By Barbara Alvarez
Anne Nicol Gaylor Reproductive Rights Intern
Freedom From Religion Foundation
Abortion rights are under assault in this country.
The U.S. Supreme Court recently agreed to hear an anti-abortion case, Dobbs v. Jackson Health Organization, about banning most abortions in Mississippi at 15 weeks’ gestation. Dobbs is the first such major case to be heard by the ultraconservative Supreme Court since Christian nationalist Justice Amy Coney Barrett replaced Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and has the potential to gut Roe v. Wade — an enduring goal of the Religious Right.
Mississippi, at the center of this case, only has one abortion clinic left for the 1.54 million women in the state. Called the “Pink House,” the Jackson Women’s Health Organization is a state-licensed abortion clinic and is surrounded by a concrete wall and an 8-foot iron wall. However, these protective barriers do not intimidate anti-abortion harassers who sling verbally abusive rhetoric, blast music, and thrust religious pamphlets and signs at clinic patients, providers and escorts. And now with the impending case, protesters have gotten more volatile, clinging to their religion at amplified and cruel levels.
A cursory glance through photos and journalist reports reveals that, unsurprisingly, the majority of anti-abortion protesters use biblical text and religion to justify their harmful and abusive behavior. Large signs with gory, inaccurate images have messages like “Christian! You say you oppose abortion. How?” This sign also quoted Proverbs 24:12: “If you say, ‘But we knew nothing about this,’ does not he who weighs the heart perceive it? Does not he who guards your life know it? Will he not repay everyone according to what they have done?”
Curiously, this verse does not say anything about abortion (in fact, nothing in the bible condemns abortion, and it actually says that life begins at first breath), but the verse does seem threatening and retaliatory. Indeed, the protesters seem to be telling women that by exercising their constitutional right to reproductive health care, they will reap the wrath of a vengeful god. Other signs have included messages such as “The gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ” and “We are ambassadors of Jesus Christ,” alongside pictures of fetuses with a question: “Which of these human beings was conceived in rape?” A street preacher holding a bible tried to block a car from passing while another man holding a “murder” sign shouted at a woman driver.
Clinic escorts routinely shield patients from protesters holding religious pamphlets while gospel music blares, prayer cards are passed out, and men and women pace in front of the clinic and pray the rosary. One man doing a rosary prayer explained that “religious reasoning” was just as important as abolishing Roe v. Wade so that women do not get abortions. Interestingly, one woman who volunteers as an escort is a Jehovah’s Witness who was anti-abortion until she determined that she needed one. Her experience aligns with the reality that people of all religions and nonreligions get abortions. In fact, research found that 17 percent of abortion patients identify as Protestant, 13 percent as evangelical and 24 percent as Catholic.
Nathan Glenn, a restaurant owner who shares a block with the clinic, has described the anti-abortion protesters as “social terrorists” who aggressively use bullhorns, block entrances to businesses and “get in people’s faces, telling everybody they’re going to hell.” The terrorist tactics of the anti-abortion protesters is unsurprising, given that violence against abortion clinics hit a record high in 2019.
Furthermore, anti-abortion extremists were a core component of the Jan. 6 insurrection, with many participating in a “Save America” rally prior to storming the Capitol.
Indeed, anti-abortion bills are rooted in religious ideology, not science. This percolates throughout anti-abortion discourse, actions and dangerous protests. It is unnerving to see religion weaponized and used as a justification to take away women’s bodily autonomy. Secular activists must hold our legislators accountable, urge the passage of bills like Equal Access to Abortion Coverage in Health Insurance (EACH Woman Act) and the Women’s Health Protection Act. We can also donate to Jackson Women’s Health Organization so that it can continue to provide health services to women.
One of the anti-abortion protesters wielded a sign that stated: “Pray to end abortion.” As Anne Nicol Gaylor, abortion rights activist and Freedom From Religion co-founder, said: “Nothing fails like prayer.” Let’s organize to safeguard women’s health care.