Angry about Attacks on Abortion? Protest Fake Clinics, Not Abortion Providers

| Reproaction

By: Caitlin Blunnie

As states rush to pass legislation that would directly challenge Roe v. Wade, there is a renewed urgency to take action to protect and expand access to abortion. There are lots of ways activists can get involved, including donating to their local abortion fund, and signing up to take action. However, calls for activists to mobilize outside of abortion clinics to face opponents directly is a bad idea that actively causes more harm than good.

The ‘pro-life’ movement has a long history of protesting outside of abortion clinics. Blockades like the “Summer of Mercy” in 1991, included thousands of ‘pro-life’ activists performing sit-ins at local clinics to prevent patients from accessing care. It was blockades like these that ultimately lead to the passage of the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act in 1994. Despite this, violence against abortion clinics and providers has only increased. Violence from the ‘pro-life’ movement has led to the murder of abortion providers, including the late Dr. George Tiller in Kansas and Dr. David Gunn in Florida.

While this is not always the case, patients seeking abortion care may have to navigate a chaotic maze of protestors and clinic escorts just to get to the door of their clinic. While it may seem like a good idea to support the patients at your local clinic with a counter demonstration, more often than not, an increased presence outside the clinic only creates more chaos as patients have trouble distinguishing who is ‘pro-life’ or ‘pro-choice.’ In addition, you shouldn’t even consider going to your local clinic without explicit permission from staff.

Reproaction has a deep commitment to direct action, and we fully believe in its ability to make real, long-lasting change. Direct action is a meaningful way to build community, spread information, and challenge abortion opponents. If you want to stand up for abortion access and shine a light on ‘pro-life’ hypocrisy, you should protest outside of your local fake clinic.

You may remember anti-abortion fake clinics from when they took center stage during the Supreme Court case, NIFLA v. Becerra. Fake clinics, sometimes referred to as ‘crisis pregnancy centers’ are anti-abortion centers that, despite marketing themselves as real reproductive health centers, exist to deter women and people from seeking abortion care. There are roughly 2,700 fake clinics in the United States, outnumbering real abortion clinics. Despite many fake clinics presenting themselves as innocuous low budget operations, anti-abortion fake clinics are often affiliated with larger networks that provide funding and resources.

Fake clinics are notorious for employing a variety of scare tactics, including giving people misinformation about how far along their pregnancy is, lying about what is involved in an abortion procedure, and shaming people for their sexual history. Unlike abortion clinics, fake clinics are unregulated in most states, and how they use their funds, some of which is taxpayer money, is often unknown.

In a narrow 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of fake clinics in June 2018. Despite the setback, activists have continued to spread the word about fake clinics through public education and direct action.

Throughout this spring, Reproaction activists spread the word about anti-abortion fake clinics in Virginia and Washington, D.C. Activists created flyers with information about fake clinics and resources for people seeking abortion care. In Fredericksburg, Virginia, Reproaction worked with University of Mary Washington students to organize a protest outside of a fake clinic that was known for preying on students at their campus. It didn’t take long for abortion opponents to notice and try to interact with the large group of activists outside. Much to our surprise, people in the neighborhood came out of their houses to talk to activists, learn more and support our action.

It’s worthwhile to do research on your local fake clinic. Activists in Washington, D.C., were able to identify a fake clinic that was working to expand to another location under guise of helping the maternal mortality crisis in the district. This was despite the fact that the fake clinic provides little to no medical services for expectant parents.

In Falls Church, Virginia, Reproaction activists supporting abortion access at our local clinic noticed that a number of protestors were holding branded signs with advertising for the fake clinic. The following weekend, our activists showed up outside of their fake clinic with our own signs that brought attention to their deceptive work.

Taking direct action outside of a fake clinic is a great way to have conversations about abortion and access in your community. It also moves conflict with opposition from the doors of abortion clinics to their fake clinics. At all of our actions, activists sported our new ‘pro-abortion, pro-family, pro-justice’ T-shirts designed to catch attention and boldly spread the message of support for abortion and reproductive justice. As this message encourages conversation, activists also successfully led conversations with members of the community about access to reproductive healthcare. Compiling community resources in an accessible format, such as a flyer, helped activists spread the word about where people can access real abortion care and find unbiased local resources for information about reproductive health.

As activists, it is our responsibility to ensure that people seeking abortion care can do so without fear, shame or intimidation. While it is more important than ever that we mobilize for abortion access in this country, we can do so without inflicting harm on the patients, whose needs we should be centering in this work.

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This project received a Seed Support Grant from Abortion Conversation Projects to reduce abortion stigma.

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