Follow-Up: Dan Johnson and the Abolition of Abortion in KY Act

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It’s only been 2 months since State Representative Dan Johnson pre-filed the Abolition of  Abortion in KY Act. We wrote about it here.

Just this morning, a 5-part investigative series on Dan Johnson’s past criminality and many outrageous claims was posted at http://longcon.kycir.org. (Content warning: sexual assault). As it happens, the “Pope” of Heart of Fire Church has a 30 year criminal record (including alleged sexual abuse, arson, and illegal liquor sales) and a history of unverifiable, fantastical claims, up to and including the raising of the dead. Johnson’s outrageous claims include setting up a makeshift morgue at Ground Zero on 9/11 since he just happened to be visiting NYC at the time.

On October 28, 2017, Operation Save America figure and head of Apologia Studios, Jeff Durbin, visited Louisville. While in town, Durbin conducted at least 2 separate interviews with Johnson. One interview was outside EMW Women’s Surgical Center and the other was a sit-down interview filmed in a different location. Durbin introduced Johnson on Next Week, his “late night” interview show saying, “He’s bold, he knows the truth, and he knows how we need to go about ending abortion in the states.”
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During the interview, Durbin brings up 9/11. “There’s a 9/11 everyday” and Johnson concurs. Johnson then uses his “first responder” status to justify ending safe, legal abortion:

“Of course being there when all that happened, I watched that happen. I was the chaplain. I did last rites and blessings for everyone out of the towers. And the thing that I live with, and this is the realness… And through the aftermath and the months following…” (Johnson begins tearing up) “…they would use tarps and they would gather up pieces of bodies and parts and what was literally like mush. Most of that had been shoveled up. In these tarps maybe 10, 15, could be 20 people. Pieces and parts of mush. I believe there’s some things that are so so horrid, that humans should never see it. And what was sometimes just floating around in the bottom of the tarp, with big fireman carrying out of what was now known as Ground Zero—this is what I thought about then and there—this is abortion. And you could see hands and fingers, sometimes breasts, parts of bodies, faces in this muck, if you will, of human carnage. Mothers and fathers should never have to see that. I have children, like that young girl. But you know what, maybe there’s a mother out there listening. Maybe there’s a father who knows there’s a child coming. We think about the terrorist attack and we think about horrible bin Laden and the terrorists who brought this about. However you view that, but would you do that to your child?”05E848AA-DE74-4A29-8369-900A152349DC

In a different section of this interview, Johnson says, “This generation is the generation that’s saying why. We’re about to uncover a lot of things that have been covered up for a long time. The reasons for it had to do with people’s own self-interest…” Johnson was talking about an end to abortion, but he may as well have been speaking about his hidden, sordid past. It’s been a long time coming, but Johnson’s status as a controversial lawmaker has dragged his past malfeasance into the light.

 

Sidewalk Snippet 12/07/17

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Typically, I would avoid writing about the rare incidents which involve violating the Louisville Clinic Escorts’ Points of Unity. Maintaining non-engagement is important to our mission of assisting patients seeking healthcare, but I violated that this morning. I seldom break our strict non-engagement policy, but today I was just pushed too far and had to say something to our antis. Our non-engagement policy exists for very good reasons. Our antis want to escalate situations in order to prove that escorts are violent, loud, and evil. Non-engagement de-escalates the situation on the sidewalk, making a calmer environment for patients.

Near the conclusion of our escorting shift this morning, a homeless man walked up to the clinic in order to ask our antis for any money they could spare. I was standing on clinic property about 10 feet away when one of our antis pointed to me and said I was the guy the homeless man needed to speak to. The homeless man approached me and I told him I was sorry but that I didn’t have any money on me. He looked confused and walked back to the antis. The anti once again pointed him to me and I repeated that I did not have any money.

Watching our antis make a sick sport of some of our city’s most vulnerable citizens was too much for me to tolerate. I walked up to this and anti calmly stated that the way they treat homeless people is excessively cruel. This anti said something attempting to rebuff me (I can’t remember his exact words…I was too furious to concentrate). I repeated that they’re excessively cruel, then I walked back to my spot on the property line.

