I was really touched this weekend. Anti-abortion extremist group Operation Rescue/Operation Save America (OSA) launched a week-long siege against doctors and reproductive health clinics in Louisiana on Saturday, protesting not only outside of clinics but also outside a doctor’s private home. While police stood by as protesters harassed and trespassed onto the doctor’s property, a group of twenty or so of the doctor’s neighbors came together to stand up for reproductive rights and to support the doctor.
As a Feminist Majority Foundation (FMF) National Campus Organizer, I had the pleasure of partnering with the New Orleans Abortion Fund to train volunteers, student leaders, and community members to support their local abortion clinics and providers. We organized the training in preparation for the OSA siege which follows Louisiana state lawmakers’ recent passage of new restrictive measures that, if allowed to go into effect, may force the closures of most clinics in New Orleans and the rest of Louisiana. Plus, the local Catholic Bishop is waging a campaign to stop the construction of a new Planned Parenthood facility in New Orleans, boycotting any contractors who work on the new building.
The week’s activities have just started, but already OSA has protested outside of a local abortion clinic, threatening the safety and privacy of clinic staff and patients. They interrupted a Unitarian Universalist Sunday church service, going inside to disrupt. The worst is that they even protested an abortion doctor’s private residence. On all occasions, they stood outside yelling and harassing patients, neighbors, and bystanders.
Together with the FMF National Clinic Access Project Director, I have been on the ground in New Orleans, and on Saturday, I was present when OSA went to the doctor’s residence. Together with volunteers, we positioned ourselves at the doctor’s home, not only to show support as observers, but also to make sure she wasn’t alone. It was a quiet, rainy day when all of a sudden, Operation Save America took over the doctor’s neighborhood, holding up gruesome graphic posters and arrowed signs pointing to the doctor’s home with her name. They had loudspeakers and passed out flyers with the doctor’s picture and information. They yelled at neighbors as they were trying to pass by on sidewalks, as well as those driving by.
Some of the protesters even went as far as going onto the doctor’s porch and taking pictures, as though her private home was a visit to a theme park. It was awful to see OSA’s impact on the neighborhood. Young children who were playing outside and neighbors who were walking their dogs scurried into their homes out of fear. About fifty members of Operation Save America stood outside of the doctor’s home yelling for her to come out, calling her names, and urging her to stop providing abortions. Although police were present, they did nothing to intervene.
But then something amazing happened. After a while, neighbors started to come out and join me and the volunteers. They came out to thank us for providing a peaceful pro-choice presence and also to support the doctor. Some came to thank the doctor, some made posters, and some just stood with us in solidarity. They were all appalled at the Operation Save America activities.
“It’s an encroachment on my right as 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,” said Elizabeth, one of the doctor’s neighbors. Elizabeth was standing outside of her front yard enjoying a private conversation with her mother when she was interrupted and harassed by one of the OSA protesters.
She and about twenty of her neighbors and community members joined us as we stood not only for the right to choose but also in support of a doctor who has given most of her life’s work to helping her community. I’ve had a chance to meet this doctor and she is an amazing person with a caring heart, who does a job that is desperately needed. It was a beautiful thing to see her neighbors come out in support. I was truly moved.
New Orleans is a “live-and-let-live” city. It’s a big city but also a small town, and from this past weekend, I can see what an awesome community it is. To this day I stand by the saying that public policy does not reflect lived reality. Restrictive legislation has been enacted in Louisiana that will close most of their abortion clinics, leaving the majority of Louisiana, with little to no access. Contrary to what they would like us to believe, the people of New Orleans are pro-choice and stand by reproductive justice, and they stand by their doctor.