Brian Sims Confronts Protesters at Planned Parenthood
Their posture reflects that of abortion providers more broadly, who emphasize that their clinics are supposed to be safe zones devoted entirely to health care. “We don’t believe the clinic is a place for political protest,” says Amy Hagstrom Miller, the founder and CEO of Whole Woman’s Health, an organization with locations in several states that’s perhaps best known for its eponymous Supreme Court case, in which the justices struck down two abortion restrictions in Texas. “We believe our facilities are there as an oasis for providing pregnant people with compassionate care that is respectful and dignified.”
“The larger the group outside, the more confusion there is. The louder it is,” says Alison Dreith, a communications consultant at the Hope Clinic for Women in Granite City, Illinois. “When patients are walking into our clinic, they’re oftentimes already afraid and confused and going through multiple different emotions.” As nearby Missouri has tightened its abortion laws, Dreith says, the Hope Clinic has seen a corresponding increase in both the number of patients and protester activity.
Abortion providers at some of the more heavily protested clinics worry that the presence of counterprotesters only serves to escalate tensions, and even increase the risk of violence. Warren Hern is a Colorado physician who performs abortions in the late stages of pregnancy. Since his office, the Boulder Abortion Clinic, opened in 1975—two years after the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion—it’s been the site of numerous protests, violent threats, and attacks, including gunshots fired through his office window. Hern told me that staging counterprotests outside his clinic isn’t just counterproductive—“it is completely inadvisable,” he said, explaining that some of the anti-abortion protesters outside his clinic have been armed.
But practitioners’ aversion isn’t shared across the entire abortion-rights movement—and Sims’s confrontations are animating discussion among abortion-rights activists about the form and function of counterprotests. Christine Pardue, who is on the coordinating committee at NYC for Abortion Rights, a grassroots coalition based in New York, says she supports the work of Planned Parenthood, which both operates clinics and performs activist work. But she argues that its nonengagement philosophy isn’t effective. It fails “because it is conciliatory,” she told me. “It cedes literal ground as well as the moral high ground.”
Pardue’s organization and like-minded allies believe that counterprotesting is the best way to win the broader abortion argument. NYC for Abortion Rights regularly challenges anti-abortion activists outside a local Planned Parenthood, even though the clinic has asked it not to. “I think we’re at the end-times for legal abortion,” Pardue told me. “I think we’re at a point where we have to say enough is enough—this is how we’re going to build a movement.”