The homeless man once again asked for money from the antis and he was directed to me again. This time, he was angry and confused. He yelled at me that he had a black belt in karate and that he would kick my ass. He then walked away. As I left the sidewalk this morning, this anti yelled after me “Bring some money next time!” I turned to reply but thought better of it and continued walking to my car.

Since I began escorting, I’ve been screamed at, called names, and suffered multiple assaults, but I’m typically able to maintain our non-engagement policy. The main anti in this story is one of the elderly Catholics who protests multiple times a week. He likes to think of himself as my bully. He questions my manhood and has called me “Rocket Man,” a reference to Trump’s insult of Kim Jong Un and a reference to my mixed-race parentage. Those I can weather, but I just couldn’t let his cruelty slide this morning. Do not let the “sweet grandfather/mother” appearance of the elderly antis fool you. We’ve written before about our antis using homeless people as proxies to verbally or physically assault escorts. This morning was just the latest example.

 

The Abolition of Abortion in Kentucky Act

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As you may have seen in recent news reports, a bill has been pre-filed in the Kentucky legislature to outlaw abortion in the state. Due to its cruel and unconstitutional nature, it’s unlikely that the bill will pass and become law, but it may be useful to understand this proposal as it represents an extremist goal post for reproductive healthcare.

070CF9EE-E301-4B56-A1F5-6C50E43FF8E4This bill comes from Representative Dan Johnson, out of Bullitt County. Johnson is the head of Heart of Fire Church on Bardstown Rd, a church with a shocking amount of guns featured on their YouTube page. Johnson is most famous for racist remarks he made on his Facebook page leading up to his election. Despite comparing the Obamas to chimpanzees, he won election into the KY legislature.

The most striking and extreme of the changes to Kentucky Revised Statutes in this bill is the change to Kentucky’s Fetal Homicide laws. Under the Abolition of Abortion in Kentucky Act, Fetal Homicide Laws would apply both to a physician who performs an abortion as well as the person receiving the abortion. This bill would make abortion a capital offense though the death penalty is prohibited.

Curiously enough, KRS 311.760, which defines when a KY woman can receive an abortion (during the first trimester) is left intact. This is likely an oversight which speaks to the incompetent nature of the bill’s authorship.

Laced throughout this bill is language establishing Kentucky state law and the Kentucky state constitution over the laws and judicial decisions of the United States government. If this law were to pass the KY legislature and get signed by Governor Matt Bevin, it certainly would not hold up in court. It is blatantly unconstitutional and contradicts 40+ years of Supreme Court rulings on abortion rights. It’s unlikely to even make it out of the legislature and go to Bevin’s desk, but this GOP-led legislature together with Bevin have a habit of wasting money and resources on bad laws. How much money will KY waste in a vain attempt to antagonize federal authority?

This terrible bill speaks to some of the end goals of the anti-choice movement. Not only does this movement seek to punish abortion providers, but they want the ability to charge anyone who seeks an abortion with a capital crime.

Rusty Thomas Is Lying

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The thing about public records is that they’re public.

Yesterday, September 19, the 11 members of Operation Save America arrested in May had a pre-trial date for their criminal trespassing charges. A member of Louisville Clinic Escorts was present to observe the proceedings, which were over quickly. They were unable to speak with a prosecutor or anyone connected with a case, so we weren’t sure exactly what happened in the proceedings.

Soon after, Rusty Thomas posted a Facebook Live video declaring that the charges had been dismissed by the city and that OSA had found “incredible favor with the city of Louisville.” Needless to say, the LCE community was concerned.

After looking at the public records this morning, it’s clear that the charges against the 11 OSA members have NOT been dropped. Not only that, but the no-contact order for these 11 people is still in place through at least May 14, 2018.

It’s hard to comprehend why Rusty and OSA would be lying about this, especially considering this exists in public record. Rusty’s other assertion in the video, that the federal government would need state charges to be in place to prosecute a FACE Act violation, is also not true.

So to be clear, the Louisville trial for OSA continues May 14, 2018. FACE Act charges have not been filed yet but we hope they will be soon.

Persist

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Supporting abortion access in Kentucky is an unending struggle. Whether the opposition is the Kentucky state government under Matt Bevin’s leadership, the clinic invaders Operation Save America, or their combined efforts, supporters of reproductive justice persist for the benefit of those seeking reproductive healthcare.

