The doors to the last remaining abortion clinic in Kentucky were blockaded on Saturday by a group of anti-abortion extremists, leading to the arrest of ten people outside the EMW Women’s Surgical Center in Louisville. Under the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrance (FACE) Act, it is a federal crime to block access to a reproductive healthcare center because of the services offered there.
Among those arrested was Rusty Thomas, leader of the anti-abortion extremist group Operation Save America, who just last summer hosted a week long-campaign against women’s health centers in Wichita, Kansas called the Summer of Justice. Thomas has publicly advocated for punishing women who obtain abortions by charging them with murder. He said he intends to plan another obstruction of the Kentucky clinic for July.
Over the last year, Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin has been trying to shut down every abortion clinic in the state 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 shut down the embattled Louisville health center.
Kentucky had 17 abortion providers in 1978, and now, like North Dakota, South Dakota, Missouri, Mississippi, Wyoming and West Virginia, only has one. The sole Louisville clinic was ordered by the governor to stop performing abortions in April because of a “deficient” license, but was granted a temporary restraining order by a federal judge until their lawsuit against the state goes to court in September.
In January, Kentucky passed a 20-week abortion ban and a law requiring doctors to narrate in detail the ultrasounds performed on women seeking abortion.
The New York Times reports that 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.
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. These may appear to be ordinary protesters, but many are in fact trained operatives engaged in a systematic campaign to shut down access to women’s health clinics.
Blocking access to a clinic, like what was done in Louisville on Saturday, 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.
“We’ve been doing this survey since 1993 and seen time and time again that this rhetoric quickly escalates to threats. And when threats go up, violence occurs,” said Eleanor Smeal, president of the Feminist Majority Foundation. “You cannot consistently call women and doctors murderers and then escape responsibility when others are emboldened to commit violence.”
Media Resources: Jezebel 5/13/17; New York Times 5/2/17; Feminist Majority Foundation 2/17