Denver, CO – In the mid-1800s in the United States people could access abortion drugs at the pharmacy without fear of public scrutiny. Nowadays if someone wants to get abortion drugs or an abortion procedure, or goes to a reproductive health center for one of the many other services they provide, there is a good chance they will be harassed by people who want them “to choose heaven.”
The chances are even higher during two forty-day periods of the year; the first from Ash Wednesday to Palm Sunday, and the second starting the fourth Wednesday in September. During those times, the Christian pro-life group “40 Days For Life” demonstrates outside of reproductive health centers and abortion clinics in 769 cities worldwide; including Denver, CO.
On October 20, 2018 in Denver during the group’s second campaign this year, an opposing group was present to demonstrate their support of the people going in and out of the Planned Parenthood Denver Stapleton Health Center.
According to the National Abortion Federation (NAF), which tracks clinic harassment and intimidation in the U.S., since the passage of Roe v. Wade in 1973,
“there has been an organized campaign by anti-abortion extremists which has resulted in escalating levels of violence against women’s health care providers… [With] the first reported clinic arson in 1976 and a series of bombings in 1978. Arsons and bombings have continued until this day. Anti-abortion extremists have also used chemicals to block women’s access to abortion employing butyric acid to vandalize clinics and sending anthrax threat letters to frighten clinic staff.” – NAF
We spoke with Jason Metter, a member of the Denver branch of the International Socialist Organization (Denver ISO), about the counter-demonstration on October 20:
“We assembled on the corner down the block from the anti-choicers’ fake pregnancy clinic, which they use as a base to stage their harassment campaigns. Two of them came down the block to berate us, including one who has been arrested several times for harassment, stalking, and making death threats during his career as an anti-abortion activist.”
Metter went on to say why he and Denver ISO decided to have the counter-demonstration:
“At the recommendation of the ISO’s national fraction on abortion rights and reproductive justice, we called the action to support people seeking abortion, to counter the right-wing religious zealots’ ’40 Days For Life’ anti-choice campaign, which would otherwise go unopposed locally, and to declare our support for reproductive justice in this critical time after Kavanaugh’s confirmation.”
In the fall of 2017, while Brett Kavanaugh was on a three-judge panel for the Federal Appeals Court for the District of Columbia Circuit, he voted in favor to appeal a Texas judge’s decision to allow a 17-year-old detained immigrant to have an abortion. (After a month of back-and-forth in the courts, Jane Doe was finally able to get an abortion.)
Rochelle Garza, the attorney for Jane Doe, testified against Kavanaugh during his confirmation hearing:
“Jane endured what no human being should have to, much less a young woman in detention. She was alone and completely under the physical control of the federal government and at the mercy of decision-makers that knew nothing of what it was like to be her…
This suffering was only compounded by Judge Kavanaugh’s decision to delay her abortion decision even further — a decision that could have resulted in her being forced to carry her pregnancy to term. It showed no real consideration for Jane or her circumstances.”
Because of his record, there are some people who believe Kavanaugh’s confirmation will bring about the repeal of Roe v. Wade, which would criminalize abortion federally.
When abortion first became criminalized around 1880, the main proponent was the American Medical Association (AMA), instead of conservative social and religious groups. Dr. Horatio Storer, an OB-GYN who was a leader in the AMA anti-abortion campaign, believed that if white Protestant women (for whom abortion was most accessible) kept having abortions, then the country would fill up with undesirable immigrants.
In fact, this was the same reasoning for why in 1907 the state of Indiana passed the first eugenics-based compulsory sterilization law in the world, which was widely accepted by the academic community, lawmakers, and scientists in the country, as well as noticed and celebrated by Adolf Hitler.
In his book, Mein Kampf, Adolf Hitler wrote about his admiration for the new law:
“There is today one state in which at least weak beginnings toward a better conception are noticeable. Of course, it is not our model German Republic, but the American Union, in which an effort is made to consult reason at least partially.“
California followed suit two years later, and not before long, 32 states had adopted the law giving way to 60,000 forced sterilizations.
The sterilization procedures were often done to Mexican, Italian, and Japanese immigrants, people of color, poor people, unmarried mothers, the disabled, the mentally ill, young women who were deemed promiscuous, and men and women who transgressed sexual norms.
In 1933, when Hitler was appointed as Chancellor of Germany, his command deployed its own sterilization laws nearly identical to those in the U.S.
Although after it came to light that Hitler’s regime was sterilizing hundreds of thousands of people, all inspired by the laws in the U.S., states began repealing or reforming their sterilization laws.
Most sterilization laws were repealed by 1980, however in recent years there have been instances of forced sterilization:
“Although [California’s] eugenic sterilization law was repealed in 1979, existing legislation provided leeway for operations in state prisons pursuant to a strict set of criteria.
