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Interview with Women’s Clinic employee after the arrest of two anti-choice protesters in Grand Rapids

May 17, 2020

Editor’s Note: The person whom we spoke with for this interview chose to remain anonymous.

GRIID – Can you talk about the arrests that just happened at the clinic. What did those who were arrested do and what was their message?

There are a number of regular protestors outside of the clinic every week. Those that came and did the protest demonstration on 5/14/2020 are, as far as I’m aware, not affiliated with the local protestors and organized this protest on their own. They belong to an organization called Citizens for a Pro-Life America, and the demonstration they coordinated is what’s called a “Red Rose Rescue”. These folks organize protests all over the country at medical clinics that offer abortion services. According to their website, their goal is to enter clinic buildings in order to speak with scheduled patients to persuade them to continue their pregnancy. This was the fourth or fifth protest they have held in Michigan and have never targeted our clinic before in the past. Tactics include giving patients red roses as a sign of “life, peace, and love” (according to their website); entering and then remaining inside the clinic building for as long as possible (aka – until forcibly removed) as a “non-violent act of defense”; engaging in Christian ministry with patients; performing as “prayer warriors” or “sidewalk counselors” outside of the clinic; and having multiple people filming the protest.

On the day of their protest, they showed up in a large group, gathering outside of the clinic. When patients exited their vehicles, they would either shout loudly at the patients or would directly approach them. They were verbally aggressive and their voices were elevated (we could hear them screaming from inside the clinic). One particular protestor, a woman named Caroline Davis, was seen and heard screaming “Repent your sins”, “You’re going to regret this every day”, and more to patients. Many members of the group entered the building in the stairwell in an attempt to gain access to inside the clinic, but due to the safety and privacy measures we always have in place, in addition to the diligence of precautionary measures our staff took, they were not successful with entering.

Patients came into the clinic visibly shook up and unhappy. Patients disclosed to us that protestors had approached their cars and physically banged on their car windows. One protestor held open the door to the clinic for a patient and told her to “have a nice day” (in a way that felt insincere and manipulative to the patient). Another patient came to her appointment in a vehicle with a business logo on the side, and a protestor called that business to inform them of where they were, violating their privacy.

GRPD was contacted several times by our clinic staff and also by those in the community who live in the neighborhood or were driving by. When the police arrived, they had many conversations with those in the group, mostly with the folks who were on our property in our parking lot or entering the building. The police gave them all warnings, but they continued to remain on property. Due to this, the police arrested five people. Two were taken into custody overnight, and the others were released, but all five received citations, fines, and a warning. Each time someone was arrested and put in the police vehicle, the rest of the crowd sang “Our God is an Awesome God”. They praised their fellow members, saying words of support like “God bless you”, but would antagonize the police officers by saying things like “Making arrests is making you look bad”, or making threats towards our staff. While Caroline Davis was being arrested, she vacillated between sobbing and then happily smiling. The crowd remained outside until around 12:30 PM.

This demonstration was alarming for a number of reasons, including the fact that none of the 30-35 people were practicing social distancing, and very few had masks on. The few that did have masks wore them incorrectly, such as under their nose. Many of the protestors stated loudly that if our clinic can still operate during a pandemic, then they are still allowed to protest during the pandemic. To be clear, our clinic offers medical care services that are considered to be essential by Governor Whitmer, whose office we contacted directly when isolation began. We are operating with the utmost precautions in order to keep our patient and staff safe. We screen every patient who enters to make sure they are symptom-free before continuing with their appointment. Since asymptomatic carriers are a large concern, all surfaces are routinely sanitized, including door handles, pens, clipboards, desks, keyboards, etc. Every person in the building is required to wear a mask and asked to socially distance as much as possible. We have reduced our schedule and do not allow supportive folks in the office in order to limit the number of people in the building. We have a professional cleaning crew who deep-cleans the clinic. We are taking every precaution necessary in order to limit contact and spread of the virus, so when protestors continue to gather outside every day, come into our building, and approach our patients, they are putting not only us but the entire West Michigan community at grave risk during this pandemic.