When OSA left at the end of July, they did so without ending abortion in KY; without causing a single appointment to be missed; and they did so after galvanizing Louisville, causing citywide disruptions and animosity. The successful resistance to OSA was the result of months of hard work and planning by numerous pro-choice groups in concert with support from Kentucky residents. As EMW Women’s Surgical Center’s case proceeds in District Court this week, Louisville Clinic Escorts would like to take this opportunity to highlight some of these pro-choice organizations as they are and will be instrumental in the coming days, no matter the outcome of the federal trial.

Planned Parenthood and the ACLU, are directly involved with EMW’s case. Their participation and resources have been integral in building EMW’s case and protecting abortion access.

A Fund is the oldest abortion fund in KY. They help provide abortion funding to hundreds of women yearly.

Kentucky Health Justice Network (KHJN) provides a range of reproductive support services including direct funding, transportation and interpretation. Additionally, KHJN provides support for trans healthcare services.

-You can also support Louisville Clinic Escorts by sending PayPal donations to everysaturdaymorning@gmail.com

If you’d like something that involves personally showing up for reproductive justice, the Kentucky Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice (KRCRC) is sponsoring a rally in support of EMW at the Federal Court House on Tuesday, September 5 at 7PM. Louisville Clinic Escorts are not directly involved with this rally, but welcome the support KRCRC provides.

Finally, LCE would like to thank the community for avoiding pro-choice counter-protests at EMW. Counter-protests often escalate the aggression of anti-choice protestors and create more chaos on the sidewalk. This chaos only creates greater challenges for patients entering the clinic. Please continue respecting the wishes of LCE and EMW staff in this regard.

Guest Blog: Life Lessons from the Sidewalk

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Following the disastrous 2016 election season, I knew that I had to find a positive way to focus the despair and frustration I felt or sink into depression so deep that I might never emerge. I chose to join the battle for abortion access as my return path to sanity and signed up to escort at EMW.

At 65 years of age, and as a person who will generally go a long way to avoid conflict, I wondered whether this would be the right option for me. I went to a training session where experienced escorts introduced the Points of Unity, guidelines for effective escorting, the Drama Triangle, and tips on managing the antis who congregate in front of the clinic every morning. OK, I thought to myself, this doesn’t sound so bad.

Then I went to the sidewalk.

The noise, the shoving and pushing, the harassment, the rudeness, the shaming and threats from the antis were worse than I could have imagined.

But the strength and dignity of the escorts in the face of that abuse was amazing.. That’s the key.

I’ve spent eight months as an escort now, studying and trying to absorb the Points of Unity in my sidewalk interactions. I am seeing their effectiveness more clearly each week as I attempt to practice non-engagement with the antis, to seek consent from clients before jumping to conclusions about what they might need, and to focus solely on support and empowerment for the client. It’s surprising how easy it is to ignore the foolish sidewalk drama when all my attention is directed fully toward the clients and their safe access to the clinic.

Even more remarkable is how well this emphasis on non-engagement and clarity of purpose has transferred into the other parts of my life. I am learning that the distractions of endless political tweets and posts do not have to interrupt my work, my family time, or my sleep. I am learning to focus on one task at a time. I am learning that we can’t change the behavior or the opinions of those who disagree with us, but by offering our time and our support and our attention we may be able to improve the lives and situations of those with whom we directly interact.

 

The New Normal

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The National Conference held by Operation Save America was more than just a disruption at EMW Women’s Surgical Center; it was a city-wide disturbance. While OSA were in town, they visited churches, protested with graphic signs and trucks all over the city, and even displayed a “live abortion” on a Jumbotron at a park downtown. Most disturbing, they distributed the personal information of clinic workers and demonstrated outside of their homes. Now that it’s August, and all but the local members of OSA have left, the question I get asked by my local friends is, “So is everything back to normal?” Consider the rest of this post a long “no.”Aug 2 814a

The first two weeks of August 2017 have felt significantly more perilous while escorting. Louisville Clinic Escorts love boredom, but the past 2 weeks have been eventful, unfortunately. Comparing the incidents of August 2016 with those of this year show both an increase in the number of anti-choice protestors as well as a heightened level of aggression of antis.

