As was completely expected, new GOP majorities are setting out to make 2015 another record-setting year for attacks on abortion access: Tennessee’s Republican legislative majority is acting quickly to exploit a referendum that repealed state protections for reproductive freedom, and Ohio Republicans have the most aggressive new anti-abortion law in the country. But there’s a battle brewing in Alabama that should be on the radar of every reproductive rights advocate, because it draws the fundamental hypocrisies of the forced-birth movement into sharp contrast.
James Henderson (above), the executive director of the Alabama Christian Coalition, says he is urging Republican legislators to require a 2,000-foot ‘buffer zone’ between abortion clinics and schools. This distance is deliberately the same as the lawful distance between schools and sex offenders:
Henderson said the school buffer zone effort has been encouraged by Gov. Robert Bentley’s Chief Legal Advisor David Byrne Jr. Henderson suggested the measure could be applied retroactively, though it is unclear how that would work under U.S. law.
The governor’s office responded to questions about Byrne’s role by providing a copy of a letter Byrne sent Thursday to Henderson, who is a member of the Alabama Republican Party’s executive committee.
Byrne’s letter acknowledges he told Henderson in June that he would be “happy to assist” any legislators Henderson’s group is “closely associated with” in pre-filing legislation for the 2015 session and he would help recruit potential sponsors. But the letter also notes the Governor’s Legal Office can’t do legal work for a private entity.
A spokeswoman for Bentley said Friday they haven’t seen any proposed bill dealing with abortion clinics near schools, so it would be premature to comment on whether the governor would support such a measure.
Mr. Henderson is still reeling from a series of losses related to the Alabama Women’s Center for Reproductive Alternatives (AWCRA) in Huntsville, Alabama. His friend Chris Horn, who made his opposition to the AWCRA a centerpiece of his state house campaign, lost badly on November 4th. Although the center’s original location closed due to a TRAP (Targeted Regulation against Abortion Providers) law, it has now reopened in a new location that meets those TRAP requirements.
Henderson hates this new building because the entire parking lot is private property. This prevents Henderson’s forced-birth commandos from doing the kind of ‘sidewalk counseling’ that the Supreme Court sanctioned this year when it eliminated the 35-foot buffer zone that the state of Massachusetts had enacted around facilities providing abortion services.
In other words, Henderson’s push for a retroactive, sexual predator-sized buffer zone against the AWCRA is a blatant hypocrisy of double standards.
— AL Repro Rights Adv (@ALReproRightsAd) November 22, 2014
Contrary to the rosy picture of forced-birth advocacy which impressed the court this term, most actual ‘sidewalk counseling’ by forced-birth activists turns out to be vile and stupid nonsense that does nothing for women, and features behavior that is sometimes abusive and even downright creepy. Henderson, who has directed such tactics for years in Huntsville, can’t take advantage of the SCOTUS decision to get between women and the front doors of the center anymore — not without being arrested for trespassing.
The new location for AWCRA is just down the street from a school building. Currently closed, Ed White Middle School is due to reopen in a new role next year, and in the meantime Henderson’s forced-birth activists are making free use of it as a wedge against the clinic. Ironically, the same people who drag children to their protests as props now claim that school students will be harmed by the presence of the clinic, which doesn’t exactly wave a sign saying “ABORTIONS” at anyone. Henderson’s folks are the ones who do that.
This ‘buffer zone’ hypocrisy has already spilled into the school parking lot. When the city got tired of forced-birth activists treating it as their rally point, workers blocked off the lot with a plastic orange net. But as you can see in the animated .GIF below, which I made with pictures taken by a clinic volunteer this past Saturday, they don’t let pesky things like traffic control devices get in the way of their weird hobby.
Henderson used the school as a pretext for his failed challenge to the zoning board’s approval of the AWCRA’s variance, and this same justification is now apparently on its way to becoming bad law in Montgomery. This being Alabama, Henderson is almost certain to get what he wants, even though it is obviously, flagrantly hypocritical, and that potentially sets up a very interesting legal challenge.