Why we’re mobilizing to defend our clinics

March 11, 2019

Michelle Farber, of Seattle Clinic Defense and the International Socialist Organization, and Anne Rumsberger, of NYC for Abortion Rights and the Democratic Socialists of America, write on a call to confront the anti-choice campaign 40 Days for Life.

ON SATURDAY, April 6, the newly launched Movement for Abortion Defense is organizing a national day of action to defend our abortion clinics from anti-choice harassment during the biannual “40 Days for Life.”

During the “40 Days for Life” campaign, anti-choice demonstrators picket outside abortion clinics nonstop for 40 days, once during Lent in the spring and again in the fall.

Movement for Abortion Defense is made up of clinic defense groups from Seattle, Tacoma, and Everett, Washington; Minneapolis-St. Paul; Madison, Wisconsin; New York City; and Cincinnati. Our first national day of action coincides with the end of this spring’s 40 Days for Life campaign.

For too long, we have stood by and watched abortion rights be chipped away and violence outside our clinic doors escalate to a fever pitch.

The mainstream pro-choice community ignores the growing threat of thousands outside clinics in North Carolina, clinic blockades in Kentucky and clinic invasions across the Midwest and in Washington state.

Activists defend a Planned Parenthood clinic in Madison, Wisconsin
Activists defend a Planned Parenthood clinic in Madison, Wisconsin (International Socialist Organization - Madison | Facebook)

Organizations like NOW, NARAL and Planned Parenthood have staked their strategy on fundraising and lobbying pro-choice politicians, while actively obstructing a grassroots response to the threats we face.

With Brett Kavanaugh sitting on the U.S. Supreme Court, the right wing finally has Roe v. Wade in its crosshairs, and our clinics are vulnerable.

There is a long and proud tradition of clinic defenders standing up for patients, providers and abortion that has mostly been swept under the rug. In the early 1990s, at the height of Operation Rescue’s attacks on clinics around the country, clinic defenders in Buffalo, Rochester and other cities in upstate New York chased the bigots out of town.

There were mass mobilizations against anti-abortion crusaders everywhere from Boston to Los Angeles, and clinic defenses were the main strategy used to keep Operation Rescue from occupying and shutting down clinics.

For the last several years, activists in Seattle Clinic Defense and NYC for Abortion Rights have been organizing grassroots defenses of our clinics with large banners and signs to block out posters of mangled, fake fetuses and stop anti-choice harassment of patients and staff.

In New York City, activists regularly counterprotest anti-choicers on their turf, at a church a few blocks from Planned Parenthood in Manhattan, to prevent them from getting to the clinic for as long as possible.

New, independent groups have continued to pop up, most notably in the suburbs of Seattle, and this past fall, both Madison Abortion Defense and Twin Cities Clinic Defense were born.


THERE IS a debate in the abortion rights movement about how best to fight for and defend abortion.

Currently, most messaging is controlled by Planned Parenthood’s political arm, which discourages counterprotesting, insisting that clinic defenses are confusing to patients and that our efforts are better served by funneling our energies into calling and writing our legislators and voting.

While neither of those activities are bad ones to engage in, they are clearly not enough. We must change our course, and do it quickly, before we lose abortion access altogether, which is already the reality for huge areas of the country.

The strategy of relying on liberal NGOs has left us with no appreciable, militant abortion rights movement and a patchwork of abortion access.

Currently, 22 states have “trigger laws” on the books to make abortion immediately illegal should Roe v. Wade fall. Abortion access has been chipped away so much that in many parts of the South and Midwest, abortion is legal in name only.

This is especially true for women and people who can get pregnant in the majority of states that bar Medicaid or Title X federal funds from covering abortion. Since 2010 alone, 338 new restrictions on abortions have been passed across the country, and 87 percent of U.S. counties lack abortion providers.

In past decades, we have reacted to anti-choice offenses in the courts and on the streets, but this fall, with a growth in clinic defense across many cities, we saw that our presence there was starting to rattle them.

In the fall of 2018, the 40 Days for Life blog reported, “This fall, the persecution was unprecedented. From satanists to anarchists to socialists to transvestites, abortion supporters became unhinged toward peaceful prayer warriors. They no longer discuss ‘reproductive rights.’ They simply make noise and disrupt.”

The goal of clinic defense is twofold: first, protect patients and staff from harassment and intimidation; and second, to demoralize the anti-choicers and reclaim the space in front of abortion clinics as our own.

The Movement for Abortion Defense’s Day of Action is a start in rebuilding the scaffolding of a militant, unapologetic reproductive justice movement. By confronting anti-choice protesters outside of our clinics, we are letting them know that the right to abortion is one that we will fight for.


IT IS time to go on the offensive, to stand up against right-wing bigots trying to roll back our rights, and to demand equal access to healthcare and the right to full decision-making power over our bodies.

The organizers of this day of action lay out the following points of unity:

1. We believe abortion is critical to reproductive freedom, and reproductive freedom is central to liberation.

2. We believe in an unapologetic demand for full abortion rights and for reproductive justice.

3. We fight for free abortion on demand as a critical part of the broader fight for universal healthcare, free childcare, and ending sexual violence.

4. We believe that anti-racism is central to reproductive freedom.

5. We believe in gender justice and bodily autonomy for all genders and all bodies.

6. We believe in opposing right-wing, anti-choice protests in the streets.

7. We believe in reclaiming space and confronting antis at our clinics. We defend clinics to keep them open and ensure patients can get inside the door without harassment.

8. We believe that we can win.

We are abortion patients, pro-choice activists, reproductive health care providers, parents, teachers, partners and friends of people who have had abortions. We are decades behind where we need to be, and our fight is urgent.

To find or plan a clinic defense in your area, please visit the Movement for Abortion Defense National Day of Action page.

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