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Have you ever felt the call to go counter-protest at an abortion clinic? You know — protest the protestors? I have. I think that what abortion clinic protestors do is wrong and part of me absolutely itches to get in their faces and fight back. But, unfortunately, a lot of abortion clinics say that counter-protestors actually do more than harm than good by escalating an already volatile situation outside the clinic. So what’s a dedicated pro-choicer to do? I have the answer: Join the #ExposeFakeClinics movement and protest outside fake abortion clinics.

Did you know that there are over 4,000 fake abortion clinics — which is about five times the number of real abortion clinics — in the United States? They’re called “crisis pregnancy centers” and they spread false information about abortion, get in the way of women trying to have abortions, and shame women for getting pregnant in the first place. They even have people who dress up like doctors who pretend that they’re actual medical professionals in order to be more convincing. Across the country, these unlicensed, unregulated clinics are targeting women — and, in particular, women of color — at their most vulnerable.

At a recent protest in front of a crisis pregnancy center in Pittsburgh, Lizz Winstead, founder of the pro-choice activist and performance group Lady Parts Justice League, went head-to-head with a woman who was dressed like a nurse. Turns out, she wasn’t a medical professional at all.

“The whole thing was just crazy,” Winstead tells Bustle. “She lied right to our faces about the information they pass out at their clinic, when two of our staff had gone in and gotten information that said if you have oral sex, you’re at a very high risk of HIV. And that’s just not true.”


Sound too weird to be true? Unfortunately, it gets worse. Not only do these clinics spread false medical information and pressure women to continue their pregnancy, but some are funded by taxpayer dollars. Yup, you read that right: Your money could be going to fund these misleading, damaging clinics. While we saw 46 anti-abortion laws put in front of state legislatures within the first two weeks of 2017, California is the only state that regulates what crisis pregnancy centers can tell women. The only state! Of all 50 states! And other states — like Texas — are actually increasing funding to crisis pregnancy centers, while simultaneously defunding real women’s health centers, i.e. Planned Parenthood. This is some weird, backwards, upside-down BS.

If the idea of women being lied to and shamed while they’re trying to decide what to do about an unplanned pregnancy infuriates you, then welcome to the #ExposeFakeClinics movement. Created by the Abortion Access Hackathonand Lady Parts Justice League and supported by a long list of partner organizations, #ExposeFakeClinics is having a week of action from July 17 to July 26. The goal is to spread the word about crisis pregnancy centers and to fight back, both online and IRL. Want to get involved? Here are some ways you can help #ExposeFakeClinics.

1Boost Accurate Reviews


IRL protesting isn’t for everyone — and that’s totally fine. Luckily, these days, you can fight back digitally. #ExposeFakeClinics suggests going to review sites like Yelp, Google+, and Facebook, finding accurate reviews of crisis pregnancy centers (i.e. ones that expose the truth about what they do), and boosting them. On Yelp, that means marking them “useful;” on Google+ it’s a thumbs up; and on Facebook it’s a “like.” Boosting these accurate reviews gets the word out that these are not abortion clinics, which helps women who are searching for help with an unplanned pregnancy.

2Write Your Own Accurate Reviews


If there aren’t any accurate reviews of the crisis pregnancy center in your area — or wherever you’re looking — then you can make your own. But that’s not to say you should just go on the review site and write whatever! #ExposeFakeReviews has written out an entire process and script for calling these fake abortion clinics and figuring out how they present themselves. Once you’ve done that, write an honest review of your experience. Did they neglect to mention that they don’t provide abortion services? What was positive? What was negative? The goal is to counterbalance the misinformation provided by the clinic with your real experience.

3Protest IRL!


Every weekend at abortion clinics across the country you’ll find people protesting. So why aren’t we fighting back with protests of our own against their fake clinics? #ExposeFakeClinics suggests finding out if there are already plans for protests against crisis pregnancy centers in your area. If there are, join them! And if there aren’t, start your own! (But please be mindful of the fact that a lot of fake clinics set up near real clinics and if that’s the case, you’re going to need to find an alternative location.)

But protesting for the first time can be scary, so #ExposeFakeClinics has sample signs you can print, chants for when you’re there, and advice on how to get the local involved. Also, remember: You don’t want to resort to the abusive tactics that anti-abortion protestors use.

“Even our protest signs are correct,” Winstead says. “We are not about yelling at a person going into a CDC. We’re taking more of a union tactic to let the community know that these places exist in their community and to fill them in on the real services they provide, so that they’re aware.”

4Report Crisis Pregnancy Centers In Your Town


The #ExposeFakeClinics site has a map of crisis pregnancy centers across the country, but it doesn’t have every single one on there yet. Take a look at your town, do a little research, and if you find a fake abortion clinic that isn’t included on the map, report it. The more we know about these places — where they’re located and who they are — the easier it is to fight back.

5Have An Action Party!


Activist work is hard. But you know what makes it easier? Doing it with friends. Join or arrange a feminist action party and commit to each boosting a certain number of accurate reviews, calling a target number of crisis pregnancy centers and writing reviews, or going out and protesting the fake abortion clinic in your town. Remember: Friends don’t let friends drop their commitment to the #resistance.

