As the 40th anniversary of the landmark Roe v. Wade decision approaches, anti-abortion fervor is reaching a fever pitch in some conservative areas. At Alabama’s Women Center for Reproductive Alternatives — one of just a few reproductive health resources in the entire state — anti-abortion protests have been intensifying for the past several months, culminating in at least one arrest and increased numbers of volunteer clinic escorts working to safeguard the women walking to and from the health center.
Since state law requires the Alabama Women’s Center to list the days when abortion procedures might be performed, anti-abortion protesters are able to plan their harassment for days when the women visiting the clinic are likely to be seeking an abortion. The protesters are now monitored by local police officers, and clinic escorts will park women’s cars for them so they can slip into the back door of the clinic to avoid confrontations.
Pamela Watters, one of the women’s health advocates who helps organize clinic escorts, told the Alabama press what the volunteers have been up against since they started escorting women in October:
This week, pro-life protestor Joyce Fecteau, 70, was arrested for assault based on an incident alleged to have happened the week of Christmas. A pro-choice protestor told police that Fecteau sprayed her in the face with what Fecteau says is holy water.
Fecteau told The Huntsville Times that she was spritzing holy water to cleanse the air of smoke from a pro-choicer’s sage smudge, and that the pro-choice protestor walked into the spray. [...]
Pro-choice marchers recalled a particularly painful event last month when a woman whose baby had died en utero was coming to the clinic to have it removed. In an awful coincidence, that was the day, Watters said, when the pro-life demonstrators collected a children’s choir on the sidewalk to sing “Happy Birthday Dead Baby” to anyone driving in.
“Will had to physically restrain the father,” Watters said, nodding to one of the men marching in a pro-choice jacket. “And by the time she walked through them, she was an emotional wreck.”
Even though Roe has guaranteed women’s constitutional right to an abortion for nearly 40 years, the case study in Alabama highlights the anti-choice activity that works to undermine legal abortion services at the state level. Alabama already places some of the nation’s most stringent restrictions on women who seek abortions. Women are required to receive counseling intended to talk them out of terminating their pregnancy, undergo a 24 hour waiting period, and take a mandatory ultrasound. Late term abortions are not permitted, and insurance plans in the state’s health exchange won’t cover abortion services. Nonetheless, anti-abortion activists aren’t satisfied — they also want to physically and emotionally intimidate the women coming and going from women’s health clinics.
Over the past two decades, incidents of violent harassment at abortion clinics have been on the rise. Research suggests that restrictive abortion legislation — such as the multiple anti-choice laws in Alabama — could contribute to the issue by creating a hostile environment and encouraging anti-abortion activists’ fervor. In some cases, anti-abortion harassment has actually gotten so bad that it has forced health clinics to close their doors.