from anti-abortion extremist Troy Newman, president of Operation Rescue.
Because of the Trump administration’s anti-abortion actions—including Trump’s statement that there should be “some form of punishment” for women seeking abortion, Pence’s keynote speech at the March for Life, and the administration’s expansion of the Global Gag Rule—many feminists are concerned about the future enforcement of the FACE Act.
The Feminist Majority Foundation’s (FMF) 2016 National Clinic Violence Survey recently found that 91.1 percent of clinics experience some type of anti-abortion activity, such as protesting, with 63.2 percent of providers experiencing activity at least once a week, and a quarter of clinics experiencing it every day. FMF produced a spotlight video called Walking the Gauntlet to demonstrate the extreme tactics employed by the anti-abortion industry to intimidate patients, clinic staff and doctors in front of the clinic.
Blocking access to a clinic is considered one of the most severe types of threats and violence experienced by clinics. The number of clinics who report these experiences has skyrocketed since 2014, from 19.7 percent to 34.2 percent.
FMF’s National Clinic Access Project has been traveling to Louisville to monitor OSA, help mobilize community members, fortify the clinic with security equipment, and coordinate appropriate responses with law enforcement. Click here if you would like to help contribute to the Kentucky clinic’s security needs.
Media Resources: Right Wing Watch 6/2/17; Feminist Majority Foundation 8/5/16, 02/2017, 2/14/17, 5/16/17, 5/26/17;