An undercover video released this week by Progress Texas exposes the primary methods that right-wing activists use to intimidate women and doctors who visit abortion clinics — like tracking clinic patients’ cars, figuring out where new abortion clinics will be opened, and ensuring that there are protesters outside of clinics during “all hours that abortions are being performed.” The audio was recorded at “Keeping Abortion Facilities Closed,” a training hosted by anti-abortion groups in the state at the beginning of August.
“What’s most telling, I think, is that the training this audio came out of was called something like ‘Keeping Abortion Clinics Closed,’ “ Heather Busby, the executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Texas, said in an interview with ThinkProgress. “It wasn’t called, you know, ‘Bringing Safe Options To Women.’ It wasn’t called ‘Helping Women Stay Healthy And Safe.’ It was about closing abortion clinics, and they said it! They put it right out there.”
The speakers on the track are leaders in Texas’ anti-choice community. They’re instructing attendees on four major tactics to accomplish their goal of closing reproductive health facilities: lining the sidewalks outside clinics to dissuade patients from entering; tracking patients’ physical descriptions and license plates; monitoring clinic staff and potential abortion providers; and examining tax records to identify the locations of new abortion doctors.
“It’s totally legal — you track license plates, the license plates that are coming into any abortion facilities,” Karen Garnett, the executive director of the Catholic Pro-Life Committee of North Texas (CPLC), explained during the training. “We have a very sophisticated kind of little spreadsheet where everybody keeps track… You have license plates, car make, model, description of the person. And then as far as the staff members, the abortionists, you can identify if you got a new abortionist.”
The speakers in the video also confirm their goals have been advanced by an onerous new law in Texas, HB 2, that’s shuttered half of the state’s clinics over the past year. In addition to the broad swaths of the state that no longer have a single abortion facility, forcing women to travel hundreds of miles to get to the nearest clinic, there’s a general atmosphere of uncertainty about where to end a pregnancy now that the law is in effect. Abortion opponents are happy to keep it that way.
“The poorer ones that are going there for abortions, they heard that it was going to close, so they quit going there,” Eileen Romano, a staffer at 40 Days For Life, told trainees. “They started going to health clinics because they thought it was closed and they didn’t have the transportation to get there. God is good.”
Progress Texas and NARAL Pro-Choice Texas are both decrying the “outrageous” and “disturbing” tactics outlined in the video, saying that Americans need to realize the true nature of the activism to end abortion.
“There’s been a misconception that these are just sweet little grannies, praying outside the clinic and just wanting to talk to women about their options,” Busby said. “This video really illustrates and drive home the point that this isn’t just about sitting outside a clinic and praying the rosary. This is about tracking, and stalking, and doing whatever you can to turn people away from a clinic — to intimidate them, to be a constant presence, and to keep women from accessing safe and legal abortion care.”
Progress Texas executive director Ed Espinoza added that the speakers in the video adamantly supported the GOP lawmakers who spearheaded HB 2 last year, and now there’s a “legitimate question” about whether those politicians agree with the extreme tactics being described.
The anti-abortion harassment in the state has only intensified as abortion clinics have been forced out of business, leaving fewer targets for anti-choice activists to go after. Another provision of the new state law, currently the subject of an ongoing court challenge, will impose even more restrictions on clinics if it’s allowed to take effect this fall. Experts in the state predict that the number of clinics will dwindle to just six unless that portion of HB 2 is successfully blocked. With just six clinics, Busby said she “can’t even imagine” how much the anti-abortion harassment in the state will increase.
This issue isn’t specific to Texas. Across the country, patients and staff at abortion clinics face significant harassment and intimidation that sometimes turns violent. Clinics are plagued by bombings, arson, vandalism, burglaries, shootings — and according to the National Abortion Federation, which tracks crimes against abortion providers, there have been 17 attempted murders of doctors since 1991. Imposing fixed buffer zones around abortion clinics is one proactive policy that’s helped keep persistent anti-choice protesters at bay; however, the Supreme Court recently ruled it goes too far to restrict protesters’ free speech rights.