In the escalating fury of anti-abortion extremists since George W. Bush left office, Operation Rescue/Operation Save America (OR/OSA) has announced that protesters will storm “the gates of hell” to shut down family planning clinics in Charlotte, N.C. the week of July 17-24.
Even though OR/OSA’s head extremist, Phillip “Flip” Benham, was recently arrested in Charlotte for stalking and for violating a South Carolina law against residential picketing, his organization is still determined to harass doctors and patients. But as part of its National Clinic Access Project, the Feminist Majority Foundation is trying to prevent Benham and the other anti-abortion extremists from setting up ladders and scaffolding on the property of the Family Reproductive Health Clinic and using amplified sounds systems to scream at patients from ladders on the other side of a 6-foot fence.
Even more unsettling have been threats against abortion-providing doctors in Charlotte, as Benham has plastered the clinics and home neighborhoods of two doctors with menacing “WANTED” posters that include threatening language as well as their names and addresses of their private offices and homes. The posters encourage people to contact the doctors, “expose [them] to the powerful Gospel of Christ” and make them stop “killing babies.” At least three abortion providers who were murdered in the past had been similarly targeted with “WANTED” posters that were distributed publicly.
Pro-choice activists are calling on the federal government to prosecute OR/OSA under the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act of 1994 (FACE) and other laws for threatening at least four South Carolina doctors, including those shown on the posters. In 2002, a federal appeals court found similar posters constituted FACE violations, in part because they were tantamount to death threats (“Wanted: Dead of Alive”). Why, despite that ruling, has OR/OSA so far been allowed impunity to put up the posters and threaten physicians?
One of the recent campaigns led by Operation Rescue also uses scare tactics to intimidate providers: The “Abortion Whistleblowers” campaign appears to offer a $10,000 reward “for information leading to the arrest and conviction of abortionists who are breaking the law.” The campaign’s promotional video, narrated by Operation Rescue leader Troy Newman, features a graphic of handcuffs and a cop car, accompanied by the “Bad Boys” theme from the TV show Cops—which asks “what’cha gonna do when they come for you?” Attempting to scare workers into teaming up with Operation Rescue and ratting out others in their clinics is creating an atmosphere similar to McCarthyism and the Red Scare. OR/OSA seems to be warning, “if you don’t join us, we’ll come after you too.”
Anti-choice picketers and “sidewalk counselors” may have other agendas beyond just protesting. They closely watch the commuting habits of doctors and their staff, monitoring how they enter and exit their clinics, homes and other places they regularly visit, such as churches. They sometimes report these details on the Internet, even posting YouTube videos. In his trial for murdering abortion provider George Tiller, Scott Roeder admitted that he thought about different ways of killing Tiller and used knowledge gained as a clinic protester to help plan his murder.
The Feminist Majority Foundation will be organizing and mobilizing pro-choice supporters to defend the Family Reproductive Health Clinic’s doctors, staff and patients—along with other reproductive health care providers in the Charlotte area—over the next few months; join in if you can!
Learn more about the anti-abortion movement via Ms. coverage.