This weekend, thousands of anti-abortion activists gathered in Charlotte, North Carolina, and headed to the state’s busiest abortion clinic, A Preferred Women’s Health Center. The group behind the march, Love Life Charlotte, has been holding the marches they’ve dubbed “prayer walks” for the last 39 weeks, culminating in the huge protest this past weekend, Rewire Newsreports. While small groups of anti-abortion protestors frequently rally against abortion clinics, protests and marches of this size haven’t been common in recent years, signaling that more grassroots challenges to reproductive health access may be looming.
Robin Marty, a freelance reporter who covers abortion access and wrote the article about Love Life Charlotte’s march for Rewire, tells Brit + Co, “Especially since Trump has been elected, [religious anti-choice] groups are getting larger and more aggressive toward clinics. Protests of this size weren’t really happening at clinics before.” She notes that these marches and protests aren’t necessarily becoming physically dangerous (usually religious anti-abortion marches are peaceful), but they are growing in size, which can be a barrier to access for clinic patients.
On Saturday when Love Life Charlotte held its 40th march in a row, A Preferred Women’s Health Center saw half of its usual number of patients, according to Rewire. Marty says that the clinic rescheduled appointments for that day to happen before Love Life Charlotte’s event so that there wasn’t a risk of interaction between patients and the protesters, but even still, the environment outside the clinic was intimidating. Some clinic protesters not marching with Love Life Charlotte were outside, as were about a dozen police offers. Marty explains that this “Creates an environment where you don’t feel like you’re going to an appointment, you feel like you’re stepping into a police scene.”
Scary things have been happening to clinics around the country since Trump was elected. Camille Barbone, vice president of operations at Choices Women’s Medical Center in New York City, told CNBC last December that “[protesters’] behavior has become incredibly more aggressive to the point we’ve had to call the police the last three to four weeks.” She added that protesters were “pushing cellphone cameras into patients’ faces” as they entered or exited the clinic. Other clinics have seen much of the same.
Nikki Madsen, the executive director of the national Abortion Care Network, tells Brit + Co that in addition to increased disruptions at clinics such as the recent march in North Carolina, the organization has also tracked “an increase in other threats to the clinics and staff themselves.” She explains that this includes “vandalism, invasion and trespassing, bomb threats, opening fake clinics next door to real ones, and purchasing clinics out from under providers.”
While marches such as Love Life Charlotte’s are concerning for Marty, she explains that there are even more sinister anti-choice antics going on. On the same day as the massive march in North Carolina, members of an anti-abortion group called the Pro-Life Action Ministries carried out several “red rose rescues.” A red rose rescue is when anti-abortion activists enter abortion clinics and give roses to patients who are waiting for their appointments, and in the process try to talk them out of getting an abortion. These so-called “rescues” occurred in two clinics in Virginia and one in Michigan over the weekend, Marty says. With anti-abortion actions like this happening, Marty says, “Nobody knows if they’re going to be safe from people trying to talk them out of getting an abortion” when they go to a clinic.
There’s also anti-abortion legislation to be concerned about. Madsen says, “Emboldened by the Trump administration’s anti-choice, anti-woman, anti-healthcare stance, some state legislatures have proposed extreme and blatantly unconstitutional anti-choice legislation.”
In the coming years of the Trump presidency, “clinics need their communities to step up and help. It’s so important that people reach out to their local clinic to find out what they need,” Madsen tells us.
With threats to abortion access coming from anti-abortion activists as well as the government, it’s important to monitor what’s going on with abortion clinics both near home and around the country. As Madsen says, clinics will need support in the coming years in order to remain open and to continue to provide necessary health care to patients.
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