Illustration for article titled Anti-Abortion Groups Are Mad That the Coronavirus Has Made It a Little Bit Harder to Harass People
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Anti-abortion zealots are now attempting to paint themselves as the victims during the covid-19 pandemic, complaining that stay-at-home orders have disrupted their ability to target and harass people seeking abortions and their providers. These complaints ring just a little hollow given that anti-abortion protesters are continuing to target clinics during a public health crisis, but when have pesky things reality ever gotten in the way of a conservative crusade! As the New York Times reported on Tuesday, groups like Susan B. Anthony List, March for Life Action and the Family Research Council, as well as a whole host of the conservative movement’s most influential idiots, sent a letter dated April 17 to Attorney General William Barr urging him to review the stay-at-home orders issued by states around the country, claiming that they have led to “rampant abuses of constitutional rights and civil liberties.”

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The first example they included in their list of supposed abuses? The fact that, in their words, some so-called “pro-life counselors” (read: far-right anti-abortion zealots) have been arrested “for peacefully standing outside an abortion clinic while maintaining social distance” during a pandemic in which we’re all being encouraged to stay at home if we can so that people don’t die. How pro-life of them!

Despite the outrage, these arrests have reportedly been sporadic: According to abortion advocates, what’s far more common than anti-abortion protesters being arrested is the continued disruption of clinics that are already struggling to cope with the impact of covid-19 on their operations, putting the safety of both patients and staff at risk. “Unfortunately, we’re still seeing anti-abortion people showing up outside clinics, completely disregarding social distancing guidance and stay-at-home orders,” wrote The Very Reverend Katherine Ragsdale, President and CEO of the National Abortion Federation, in a statement to Jezebel, adding that at some clinics, anti-abortion protesters have been surrounding patients’ cars, making it difficult to even enter the clinic.

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As Rewire.News reported earlier this month, many anti-abortion activists are committed to disrupting abortion clinics even amid the covid-19 pandemic. “If clinics are open, we need to be there,” said Monica Migliorino Miller, the director of Citizens for a Pro-Life Society and a member of Red Rose Rescue, during a March conference call. She added, according to Rewire.News, “We cannot be abandoning our posts.” NAF’s Ragsdale noted that even anti-abortions groups that are asking members to stay at home are still encouraging people to “flood abortion clinics with phone calls to harass clinic staff and prevent patients from being able to access their health care providers.”

But a small number of protesters have been cited for violating local stay-at-home orders, and it’s these isolated incidents that anti-abortion advocates have seized upon, amplifying them in an effort to show that they are the actual victims, and not the clinic patients and staff they’re targeting. Earlier this month in San Francisco, an 86-year-old long-time anti-abortion protester was ticketed—though not arrested—after he repeatedly refused to leave the Planned Parenthood clinic he has been protesting in front of since February. And in March, a group of protesters with the anti-abortion group Love Life were arrested on two separate days after refusing to leave an abortion clinic in Greensboro, North Carolina, where they were found to be in violation of the county’s order banning non-essential travel.

Per the Winston-Salem Journal:

Videos of the incidents last Saturday and Monday as well as claims of “Christians arrested for praying” are being shared across social media.

But police say that’s not why the group was arrested. After being asked to leave, protesters simply refused to do so.

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A few days later in Charlotte, North Carolina, another group of anti-abortion protesters were arrested, after about 50 people gathered in front of the A Preferred Women’s Health Center abortion clinic, in violation of the state’s ban on large gatherings and after several refused requests from police officers to leave. Those arrested included David Benham, whom you may remember from his failed 2014 HGTV reality show with his identical twin brother and fellow anti-abortion nut Jason Benham, a project that was scrapped after the network belatedly realized they were anti-abortion and anti-gay marriage bigots. More, from the Charlotte Observer:

“After an initial request for compliance, 12 people who were in violation refused to leave” and were cited under state law for violation of emergency prohibitions and restrictions, according to a Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department news release.

After police issued the citations, eight of the protesters still refused to leave and were arrested.

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According to Calla Hales, the director of the clinic, anti-abortion activists have been regularly holding protests outside of the clinic and have been flouting social distancing guidelines and much-needed public safety measures. (At the A Preferred Women’s Health Center in Raleigh in March, according to one clinic escort, one protester even coughed on another clinic volunteer, telling him, “Would be a shame if I was sick.”) Per the Charlotte Observer:

Calling it “a public health nightmare,” Hales said the protesters were not following social distancing during previous protests, and did not wear gloves or masks when they approached patients coming into the clinic to speak with them, distribute literature and to try to convince them not to have an abortion.

“The size of the protest doesn’t matter, it’s that they’re not adhering to social buffers,” she said Tuesday. “That invasion of space and potential exposure is really unsettling.”

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Not surprisingly, Republican elected officials and the anti-abortion movement have seized on these isolated incidents–ones in which protesters have been by all accounts treated gently by the police, who have requested that they disperse several times before arresting them— to argue that they’re being unfairly targeted. On April 4, Texas Senator Ted Cruz tweeted out a video by David Benham, adding, “This is an unconstitutional arrest. @BenhamBrothers exercising core First Amendment rights. PEACEFULLY. In a way fully consistent w/ public safety. Because elected Dems are pro-abortion, they are abusing their power—in a one-sided way—to silence pregnancy counselors.” Members of Love Life, with the help of the Alliance Defending Freedom, are now suing the city of Greensboro and Guilford County, claiming that their constitutional rights were violated.

As for Attorney General William Barr, he certainly seems to have taken the complaints by Susan B. Anthony List and others to heart. In an interview on Tuesday with the conservative radio host and pundit Hugh Hewitt, Barr described some stay-at-home orders as “burdens on civil liberties” and promised to side with plaintiffs who file lawsuits against orders that he thinks go too far, which I assume to mean that they go against the wishes of his boss Donald Trump.

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As for abortion advocates, they have little confidence that anti-abortion activists will follow public health guidelines amid the pandemic. “Anyone who has spent any time outside an abortion clinic knows anti-abortion protesters are almost constantly violating different laws when law enforcement is not present—whether it’s blocking a patient from entering, violating noise ordinances, or worse,” Ragsdale told Jezebel. “A public health pandemic is not the time to believe anti-abortion protesters when they promise to behave—they never do.”

Senior reporter, Jezebel

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