Summer of opposing bigotry
GERMANTOWN, Md.--Searing August heat and sudden thunderstorms did not deter a diverse crowd of hundreds that rallied to keep Dr. Leroy Carhart's clinic open amid a weeklong mobilization by Operation Rescue and other anti-choice groups.
Dr. Carhart is one of the few remaining providers of late-term abortions in the country. "Summer of Mercy," the name that the anti-choice bigots chose for their mobilization, was planned as a 24/7 prayer vigil and protest outside of Carhart's clinic, from July 30 to August 7.
As a response, clinic escorts and volunteers organized a counter-vigil, called "Summer of Trust," to fight back against the anti-choice lies spread by Summer of Mercy sponsors, including Operation Rescue, the Genocide Awareness Project and Operation Save America.
Although Summer of Mercy organizers claim to be peaceful, various anti-choice activists and groups are known for stalking doctors, making threats or engaging in acts of vandalism against abortion clinics across the country.
For example, anti-abortion fanatic Scott Roeder, who murdered abortion provider Dr. George Tiller at his Kansas church in 2009, was in contact with members of Operation Rescue, including the group's senior policy adviser Cheryl Sullenger, prior to the murder. Although Operation Rescue denied all responsibility for Dr. Tiller's assassination, it made no secret that, after shutting down Tiller's clinic in Kansas, its next target is Dr. Carhart.
The anti-choicers' misogyny and signs of supposedly aborted fetuses didn't go unanswered. All told, 200 people attended the opening "Walk for Choice" on July 31, and a total of a 160 people attended the closing demonstration on August 7.
Word of the counter-vigil spread far and wide. One activist, Cody J., mobilized awareness and raised funds to travel from Los Angeles. Cody stated, "I am here to combat Operation Rescue for the violent and militaristic rhetoric against a single provider, which ends up enabling violent terrorist acts against doctors."
Also joining Cody from out of state were workers and students from Boston, New York, Montreal and Houston. It was particularly heartening to see middle-aged male union workers from hundreds of miles away taking a stand to say that women's rights are inseparable from workers' rights.
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AT ANY point during the week, there was a constant presence of between six and 30 pro-choice picketers defending the clinic. Michelle, a volunteer with Dr. Carhart's clinic who was thrilled with our presence, stated, "We have shown this is a progressive pro-choice community that supports abortion access."
She was also heartened by the low numbers of the anti-choice bigots for their long-advertised demonstration, stating their numbers were meager because "this is a community that supports abortion access."
Although Michelle and other organizers originally planned a one-off event, they felt compelled by the large and determined turnout to strongly consider further organizing and actions.
"We want to keep the community going, to keep the connections and network we built to defend choice." Many activists agreed, including Danielle, who stated, "This was a great experience, it has been inspiring to be a part of this."
Support for the action against the anti-choicers was so enthusiastic that many activists chafed against the demonstration policies set by organizers and volunteers with Dr. Carhart's clinic. The rules for the vigil were based around a peaceful presence tactic, which forbade chanting and engaging in any way with the anti-choice bigots.
While everyone agreed to respect the position of Dr. Carhart and his relationship with the rest of the business park, many felt the restrictions to be difficult to abide by. Janice, from the Crown Heights neighborhood in New York City, said peaceful presence is "fine for counter-protesting and support...fine for this week's action, but it is not adequate for escorting patients. Are you willing to do whatever it takes--to get arrested--in order to respect whatever decision a woman may make?"
She added that "what demoralizes the [anti-choicers] is when women get access to services, although they were likely shocked by our continual presence against them."
Regardless of the right-wing assault on Dr. Carhart, practitioners, residents and activists will continue to stand strong. Diane, a local neighbor, emphatically stated, "I am grateful for your help and turnout. I will come back and join you every chance I get."