Just days before Operation Rescue/Operation Save America (OR/OSA) plans to bring hundreds of protesters to Louisville, Kentucky, to blockade the state’s only remaining clinic providing abortions, the United States Attorney for the Western District of Kentucky has filed for a court order prohibiting OSA participants from physically blocking or interfering with EMW Women’s Surgical Center. The motion, filed in federal court under the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act (FACE), seeks a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction prohibiting OSA and its followers from physically obstructing or interfering with persons obtaining or providing reproductive health services at EMW and from coming within a “buffer zone” to be established at the entrance of the clinic.
Louisville Metro Police Department officers arrested Rusty Thomas, the director of OSA, and nine others on May 13 for blockading the EMW entrance. The U.S. Department of Justice then filed its FACE complaint asking for both compensatory damages, civil penalties, and a permanent injunction against all ten individuals and any others “acting in concert or in participation” with any of the named defendants. complaint In its complaint, the US Attorney states the defendants are likely to continue to violate the FACE Act and that “various persons are being, have been, and will continue to be injured, intimidated and/or interfered with by the defendants’ conduct,” therefore justifying the need for injunctive relief. At least two of the defendants—James Soderna and Eva Edl—have previously been found to have violated FACE, and Thomas has previously entered into a consent decree to resolve FACE Act violations. It also noted that Thomas has recently used social media to encourage others to violate the FACE during OSA sponsored events. OSA leaders in the city have openly declared a plan to ignore any buffer zones put in place around the clinic.
Possibly emboldened by the Trump-Pence election, and the Administration’s commitment to an anti-choice agenda, OSA is the first group to violate the FACE Act under the new president. The group has heavily targeted the Louisville clinic in an attempt to create the first “abortion free” state. Thomas and his attorney said they were surprised the charges were brought. The Department of Justice has been scaled back under Trump, leaving concerns about the Department’s willingness to enforce the act.
“We are very encouraged by the US Attorney’s actions,” said duVergne Gaines, director of Feminist Majority Foundation’s National Clinic Access Project. “Anti-abortion extremists are testing the Justice Department’s resolve to enforce FACE – which has been a critical tool in dealing with anti-abortion violence and threats.” Gaines is in Louisville to assist the clinic and local pro-choice community during OSA’s siege.
The Feminist Majority Foundation’s 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. 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 from 19.7 percent in 2014 to 34.2 percent in 2016.
Media Resources: Feminist Majority Foundation 7/17/17; Courier Journal 5/13/17, 7/19/17