Red Rose Rescue’s website and social media describes their presence as “peaceful and non-violent deeds of merciful love”, with their ultimate goal of building a global movement built on the “peace, fortitude, humility, mercy, and love of Jesus”. Additionally, conservative social media and a LifeSiteNews article published on Thursday made many false comments about their presentation, stating they were “calm”, “peaceful”, etc. during the protest. However, when they were here, the staff and patients could hear their elevated shouting from inside the clinic. They came onto our property on the driveway, parking lot, and into the building’s staircase. They approached patients directly, were verbally aggressive, and unrelenting. They came to a medical office to harass the patients and workers, designedly cause a scene by purposefully getting arrested, and possibly causing trauma to patients or staff – and then purported the next day that they didn’t do anything. This is a classic manipulative abuse tactic called ‘gaslighting’.  In one statement they reported that they weren’t being emotionally violent or aggressive, and in another statement reported that a protestor was “preaching the gospel non-stop in a loud voice from the sidewalk in front of the facility”. So…did they or did they not behave peacefully?? This is the ultimate gaslighting and I am fucking exhausted.

GRIID – There have been protests at this clinic for decades. I remember when Operation Rescue came here in the late 80s to protest at the clinic. What has it been like in recent years in terms of the protests and how does that impact those who work at the clinic and those seeking services at the clinic?

I have seen pictures of those protests and heard stories! Some of their demonstrations have been pretty wild. The protestors we have currently are more mild than Operation Rescue, but are still unrelenting and overwhelming nonetheless. They continue to show up despite the stay-at-home orders, and still gather in groups despite social distancing requirements. They will pat each other on the arm or back; lean in together to look at something on someone’s phone; hug each other; stand closely to sing or pray; and more.

“Generally, a typical day involves three to ten protestors that stand outside of the clinic. They are out there every Wednesday through Friday, every single week,, starting before 8am. They will occasionally speak to the staff, including the doctor, to try and persuade us to leave our jobs. They tell us they can find us other jobs, and sometimes offer us money to leave. Then throughout the rest of the morning, they do what they refer to as “sidewalk counseling”: trying to persuade patients to continue their pregnancy. They use the same lines over and over in an attempt to persuade, offer goody bags for patients to take, and raise their voices until finally the patient has entered the building. In addition to the unrelenting harassment, these folks also talk horribly about patients behind their backs (or sometimes, even boldly to the patient’s face). I have heard the things they say, both as a counter-protester and a staff member. They victim blame, slut shame, sex shame. I have heard them say disgusting things that make me feel sick all day. It is important to know that they are out there for one reason: Political & Religious Agenda. They do not care about the patient. They do not care about the fetus. They would not care about the child if the patient continues the pregnancy and gives birth. Because if they did, they would not harass, bully, and shame folks going to a doctor’s appointment. If they really, truly, undeniably believed that living beings were being murdered 156 days out of the year, they would not be standing awkwardly on the sidewalk – they would be charging into the building 156 days out of the year. Abortion care is a social good. It is normal, common, and necessary. And we should be putting PRIORITY on the health and livelihoods of femme and uterus-having bodies, not trying to “change the minds” of patients using shame and fear tactics. I celebrate self-knowledge, self-awareness, autonomy, and empathy. I wish more of our society did the same, so that our patients did not have to deal with the madness outside.”

GRIID – The Catholic Right media group, Militant Church, was filming the protest. Have you ever dealt with them before?

To my knowledge this group has not been to the clinic before, so it was surprising to us that there was a “film crew” out there. Capturing patients and clinic staff on tape is an incredible violation of privacy, and safety. Many patients are in living or career situations that could become poor or dangerous due to lack of anonymity. For example, patients in domestic violence situations, minors with abusive parents, patients with Christian employers that could terminate their job. This is not only about privacy – this is about safety precautions as well. Videos and pictures of patients could cost them so much.

GRIID – What are some of the most important things you think that the public needs to know about women’s reproductive rights, and why they are so critical in West MI?

