New Orleans is known for its music, its food and its laissez les bon temps rouler attitude. It’s a city of fun, parties and indulgence. But this week the city and its surrounding area were taken over by anti-abortion extremists, and their idea of “good times” harkens back to the days of the 1980s rescue movement, complete with pickets, “aborted baby” funerals and abortion provider intimidation.
Operation Save America lost the name Operation Rescue during the 1990s, when Troy Newman legally took the name for his Operation Rescue West chapter, but the tactics that OSA used during their latest convention, held in Louisiana, showed the group hasn’t strayed far from its original mission. Although actual clinic blockades can no longer be attempted due to the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act, which made blocking an abortion clinic entrance a federal crime, many of the other events hosted by the groups departing leader Flip Benham came straight from the early abortion clinic opposition movement handbook.
The group protested the homes of abortion providers, a move that enraged their neighbors. “It’s an encroachment on my right a neighbor. I’ve spoken to the police here. I feel like they have more of a right than I do as someone who lives here to spout all of this hatred whereas I’m supposed to just roll over and take it,” Elizabeth Brusseau told local news.
Abortion opponents have been protesting outside doctor’s homes for decades, and the tactic continues to be a favorite of the most extreme abortion opponents. Even more gruesome is their tactic of holding “open casket funerals” where they mourn the body of a fetus they claim died in an abortion. In this case, they named the “baby” Amos, eulogizing it in public. Benham and OSA performed a similar funeral in Jackson, Miss., for the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade and, like many of their week long events, the funeral has become a frequent part of their anti-abortion protest activities.
In a more surprising move, the group actually interrupted a local church service at a Unitarian Universalist Church, breaking up a moment of prayerful silence by screaming “Abomination!” and “You are going to hell!“ The church’s crime appears to have been not being against abortion rights and homosexuality. While church service harassment is a very unusual form of protest these days, Benham and his Dallas followers used to engage in it back in the late 80′s in order to try to intimidate a pastor who supported the local Planned Parenthood affiliate.
Also like the 80s and 90s, abortion access supporters refused to be silenced. Throughout the week, local and non-local abortion rights advocates and allies gathered at clinics, providers homes and other areas in which the protesters gathered. There, they stood in vests to help patients access care, or with signs supporting the patients and doctors or hand lettered signs reading, “Abortion Providers Are Heroes.”
They also held their own vigils, too. On Thursday, supporters gathered in a candlelight vigil of their own, honoring those who make their own choices about when to give birth, as well as those who provide the services to help them do that.
“Operation Rescue, Operation Save America are bullies who go on tour. They come to places where they think they can have an impact, but in every place that they’ve been at, people have still needed health care and they’ll mobilize to oppose them,” Jessie Nieblas of the New Orleans Abortion Fund told WWLTV.com.
With the passage of a restrictive abortion regulation bill that is expected to close almost every clinic in the state by September 1st unless it is blocked by the court, it would at first glance seem as if this would be the type of state where a group like OSA would thrive and find massive local support. Instead, the response to its tactics have been overwhelmingly negative. Even a small gesture, such as the Mayor’s initial proclamation and certificate of recognition to OSA for visiting instead backfired, with the Mayor’s office quickly responding that it offered the certificate by mistake.
What was seen in New Orleans and the surrounding area this weekend wasn’t an anomaly, though. It was in fact a reminder of what the true goal of many anti-abortion activist groups would do if they didn’t have to worry about public backlash. The harassment at clinics, the harassment in front of homes, the fetal funerals, the graphic photos are happening all across the country already.
The 80s era protest tactics are already back, and happening all across the United States. The only difference is, in New Orleans, everyone was watching.
Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons
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