Undercover audio of Texas anti-choice training session shows how the movement relies on intimidation and harassment

As anti-choice legislation is increasingly wrapped in the friendly (and dishonest) guise of “patient safety” and anti-choice protestors carefully attempt to rebrand themselves as “sidewalk counselors,” it may be easy for some to forget that harassment and intimidation still play a vital role in the anti-choice movement’s overall strategy.

But NARAL Pro-Choice Texas and Progress Texas have released this undercover audio of a training session hosted by several anti-choice groups at the Texas state capitol earlier this month which shows that, behind closed doors, they’re very upfront about their goal — “keeping abortion facilities closed” — and tactics, which include tracking license plates and physical descriptions of providers and patients, intimidating women into canceling their appointments, and searching tax records to find new clinic locations and keep doctors “on the run.” 

You’ll recall that the Supreme Court recently bought the argument that folks like this “lining the sidewalk” in front of clinics are simply peaceful “sidewalk counselors” whose right to free speech dare not be inconvenienced in the slightest. But as Karen Garnett, executive director of the Texas Pro-life Committee of North Texas, makes clear in the recording, these counselors are probably happiest when they don’t even have to say a word. She praises all the “cancelled appointments” that occur “just because [patients] don’t want to drive in because they see our presence there.” That’s a deliberate strategy of intimidation, pure and simple. And as the video notes, it’s a dangerous one; one woman was so scared of the protestors outside Planned Parenthood, she decided to go to Kermit Gosnell’s house of horrors instead.

And that’s what’s most maddening to me. I’m so fucking tired of this compassionate pro-lifer just concerned about women bullshit. If anti-choicers want to use every morally bankrupt tactic they legally can — from such “counseling” to outright trickery — to block access to abortion, fine. (In fact, if they really, truly believe abortion is murder, I’d expect nothing less, but then again, they clearly don’t actually.) But you don’t get to do that and then turn around and justify anti-choice restrictions by claiming you’re just concerned about “women’s health.” This training session happened just as the trial against Texas’ omnibus anti-abortion law began. These groups lobbied lawmakers to pass a law that could ultimately leave only six clinics in the whole state, and now they’re trying to get the rest closed — or inaccessible — through intimidation. And as NARAL Pro-Choice Texas’s Heather Busby says, “With fewer clinics for these stalking protestors to target, the dangerous impact of their intimidation tactics will be exacerbated.”

And yet somehow — seemingly just by refusing to ever acknowledge it — the movement is never really forced to accept responsibility for the consequences of this strategy. In the training session, one speaker literally praised God for the fact that upon finding out the clinic in their area is going to close, low-income women — or the “the poorer ones,” in her words — are visiting an anti-choice crisis pregnancy center instead because they don’t have transportation to go elsewhere. Translated from pro-life-speak to what that actually means: Poor women who wanted abortions were forced to accept some prenatal vitamins instead and likely slide further into poverty. Others, of course, will turn to illegal and less safe means to self-induce abortions, just like women have done forever and continue to do wherever the procedure is outlawed.

In any case — whether they are forced to carry unwanted pregnancies to term, forced to take unnecessary risks to end them, or forced to walk through a gauntlet of harassment to get a legal, constitutionally protected procedure — the anti-choice movement’s strategy causes direct harm to pregnant people. And they shouldn’t be allowed to somehow elide that fact.

Maya DusenberyMaya Dusenbery is an Executive Director of Feministing.

St. Paul, MN

Maya Dusenbery is executive director in charge of editorial at Feministing. She is the author of the forthcoming book Doing Harm: The Truth About How Bad Medicine and Lazy Science Leave Women Dismissed, Misdiagnosed, and Sick (HarperOne, March 2018). She has been a fellow at Mother Jones magazine and a columnist at Pacific Standard magazine. Her work has appeared in publications like Cosmopolitan.com, TheAtlantic.com, Bitch Magazine, as well as the anthology The Feminist Utopia Project. Before become a full-time journalist, she worked at the National Institute for Reproductive Health. A Minnesota native, she received her B.A. from Carleton College in 2008. After living in Brooklyn, Oakland, and Atlanta, she is currently based in the Twin Cities.

Maya Dusenbery is an executive director of Feministing and author of the forthcoming book Doing Harm on sexism in medicine.

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