Many times, people hear “reproductive justice” and think that it is solely a pro-choice vs. anti-choice issue. It is so much more than that, though: It is ensuring that people who want to have and raise children have the adequate means to do so, and should be able to build a family on their own terms. They should be financially prepared with a living wage, paid family leave, and unbiased employers. We need social structures that allow for anyone regardless of background to receive proper pregnancy and childbirth care. There should be easy access to free or affordable contraceptives, STD/STI/HIV testing, and safe sexual health measures, such as condoms or other birth control, PrEP medication, etc. Equal access to abortion care, regardless of reason. Comprehensive sex education in public and private schools. Freedom from sexual and domestic violence. Supporting LGBTQ parents, teen parents, birth parents, and adoptive parents. Other issues that are often overlooked or not considered to be – but are 100% interrelated with reproductive justice –include food security and access to clean water; unwavering support of gender and sexual identity/presentation; immigration justice; environmental justice; disability justice; indigenous rights; and more. We must build and sustain safe communities for EVERYONE.

West Michigan is an ultra-conservative hotbed of folks who are not only anti-abortion, but so intensively and loudly outspoken that they have influenced and impacted our community in many negative ways. Seeking knowledge and learning more about all of these issues are connected is important to ending false narratives about abortion, and to hopefully begin to the pave the way for more progressive policies that will help strengthen our communities.

GRIID – If people want to be involved in supporting the work of the clinic and those using their services, what concrete ways can people get involved?

I’ve outlined some key ways that you can support our services and reproductive justice in general, whether or not you live in West Michigan!

  • Donate financially to HCFW’s Pad & Underwear fund with a cash donation sent by mail.
  • Donate financially to HCFW’s Anonymous Donation fund with a cash donation sent by mail.
  • Donate to Fountain Street Church (FSC) Choice Fund online (visit: https://www.fountainstreet.org/choice-fund). This fund supports patients financially at both HCFW and Planned Parenthood in Grand Rapids.
  • Attend local fundraisers where the proceeds help patients seeking abortion care services, such as the yearly Bowl-A-Thon, FSC spaghetti dinner, or the FSC Thanksgiving pie bake sale.
  • Peacefully counter-protest outside of the clinic on Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays from 8 am to noon. Bring a supportive sign, but please do not talk to the patients. Note: The counter-protesting will begin after the pandemic.
  • Write a supportive letter to the clinic staff – it would make our day!
  • Speak out honestly about reproductive justice issues with friends, family, or on social media. There is so much misinformation about abortion medical care in the news, media, and coming from people that we know. Learn the facts and spread truthful, scientific knowledge.
  • Attend workshops, conferences, lectures on reproductive justice issues. Read books and articles. Learn as much as you can – knowledge is power!
  • SUPPORT – WITHOUT JUDGEMENT – ANYONE WHO HAS HAD AN ABORTION OR DISCLOSES TO YOU THAT THEY ARE GOING TO HAVE ONE. REGARDLESS OF THIS PERSON’S REASON. EVEN IF YOU DO NOT AGREE OR YOU YOURSELF WOULD NOT CHOOSE TO HAVE AN ABORTION.

GRIID – What does it mean for you personally to be involved in the reproductive justice movement?

My heart lies in this movement. As a person with a uterus, and also as someone that society instinctually views as having very specific roles related to my gender and presentation (must bear and raise children, for example), I feel compelled and drawn to this social justice issue. I care deeply about all aspects of our health – mental, emotional, physical, spiritual, and sexual. I believe in fighting for instituting social structures that will reduce abortions. I feel strongly that our society needs to dismantle institutions upholding damaging beliefs about women, people with uterus’, and transgender or gender non-comforming folks; sex, power and militant control over femme bodies; and ending violent or destructive forms of power/injustice stemming from white supremacy and power, misogyny and sexism, transphobia, classism, toxic masculinity…I could go on. All of these issues need to be equally addressed in order to also dismantle harmful anti-abortion rhetoric and practice.

I have been actively involved with the reproductive justice movement for over a decade in West Michigan and Grand Rapids. I have been involved in this movement academically and in the community, holding a variety of roles throughout the years. I have also worked at the clinic in a counseling social work role. I will continue to seek ways I can be an advocate because this work is going to be persist for as long as I am alive, and I don’t intend to arrive at the end of my life without having been a fierce advocate for radical reproductive justice.

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