On a usually calm street in downtown Milwaukee stands an unassuming health center with a sign at the front: “Dear Patients: We Love You, We Trust You, Your Reasons are Enough.” This is Affiliated Medical Services, an independent abortion clinic in Milwaukee, Wisconsin that will be thrust into the center of targeted and sustained clinic harassment this week.
The harassment comes from anti-abortion extremists organized by Operation Save America (OSA) and Missionaries to the Preborn. Each summer, OSA hosts their “Summer of Mercy,” a week-long siege of clinics in a city in the Midwest or South, with the explicit purpose of shutting down clinics, disrupting health care, and terrorizing patients and providers. Make no mistake—these anti-abortion protesters are more than a nuisance for the clinic and the city. Many of OSA’s leaders have been convicted of criminal activity against abortion providers and clinics. Many have been at this for decades. And some hold violent beliefs, openly discussing how abortion providers should be criminalized, even killed.
While today begins the full force start of OSA’s and Missionaries week of terror, on Saturday about forty-five anti-abortion protesters targeted the clinic for a dry-run of sorts. From 8 a.m. to noon, protesters gathered on the sidewalk outside of the clinic, standing as close to the door as they could, loudly berating patients entering and exiting the facilities. They held large signs with medically inaccurate images and shaming messages. Many had small children and babies in tow, often using their kids as symbols for their messaging.
Although the city of Milwaukee has an injunction imposing a 25-foot buffer zone around the clinic that bars anti-abortion protesters from being on the sidewalk outside the clinic, it has yet to be enforced by the city. Without enforcement, protesters were given the opportunity to get closer to patients than the injunction allows, attempting (and failing) to block the door to the clinic. Some anti-abortion protesters jostled with the pro-choice escorts in an effort to block patient access.
However, pro-choice activists were ready for the extremists. Days before, the Feminist Majority Foundation and Affiliated Medical Services Clinic Escorts program hosted a training for around fifty community volunteers, in which members learned crucial clinic escorting and legal observation skills. Volunteers ranged from young college students eager to help protect abortion access to community members who’ve been engaged activists for decades.
On Saturday, the training was put into practice: dressed in rainbow clinic-escorting vests, around two dozen volunteers created a pathway to the doors through the crowd of abortion opponents and walked patients to and from their cars, working in groups to shield patients from being recorded or harassed. FMF-trained legal observers were also on the scene, recording breaches of the law and keeping a written record of threatening anti-abortion activity, with the hopes of proving to the city why the buffer zone injunction must be enforced.
“The pro-choice grassroots response is crucial,” duVergne Gaines, Director of Feminist Majority Foundation’s National Clinic Access Project, told Ms. “This organized group of Wisconsin feminist volunteers, along with the dedicated clinic staff, refuses to allow OSA to deny healthcare to Wisconsin patients. Throughout the week, this commitment to compassionate health care will continue to ensure: Amidst anti-abortion extremism, this clinic stays open.”