A trolley pub careens past a dwindling group of protesters—four stragglers, down from the 250-plus earlier in the day—outside the Planned Parenthood in downtown Raleigh Saturday afternoon.
"I support Planned Parenthood, so fuck youuuuu," a woman shouts from the trolley, waving her middle finger in the air. The protesters boo. Meanwhile, a trolling 20-something man carries a sign that reads, "I don't have plans this weekend either," on one side and, "Wanna play Scrabble?" on the other. Neighbors of the South Boylan Avenue clinic have displayed colorful painted signs in their yards: "We heart pro-choice." "We support women's health."
The anti-abortion activists had arrived at this Planned Parenthood location—which does not perform abortions, by the way—armed with signs, plastic fetuses and church literature. This was the local component of the so-called National Day of Protest, a concerted, nationwide effort to discredit, defund and finally do away with the reproductive health care provider once and for all.
These protests, which took place at some 300 Planned Parenthood locations across the country, come on the heels of inflammatory videos released by the right-wing group Center for Medical Progress. Those videos purport to show Planned Parenthood officials gleefully discussing harvesting fetal body parts for sale.
Quick fact check: Only a small number of Planned Parenthood affiliates offer assistance to patients who want to donate tissue for medical research; none of these affiliates operates in North Carolina, and none of the tissue-donation programs are for-profit. Investigations in Georgia, Indiana, Massachusetts and South Dakota have all failed to find any wrongdoing, though that hasn't stopped conservative politicians from demanding that the federal government defund the organization. Five states, in fact, have taken steps to prohibit Planned Parenthood from receiving Medicaid funds, despite federal government warnings that doing so is illegal. North Carolina—along with Tennessee, Kansas, Indiana and Arizona—was previously blocked by the courts from defunding Planned Parenthood.
In addition, federal law already prohibits government dollars from going to abortions; rather, the money the organization receives is used primarily to help low-income women access preventative reproductive health care services like annual exams, birth control, breast and cervical cancer screenings, and testing and treatment for STDs.
Even so, many anti-abortion-rights activists believe their enemy is wounded. And while this weekend's Planned Parenthood protests were largely peaceful, other extremists have taken a more aggressive tack—not only harassing or threatening women seeking abortions, but also those who offer them any sort of assistance as well.
Last week, as the INDY first reported on its blog, a group called Abolish Human Abortion and its Raleigh ringleader, Matthew Tringali, launched an online smear campaign against Shana Broders, a Wake Forest elementary school teacher who for the last year and a half has volunteered as an escort at the Women's Choice clinic in Northwest Raleigh.
Broders says Tringali's group protested six days a week at that clinic. They were angry and belligerent, she says, asking women "why they're killing their babies" or telling their partners that they are "less than a man."
In June 2014, Broders had Tringali cited for trespassing. He was arrested for trespassing at the clinic a year later. Ever since, she believes, the AHA has put her in its sights.
On Aug. 18, a Facebook meme was posted to the AHA's website showing a school portrait of Broders. Atop it were the words: "Hello 5th graders and families! My name is Mrs. Shana Broders, and I am very excited to have your child in my class and look forward to an amazing year of learning and growth. I love to bake and eat chocolate. I have made cakes and cupcakes for friends and their children. How did your child spend their summer vacation?"
Then, below the portrait, which is paired with another of Broders in a safety vest: "I spent mine helping to MURDER babies at 'A Woman's Choice' Abortion clinic in Raleigh! Looking forward to seeing you!"
Tringali also posted videos of Broders to his Facebook page. Broders says he and AHA Raleigh members called her school, threatening a secretary that they would show up to the school's open house last week and on the first day of classes on Monday. (They didn't show.)
"AHA members have called my school to say that I deserve to be fired, that they'll go to the PTA and the county and that they'll have my job," Broders says. "They've threatened to show up at my home."
(AHA did not respond to the INDY's requests for an interview, but sent an email calling the aforementioned blog post "a mockery" and "a disgrace to journalists everywhere seeking a fair and balanced report.")
Most abortion opponents aren't as vehement as Tringali, who travels all over the country demonstrating in front of clinics. But as the protests last weekend demonstrated, abortion rights are as imperiled today as at any time since Roe v. Wade.
As a rule, Planned Parenthood, which provides affordable reproductive health care to 25,000 women, men and teenagers a year in North Carolina, does not respond to protesters. But Paige Johnson, the senior vice president of external affairs for Planned Parenthood South Atlantic, released a statement saying the weekend's protests "are intended to shame the patients who seek basic health care services from Planned Parenthood and to intimidate the health care professionals who work here. Women should be able to access health care without fear of violence, harassment or intimidation."
The statement adds that Planned Parenthood isn't about to give in: "We are here for our patients, no matter what. For the women, men and young people we serve, the care we provide isn't about politics—it's about their well-being, and we remain focused on ensuring our patients are able to access the health care we provide in a safe and caring environment."
In the same vein, Broders says she isn't sorry for her work as a clinic escort. She says patients get really upset by the protesters. "They say thank you for being here, and hug you and tell you, 'You have to come back.' That's why I do it."
This article appeared in print with the headline "What the war on choice looks like"