There have been so many articles written about abortion, abortion access, clinics, anti-abortion protesters and reproductive justice issues in the past five years. It’s not surprising, because since 2010 states have considered almost 400 abortion restriction bills and have adopted 288 of them. Most of these restrictions were TRAP laws (Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers). It doesn’t seem that any of the GOP legislators are listening to anyone except their anti-abortion constituents.
This week the Town Hall meeting with Chris Matthews gathered enormous news coverage when Donald Trump said he believes if abortion is legally banned, women should be punished for an abortion. Of course, when the media storm broke over his comments there was a “misspeak” retraction. What I found most interesting was the flurry of articles stating women are already being punished for abortion and it is still legal. They are punished by those TRAP law effects and the anti-abortion protesters present every single day in front of clinics around the country. Their Freedom of Speech rights allows the protesters to call women murderers, follow patients to the door at abortion clinics, harassing and bullying them. Every. Single. Day.
The Supreme Court struck down the Massachusetts buffer zone law in 2014. Since that decision, buffer zones have either not been proposed or have been revised downwards in several cities. The court decided in the case of Massachusetts, the 35-foot buffer zone law they had was too big and impeded the grandmotherly “sidewalk counselors” in exercising their First Amendment rights.
However, the idea has still percolated that a smaller buffer zone might work for everyone. The anti-abortion protesters will have to yell across a shorter space and can still hand out pamphlets, but they will not be able to block the entrances or stop patients from entering an abortion clinic to exercise a legal health care procedure.
Louisville Clinic Escorts have been working with the National Clinic Access Project and the staff at EMW Women’s Surgical Center for the past few months to document the type of intimidation experienced by patients entering the only full-time abortion clinic in Kentucky. We have started by presenting anonymous questionnaires to the patients on what they experienced from protesters on their arrival at EMW Women’s Surgical Center for their appointments. We have gathered the questionnaire answers for a month and the results are interesting.
I would like to focus on just a few of the answers, but the full results are at this link. Be sure to read the comments. They are from truly frightened people. 2016 March Monthly Report-EMW Client Questionnaire
This graph has some answers to some of the questions we have about the potential for violence in front of the clinic.
If over 50% of the patients say the protesters made them feel scared and nervous, it isn’t counseling. It is intimidation. If 38% of patients say they thought about confronting protesters and 12% of them did, it isn’t counseling. It is harassment. What happens if all 38% confront the anti-abortion protesters? Do we have assault and counter-assault charges being filed against the protesters? Does it escalate into violence in an instant? If 50% say the noise level bothered them very much, it isn’t counseling. It is intimidation. What other medical practice is it allowed for protesters to step in front of patients and block their entrance 41% of the time? That is a violation of the FACE Act.
Are you listening to us? Is it time to say, enough? We need a buffer zone in front of the clinic in Louisville. 15’ would be wonderful, but even 8’ would allow patients to enter a safe space before they walk into the clinic. When is it time to truly protect our citizens instead of proposing TRAP laws that pretend to be for the pregnant person’s health, but really have the end goal of stopping legal abortion?
We will continue gathering the questionnaires. We will continue to document the harassment, intimidation, violations of city and state ordinances, and incidents of violence. I dream of the day when we don’t have to fight daily battles in the struggle to access abortion.