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Scene outside Kentucky's only abortion clinic

Clinic escorts, pro-choice advocates, and U.S. Marshals gathered outside the Louisville clinic, in response to weeklong protests by anti-choice activists who want to close down the state's only abortion clinic. (Photo: @NatAbortionFed/Twitter)

With Kentucky's Last Clinic 'Under Siege,' Anti-Choice Activists Display Abortion on Jumbotron

As activists descend on Louisville for a week of protests, state threatens to shutter its only abortion provider

Jessica Corbett

As part of an effort to put Kentucky's only remaining abortion clinic "under siege" and harass both patients and providers, anti-choice activists set up a 12-by-18 jumbotron on Wednesday to display video of an abortion procedure in downtown Louisville.

"We have never been under siege like this. We have never had any question as to whether we would exist."
—Ernest Marshall, clinic doctor
The jumbotron was installed by a group called Created Equal, and is part of demonstrations against the EMW Women's Surgical Center in Louisville. Protests against the clinic have been organized by Operation Save America (OSA), a fundamentalist Christian anti-choice group that is hosting its annual conference in the city through Saturday.

"We have never been under siege like this," Ernest Marshall, a doctor at the clinic, told Splinter about anti-choice activists' and Kentucky Republicans' ongoing efforts to close the clinic. "We have never had any question as to whether we would exist."

OSA has also mailed and passed out fliers in clinic employees' neighborhoods. One such flier features clinic director Anne Ahola's photo and address, with the caption "Killers Among Us." On Twitter, the group of local volunteers who escort women into the EMW clinic, The Louisville Clinic Escorts, noted this type of mailing can incite violence.

OSA claims it has produced about 1,500 fliers targeting Ahola, as well as the clinic's founder and provider, and a clinic physician. A spokesperson for the local police department said they could not take action regarding fliers because they only contain publicly available information.

The EMW clinic has faced continuously hostile protests from anti-choice activists, as well as opposition from the state's Republican-controlled legislature and its vocally anti-choice Republican governor, Matt Bevin. Since Bevin's 2015 election, the state has closed down EMW's Lexington satellite clinic and passed two measures aimed at curtailing reproductive rights: a ban on abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, and a requirement that doctors "narrate ultrasounds in detail," even if the patient objects.

The ACLU has filed a challenge to the ultrasound measure, and a suit in response to Gov. Bevin's threat to revoke EMW's license over claims that the clinic doesn't meet state requirements for hospital and ambulance services. The clinic says it has been compliant for years, and the state has previously approved its services. The trial is scheduled for September. If the EMW clinic were to close, Kentucky would be the first state in the country without an abortion provider.

"The state's bureaucratic sleight of hand is fooling no one. This is an attempt to ban abortion in Kentucky, plain and simple," said Brigitte Amiri, an ACLU senior staff attorney. "We are fighting to keep this from happening."

In May, about a dozen OSA activists were arrested for blocking access to the clinic. On Friday, as concerns for the safety of the clinic's patients and employees mounted ahead of the demonstrations, a U.S. district judge granted a temporary restraining order to establish a buffer zone around the clinic during OSA's conference.

As Louisville's Courier-Journal reported:

The U.S. Attorney's office in Louisville filed a motion on Tuesday asking U.S. District Judge David Hale to enforce the federal Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act, which bars people from blocking access to reproductive health centers.

The motion asked Hale to issue an order creating a buffer zone of about 15-by-7.5 feet in front of the EMW Women's Surgical Center and asked that U.S. marshals and law enforcement officials be authorized to arrest anyone who violates the order.

Although the anti-choice activists seem to be keeping their speakers, microphones, and graphic poster boards just outside of the buffer zone this week, they broadcast their condemnation and Christian music toward the clinic's patients, employees, and volunteer escorts.

"It's very much an assault."
—Sarah Dugan, volunteer clinic escort

"It's very much an assault," Sarah Dugan, a volunteer escort told ThinkProgress. "But you get really good at ignoring it."

Even before the clinic has opened each morning, escorts have lined the buffer zone border to help patients safely navigate the anti-choice protests.

On Wednesday, the clinic escorts shared on Twitter a video of OSA's attorney arguing with U.S. Marshals outside the clinic. The escorts say the attorney entered the buffer zone, but was not arrested.

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