Since its founding in 1992, Operation Save America (OSA) has designated particular cities for its annual anti-abortion, anti-contraception, and anti-woman protests. This year OSA members are calling their actions “gospel raids,” and plans include short stopovers in Jackson, Mississippi, Washington, D.C.—where they’ll unveil an “Emancipation Proclamation For the Pre-born Child”—and North and South Dakota.
The centerpiece of OSA’s 2013 summer-to-fall campaign, however, will be a week-long visit to Rochester, New York, home of anti-slavery leader Frederick Douglass and next-door neighbor of the National Women’s History Museum in Seneca Falls. The reason for the descent on the Flour City? First there’s pragmatism. OSA has a small base in Rochester, a city of approximately 210,000, and there have been ongoing picket lines at the area’s two Planned Parenthood health centers as well as annual “Life Chains” and protests orchestrated by 40 Days for Life. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, has indicated his support for a Women’s Equality Agenda (WEA), a ten-point program that includes the Reproductive Health Act (RHA), legislation that will codify the protections delineated by Roe v. Wade and permanently grant women the statutory right to choose abortion. Furthermore, it will allow abortions after 24 weeks if the woman’s health—and not just her life, as currently stipulated—is endangered by carrying the pregnancy to term.
Needless to say, this reproductive health agenda has sent the antis into a frenzy of activity, and despite humongous anti-choice victories in the Midwest and South, OSA and its allies are taking no chances and are using their bully pulpit to denounce both Cuomo and the RHA. “It’s the worst abortion law ever to be proposed,” the group’s website shrieks. Although the law has not yet passed—in fact, the state legislature may or may not take it up before recessing at the end of June—the fact that it was introduced and has widespread public support is enough to give antis the shivers and shakes.
The group’s doomsday scenario paints a detailed picture of what they see as a looming horror:
Imagine a world where a teenager who is perfectly healthy and nine months pregnant can walk into an unregulated abortion facility without her parent’s prior knowledge or consent, have her innocent baby brutally killed by an unlicensed abortionist, and she doesn’t pay a dime—her parents’ health insurance covers it. … Not only that, but the local Catholic Hospital is now fined or shut down and the medical practitioners who worked there are stripped of their licenses because they refused to perform abortions.
Forget that the terms “unregulated” and “unlicensed” are blatant misrepresentations, and forget that the RHA keeps existing “conscience” protections in place, allowing hospital workers and others to opt out of providing abortion care to patients. For OSA, the Reproductive Health Act is “the most radical pro-abortion legislation ever to hit a state government, anywhere in the country.” (Not to digress, but I am confident that OSA would also oppose the RHA if the young woman paid for the procedure out-of-pocket, was just ten weeks pregnant, and had the blessing and consent of her family.)
Should the RHA pass during this year’s legislative session, you can bet the farm that OSA will ramp up its protests, risking arrests to derail local providers. But even if the WEA/RHA fails this time around, OSA is not a group to rest on its laurels. The continuous torment of providers is unlikely to cease, especially since those advocating the bills are equally resolute and will not stop until the bills finally become law.
For its part, OSA has named six targets for the July Rochester protests: Planned Parenthood facilities on Ridge Road in nearby Greece and on University Avenue in Rochester; Strong Memorial and Highland Hospitals, both affiliated with the University of Rochester Medical Center; and two private physicians, Dr. David Gandell of Freedom of Choice OB/GYN on Lattimore Road, and Dr. Morris Wortman, founder of the Center for Menstrual Disorders and Reproductive Choice. OSA calls Wortman “the most notorious of all” for his longtime association with Freedom of Choice OB/GYN.
“We do what we need to do to keep everyone safe 365 days a year,” Karen, the practice manager at Freedom of Choice OB/GYN, told RH Reality Check. (Karen declined to give her last name.) “We’re well aware of what’s been going on nationally and we have been alerted to OSA’s plans by law enforcement.” While neither Karen nor others involved in providing abortion care in Rochester were willing to offer specifics about their security plans for the summer, rest assured they are doing what they can to protect themselves and their patients.
In addition, feminist and reproductive justice groups, including the state National Organization for Women chapter, NARAL Pro-Choice New York, Physicians for Reproductive Health, Family Planning Advocates of New York State, and World Can’t Wait, are gearing up and formulating plans to stave off OSA’s expected provocation.