Abortion is a constitutionally protected right of every woman in this country, and yet that right is being hacked away at with every new anti-abortion law. In the meantime, these fake medical clinics are allowed to exist with no regulation and no rules. Fight back. It’s time to #ExposeFakeClinics.


Texas has long been at the forefront of aggressive antiabortion legislation, and a new bill filed in the state legislature’s special session poses a truly insidious threat to reproductive rights. The legislation would allow the state to revoke the medical licenses of doctors who perform abortions with very few exceptions.

According to the Texas Observer, Republican Rep. Valoree Swanson has championed House Bill 86, which would broaden the “prohibited practices” that can lead to the revocation of a medical doctor’s license. It would make providing an abortion illegal except in a small number of very specific circumstances. These include cases in which the is the abortion is “necessary to prevent the death” of the mother or she is facing “imminent severe, irreversible brain damage or imminent severe, irreversible paralysis.” Abortions can also legally be performed if the fetus has “severe, irreversible brain damage” or if the woman is pregnant with multiple fetuses, one or more of which can be saved by aborting one fetus. Notably, the bill explicitly states that performing an abortion due to any substantial risk to the “psychological condition” of the mother is prohibited.

In a statement shared with POPSUGAR, Yvonne Gutierrez, executive director of Planned Parenthood Texas Votes, said the bill is part of an ongoing effort to undermine reproductive rights in the state. “This bill is just another in a relentless wave of legislation aimed at chipping away at the right to safe, legal abortion,” she said. “It does nothing to improve the health and safety of women, and the politicians behind this legislation have only one objective: to push their extreme agenda onto Texans who don’t want or support these dangerous policies.”

The bill is one of several antiabortion measures that will be considered during the special session, which was called for by Gov. Greg Abbot (pictured above) and began on July 18. “We must also use this opportunity to do more to protect our unborn children,” Abbott said in June when he announced his agenda for the special session. Among the other restrictive measures under consideration is a bill designed to prohibit cities and counties from sharing taxpayer dollars with abortion providers, legislation that would institute stricter reporting standards around health complications related to abortions, and an attempt to bar insurance premiums paid by Texans from funding “elective” abortions.

Texas’s repeated attempts to restrict abortion rights in recent years have not gone unchallenged. In 2016, the Supreme Court struck down a law that required doctors performing abortions to retain admitting privileges to hospitals — and forced abortion clinics to maintain hospital-level standards — as unconstitutional.

Critics say Abbott’s latest attempts to undermine abortion rights smack of hypocrisy. The governor vetoed a bill that would have maintained Texas’s Women’s Health Advisory Committee — which had bipartisan support and helped low-income women access reproductive care that would help prevent the need for abortion services — just three days before the special session began.


With one devastating flourish of the presidential pen, worldwide progress on family planning, population growth and reproductive rights was swept away. Now some of the world’s poorest women must count the cost

Donald Trump signs an executive order reintroducing the Mexico City policy
 Donald Trump signs an executive order reintroducing the Mexico City policy as Reince Preibus, Peter Navarro, Jared Kushner, Steven Miller, and Steve Bannon look on. Photograph: Ron Sachs/EPA

Six months ago, one powerful white man in the White House, watched by seven more, signed a piece of paper that will prevent millions of women around the world from deciding what they can and can’t do with their own bodies.

In that moment, on his very first Monday morning in office, Donald Trump effectively signed the death warrants of thousands of women. He reversed global progress on contraception, family planning, unsustainable population growth and reproductive rights. His executive order even has implications for the battle against HIV, tuberculosis and malaria.

Rarely can the presidential pen have been flourished to such devastating effect. The policy it reintroduced will shut health clinics in Uganda and HIV programmes in Mozambique; it will compel women from Nepal to Namibia to seek out deadly back-street abortions.

“It is an unprecedented attack on women’s rights – it goes much deeper than abortion,” said Ulla Müller, president and CEO of EngenderHealth, a leading advocacy organisation.


“Girls are kicked out of school if they get pregnant. They are very often forced to marry the fathers. Very often they have to live in their in-laws’ house, where they have to do unpaid labour. It is a violation of women’s rights. We need to see this as a gender issue and very much as a power issue.”

Tewodros Melesse, director general of the the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF), which stands to lose as much as $100m, said the US move “seeks to restrict the rights of millions of women. It asks us as a health provider, to stop providing services which are entirely legal in countries through our members – where some of the most poorest women, depend on them.

“The human cost of the gag rule will have a long and fatal legacy.”

Like so many far-reaching American policies, Trump’s executive order is enshrouded in complexity to the point where it seems almost designed to confuse.

The order reinstated the Mexico City policy (so called because it was first signed at the International Conference of Population in Mexico City, in 1984). Under this policy, any NGO outside the US seeking American funding for family planning has to pledge it will not carry out abortions anywhere in the world, even with its own money. Such organisations must agree not to talk to women about a termination, nor lobby governments to liberalise their policy on abortion.

US aid has never been used to fund abortion services (it is forbidden, by law). This is a ban on speaking about abortion – a restriction on free speech which the First Amendment does not permit within the US. For this reason, the rule became known as the global gag.

