Will Kentucky become abortion-free?

Nicole Colson reports on a protest of anti-choice activists that aimed to shut down the last abortion clinic in Kentucky, and what it signals about the fight for abortion rights.

Anti-abortion bigots blockade the entrance to the last remaining clinic in KentuckyAnti-abortion bigots blockade the entrance to the last remaining clinic in Kentucky

ALTHOUGH IT received little attention in the media, anti-choice bigots attempted to shut down the last remaining abortion clinic in the state of Kentucky on May 13--nearly depriving women in the state access to what is supposed to be a federally protected right to control their reproductive choice.

In what the website Rewire termed a "siege," some 100 anti-choice protesters with the group Operation Save America (OSA)--a splinter from the former Operation Rescue anti-choice group--descended on the EMW Women's Clinic in Louisville. In all, 10 members of the group were arrested after locking arms and refusing to move from the clinic's entrance.

Calling its May 13 action "No Greater Love," OSA's action really was about hate--hate for the rights of women to exercise control over their reproductive lives.

In a post on the blog Everysaturdaymorning, which details the experiences of members of Louisville Clinic Escorts, a group that protects patients entering the EMW Women's Clinic, the author detailed:

[The OSA demonstration] was the wildest spectacle I've seen in my 18 years as a Louisville Clinic Escort. I was approaching the entrance with a client, just a few minutes after the doors were unlocked. We were having the usual light conversation when I observed that the scene at the door was different than the usual massive clusterfuck of bullies. Instead of [anti-choicers] swarming at us and lining the sidewalk with signs, they were all tightly packed near the entrance.

Video posted to the Louisville Clinic Escorts Facebook page shows the anti-choice bigots blocking access to the clinic. Despite being in clear violation of a federal law, the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances, the escort noted that the protesters were treated gently by police.

Although escorts were able to shepherd patients into the clinic through a back way, the author predicted: "We know we have not seen the last of this sort of behavior, and we expect the worst from these extremist terrorists."

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THIS WRITER is right to see the Louisville blockade as a sign of things to come from anti-choice extremists.

Operation Save America's roots run deep as one of the most vicious anti-choice groups in the U.S. Its forerunner, Operation Rescue, vaulted to prominence in the 1980s for its efforts to physically block access to abortion clinics and for the violent and even terrorist acts of some of its members.

Today, OSA refers to abortion as a "holocaust" and, in addition to being anti-choice, is also virulently anti-gay and anti-Muslim.

Outrageously, the group has adopted the language of progressive movements against oppression in seeking to deny women their right to abortion. Labeling their recent action in Kentucky with the positive-sounding term "interposition," Rusty Thomas, OSR's current national director, said, "[I]nterposition takes place when one stands in the gap between the oppressor and the intended victim. And by standing in the gap, rescues the victim from the oppressor's hand."

No thought, of course, is given to the woman who is carrying the pregnancy, what her beliefs or desires are, or the fact that forcing women to carry pregnancies they aren't mentally, physically or financially prepared for is an act of oppression--one that OSR would be happy to see become the norm across the country.

And they are close to seeing it happen in Kentucky.

Anti-choice Republican Gov. Matt Bevin has made it his mission to rid the state of every abortion clinic. He has already forced multiple clinics to close after filing lawsuits claiming they are not in compliance with laws that place arcane and unnecessary restrictions on abortion providers.

In late March, Bevin ordered the EMW Women's Surgical Center to stop performing abortions, saying it was not in compliance with a state regulation--a charge the clinic denies. A judge blocked that order temporarily, but the clinic's future remains in jeopardy.

Kentucky already has some of the most restrictive laws in the country when it comes to abortion--including a ban on abortion after 20 weeks' gestation with no exceptions for rape or incest, and a mandatory ultrasound, anti-abortion "counseling" and a waiting period before a woman can get an abortion.

Now, Thomas says that the group is planning to return for another round of protests in July. "That is a tremendous opportunity before you all to become the first surgically abortion-free state in the United States of America and so, we're praying Kentucky will lead the way out of this blood guiltiness that's upon the land," he told the Courier-Journal.

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THERE IS a chilling historical precedent for OSA's latest escalation.

Last year, OSA members gathered in Wichita, Kansas, to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Operation Rescue's infamous "Summer of Mercy" in 1991, when, over the course of six weeks, thousands of anti-choice activists sat in, blockading clinics and streets--and succeeded in their mission of shutting clinics down for weeks.

As part of the group's events in Wichita, Thomas said OSA's mission is now undergoing a "paradigm shift." Confident from recent successes in restricting abortion rights at the state level and with a new anti-choice administration in the White House that appointed its first reactionary justice to the Supreme Court, Thomas said that the group is encouraging local and state officials to simply refuse to enforce Roe and to take steps to shut down abortion access--regardless of federal law or the courts.

"We're talking about defying [Roe]," Thomas told the Wichita Eagle. "Just flat-out defying it."

While the scale of the most recent anti-choice protests is smaller than in the early 1990s, the right has been largely successful in the intervening years in legislating away women's right to abortion, one restriction at a time. Now, they are getting a boost from an administration that is hostile to abortion rights--and an "opposition" party that has often capitulated to such attacks.

As Rewire pointed out, Louisville is likely the beginning of a new anti-choice onslaught:

Now, the dangers to abortion patients and providers have taken a terrifying lurch forward. The Trump administration has signaled to abortion opponents and other Christian extremists that they do not need to recognize fundamental civil rights like reproductive autonomy, so long as they stage their attacks on those rights as an exercise of religious freedom.

As a result, extremists are energized and ready to renew their attacks on clinics and patients, as Saturday's siege in Louisville demonstrates. And there is little reason to think anti-choice radicals won't increase pressure on clinics and lawmakers, particularly in those states with only one abortion clinic remaining and those with religious imposition laws.

Activists may have met last summer to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Summer of Mercy. But if Saturday's actions are any indication of their future plans, this summer will be the official reboot of those early, increasingly violent, attacks on patients and providers.

After their original "Summer of Mercy," Operation Rescue embraced the tactic of attempting to physically block access clinics--showing up in cities along the East Coast, including Buffalo and Rochester, New York, in 1992 for a "Spring of Life."

But they did not go unopposed. As SocialistWorker.org's Elizabeth Schulte wrote, "After Wichita, the anti-abortion fanatics thought they could go to any city and shut down abortion rights. But for some pro-choice activists, the new slogan became "No more Wichitas!"

It took a mass pro-choice mobilization to physically defend the clinics, but Operation Rescue's attacks were largely thwarted in upstate New York--and that pro-choice victory helped push OR back on its heels, at least temporarily.

As Brian Erway recounted in a recent article for SocialistWorker.org:

By the end of the first week, it was clear to all that Operation Rescue was being routed, outnumbered every day at the clinics and unable to shut down any operations at all. A local newspaper declared, "OR strategy backfires," pointing out that OR's ballyhooed descent on Buffalo had set in motion an even more potent response. Now the superior tactics and mobilization of [the pro-choice coalition] were winning the day.

Now that the anti-choice forces have the wind in their sails, we have to relearn the lessons about how we pushed them back the first time--and take them on now, wherever they try to deny women the right to control their own bodies.