The group of abortion opponents who used sidewalk chalk to scrawl “Your neighbor is a monster,” “Stop killing American children,” and “Abortion is murder” outside of a Newport Beach doctor’s private home won’t face any charges from the police, despite the fact that several neighbors believe the protest should be considered vandalism.
At the beginning of July, dozens of anti-choice protesters affiliated with the group “Survivors of the Abortion Holocaust” targeted the home of Dr. Richard Agnew, an OB-GYN who used to provide abortion care at Hoag Hospital. They carried signs with images of aborted fetuses and covered the sidewalk of Agnew’s neighborhood with chalk messages, a tactic they refer to as “chalk and awe.”
The protesters said they wanted to test the bounds of a city ordinance that bans picketing within 300 feet of private residences. Since the Orange County District Attorney’s Office doesn’t have enough evidence to pursue vandalism charges, the case is being dropped.
Last June, about 50 to 100 anti-choice protesters did the same thing to the street outside Agnew’s home, writing messages like “Neighborhood serial killer” and “This house was built from blood.” Back then, his wife called the protest “very disturbing” and neighbors complained that it was way out of line. Those protests are what prompted city officials to pass the 300 foot ordinance.
But neighbors say it’s obviously been too easy for abortion protesters to circumvent that new requirement. The subsequent demonstrations have sparked complaints that the local police aren’t doing enough to protect the neighborhood from anti-abortion protesters. “On a scale of 1 to 10, we’re all at 20, that’s how frustrated we are,” Paula Durnian, who lives down the street from Agnew, told the Los Angeles Times when the “chalk and awe” demonstration returned this summer.
The doctor has drawn the ire of Survivors of the Abortion Holocaust because he publicly opposed his employer’s decision to stop providing elective abortion services after merging with a Catholic health care provider last year. He was one of several health professionals who signed a petition urging Hoag Hospital to preserve women’s access to that medical procedure. Before the merger, Agnew typically performed abortions for women who make the difficult choice to end wanted pregnancies because their fetuses have fatal defects. He doesn’t believe those patients should have to be shuttled to an outside clinic to receive the care they need.
“It’s not like they’re doing anything illegal,” Agnew told the Associated Press last year. “It’s bad enough for them to have to make a decision.”
Nonetheless, Agnew has been caught up in the increasing trend of protesters exerting pressure on hospitals to stop offering abortions. As part of that effort, it’s not uncommon for anti-choice activists to picket the homes of individual doctors who work at hospitals that still provide the service. In fact, home pickets are one of the explicit strategies detailed in Closed: 99 Ways To Stop Abortion, the unofficial handbook instructing activists on how to end legal abortion in the U.S.
This type of harassment is just one of the reasons why it can actually be quite dangerous to be an abortion doctor. The individuals who choose to provide abortions are well aware that their line of work could subject their family members to anti-choice protesters — and perhaps even physical violence. Some medical professionals are forced to alter their routine after receiving death threats, like taking different routes home from work each day to disguise where their family lives. And some doctors actually end up leaving the field because the challenges are too great, something that’s contributed to a shortage of available abortion providers across the country.
“For a lot of people, they don’t want to deal with the hassles, they don’t want to become a target, they don’t want their clinic to be picketed. For most doctors, it’s not an ideological issue; it’s a practical issue. This work is hard,” one abortion provider who works in Texas, speaking anonymously, explained to ThinkProgress earlier this year.
But Agnew’s community has remained standing behind him. They spilled into the streets last month to try to deter the activists from continuing to chalk up the sidewalk. “We love Dr. Agnew. We support Dr. Agnew,” Paula Durnian, a longtime neighbor, said after the first chalk messages appeared. “If he allows patients to make their own choices, he should be able to do that.”