Trump’s version of the policy has massively expanded its reach. It is no longer just international family planning organisations that must agree not to “perform or actively promote abortion”. Every global health organisation that accepts US funding now has to sign the same clause. Anyone working to fight HIV, get vaccines or vitamins to children, or prevent Zika or malaria is facing a stark and unprecedented choice: sign, or lose all funding from the biggest aid donor in the world.

As much as $10bn (£7.7bn) of global health funding hangs in the balance. Among those who will lose money if they refuse to sign up to the anti-abortion orthodoxy are the two big international family planning organisations, Marie Stopes International (MSI) and the IPPF. But for the first time, global NGOs such as Save the Children, WaterAid and the International HIV/Aids Alliance are also targeted.

The effects will be felt most keenly in the tiny, frontline clinics run by small NGOs struggling to help women and children in crowded townships, refugee camps and remote rural villages. There are no abortion doctors in such places (in most African countries, abortion is banned unless the woman’s life is in danger). These clinics instead offer contraceptive injections and condoms for those who would struggle to feed numerous children. But they also treat children for malaria and malnutrition and their mothers for HIV. This integrated care is now under threat.

But that’s not all. Trump has also decided to stop funding the UN Population Fund, which does hard and heroic work, reaching some of the most oppressed women in the world in refugee camps and war zones, as well as getting contraception to the remotest parts of the planet. In 2016, the US gave the organisation $69m in core funds and for its humanitarian response work.

And deep budget cuts to foreign aid under Trump include a proposal to axe every cent for overseas family planning, currently $600m a year.

The triple blow is already being felt by some of the world’s poorest women.

Take Nigeria, a country with one of the world’s fastest growing populations. The average woman there has more than five children. MSI predicts that because of Trump’s “global gag rule”, there will be an additional 660,000 abortions in Nigeria over the next four years, with 10,000 women dying as a result.


“This is going to be really huge,” said MSI country head Effiom Effiom of the US decision to pull funding. “They’ve been key in strengthening healthcare. It’s their funding that allowed us to reach 500,000 women in the past three years. Who will bridge that gap?” he asks.

It’s a question that bothers Sakina Sani as well. She has two children already and knows she cannot afford many more. She is grateful to a family planning clinic in northern Nigeria for furnishing her with a contraceptive implant that will enable her to plan out her family for the next four years. But after that, she’ll be on her own.

Sakina Sani, a mother of two, receives a contraceptive implant
 Sakina Sani, a mother of two, has a contraceptive implant – known informally among young Nigerians as a ‘tattoo’ – placed in her arm. Photograph: Ruth Maclean for the Guardian

“I’d have to have more children,” she admits. “All I could do is pray harder for God to help feed them.”

Across the continent, in Uganda, her experience is replicated by Dausi Mukwana, 26, who had the first of her four children at the age of 14. An injectable contraceptive called Sayana Press and a tireless healthworker called Aisha Mugoya have belatedly given her control over family planning. But this is now in jeopardy: funding will dry up in the coming weeks.

“The number of maternal deaths will increase as the number of pregnancies increases, and the number of abortions is going to increase,” said Dr Moses Okilipa of Reproductive Health Uganda, a branch of the IPPF, which refuses to sign up to the Mexico City policy.

Dausi Mukwana, 26, a rural Ugandan, receives a contraceptive called Sayana Press
 Dausi Mukwana, 26, a rural Ugandan, receives a contraceptive called Sayana Press. Photograph: Juozas Cernius/for The Guardian

The glaring paradox is that the global gag policy doesn’t even work. “The gag rule contributes to the very thing it purportedly seeks to reduce: the frequency of abortion,” said a report in June from the Guttmacher Institute, a US research organisation focused on sexual and reproductive health and rights. Evidence shows that when the gag is imposed, unwanted pregnancies and abortions go up.


Banning abortions and forcing NGOs not to offer any counselling or advice about them drives desperate women to the back-street abortionists and witch doctors.

Hardline opponents of abortion don’t understand this; they don’t believe it or don’t care. At Trump’s right elbow when he signed the order was Mike Pence, a born again Christian. Trump is not religious, but some of his most influential advisers are – and the choice of Pence as his running mate brought on board the religious right. The new, improved global gag is their reward.

“I believe that President Trump doesn’t give a hoot about any of these issues one way or the other,” said Jon O’Brien, president of Catholics for Choice. He pointed out that Trump’s closest advisers include a significant number of ultraconservative Catholics. Kellyanne Conway has been a prominent anti-choice campaigner for decades, he said, claiming in interviews that “unborn babies can feel pain at 20 weeks” (a view that the evidence does not support). Steve Bannon, chief strategist and Sean Spicer, White House press secretary, are both conservative Catholics. Katy Talento, a health policy aide on the Domestic Policy Council, recently published an article alleging that “chemical birth control causes abortions and often has terrible side effects, including deliberate miscarriage”, a claim about the pill that is not supported by scientists.

