Officials in Rossville, Georgia have unanimously passed an ordinance to ban abortion clinics within the city limits, saying they’re not interested in the “drama” that comes along with offering reproductive health services.
When reporters from the Times Free Press asked Mayor Teddy Harris why he put forth that ordinance, the lawmaker responded that he was simply thinking about what types of businesses he didn’t want in his city. He doesn’t think abortion clinics are “appropriate” because they’ll bring “drama” to Rossville.
“We want to be a peaceful city,” Harris said. “We don’t want to have any protesters.”
According to the Guttmacher Institute, 96 percent of the counties in Georgia don’t have a single abortion clinic. Rossville is one of them. Since there aren’t currently any abortion providers located there, Harris’ ban is functioning as a preemptive measure. Anti-abortion groups are urging people to thank the mayor for his decision by contacting him directly.
Harris is correct in suggesting that abortion clinics are often plagued by protesters. Persistent anti-abortion harassment outside of clinics often involves attempts to intimidate the women trying to enter, and sometimes even escalates into violence. For instance, back in 1997, there was an abortion clinic bombing in Atlanta, Georgia that injured six people.
Like the Rossville mayor, some anti-abortion activists cite this uncertain atmosphere to argue that abortion clinics aren’t appropriate businesses for quiet communities. But the “drama” at abortion clinics isn’t inherent to the patients and providers who spend time there. In reality, this conflict is a product of the protesters who insist on engaging in what they call “sidewalk counseling” with the women visiting those reproductive health facilities. It’s part of a coordinated strategy to make it too difficult to operate clinics. And now that abortion opponents are succeeding in driving clinics out of business, they’re starting to target this harassment toward hospitals, too.
Rather than working to keep clinics out altogether, some areas have pursued a different type of solution to cut down on protests. Several states and cities have enacted “buffer zones” around abortion clinics, helping to diffuse the tension by requiring protesters to stay a certain distance away from patients. But over the summer, the Supreme Court struck down Massachusetts’ buffer zone law for going too far to impede protesters’ free speech rights on public sidewalks, leaving officials scrambling to come up with different legislative fixes.
For women living in Georgia, potential protesters are just one of many barriers standing between them and their reproductive rights. The state — which is controlled by an anti-choice legislature and governor — has already imposed a mandatory 24-hour waiting period, a forced counseling session, a ban on insurance coverage for abortion, and unnecessary restrictions on abortion providers that make it more difficult for them to practice.