In the early morning of Friday, Aug. 27, 12 fanatical anti-abortion extremists in Sterling Heights, Mich., formed an unyielding blockade in front of the Northland Family Planning Center—known for providing access to abortion, pregnancy tests, treatment for miscarriages, and gynecological care, among other reproductive health care services.
There are three Northland Family Planning Centers located across Michigan—and all have been under siege from anti-choice extremists throughout the summer months.
More often than not, protesters outside of the clinics have not worn masks, have ignored state physical distancing guidelines, and have approached patients at a close distance with scientifically inaccurate information about abortion procedures. They often exaggerate the level of danger involved with both medication and surgical abortion, and claim women who “murder their babies” will become suicidal afterwards. Their religiously charged rhetoric attempts to frame abortion as a moral wrong akin with murder.
Recently, they’ve tried to co-opt language from the Black Lives Matter movement, proclaiming “Black babies matter”—while at the same time, espousing racist and misogynist ideologies. They proclaim abortion hurts women, and that pro-choice Black Lives Matter activists are responsible for Black death, not police officers or white supremacists.
The extremists in Sterling Heights on the morning of the 27th drove from out of state—some from as far as Mississippi. One group stood at the edge of the clinic parking lot, while another smaller group sat down in front of the clinic doors, refusing to let any patients inside.
The blockade group has been outside of different clinics in Michigan for the past two weeks, as part of their self-proclaimed “Michigan Holiness Revival Tour”—a violent effort to threaten, demean and torment reproductive healthcare clinic patients under the guise of spirituality.
Of course, in the midst of a global pandemic and economic recession, these efforts are particularly cruel.
Immunocompromised patients showing up for appointments may be risking COVID-19 exposure from anti-choice zealots. Those with limited time off from work may be risking their employment if they arrive at the clinic and realize they cannot enter and have to reschedule, as maybe it won’t be possible for them to take more time off. For those with mental health concerns or otherwise, having to confront harassment to access healthcare may cause significant trauma, or it might mean that reproductive healthcare really isn’t accessible at all.
Extremists Joel Curry and Chet Gallagher streamed on Facebook live for the duration of the blockade. From this footage, the viewer can see Eva Zastrow and Caroline Davis harassing patients sitting in their cars outside of the clinic arriving for their appointments.
While illegally attempting to engage with patients without masks on, the militant white men involved remain seated on the ground with their backs leaning on the clinic doors.
One patient bravely approached the blockade before police arrived and tried to reason with them, “I am here for my birth control.” The men informed her, “This place murders children; we are not letting anybody in. There’s other places you can go that aren’t murdering children. And Jesus can save you.”
Those involved were in direct violation of the Freedom of Access Clinic Entrances (F.A.C.E.) Act, which “forbids the use of force, threat of force or physical obstruction to prevent someone from providing or receiving reproductive health services.”
While anti-abortion protests have not let up since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, this particular infringement upon the rights of clinic patients stands out due to the sheer number of people involved—and the way that local police handled the situation.
Police arrived on the scene—yet instead of working to protect clinic patients from the illegal harassment, cops allowed the anti-choice protestors to continue to sit in front of the clinic doors. The officers involved proceeded to engage the blockade in a philosophical discussion about government systems and religion, at certain points siding with the blockade.
The Facebook live recordings even include a veteran police officer of 23 years sympathizing openly with the blockade—advising them to consult with him before their next protest so that he could help them avoid arrest.
Finally, after talking to the anti-choice extremists, and allowing them to continue their blockade for an additional hour, police arrested 10 involved in the blockade, which included: Caroline Davis, Chet Gallagher, Joel Curry, Paul G Curry, Heather Idoni, Eva Edl, Eva Zastrow, Justin Phillips, Teresa Aughenbaugh and Cal Zastrow.
Despite being in violation of the F.A.C.E. Act, those arrested were lightly charged on trespassing charges, and released from jail within hours.