And then there is Pence. At the Republican National Convention in Ohio last July, he called himself “a Christian, a conservative and a Republican, in that order”. Born into an Irish Catholic Democrat-voting family in Indiana, he found God at a Christian music festival in Kentucky in 1978. He was still a Democrat in 1980, when he voted for Jimmy Carter, but his views started to shift to the right at college and he became a big admirer of Ronald Reagan’s “common sense conservatism”. By 1988 he was running for Congress as a Republican. He lost but won a seat in the House of Representatives for Indiana in 2000.

In his 2000 Congressional campaign, he urged that the Ryan White Act, which provides funds for HIV treatment for the poor, should only be renewed if the money was “directed toward those institutions which provide assistance to those seeking to change their sexual behaviour”.

As governor of Indiana in 2015 he made national headlines when he signed into law a bill that was interpreted as permitting discrimination against LGBT people in the state. Under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, restaurants, hotels or shops would be able to cite a religious objection to serving gay customers. Pence was photographed signing the bill into law in March 2015 surrounded by monks and nuns in habits. A number of large businesses spoke out against the law, including Apple CEO Tim Cook and in the face of an outcry, Pence made revisions.

Opponents of the anti-abortion law signed by Mike Pence protest outside the Indiana State House in July 2016
 Opponents of the anti-abortion law signed by Mike Pence protest outside the Indiana State House last July. Photograph: Mykal McEldowney/AP

His opposition to abortion has been solid. In October 2015, he awarded $3.5m of Indiana state funds to a charity called Real Alternatives, which promotes sexual abstinence and counsels pregnant women wanting an abortion to have the baby. Then, in March 2016, Pence brought in one of the toughest state abortion laws in the US. Abortion on the grounds of foetal abnormality, including Down’s syndrome, would be banned. All women wanting an abortion would be required to have an ultrasound examination, where they would see the foetus on the monitor, at least 18 hours before the termination. The harsher aspects of this law were stayed by the courts, but the US by now understood Pence was willing to fight the most controversial battles on behalf of the religious right. As Rolling Stone put it in January: “When Trump needed a VP nominee with a career-long reputation for being virulently pro-life to balance his own abortion flip-flops, Mike Pence was the answer to all his political prayers.”

The day after the inauguration, 500,000 people attended the Women’s March on Washington on 21 January, to voice disgust at Trump’s past sexual behaviour and fear for the future of women’s reproductive rights. Days later, Pence became the first vice-president in history to attend the annual anti-abortion March for Life, held for the past 44 years on or near the anniversary of the historic judgement of Roe v Wade. Thousands of anti-abortion activists were bussed to the National Mall in Washington DC, some holding pictures of the foetus in the womb, others waving banners. “Trump loves the bump” was one. “We voted to make America pro-life again”, said another. A third read: “We hear your silent cries”.

“It is no coincidence that the first right cited in the US Declaration of Independence is the right to life,” Conway told the crowd, to cheers. But it was Pence who made the real impact. Trump had sent him to address this gathering, he said. Life, Pence said, “is winning again in America”.

Fighting back

The most devastating impact of the policy is on the big providers of family planning, IPPF and MSI, whose clinics all over the world will be stripped of US funds because they offer abortions in countries where it is legal to do so (in the UK, Marie Stopes provides terminations on behalf of the NHS). In developing countries, they partner with local NGOs, funding clinics where women may go for a contraceptive implant or injection but often for other healthcare too, such as an HIV test or cervical cancer smear. All of this is at risk.

MSI received $30m from USAid last year, which was 17% of its total funding. It is working to raise funds from other sources, but the gap will be hard to fill. Hardest hit will be services in Madagascar, Zimbabwe, Uganda, Ethiopia, Nigeria and the Sahel. These are places where MSI has been running substantial programmes with USAid funding. In Madagascar, 40% of women get their contraception from MSI.

IPPF has about $100m annually in US funds but, after the last global gag, it deliberately invested nearly half the money in HIV services, decreasing its exposure in case another Republican president came in. Trump’s extension of the Mexico City policy to all forms of healthcare means they stand to lose the lot. Among programmes under threat unless alternative sources of funding can be found are HIV treatment in the Caribbean, clinics testing for Zika across Latin America, and help for displaced people in Colombia.

“We have become much more of an integrated service provider. We’re trying to be a one-stop shop that takes you from the start of life to the end of life,” said Matthew Lindley of IPPF, who support fragile health systems in impoverished and war-torn countries.

“If we had USAid funding, we would have expected to avert 6m unintended pregnancies,” said Megan Elliott, vice-president for strategy and development at MSI. “Because we can’t avert them, we believe there will be an additional 2m abortions. Because they are in restricted environments, the majority of those women will be getting a backstreet abortion where they won’t be properly cared for and certainly won’t get proper contraception to prevent a further unwanted pregnancy.”

Isabella Lövin
 In a picture widely seen as a parody of Trump signing the global gag order, Isabella Lövin, Sweden’s deputy prime minister, is flanked by female colleagues as she signs a bill. Photograph: Johan Schiff/EPA

Last time the gag rule was in force, between 2001 and 2008, USAid stopped supplying contraceptives to NGOs in 16 developing countries in Africa, Asia and the Middle East, many of which had very high rates of HIV. Guttmacher cites Lesotho, where one in four women were HIV-positive, and which got no US support at all for family planning or contraceptive supplies under George W Bush. In 13 other countries, USAid cut off support to the leading family planning organisation. The Planned Parenthood Association of Zambia suffered a 24% budget cut and had to reduce its services.

