Above is a surveillance photo of forced-birth activist David Day checking out the scene recently at Reproductive Services in Montgomery, Alabama with Dan Becker, president of Georgia Right to Life, in preparation for a nine-day gathering by Operation Save America (OSA) which begins tomorrow.
Like Mississippi, where the last clinic in the state operates valiantly amid one of the worst legislative environments in the country, or Louisiana, which has tried to shut down the last open facilities in its borders, Alabama has been a target of forced-birth activists who dream of making abortion unavailable in a southern state, creating a model for the whole country. There are just five abortion providers left in Alabama.
At In These Times, Stephanie Gilmore interviews one of those providers. Dr. Willie Parker, who splits his time between Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia, is adamant that he will not be intimidated.
Operation Save America mobilizes under the guise of free speech. But their attempts to bully, coerce and cajole—to deprive people of their livelihoods because they’ve made a choice to provide reproductive healthcare—is undemocratic. Their work is the most hateful thing that can happen in the name of religion. Somebody once said there’s no right way to do the wrong thing, but this is the absolute demonstration of the wrong way to do the wrong thing. They refuse to accept our laws and our civil rights, and have resorted to creating a mob mentality that is facilitated by the appalling silence, as Dr. King used to call it, of the good people.
[…] I think a significant power that these bullies hold is their reputation. I heard a quote from someone who is going to be here in Alabama, “We’re about to get ugly for Jesus.” But I decry as a Christian—where the most essential identity is love, compassion and nonviolence—the physical violence and the destruction of property that they do under the false guise of this faith. If your religious understanding allows you to harm others or diminish the humanity of people, it has to be questioned and rejected.
Yesterday, I met June Ayers, the sole proprietor of the Montgomery location where Day and Becker were recently spotted examining the sidewalk to plan OSA activities. Friendly and gregarious with a ready smile, Ayers has been helping women and families in distress for more than three decades, brushing off countless attempts to intimidate her from continuing. Day, a local man who spends virtually all his free time outside Ayers’s clinic, has been known to trespass on the adjoining YMCA parking lot to scream abuse at the covered windows of the procedure rooms or photograph Dr. Ayers entering and leaving the facility. It is just one example of the constant harassment regularly endured by patients and employees.
Of course, that sense of being under siege is about to reach epic levels. Not only is OSA planning to protest Ayers, but the clinic defenders are taking extraordinary measures to protect her, the facility, and themselves by erecting barricades, adding security measures, and working with police and neighbors. Today, the YMCA erected an orange net to close off the side of their parking lot where Day likes to trespass, while a volunteer removed the nails from telephone poles outside the clinic on which forced-birth activists often hang their signs. Increased patrols and official vigilance complement a round-the-clock effort to maintain the security of the building. As the Quiverfull patriarchs of OSA bring their enormous families to Montgomery, major national reproductive rights organizations have sent advisers and resources to deal with the increased threat.
And make no mistake, the threat is real. Among the forced-birth activists coming to Montgomery are John “Chet” Gallagher, a former Las Vegas police officer who got dismissed from his job after participating in a protest while wearing his uniform, and even served prison time after wearing his old uniform to gain entry to a clinic and destroy property. A board member of Personhood USA, Gallagher is linked to forced-birth activists who exhort violence. Gallagher has been especially active in Jackson, Mississippi, where he was fined last year and slapped with a restraining order.
Also attending the OSA event tomorrow is Calvin Zostrow, leader of Personhood USA and associate of Abolish Human Abortion (AHA), an extremist group which entertains the notion that murdering abortion providers is “justifiable homicide.” Linked to various domestic terrorists cut from that mold, AHA has been denounced as a “cult” by fellow pro-life activists who compare it to the Westboro Baptist Church because their rhetoric is so harsh, punitive, and un-Christlike. Tellingly, AHA spends much of their spare time “correcting” the Christianity of other forced-birth activists who aren’t fanatical enough for them. Emphasis mine:
Then they send me a big, long, winded message about my choice to have had a tubal ligation. Apparently, I was going to go to hell for it. That I had refuted God’s plan for me, my womb, and future offspring. That this also displays distrust and a lack of faith in my husband.
Not that I owe them or anyone else an explanation. Having another child could kill me. Not the pregnancy or even really giving birth. I can only have c-sections due to an underdeveloped uterus and a small cervix. I have a form of neuropathy and muscular dystrophy that doesn’t mix with the anesthetic. It causes me to seize and with each birth it got worse. To the point they had to knock me out to deliver my youngest and perform the tubal. Even then my body tried to seize up and it took them nearly twice as long to perform the operation. I lost a lot of blood and they had a hard time waking me up after. They even had a nurse tell my family – I might die from complications. It was bad.
I told the person all of this. They told me if I would have died, it would have been exact punishment for getting the tubal.
Joining them will be Matt Trewhella, co-founder of Missionaries to the Unborn. A man who refused to vote for Sarah Palin because of her gender, Trewhella first became known to the wider world by calling the murder of Dr. David Gunn “justifiable homicide” in 1993, is linked to the ‘patriot’ militia movement, and has been known to tell parents they should arm their children with assault rifles. Which is not to say he’s anti-government, because Trewhella wants all the gay people arrested. Trewhella signed the 1994 “defensive action statement” of the violent anti-abortion group Army of God and has associated with persons who have served time in prison for clinic violence.
These people are hardly the only ones with worrisome backgrounds who will be attending the OSA gathering over the next several days, but an exhaustive list would take several blog posts. Fortunately, I will be here in Montgomery the whole time, affording me plenty of opportunities to tell you about many more of them. BU will also have exclusive reporting and interviews of the people working to keep these clinics open in Alabama and uphold every woman’s right to self-determination. Stay tuned…