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Phoenix Clinics Remain Open Despite Anti-Abortion Siege

Arizona reproductive health care facilities remained open and accessible during anti-abortion group Operation Save America’s (OSA) annual national summer siege, dubbed “Further Up & Further In.”  Extremists from across the nation traveled to Maricopa County June 22nd through June 26th to join OSA to target area abortion providers with disruptive protests and to oversee the installation of a new leader.  OSA’s turnout was low, but the threat of potential clinic blockades pervaded the event since two prominent OSA members have organized four clinic blockades in Michigan, Tennessee, and Arkansas this past year. 

Rusty Thomas, who led OSA for seven years, stepped down and Associate OSA Director Jason Storms, who has expressed support for the “justifiable homicide” statement which condones violence against abortion providers, was installed as the new leader.

Storms supports the death penalty for individuals who obtain or provide abortions. Moreover, it was Storms who led a group of OSA adherents to Washington DC to participate in the January 6th riots at the Capitol. Many of his social media posts feature or glorify weapons, including recent photos of members of his family in prom dresses carrying AR-15s and posts with threatening references to federal and state authorities and stopping the “infectious disease of tyranny” with multiple “lead vaccinations.”

Storms is a protégé of his father-in-law Matt Trewhella, a rabid anti-vaxxer, signatory of the “justifiable homicide” (aka the Defensive Action statement authored by an extremist who killed a physician and his clinic escort in Florida), and the architect of a doctrine encouraging law enforcement, legislators and judges to defy state and federal laws that do not comport with “God’s law.”

“Thanks to the commitment of physicians and staff, all clinics remained open and accessible in spite of OSA’s attempt to intimidate and harass them and their patients,” said duVergne Gaines, Director of the Feminist Majority Foundation’s (FMF) National Clinic Access Project who was on the ground in Phoenix. “OSA left with a whimper while Arizona providers continue to courageously care for their community – undeterred, supporters of reproductive freedom are re-energized,” Gaines added.

Indeed, there was a groundswell of support for Phoenix-area providers, including Arizona State University undergraduate students, ASU law school’s National Lawyers Guild chapter, Black Lives Matter PHX Metro, White People Against White Supremacy (White PAWS), clinic escorts, and other community allies that were trained by FMF as legal monitors. In the clinic context, legal monitors are volunteers who document instances of harassment, intimidation, and law-breaking by anti-abortion protesters; legal monitors also help identify out-of-state and local extremists.

The National Abortion Federation, Abortion Access Front (AAF), and WeEngage were also on hand in Phoenix supporting area providers and patients.  AAF coordinated digital billboards on trucks that drove across Phoenix with short videos highlighting the hypocrisy of OSA and to counter the images of ‘fetus porn,’ propaganda promoting hate, shame, and intolerance and covering the vans, trucks, and vehicles of several OSA members.

While OSA was unsuccessful in its campaign to close clinics and intimidate patients, the fight for comprehensive reproductive healthcare access continues in Arizona. In April 2021, Republican Governor Doug Ducey signed into law SB 1427, a far-reaching anti-abortion bill that includes a ban on abortions due to genetic abnormalities, a Personhood clause granting civil rights to fetuses, and a blanket prohibition on physician’s providing abortion medication via courier, delivery or mail in the state. The bill also mandates fetal remains be buried or cremated. Dr. DeShawn Taylor, the founder of Desert Star Family Planning in Phoenix remarked about SB 1427, “It forces people into more desperate situations. Abortion is safe the way that it’s provided and when people start to feel like they can’t access it, they are going to take matters into their own hands.”

Though the future remains unclear as state legislatures pass sweeping anti-abortion laws and the nation awaits the conservative Supreme Court’s decision on Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, providers and activists continue to organize and advance access to abortion.

Sources: The Guardian 4/27/21; Legiscan; 12 News 4/22/21; Ms. Magazine 6/21/21

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