The fightback began in March. She Decides was the idea of the Dutch trade and development minister Lilianne Ploumen, who was backed by the Belgian, Swedish and Danish governments. A fundraising conference attracted representatives from 50 governments and raised €181m.

That’s a drop in the ocean, they acknowledge, but the campaign to persuade more governments, philanthropists and the private sector to step up with cash continues. Earlier this month, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (which also funds work at the Guardian) announced it would increase its funding for family planning by 60%, with an extra $375m over the next four years.

Chris Hohn, a hedge fund manager, started the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation, which makes grants for projects to improve children’s health in poor countries. Concerned about the harmful effects of pregnancy on so many adolescent girls, which can result in a baby suffering from stunting and malnutrition, his Fund is giving MSI $10m.

Millions of women have been given control over their bodies and their futures. Millions of girls have been able to stay in school and have hopes of a career. But the edicts of the Trump administration, rooted in an ideology that says the lives of women count for less than the life of a foetus, have set the world back years.

The gag meanwhile extends far beyond the world of NGOs. Western officials who don’t want to fall out with the Trump White House are silent. Those who work at the Department for International Development do not want to criticise their colleagues at USAid, who themselves are privately wringing their hands over a policy that will undo much of their good work on behalf of women and girls.

Further afield, the 30-year-old woman with 10 children she can’t feed or send to school, and the 14-year-old made pregnant by her uncle, can’t be gagged.

They have no voice at all.

Ruth Maclean in Maiduguri, Nigeria, and Liz Ford in Mbale, Uganda, contributed to this report


For nearly two years, Wendi Kent, an abortion-rights activist and photojournalist based in Madison, Wis., has been documenting antiabortion protesters at some of the most targeted clinics in the country.

Her “Faces of the Fight” project was inspired by a “Wanted”-style poster created by an antiabortion group two years ago, which included the faces of an abortion provider, a clinic escort and a journalist Kent knows. So she decided to focus her lens on the protesters — some of whom pray quietly outside clinics or hand out religious literature, others who shout threats at the patients who walk past.

Kent, 35, says she wanted to show that these kind of confrontations are “really happening” and not just on hot-button days like the Roe v. Wade ruling anniversary. “This happens every day, all over the country,” Kent says. “This harassment doesn’t happen anywhere else, to anyone else. This only happens at abortion clinics, to women.”

She also hopes the protesters themselves might see her images. “I honestly believe that they don’t see themselves the way that everyone else does,” Kent says. “A lot of them follow my work after I meet them, and they’re often really shocked when they see themselves.”

Each image, she says, reveals something important about the nature of these confrontations and the people involved on both sides.

Here are five examples:

The man standing on the left was the first protester Kent photographed, she said, outside the Family Planning Associates clinic in Chicago. In this photograph, he stands close to a clinic escort — someone who helps safely usher clients in and out of the clinic — in the parking lot outside the building.

“He is holding this piece of paper — it says ‘John 3:16’ on it — he’s holding that in front of her face,” Kent says. “And she is holding the sign that the escorts show the cars that pull up, which says, ‘DON’T STOP — they’re not with us,’ ” warning patients about protesters who might approach them.

Federal law prohibits the protesters from blocking a clinic’s entry or exit, Kent says, “so she is looking down at the ground, at his feet and at the property line, to make sure that he doesn’t cross that line.”

Outside the Affiliated Medical Services clinic in Milwaukee, Wis., two clinic escorts in red vests walk past a row of praying protesters. Kent says protesters frequently obtain the same color vests that the escorts wear, in order to confuse clients when they arrive — so escorts are often forced to rotate the color of their vests to help distinguish themselves.

In this photo, Kent says, the escorts’ vests are also emblazoned with rainbows. “The escorts told me that the reason they added the rainbows was because they’d had protesters showing up in identical red vests.” At the time this photo was taken, she said, the tactic seemed to have worked; the protesters didn’t want to add rainbows — a common symbol associated with gay pride and gay rights — to their own vests.

The woman in this photo is a regular protester at the Affiliated Medical Services clinic: “She’s very passive, she’s polite and she’s nice,” Kent says. “There are plenty of protesters who don’t attack women, and I show that. I think it’s important.”

There is nuance within the antiabortion movement, Kent says, and many different kinds of protesters. Those who urge forgiveness for women who have sought abortions tend to be quiet and prayerful in their protest; others are more vocal and hostile, carrying signs with graphic images; and some are aggressive, even physically threatening.


The man on the left — he introduced himself as Don — drove eight hours from Virginia to protest outside the Metropolitan Medical Associates clinic in New Jersey. He was especially aggressive, Kent says. Here, Don confronts a man who had accompanied his partner to the clinic.

After the confrontation outside, Kent learned that the man and his partner had sought an abortion because their baby had developed without a spine and would not survive.

