n May 13, members of the anti-abortion group Operation Save America walked solemnly to the entrance of the EMW Women’s Surgical Center, the last abortion clinic in Louisville, Kentucky. They sat down with their backs to the door and, as other protesters prayed nearby, refused to move. Eleven people, including Operation Save America’s director, Rusty Thomas, were arrested. It was the first such coordinated clinic blockade in 13 years and a sign that the militant wing of the anti-abortion movement feels newly energized in the wake of Donald Trump’s election. “We’re expecting some major breakthroughs in the coming weeks and months,” Thomas told me recently. He is hopeful that Kentucky, now one of seven states with only one abortion provider, could soon become the first state with none
In the past, radical anti-abortion activism, as well as anti-abortion harassment and terrorism, has waned during Republican administrations, when abortion opponents have direct access to power. But Vicki Saporta, the president of the National Abortion Federation, said she’s been surprised to see anti-abortion invective increase in the wake of Trump’s victory in November. In the first five months of 2017, she explained, there have been four times as many online threats and death wishes directed at abortion providers compared with the same period in 2016. “There seems to be an emboldening of anti-abortion extremists with this new administration,” she said. Willie Parker, the chairman of Physicians for Reproductive Health and an abortion provider in Alabama and Georgia, said protesters have grown more brash in their incursions onto clinic property and more “fierce and confrontational” in their rhetoric. There is “a presumption of protesters to believe that government is now on their side,” he said. It’s as if the anti-abortion movement, like other sectors of the far right, are feeding off Trump’s antinomian energy
That’s why, when Operation Save America holds its annual conference in Louisville this weekend, pro-choice activists are bracing for a siege. EMW is already embattled; entering the clinic means navigating a gauntlet of anti-abortion demonstrators, some of whom videotape patients as they arrive. The protesters have microphones, and they often attempt to shame women for seeking abortions. In one video taken by the Feminist Majority Foundation, a white preacher with a headset mic stands on a makeshift platform directly in front of the clinic and shouts, “Murdering children is an excuse to cover our sin, so we can live a life of sin! ... So we can live the gangster rap life!” Flanking him are people holding posters showing wildly enlarged photographs of bloody fetuses. In a call with journalists on Thursday, Meg Sasse Stern, one of the volunteer escorts who helps EMW clients make their way past demonstrators and into the clinic, said that she and her colleagues “have definitely seen increased aggression both from national and local protesters” in recent months. Earlier this week, an unknown person kicked in the clinic’s front door.
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