In early April, I wrote an article called “Documenting Fear.” In that article I described the steps Louisville Clinic Escorts are taking to document the actions of the anti-abortion protesters in front of the EMW Women’s Surgical Center in Louisville, KY.
We are ready to take the next step. We have been working with the National Clinic Access Project (NCAP) to develop recruiting criteria, training materials and guidelines for deploying Legal Observers in front of the clinic on Saturday mornings. We have had our first training and the observers will soon be on the sidewalk.
These legal observers are not escorts. They are not counter-protesters. They are just observers. They will be signing strict non-engagement and confidentiality agreements. They will not be talking to escorts or anti-abortion protesters. They will be writing observations, taking photos, sound recordings and videos. They will respect the patient’s privacy at all times. The observers will work in pairs. You will be able to identify them by their red wristbands.
What are they documenting? Harassment, threatening speech, pushing, shoving, blocking, local ordinance violations, such as noise or sign ordinance violations, plus police presence and their responses. They will be recording information about new protesters on the sidewalk, including vehicle information. They will be watching for any potential escalation into violence. They are the eyes and ears outside the clinic. Reports will be shared with the clinic staff, and when necessary the LMPD, FBI, DOJ and NCAP.
Why are we doing this now? All across the nation clinics have seen a dramatic increase in threatening speech and actions in front of their clinics. The anti-abortion rhetoric within the GOP presidential candidates’ campaigns have not helped the atmosphere for abortion access at all. The National Abortion Federation (NAF) published statistics in April 2016 that show we aren’t imagining this, the incidents of threats and violence did increase dramatically in 2015.
We hope the deployment of these volunteers will make a difference in the sidewalk atmosphere. If they don’t, they will shine a bright spotlight on behavior that is not “counseling”, “grandmotherly” or “loving” at all by documenting what they see under that spotlight.
Stay tuned for updates on how it goes.