This photo, taken outside the same clinic in New Jersey, shows Don confronting another visitor to the clinic as he stands outside the established “buffer zone.” The scene demonstrates how these protected spaces don’t do much to prevent aggressive confrontation, Kent says.

“At this clinic, there’s a buffer zone that extends eight feet around the door. But you can see how close he can still get to the patient,” she said. “The buffer zones in every town are different, and the fights for them are different, and those fights are ongoing.”


Abortion rights groups say Senate Bill 8 is another attempt by lawmakers to make abortion care unreachable for Texas women.

Texas is being sued over a state law that bans a safe and common second-trimester in-clinic abortion procedure, and which goes into effect in September.

Announced by the Center for Reproductive Rights and Planned Parenthood on Thursday, the lawsuit — Whole Woman’s Health v. Paxton — is focused on a provision of Texas Senate Bill 8 that makes it illegal for physicians to perform dilation and evacuation abortions. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed the law, which makes no exception for rape or incest, earlier this summer.

Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, said in a statement that S.B. 8 “threatens public health and safety by criminalizing doctors for using medical judgment,” and sees S.B. 8 as another attempt by Texas lawmakers to enact a “de facto ban on women’s fundamental right to access abortion.”

Similar provisions in other states have also been subject to legal challenge. In West Virginia and Mississippi, courts blocked the challenged abortion restrictions before they could take effect.

S.B. 8 contains very little medical language. It bans what the bill’s authors refer to as“dismemberment abortion,” an anti-choice term for dilation and evacuation abortion procedures. “It’s very obvious that the intent of the law is to be an abortion ban and to restrict a doctor’s decision-making and expertise in the second trimester,” said Amy Hagstrom-Miller, founder and CEO of Whole Woman’s Health and lead plaintiff in the case. “That’s one of the most crucial things for us to really look at here, politicians are tying the hands of doctors.”

This lawsuit comes shortly after the anniversary of the landmark decision in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, a Supreme Court case that made it clear that abortion restrictions promising improvements for women’s health must provide evidence of actually doing so. In a news release, Hagstrom-Miller stated that S.B. 8 offers no improvement for women’s health in Texas.

This lawsuit also marks the third time in less than a year that Texas has been challenged over abortion policies in federal court. In January, as a result of another Whole Woman’s Health lawsuit, a federal judge blocked a state rule that required health providers to bury or cremate fetal remains. And in February, the same federal judge halted the state from removing Planned Parenthood affiliates from Medicaid.

Despite the Supreme Court ruling and the repeated challenging of laws that serve to restrict abortion access, Texas lawmakers have continued to introduce new bans and provisions. “It is absurd, that even in the wake of our powerful SCOTUS victory, we had a Texas legislative session this year where politicians introduced more than 45 bills to try and further restrict women’s access to abortion care,” Hagstrom-Miller said in a news release. “Frankly, it is shocking and I know many of you share my commitment to resistance. This can never become normal, we must all stay shocked.”


Political pressure has intensified since the Kentucky GOP took control of state government and moved quickly to pass new restrictions on abortions. And Republican Gov. Matt Bevin makes no apologies for waging a licensing fight against a Louisville clinic that is the last remaining facility performing abortions in the state.

Another battle-tested participant joins the fight this weekend. Operation Save America, a Christian fundamentalist group, plans to mobilize hundreds of activists to protest against EMW Women’s Surgical Center.

Image: Meg Stern, left, and other escort volunteers line up outside the EMW Women's Surgical Center in Louisville, Kentucky, July 17, 2017.
Meg Stern, left, and other escort volunteers line up outside the EMW Women’s Surgical Center in Louisville, Kentucky, July 17, 2017. Dylan Lovan / AP

The group’s leaders state their purpose unequivocally: to rid Kentucky of its last abortion clinic. Some of the group’s followers were arrested during a protest outside EMW in the spring. The group has said it won’t use those same tactics in the coming days, but a federal judge on Friday ordered the creation of a “buffer zone” to keep protesters out of an area in front of the clinic. The pre-emptive move was requested by federal prosecutors to prevent protesters from blocking access to the surgical center.

“We have never been under siege like this,” Dr. Ernest Marshall, a co-founder of the clinic open since the early 1980s, recently told The Associated Press. “We have never had any question as to whether we would exist.”

For years, protesters have been a fixture outside Marshall’s clinic, a plain brick building in Louisville’s bustling downtown. Blinds are drawn to keep people from peeking inside.

Volunteers in bright orange vests stand watch near the clinic, walking patients past sign-waving activists. On a recent morning, as a demonstrator held a sign that said: “Abortion an American Holocaust,” a child walking nearby asked a woman what holocaust means.

As a volunteer whisked another woman past a handful of protesters, a demonstrator clutching a rosary told the patient’s male companion: “Men don’t kill their babies. Man up.” The man turned and glared but said nothing.

The demonstrator, Chuck Jones, defended his harsh words.

“This is the last chance we’ll get to talk to them before they go in,” the retired sheet-metal worker from Indiana said. “I just wanted him to think about what he’s doing. If anybody believes in God, they can’t be for abortion, in my opinion.”