Between 2006 and 2010, 146 female inmates in two of California’s women’s prisons received tubal ligations that ran afoul of these criteria; at least three dozen of these unauthorized procedures directly violated the state’s own informed consent process. The majority of these female inmates were first-time offenders, African-American or Latina.” – Alexandra Minna Stern, Professor, University of Michigan
During the demonstration in Denver on October 20, one of the pro-life demonstrators, who had set up a large display of graphic images of fetuses directly across from Planned Parenthood’s only entryway, was sitting on the entryway’s edge attempting to hand each vehicle anti-abortion pamphlets while telling people, “Don’t kill your baby” or “Save your baby.”
In Colorado, there is a bubble law which is supposed to prevent pro-life activists from coming within eight feet of anyone in a hundred-foot radius of a clinic without their permission. Even though these demonstrators were breaking the law, the Denver Police Department officers who were on the scene told Jason Metter that they “have a good relationship with them,” when talking about the pro-life activists. The police officers also informed Metter that the pro-life activists “are here all the time.”
Some pro-life demonstrators spent their time praying and talking casually among themselves. However there were a few who were yelling at and harassing the pro-choice demonstrators, and attempting to hand them anti-abortion literature, including Marisol Health flyers.
Marisol Health is a crisis pregnancy center (CPC) and ministry of Catholic Charities Archdiocese of Denver. There are around 4,000 CPCs in the United States, which greatly outnumber the less than 800 reproductive health clinics which provide abortions in the country. Pro-choice activists consider CPCs to be fake health clinics.
According to a 2015 report done by NARAL Pro-Choice America about CPCs,
“the alarming fact remains that women who go to CPCs have no way of knowing that what looks like a typical women’s clinic is in fact operated by anti-choice ideologues intent on convincing them not to choose abortion (or use contraception) through deceit and coercion.”
In another report done by NARAL in Virginia in 2013, women who went undercover in CPCs reported that these clinics did not inform them of the full range of reproductive options they had, and instead, the clinics pushed the myths that abortion leads to suicide and drug addiction, that condoms don’t work and that birth control causes hair loss, memory loss, headaches, weight gain and breast cancer.
Marisol Health is less than 1,000 feet away from the Planned Parenthood Denver Stapleton Health Center, which is typical of CPCs. In fact, the majority of CPCs in the U.S. are near hospitals or abortion clinics.
In an attempt to prevent CPCs from continuing to deceive their patients, especially lower-income women, California passed a law in 2015 known as the Reproductive FACT Act. This law required that unlicensed CPCs (most CPCs are unlicensed facilities and are staffed by volunteers who are not licensed medical professionals) post a sign or otherwise disclose to their clients in writing (and in their advertising) that the center is not a licensed medical facility.
The law also required that licensed CPCs that do not provide a full range of reproductive care, including services covered by Medicaid, must post a sign that says the state of California provides free or low-cost access to prenatal care, birth control and other reproductive care, including abortions.
This law was meant to ensure informed consent in the choice of which health clinic a person would entrust with their life.
However in June 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court sided with pro-life activists and struck down the law. Justice Clarence Thomas said the law “targets speakers, not speech, and imposes an unduly burdensome disclosure requirement that will chill their protected speech.”
Evidently forcing clinics, which claim to be health centers, to provide accurate and scientifically-proven health data is “unduly burdensome.”
Before the counter-demonstration on October 20 in Denver, the Vice President of Brand Experience at Planned Parenthood reached out to Denver ISO to discourage them from their planned presence at the pro-life “40 Days For Life” rally.
“Planned Parenthood’s strategy of demobilizing counter-protests and pouring millions of dollars into lobbying and supporting Democratic Party candidates is a failure. The Democrats’ capitulation to the Right has brought abortion rights and access to its current pitiful state… As expected [Planned Parenthood] attempted to dissuade us from counter-protesting…
[Denver ISO] stands with Planned Parenthood’s concerns for patient and provider safety and we are grateful for the services it provides, but we do not take political leadership from them. We refuse to cede ground to the reactionary forces that seek to control the bodies of women and other pregnant people.” – Jason Metter, member of Denver ISO
The forty-day period of the second “40 Days For Life” campaign this year ended on November 4, 2018, so pro-life activists closely associated with that organization will be taking a break from demonstrating. However, there are still other pro-life activists who demonstrate outside clinics no matter what time of year it is, including at the Planned Parenthood Denver Stapleton Health Center.
Since Marisol Health, a Catholic crisis pregnancy center, is right down the block from that Planned Parenthood, there is always a chance people going in and out of the health center will be harassed.
Historian Leslie Reagan wrote in her 1996 book on abortion history in the United States, that in the 18th century, “the popular ethic regarding abortion and common law were grounded in the female experience of their own bodies.” With Donald Trump as president for two more years and with Kavanaugh’s confirmation, this country is getting farther from that ethic each day.