The number of antis that showed up on weekdays has increased significantly in August 2017 compared to August 2016. Two weekdays in the first two weeks examined saw a 100% increase in the number of protestors year over year. No weekdays saw a drop in the number of protesters. The number of protestors on Saturdays were comparable year to year.

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Looking at the numbers of protestors only provides half the picture of escalation by antis. The other half is the aggression they express. From August 2-13, 2016, there were no incidents significant enough for the police to be called. This doesn’t mean that patients weren’t harassed, just that the harassment didn’t rise to the level of requiring LMPD intervention. Between August 1-12, 2017, police were contacted twice by either the escorts or by the clinic.

The first incident occurred on Saturday, August 5. A man harassed two escorts with rhetoric that rose to the level of significant threat. The man stated that if his daughter ever thought of having an abortion he’d “lynch her.” He then said maybe we should go back to the old days of “lynching white women,” directly threatening the escorts. The individual was dangerous enough that employees of A Woman’s Choice, the CPC next to EMW, requested escorts to ask LMPD for assistance. An officer spoke with the man, who then walked down the street accompanied by Vince Heuser, attorney for the 11 National OSA people arrested May 13, 2017.

The second incident happened on Tuesday, August 8. A homeless man approached the clinic and spoke to one of the regular Catholic protestors. She gave him items from the trunk of her car, including a carton of cookies. Presumably, she also told him about the abortion clinic since he immediately began harassing the escort standing near the front door. The escort, fearing for their safety, began recording the man, who then tried to grab the escort’s phone multiple times. At one point, the man swung the carton of cookies within inches of the escort’s face. The clinic called the police who responded and after talking to him, asked the man to leave the area.

Both of the men in these incidents appeared to be homeless. It’s been a tactic of antis in the past to use descriptions like “deathscorts” and “murderers” to cause escalation using homeless people as a proxy. It’s symbolic of the escalation of aggression on the sidewalk the first two weeks of August 2017.

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The OSA conference was widely covered by both local and national press. It seems this press acted as a recruitment tool for new antis. In the past few weeks new antis, several carrying megaphones, have begun protesting at EMW. One of the new antis screams aggressively at escorts and clients. Another has brought his 10 year-old brother and used him as a prop to block clients attempting to access the clinic entrance. Saturdays used to be primarily composed of Catholics praying on the sidewalks while only a few of their numbers actually approached and personally harassed patients. Now, more “walkers” than ever grab clients, block them using signs, and shout threats as they attempt to access legal healthcare. The numbers of antis may be the same as 2016 on a Saturday, but their tactics are not.

So no, things aren’t getting back to normal. Louisville Clinic Escorts are now getting used to a new normal, one that is significantly more dangerous than what was experienced at similar times in previous years. As antis increase their aggression, a safety zone is needed even more than before OSA came into town.

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Sidewalk Snippet – 8/1/17

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Many of our local protestors come out multiple times a week. For each patient they approach to harass and bully (although the protestors call it “counseling”), they have anywhere from a few seconds to a few minutes to say what they’d like. Each anti seems to develop their own short script of talking points they repeat ad nauseam at each patient seeking an abortion. Today, a patient quickly dismantled a protestor’s standard talking point.

When the doors of EMW opened this morning, a patient exited her car and stepped onto the Market St. sidewalk. She was greeted by one of our escorts, but also by one of our regular anti-choice protestors. He launched into his talking points, “None of us want to be out here this morning.”

The patient retorted, “Actually, I do.” And with that, she completely broke his talking point. It made me wonder how many years he’s been doing this same spiel: feigning sympathy for patients while simultaneously being the source of harassment.

As escorts, we train to make no assumptions about anyone we see on the sidewalk. The protestors who call themselves “sidewalk counselors” receive no such training. They assume every person who presents as female and walks anywhere close to the clinic is seeking an abortion (just ask downtown pedestrian commuters who get chased down the block). They assume that female patients are selfish and irresponsible while male companions are forcing the abortion to avoid child support payments. They assume that abortion is such an unspeakable, stigmatized act that no person would ever seek one, forgetting that they’re the ones calling it unspeakable and creating the stigma.