The 66-year-old Marshall — the father of three grown children and grandfather of eight — said he attends church every Sunday and is a former Sunday school teacher. He said abortion protesters don’t have a “monopoly on morals.” He condemned their tactics as “very harassing, very judgmental,” taking a toll on patients and staff.

“Some of the things I see out in front of our clinic, to me, by the pro-life people, don’t represent good Christianity,” Marshall said. “I just don’t think Jesus would harass people or name-call people or call doctors murderers.”

The number of protesters is expected to surge this weekend when Texas-based Operation Save America converges on Louisville for a weeklong vigil, with the long-term goal of making Kentucky a national model in its push to end abortion. The group urges state officials to ignore the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision in 1973 that legalized abortion.

Its activists plan to demonstrate outside the clinic, elsewhere downtown and in the neighborhoods where the clinic’s doctors live, organizers said.

The buffer zone in front of the clinic won’t deter those vigils, said Rusty Thomas, the group’s national director.

Brigitte Amiri, an attorney for the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project, said the buffer zone gives patients a “small measure of relief,” ensuring they can enter.

Image:  EMW Women's Surgical Center
The EMW Women’s Surgical Center in Louisville is Kentucky’s last abortion provider. WAVE3

The clinic has been on the defensive since Bevin’s election in 2015 put a social conservative and ardent abortion foe in the governor’s office. Last year, the GOP finished its takeover of Kentucky’s legislature by winning control of the House of Representatives. They have been in charge of the state Senate for years.

Early this year, abortion opponents pushed through two bills signed by Bevin. One measure banned abortions in Kentucky after 20 weeks of pregnancy unless the mother’s life is in danger. The other requires the abortion doctor or a “qualified technician” to perform an ultrasound and then try to show fetal images to the pregnant woman before she provides consent to an abortion. Women are allowed to avert their eyes. The procedure also seeks to detect the fetal heartbeat.

The ultrasound law is being challenged in federal court.

It’s one of two pending legal fights in Kentucky over abortion.

The other was sparked when abortion rights supporters say Bevin’s administration tried to shut down EMW earlier this year. State officials said the clinic was out of compliance with state requirements related to its agreements with a hospital and ambulance service. EMW sued in federal court, and Bevin’s administration agreed to renew the clinic’s license until after the lawsuit is resolved. A September trial is scheduled.

EMW’s legal team points to a 2016 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that struck down Texas regulations that required doctors who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals and forced clinics to meet hospital-like standards for outpatient surgery.

Though the types of regulations differ, the EMW case “falls squarely” within the Texas ruling because the Bevin administration’s efforts would put an “undue burden” on women seeking abortions, said Heather Gatnarek, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky. The Kentucky case is even “more stark,” she said, because a revocation of EMW’s license would leave the state without an abortion facility.

The Supreme Court has found that access to an abortion must be guaranteed, but it remains to be seen whether eliminating every clinic in a single state would pass that test.

“I can’t imagine being a female and being … forced to have a baby that I didn’t want,” Marshall said.


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When Dona Wells, an original founder of the EMW abortion clinics in Kentucky, began pushing for abortion rights in her state in the 1960s, she never believed abortion care would become legal. She grew up in Fort Thomas, Kentucky, a small town in northern Kentucky that she describes as a Catholic bastion. The town had less than 17,000 residents, according to 1970 census data, and the idea of seeking an abortion in that environment was terrifying.

“I know what it was like to have a friend who had an illegal abortion in Louisville and went to the hospital because she had a complication and no one would attend to her,” Wells tells Bustle. “We saw illegal abortionists and these dirty places we heard about, and we just thought: That’s how it’s always going to be.”

In 1973, with the landmark Supreme Court decision of Roe v. Wade, everything changed — not only in Kentucky, but across the country. Abortion was finally legalized, and Wells was thrilled. She eventually helped found the EMW Women’s Surgical Center in Louisville, followed by the EMW Women’s Clinic in Lexington. By 1978, the state, a historically blue mecca in the South, was home to 17 abortion providers.

In the wake of Gov. Matt Bevin’s 2015 win (he became only the second Republican governor of the state in four decades), EMW Women’s Surgical Center in Louisville is Kentucky’s last abortion provider. And, if the state has its way, it will soon be shuttering the clinic’s doors.

Dona Wells

Since taking office, Bevin, who calls himself “unapologetically pro-life,” has worked tirelessly to limit abortion access in the state. In January, after Republicans took control of the Kentucky House for the first time in 95 years, measures were passed that banned abortions after 20 weeks and required doctors to narrate the ultrasounds in detail, regardless of the women’s wishes. Bevin also blocked a Planned Parenthood clinic from performing abortions, and, after a lengthy legal battle with the state over licensing issues, EMW’s clinic in Lexington was forced to close earlier this year.

In the latest turn of events, the state threatened to revoke the Louisville clinic’s licensing in April after alleging EMW’s agreements with hospital and ambulance services contained technical deficiencies, even though the state had approved those same agreements when they renewed the clinic’s license in 2016. In a letter, EMW was notified that it’d be forced to close within 10 days if the demands weren’t met.

