Why Does Ohio Need Clinic Protection Laws?

Pro-choice state legislators recently introduced a bill that would increase protection for Ohio’s abortion clinics. We’ve blogged at length about the anti-choice harassment that our patients, volunteers, and physicians experience, so we were thrilled when we heard about House Bill 408. Known as the “Clinic Protection Bill," HB 408 would accomplish the following things if passed:

  • It would criminalize impeding access to reproductive health care facilities
  • It would allow civil action on behalf of medical professionals and employees subject to harassment and intimidation at their medical offices or homes
  • It would protect patients entering a reproductive health care facility by making it a first degree misdemeanor (on first offense) to obstruct the facility, make or threaten physical contact with patients, harass patients within fifteen feet of the facility, or physically damage the facility

Sounds reasonable, right? The bill recently had a hearing, but experts say it is not likely to come up for a vote anytime soon.

URGE Press Conference on February 17, 2016

URGE Press Conference on February 17, 2016

Not willing to take “no" for an answer, we joined 70 URGE advocates and students at the Ohio Statehouse yesterday to demand that the HB 408 be passed. Activists met with lawmakers and lobbied on behalf of the bill.

A press conference was also held, with supportive remarks delivered by State Senator Capri Cafaro (Ohio 32nd District) and Khadija Kirksey, the URGE student leader from Wright State University.

Khadija Kirksey speaks at the URGE Press Conference on February 17, 2016.

Khadija Kirksey speaks at the URGE Press Conference on February 17, 2016.

We came to Columbus to say that we stand in solidarity with abortion providers and clinics across Ohio.
— Khadija Kirksey, Ohio Statehouse Press Conference, February 17, 2016
Amanda Patton shares her experiences dealing with anti-choice protesters during the URGE Press Conference on February 17, 2016.

Amanda Patton shares her experiences dealing with anti-choice protesters during the URGE Press Conference on February 17, 2016.

Amanda Patton, an employee at Founder’s Women’s Health Center, gave an emotional speech at the press conference, drawing on her own experiences at FWHC to explain why this clinic protection law is so necessary.

Imagine pulling up to your doctor’s office to find protesters blocking your car from entering the parking lot. They knock on your window, trying to get you to talk to them. You finally park, get out, and find yourself standing in front of a man who is shouting and holding a sign that implies that you are a murderer.

As you walk, that one man quickly becomes a mob of people who are telling you the clinic isn’t a safe place. Suddenly you’re frightened, pregnant, and outnumbered. This scene is a reality that women seeking abortion face every day across the state at the few remaining clinics. Put yourself in their shoes and then tell me that we don’t need clinic protection laws.
— Amanda Patton, Ohio Statehouse Press Conference, February 17, 2016
A group of anti-choice protesters approach a patient's car as she is trying to park outside of Founder's Women's Health Center.

A group of anti-choice protesters approach a patient's car as she is trying to park outside of Founder's Women's Health Center.

Amanda isn’t the only one who has witnessed the aggression of Ohio’s anti-choice protesters. Several volunteers have submitted written statements to NARAL Pro Choice Ohio detailing the harassment they have experienced outside of both FWHC and Planned Parenthood on E. Main Street (the only two abortion providers remaining in Central Ohio).

In my role as an escort, I have not been spared harassment. I do not engage with radicals, but a few have taken this as its own provocation. One protester recently followed me and a patient so closely that she shoved against my body, stepped on my heel and literally removed my shoe as I stepped away to escape her. This was not an accident. It was not followed with an apology – only laughter and a parting wave. Let me be clear that there is nothing funny about touching strangers menacingly. Fearful for my safety as a volunteer, I reported the incident to the police - though the officer seemed concerned, I never heard back.

On my first day of work at a different clinic, I stepped out of my car to see someone standing just feet away recording me with her cellphone. The facility was not scheduled to open until an hour later, so I can only conclude that her full intention was to target employees like myself.
— Buxi, volunteer at FWHC and healthcare assistant at Planned Parenthood on East Main Street.
An anti-choice protester outside of FWHC dresses in the same reflective yellow worn by the clinic's volunteers, as described in Michelle's statement. This is also the same protester involved in the physical incident described by Buxi.

An anti-choice protester outside of FWHC dresses in the same reflective yellow worn by the clinic's volunteers, as described in Michelle's statement. This is also the same protester involved in the physical incident described by Buxi.

It’s commonplace for the protesters at FWHC to congregate in the alley behind the clinic. They are careful not to breach the parking lot but they obstruct cars from utilizing the alley to access the center’s only parking lot (in the rear of the building), as well as the overflow parking area that patients often park in. It’s not only purposefully intimidating to patients, it’s blatantly obstructive as well.

There is a protester that I’ve seen at Founder’s who dresses in a reflective vest, similar to the vests that the clinic’s volunteers wear, in what can only be perceived as an attempt to trick patients into thinking that she is with the clinic. She approaches patients at their vehicles and on sidewalk areas directly outside the clinic.

I have personally been followed and harassed by protesters outside of both FWHC, where I volunteer as an escort, and at Planned Parenthood East Columbus Surgical Center, where I have stood outside with signs of support and solidarity.
— Michelle, a volunteer escort at Founder's Women's Health Center

Now that you know why clinic protection laws are necessary, please send an email to your state legislator and urge that they pass HB 408. We are also encouraging supporters to contact Columbus City Council and request that they pass a local clinic protection ordinance.

Otterbein students at the 2016 URGE Advocacy Day.

Otterbein students at the 2016 URGE Advocacy Day.

Until clinic protection laws are passed, we encourage patients to practice self-care when arriving at the clinic. Know the facts:

  • Protesters are NOT allowed to touch you or harm you.
  • Protesters are NOT allowed on the clinic’s property.
  • Protesters ARE allowed on the sidewalk since it is public property.

Patients who do not wish to speak to the protesters can try the following self-care tactics while parking/walking:

  • Wear headphones to block out the noise
  • Use an umbrella to block out graphic visuals/posters
  • Do not respond or make eye contact
  • If you feel like a protester has crossed a line, don’t be afraid to use your phone to snap a picture or a video of the person who is making you feel uncomfortable. Show the picture to clinic staff so they can better recognize which protesters are being bothersome to patients.
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