The anti-abortion lobby is demonstrating its disdain for certain lives. Protesting is one way to show disapproval of a woman’s right to choose. But during this pandemic, it becomes life-threatening. Clinic escort volunteers heeded the public health guidelines and stopped providing services during the pandemic in the interest of safety for all involved. Anti-abortion protesters, on the other hand, have continued to protest in spite of public health directives. Put simply, the protesters present a health hazard to patients, clinic staff, and one another. When the clinic staff calls the police to report protesters who are not following public health guidelines, the police are then exposed germs as well. Whether or not it is legal for the protesters to be there, which is not really debatable in legal circles, the protests are factually a danger to all involved.
The protesters would have one believe they are either peacefully praying or providing “street counseling” for women coming to the clinics. Unfortunately, the reality is very ugly. Protesters intentionally step in front of cars forcing them to stop before they can access the private parking lots of the clinics. The patients do not know what is happening and stop. The protester then knocks on their car window. When the window is lowered, the protester tries to talk to the patient and hand them pamphlets full of false information about abortions. This behavior is dangerous to the patients and those who accompany them. According to Tara Romano, Executive Director of NARAL Prochoice NC, protesters also intimidate patients by yelling, taking photos or video, and taking down license plate numbers. The chaos caused by the protesters is intimidating and dangerous to patients.
Another factor that makes protesting a public health hazard is that people drive long distances to protest. By doing so, they are potentially spreading the virus around the state. Communities that have few diagnoses may see more if protesters bring the virus back with them.
The anti-abortion movement appears to have targeted North Carolina as a state to test their tactics. Because North Carolina has a Democratic governor, they appear to be using it as a test case for establishing protesters’ rights. Those arrested are suing the state and are represented by the Alliance Defending Freedom. The groups Love Life and Cities4Life have a long history of protesting at abortion clinics in Charlotte where some days over a thousand protesters show up before the pandemic. The city had to pass a noise ordinance last year to prevent the protesters from using loudspeakers outside the clinic that could be heard inside. They have expanded their group to include churches outside of Greensboro as well. Protesters were arrested for violating the state health guidelines, not for protesting.
Even without the pandemic, women should not have to suffer the indignity of being “counseled” by protesters as they seek treatment. If a woman feels that she needs counseling around her medical decision she has many options for receiving that counseling that does not include a random stranger on the street. The idea that women cannot come to a decision themselves and need strangers “counseling” them is demeaning. And now, with the pandemic raging around them, women should certainly be able to access healthcare without the worry of protesters putting them at risk.