Scott Olson/Getty Images News/Getty Images

“This was completely out of the blue,” Brigitte Amiri, Senior Staff Attorney for the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project, tells Bustle. “The clinic is inspected on a regular basis, they had been inspected in the years prior, the agreements were in the possession of the government, and, nevertheless, EMW received this letter saying there were these deficiencies.”

The ACLU filed a lawsuit, EMW v. Glisson, aimed at blocking what they consider to be unnecessary and unconstitutional state laws. In April, a federal court issued an order that permitted EMW to remain open while the state challenges the clinic’s agreements with local hospital and ambulance services. The trial starts on Sept. 6 and the temporary restraining order will remain in effect until a final judgment is declared.

“So that’s really what this stems from, they say the wrong person at the hospital signed the transfer agreement. They are all these technical, nit-picky things to close the last clinic in Kentucky.”

Amiri says Kentucky’s case against the clinic is especially unconstitutional in light of last June’s Supreme Court case of Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, which held that requiring business arrangements with a hospital serves no medical purpose and poses major harm for women. She considers the state’s stringent licensing requirements to be TRAP laws, or laws that single out abortion providers and impose requirements that are more burdensome than those imposed on other medical practices.

“Hospitals are already required by federal law to care for any emergency patient and stabilize her,” Amiri says. “There’s really no need for an agreement between an abortion clinic and a hospital to ensure proper patient care. And the burden on patients would be extreme — this is designed specifically to make it impossible or at least very difficult for women to access abortions.”

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However, the government still wants to revoke EMW’s license because their written agreement was signed by the head of the hospital’s Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Women’s Health — and they claim it must be signed by someone higher up at the hospital.

“So that’s really what this stems from, they say the wrong person at the hospital signed the transfer agreement,” Amiri explains. “They are all these technical, nit-picky things to close the last clinic in Kentucky.”

Since its conception, EMW has consistently provided care for people across Kentucky. Wells says that, for instance, and in 2003, they saw 299 patients in March, 249 patients in April, and 254 patients in May of that year.

“And that’s just the book I happened to pull out!” she says with a laugh about the provided dates. “We were doing much more than that in the early days because women didn’t have good access to information.”

She says the state of abortion care in Kentucky is much worse today than it was in the 1970s. It’s one of seven states — along with North Dakota, South Dakota, Missouri, Mississippi, Wyoming, and West Virginia — with only one abortion provider.

Hillary Schneller, a staff attorney with the Center for Reproductive Rights who is involved with their legal team in Mississippi, says that since the presidential election, anti-abortion protests have especially picked up speed. “[Protestors] have gotten more aggressive and persistent in a region where abortion is already incredibly restricted,” she tells Bustle. “To be one clinic in a very hostile state can feel very targeted and a focal point for protestors, and just a very difficult situation in which to operate.”

Louisville Clinic Escorts

From July 22 to 29, Operation Save America, a fundamentalist Christian conservative organization, will be holding disruptive protests in Louisville against EMW. On the group’s Facebook page, they stated:

Amiri says that the organization also held protests against EMW in May — and physically blockaded the doors to prevent patients from entering. “We in the reproductive rights movement have not seen clinic blockades like that for decades,” she says.

“They’re willing to sacrifice the lives of Kentuckians for their own religious and political beliefs and that’s extremely sad.”

Marcie Crim, the Executive Director of the Kentucky Health Justice Network, tells Bustle that the state of abortion in Kentucky is at emergency levels. But, and in spite of the hostile environment surrounding abortion, her organization continues to receive about 30 phone calls a week from people across the state who need assistance accessing abortion care. The organization helps transport patients to abortion clinics and provides funding when they can’t afford the procedure.

If EMW shuts down, she says they will be forced to transport Kentuckians out of state for abortions.

“Not everyone in the state of Kentucky who needs an abortion will find us. So, what’s going to happen to those people who don’t know there is assistance out there? I don’t know,” she says. “The people who are trying to pass these laws, they’re not thinking of what that actually means for Kentuckians. Either they don’t care or they just don’t even consider that fact that that means people will try to self-abort. They’re willing to sacrifice the lives of Kentuckians for their own religious and political beliefs and that’s extremely sad.”

Louisville Clinic Escorts

Wells remembers what life was like in the pre-Roe era. Sometimes, pregnant friends left town to give birth and place the child for adoption, she says. Other times, she says she drove young women to the airport to fly to New York for the procedure, since abortion was already legalized in that state. They boarded the planes, were picked up by vans upon arrival, and driven to far-off clinics, she tells Bustle. “Then they flew back on the plane just totally wiped out,” she says. “That’s just so unconscionable for anyone to have to go through that.”

Kentucky women had no control over their reproductive lives, and it was scary, she says.

“I grew up in a time when so frequently, because we didn’t have good access to information, people got pregnant and then they got married and I just thought that was so wrong for women not to have this option,” Wells says. “To say there’s no abortion in Kentucky, it’s just a total chilling effect for all of us who are pro-choice, all of us who are feminists, all of us who care about people. It would be like we’re going back to the 1800s.”