After working at Founder’s Women’s Health Center for almost a year, I have seen shocking examples of the anti-choice war that is being waged on abortion providers and their patients in Ohio. And this entire time, I have struggled to operate within the culture of resigned acceptance, fear, and silence that the workers and doctors have adhered to throughout the decades of harassment.
“Just ignore them.” That is the mantra. Ignoring the protester’s graphic signs, attacks, and extremism is more than just a survival strategy or a coping mechanism for volunteers, staff, doctors, and patients. It is a matter of staunch principal. One abortion doctor, who has been terrorized outside of his home and work for 40 years, explained it to me this way:
I often feel pangs of guilt for writing blog posts about the protesters because I hate giving them a platform to spread their message. And I know that many of the clinic’s staff members have had these same feelings about my posts. Their well-meaning words of wisdom stick in my head: “Don’t give those people the satisfaction. Don’t dwell on the hate and violence.”
I don’t disagree with these sentiments. “Just ignore them” is typically the strategy that our staff, volunteers, and patients are encouraged to adhere to. However, I’ve come to realize that staying silent doesn’t do us any favors when it comes to finding meaningful solutions.
Hearing a state legislator say those words felt validating. It was proof that lawmakers really DO care about what is happening to abortion providers and patients. It gives me hope that it is actually possible to pass laws that crack down on anti-choice extremist behavior. But such laws will only come to fruition if there is a large community of voters vocalizing their concerns and support.
If the community doesn’t know about the horrible acts that these anti-choice extremists are committing, then nothing will change. So this blog post is about taking a moment to break the silence and shine a light on what is really happening to abortion clinics all over the state.
Here are six reasons why we need Ohio’s legislators to pass laws that protect abortion providers and patients from protester harassment and intimidation:
1. Anti-choicers go out of their way to follow, intimidate and harass patients outside of clinics
I’ve described the hostile environment outside of the Columbus clinic many times in previous blog posts. This time, I would like to expand upon this aspect of clinic harassment using a patient’s own words. I recently met with a former patient of FWHC who became interested in pro-choice activism because of her negative experiences with the anti-choice protesters outside of FWHC.
2. Anti-choice protesters buy property near abortion clinics so that their protesters can be closer to patients.
The anti-choice protester strategy at Toledo’s last abortion clinic is just as disturbing. An anti-choice entity with too much money actually bought the property surrounding Capital Care Network, just so the protesters could be closer to the patients. Someone affiliated with the anti-choice protesters bought the empty parking lot across the street (N. Haven), as well as the house behind the clinic.
Let that sink in for a moment. These people literally spend loads of money on buying properties near clinics with the intent of shaming, intimidating, and misleading pregnant women who are seeking legal medical care.
This is a common Right To Life strategy. Have you ever noticed that there is always a Crisis Pregnancy Center located just a block or two away from abortion clinics?
3. Anti-choice extremists repeatedly vandalize clinics.
On the morning of October 3, 2015, staff at Capital Care Network, Toledo’s last abortion clinic, arrived to find someone had used a blunt object to shatter the glass on the clinic’s front door. Luckily, the door was double-paned, so no one was able to enter the clinic and no one was hurt.
According to clinic management, this is the fourth time that such an incident has occurred within the last decade.
The clinic said that the most recent attack occurred on the evening of Friday, October 2, 2015. Then less than 12 hours later, approximately 100 anti-choice protesters affiliated with a Catholic church showed up to protest outside of the clinic.
The Catholic group stood across the street from the clinic in a parking lot that is owned by the protesters. In response, 40 pro-choice volunteers showed up to defend the clinic and safely escort patients inside.
4. Anti-choice extremists have a history of bombing clinics.
Acts of violence against abortion clinics in Ohio are nothing new. Founder’s Women’s Health Center, Ohio’s first abortion clinic, has been bombed “at least twice" since 1978. (According to clinic staffers, there have been several failed attempts and bomb threats, but they don’t count those.)