Louisville Clinic Escorts practice strict non-engagement and do not call the antis on these assumptions. It was, however, a joy to see a patient quickly destroy an anti’s argument using only 3 words. Based on clients’ surveys, the only safe assumption on the sidewalk outside EMW is that the “sidewalk counselors” are not wanted.

Where Would They Go? Part 3 – Clinic Staff

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The loss of a reproductive health clinic that provides abortions affects various communities as discussed in Part 1 and Part 2 of this series. What about the professionals who staff these clinics? To a clinic staffer, this loss is personal. Beyond losing a job and source of income, a unique and caring environment vanishes.

Shireen Whitaker worked at the Sacramento location of Women’s Health Specialists until it closed in May 2017. Whitaker was initially involved with the clinic as a volunteer clinic escort, joining her mother-in-law who has escorted for over 10 years. Following the creation of a buffer zone at their clinic, Whitaker was hired by WHS as a legal monitor in 2013. During her tenure, she handled Outreach, Education, and Clinic Defense, coordinating security and escorts.

Multiple locations of WHS were closed this year due to reimbursement shortfalls in the California Medicaid system, Medi-Cal, following the implementation of the Affordable Care Act. Anti-choice protestors in California are framing the closure of these clinics as a victory, but the truth is more bland and bureaucratic. WHS Sacramento relied on providing a full-range of reproductive services like birth control and Pap smears in addition to abortions. Other area clinics were receiving more money in reimbursements and WHS couldn’t compete. According to Whitaker, the Sacramento clinic was a “sacrificial lamb” to California’s health system.

Working at her clinic was more than just a job for Whitaker. It was a “biosphere…a home away from home.” The loss of the clinic has had a huge emotional impact and Whitaker has blocked it in some ways. “I have all this stuff the clinic gave to me and it’s still sitting in my car. It’s like I can’t take it out; I can’t make it real.” WHS provided a space that was accepting and losing it has been “horrible.”

Handling security for WHS Sacramento meant monitoring the media and social media activity of anti-choice activists, something that became “toxic” for Whitaker after awhile. Now, their sites are something she can’t bear to look at. Anti-choice websites are claiming the closing of WHS branches to be a major victory and a vindication of their tactics. The truth isn’t nearly as exciting. The bureaucratic reality for the loss of WHS makes the facilities a casualty of a broken healthcare system. Still, the gloating on anti-choice websites has only made things harder on Whitaker.

At its height, WHS had 11 clinics; now it has 3. Whitaker still works for the remaining WHS clinics in a volunteer capacity and is currently seeking other employment in reproductive health. “I’m really hoping to find a similar space. I should be so lucky.” Most staff members from the clinic have moved onto other medical jobs unrelated to reproductive health. Many staff members retired, including the executive director who had been with the group for 40 years.

The closing of WHS Sacramento, and indeed, any reproductive health facility, has far-reaching consequences for a community. Patients must seek other options for care, often with greater expense and difficulty; other reproductive facilities face emboldened anti-choice protestors; and staff members are left without jobs that provide both income and an accepting environment for important, necessary work. If anti-choice activists are successful in closing EMW Women’s Surgical Center, Kentucky’s last remaining abortion clinic, the state as a whole will be poorer for it.

Sidewalk Snippet – 7/13/17

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The escorts in Louisville see dozens, and occasionally, hundreds of protestors on any given day. Sometimes though, we’re blessed to have only a few. Today was one of those days. It’s rare, but sometimes escorting can be a real snooze. Whenever that happens, it’s terrific.

When the escorts are bored, a client isn’t being assaulted; we aren’t calling the police because a protestor is trespassing on clinic property; there isn’t a blockade or sit-in underway. Boredom doesn’t mean that clients present aren’t experiencing some form of bullying or harassment, just that it’s kept at the bare minimum for a state so hostile to reproductive choice.

It’s odd for me to feel blessed with boredom. At any other time in my life, standing around watching traffic drive by would cause me no small amount of anxiety. I always need to feel like I’m actively engaged in something for work or school. But on the sidewalk, in front of KY’s last remaining abortion clinic, we escorts revel in boredom.

To any escorts reading this, I hope you have a very boring week.