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The Far-Reaching Consequences Of Anti-Abortion Harassment

By Tara Culp-Ressler on August 12, 2013 at 9:15 am

"The Far-Reaching Consequences Of Anti-Abortion Harassment"

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Mike Fink in his Portland-area restaurant

Mike Fink in his Portland-area restaurant

CREDIT: Gabe Souza/Portland Press Herald

How do abortion rights affect deli sandwiches?

At first glance, those two things may not seem to have much in common — but in Portland, ME, they’ve become inextricably intertwined. Mike’s Restaurant, a popular deli in downtown Portland that’s home to the “rock n’ roll sandwich,” will officially close its doors next week because of the persistent anti-abortion protests on the block. Owner Mike Fink says he’s exhausted after battling the protesters for the past year. “I gave up yelling,” he explained.

Mike’s Restaurant is adjacent to a Planned Parenthood clinic. Dozens of anti-choice protesters rally outside of the Planned Parenthood location each week, brandishing graphic signs and often yelling at women at the street. That hasn’t exactly been good for Fink’s business. Fink says the protesters sometimes accost his customers, which has driven down sales because it’s ultimately discouraged people from patronizing the deli.

Back in January, Fink got so fed up that he began organizing counter-protests — and provided coffee and free sandwiches to people who showed up in support of reproductive rights. The small business owner said he’s typically not very political, and never imagined he’d ever be spearheading a protest. But he said the “confrontational tone” of the protesters upset him, especially when it began affecting his customers.

The anti-choice protesters didn’t back down — in fact, Fink said they were actually emboldened by the opposition. In May, Fink indicated that he was considering selling his restaurant. “I don’t like the way I have yelled at, or been inadvertently rude to my customers and others because of the direct result of how upsetting their presence is to me,” he said in an email message to the media, adding that he was worried about being able to find someone to buy the building. “I am very close to giving up selling the restaurant because every time anyone sees the stupid anti-abortion protesters they decide not to consider this location,” he explained.

Now, Fink’s lease has expired, and he has decided that he won’t renew it. “I decided kids holding signs of dead babies isn’t good for business,” he told the Bangor Daily News. “I’m disappointed and tired of being upset.”

Mike Restaurant’s regular patrons told the Bangor Daily News that they’re “devastated” about the impending closure. Ultimately, though, the hostile environment on the block impacts much more than deli sandwiches.

Fink’s decision to shutter his restaurant is just one example of the far-reaching consequences of the anti-abortion harassment that threatens access to reproductive health care around the country. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the states with particularly harsh anti-abortion laws on the books tend to have the highest levels of harassment leveled against abortion providers and patients. Abortion doctors are often the subject of serious threats and intimidation, and some states can’t find any medical professionals willing to practice there because doctors aren’t willing to risk their lives. Women are often too nervous to enter clinics because they’re confronted with emotional attacks — or, in some cases, physical violence — from protesters outside. If people in Portland, ME, began avoiding Mike’s Restaurant so they wouldn’t have to encounter the protesters, some people may have actually skipped out on the health care they needed because they didn’t feel safe enough to walk into the Planned Parenthood clinic.

Fink supports a proposed 35-foot buffer zone around the Planned Parenthood clinic to help prevent the protesters from harassing people on the block. Portland officials will decide whether to instate that policy this fall. Buffer zones around clinics are becoming an increasingly popular city-level response to the anti-choice harassment that endangers patients and staff.

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