While it has been years since such an incident has occurred at FWHC, the climate outside of the clinic has worsened since 1978. As noted in a Columbus Dispatch article from June 10, 1978, Founder’s used to only get picketed by protesters once a month.
Fast forward to 2015 and you’ll find protesters outside of the clinic on almost any day of the week. This is why the clinic now has volunteers to escort patients past the loud-mouthed anti-choice protesters.
5. Anti-choicers protest outside of the private homes and workplaces of abortion doctors.
Here in Columbus, protesters from Created Equal gather outside of Dr. Harley Blank’s house with graphic signs and video cameras. (Created Equal is an anti-choice group that frequently protests at clinics, hospitals, universities, and local high schools.) The video above depicts the protesters outside of Dr. Blank’s house as they argue with a neighborhood pedestrian.
Some background: Dr. Blank was the first abortion doctor to perform a legal abortion in Ohio after Roe v. Wade. He is the founder of FWHC and has been providing abortion services for more than 40 years. He has endured anti-choice harassment for just as long. He’s been followed to the grocery store, berated in front of his own home, and of course, he deals with a constant barrage of harassment outside of the clinic.
Meanwhile, the Columbus Dispatch reports that the same group that harasses Dr. Blank is also protesting outside the homes of doctors in Dayton.
6. They distribute postcards with the home addresses of abortion doctors
Created Equal also printed postcards with Dr. Blank’s photo and home address, which they then distributed to Columbus neighborhood residents. They did same thing to doctors in Dayton.
The postcards have a small disclaimer at the bottom: “Created Equal condemns all abortion-related violence.”
This is a bullshit disclaimer. Why else would someone distribute an abortion doctor’s home address? It only took one mentally unstable person to kill Dr. Tiller at his church. Does Created Equal really believe that they aren’t putting a target on Dr. Blank’s back when they tell everyone where he lives?
To the people who say I’m just playing the victim card, here is my response: These are not sob stories meant to generate pity. This is a battle cry. This is meant to be ammunition that ignites awareness, support, and unity within the pro-choice community. I want you to read this and get angry for the patients, employees, volunteers and doctors who have to endure these endless acts of harassment. Channel that anger and use it to propel you into action.
Now is the time to demand change from your state legislators. People say there’s no chance this bill will pass, but I refuse to back down without at least trying.
I encourage everyone to do the following things:
Write or email your state legislators about this issue.
If you don’t know who your lawmakers are or how to get in touch with them, click this link and enter your zip code.
If you’re not sure what to say, here’s a template to use:
"Anti-choice harassment is a problem in Ohio and the women of this state deserve better. I urge you to support and co-sponsor a bill that is being introduced by Representative Howse and Representative Lepore-Hagan that would create buffer zones outside of clinics and right of action for those targeted by anti-abortion protesters’ non-physical harassment. For example, anti-choice protesters are parking trucks with graphic signs outside the homes of Wright State doctors, and sending “killers among us” postcards to the doctor's neighbors. These postcards usually contain the home address of doctors. This outrageous behavior puts a target on the backs of law-abiding doctors who are performing legal procedures. What happened to Dr. Tiller cannot happen here in Ohio. Please support legislation that would address these extreme tactics."
Send "Thank you" emails/cards to Rep. Stephanie Howse and Rep. Michele Lepore-Hagan who are introducing this anti-harassment legislation.
We need to show them we support what they are doing and encourage them to fight like hell.
Contact info for: Representative Stephanie D. Howse
77 S. High St
Columbus, OH 43215
Phone (614) 466-1414
Contact info for: Representative Michele Lepore-Hagan
77 S. High St
Columbus, OH 43215
Phone (614) 466-9435
Sign NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio's webform to show your support for the whole “Abortion Without Apology" package of legislation
It will automatically send an email to your legislators regarding six different pro-choice pieces of legislation.