As part of Operation Save America's siege of Birmingham, as I reported yesterday, the group moved their camp to a Tuscaloosa clinic, West Alabama Women's Center. The group was crowing about the arrest of the Center's director Gloria Gray on their Web site and since the news accounts about Tuesday's protest in Tuscaloosa didn't really explain why it was the director who got arrested I called the Center myself in order to figure out what happened.
I spoke to the Center's registered nurse Lorrie Foss-McGaha. She said that Tuscaloosa police had told the clinic staff earlier that the anti-abortion group had applied for a permit to demonstrate, but that the permit was for Wednesday, July 18.
"We were excited about that because we're closed on Wednesdays," Lorrie explained. But, she said, the Center started getting a bunch of calls from women needing appointments that, according to the callers, could only be on Wednesday. "That's how the protestors found out we were closed on Wednesdays," she said.
The clinic opens at 8 a.m. and by 8:30 a.m. on Tuesday, July 17, Lorrie said, the protestors showed up and "swarmed" all over the property, including the parking lot, which is on private property. Clinic staff, Lorrie asserted, have dozens of pictures of the antichoice protestors on the private property, as close as 12 feet from the front door, despite news coverage saying they were only standing on the "right of way." (A "right of way" is generally treated as public property by a court of law.)
Protestors, said Lorrie, actually came inside the clinic, as well.
"Two young females [protestors] came inside looking like patients," Lorrie asserted. "And one of receptionists notified us that they walked in. They just asked for a price list and sat down, but they also handed out pamphlets to a patient and they gave one to me. Myself and a policeman escorted them out."
Lorrie described the protestors as having taken over most of the parking lot so that the patients of other health care facilities same complex-a dentist's and an ophthalmologist's office-couldn't park, and couldn't avoid looking at the group's gruesome photos, which they typically carry on oversized signs.
By the time the police arrived, "my director [Gloria Gray] had given them the warning that they were trespassing," Lorrie said. She continued: "We called the police when they first arrived and at first a policewoman arrived. She was very nice, but [the protestors] completely ignored her."
Shortly thereafter, according to Lorrie, more police came but, she said, they were mostly focused on keeping the peace. She said the police didn't seem concerned with the fact the protestors were on private property and lacked a permit.
David Lackey, an Operation Save America official and an organizer of the Tuscaloosa protest, was talking to the officers, Lorrie related, when Gloria Gray, executive director of the clinic, walked over to the where the police and Lackey were talking to explain the situation. That's when Gloria Gray, according to Lorrie, called Lackey a "liar."
"And then the one cop said to her 'Ma'am, I'm telling you to back off or I'm going to arrest you,'" Lorrie said. Gray then replied, according to Lorrie, "That's bullshit." At that point, Lorrie explained, the police officer arrested Gray, charging her with disorderly conduct.
Despite the fact that Gray was physically compromised by a medical test she was undergoing (she had a tube inserted into her nose) the officer handcuffed her. Clinic staffers stood nearby, Lorrie said, holding cups of water for Gray to drink because she was getting dry-mouth from the tube.
After being taken to the police department and booked, Gray was released on a signature bond. Lorrie said when she and Gray returned from the station, which was roughly 10:30 a.m., the protestors had moved off the private property. But she relates they also had printed up pamphlets featuring a picture of the doctor at the Center saying: "BEWARE of this [person]; he murders children in your neighborhood" and they had put them on every car in the lot.
The protestors left around noon, Lorrie said, even though the clinic was open until 5 p.m.
The Center normally enjoys good relations with the police department, Lorrie said. She confirmed what Tuscaloosa News reported that the West Alabama Women's Center is looking into possible legal action against the protesters.