Putting the bigots in their place

Angela Gwen reports on a pro-choice counterdemonstration in Poughkeepsie, New York, that challenged the right wing’s "40 Days for Life."

Abortion rights activists mobilize for a clinic defense in Poughkeepsie, New York (Haley Pessin | Facebook)Abortion rights activists mobilize for a clinic defense in Poughkeepsie, New York (Haley Pessin | Facebook)

AS A part of the ongoing anti-choice "40 Days for Life" campaign, opponents of women's reproductive rights organized a rally outside the Planned Parenthood clinic in Poughkeepsie, New York, on October 21.

But the bigots weren't the only voices heard that day with their anti-abortion message--and they certainly weren't the loudest.

The International Socialist Organization (ISO) organized a mobilization of pro-choice supporters to defend the clinic, in collaboration with other local activists. In the weeks leading up to the event, members of the Poughkeepsie community and students at the State University of New York at New Paltz collaborated to plan and advertise our counterprotest.

Due to the national Planned Parenthood's policy of non-engagement with anti-choice protesters and a directive against clinic defense, the Poughkeepsie clinic couldn't organize, endorse or assist in the defense. But the clinic itself wasn't opposed to the counterprotest.

Abortion rights supporters from the ISO, March on Hudson Valley, Hudson Valley Antifa and other individuals--including people who also volunteer as escorts for the Planned Parenthood--turned out to the clinic at 7 a.m. to ensure that the anti-choice bigots, whose rosary prayer circle was scheduled for 8 a.m. to 12 noon, wouldn't show up unchallenged and to prevent them from gathering immediately outside the clinic.

Instead, that space was occupied by nearly 30 activists standing in solidarity with Planned Parenthood and its patients, forcing the antis to gather on the other side of the street.

The antis were unable to gain any momentum or support throughout the demonstration. Initially, only three antis gathered, and one left after less than an hour. Various anti-choice protesters showed up and left, but at the most, seven people were there at the same time from their side.

When their prayers were loud enough to be heard, they were quickly drowned out with chants in solidarity with women, such as "Abortion is health care; health care is a right" and "Keep your rosaries off my ovaries." Throughout the demonstration, passersby showed their support for clinic defenders, and staff members expressed gratitude for our demonstration.

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THE POUGHKEEPSIE Planned Parenthood is constantly under attack from anti-choicers. Throughout the 40 Days for Life, antis come out to protest the clinic on Saturdays and the headquarters on Sunday.

Because their Sunday actions are at the headquarters and not the clinic, Planned Parenthood has organized successful counterprotests on those days, occupying both sides of the block and regularly outnumbering the anti-choicers.

The October 21 action was the first time a clinic defense has taken place. The clinic is also protested every Wednesday, the day that abortions are performed. The anti-abortion protesters who show up that day are more militant and gather right in front of the clinic with cameras to harass and threaten patients. Until now, these demonstrations have gone unchallenged.

The national Planned Parenthood has the non-engagement attitude of "ignore the right and they'll go away," but this tactic does nothing but embolden their side. Over the last four decades, abortion rights have been chipped away. There are currently seven states that only have one abortion clinic.

And the onslaught continues. In September, the Department of Health recently released a draft of its "strategic plan for 2018 to 2022" that claims that life begins at conception.

These are all things that happened because there was no consistent action against the right.

The effects of clinic defenses and protests against the right in general can be seen on the ground. When the anti-choicers demonstrate on Wednesdays unopposed, they are militant, in an ideal position to harass patients, and emboldened enough to come back the next week.

When they were countered on October 21, they slinked away from the clinic, ineffective and lacked momentum.

Our response to the right can't be to do nothing. We've watched our rights be stripped away over the past few decades precisely because of this "tactic."

Mass mobilization is the only way to truly defend our rights and create positive change. This sentiment was echoed in the words of one demonstrator who said, "Under Trump's administration they [the right] are feeling emboldened, but they've been out here for a while so it's important for us to start pushing back."