Abortion clinics are community resources. We must protect them | Opinion

We need bold policies that address the root problems of anti-abortion extremism

Abortion rights advocates. (Photo by Astrid Riecken/Getty Images).

(Photo by Astrid Riecken/Getty Images).

By Lizbeth Rodriguez

Recently, Kansans proved the power of a broad and diverse movement for reproductive justice by overwhelmingly defeating a proposed anti-abortion constitutional amendment.

This isn’t the first, or last, time abortion will be top of mind for people in a post-Roe world.

In Pennsylvania, anti-abortion politicians are trying to do the same, bypassing the governor in an attempt to make it harder for Pennsylvanians–especially people of color–to get the care they need and deserve. These same politicians have tried to pass a near-total abortion ban, and observers have noted that this year carries great risk for the fate of abortion rights in our state.

Simply put, extremists want to make 2022 a referendum on abortion, and Pennsylvania needs leaders who will continue to champion abortion access in our state, or else we’ll face new bans soon. With Roe v. Wade overturned, it’s up to Pennsylvanians to fight to defend access in our state.

In my work at Pennsylvania abortion clinics, I’ve seen how politicians’ attacks on abortion are emboldening anti-abortion vigilantes to harass our clinics and threaten our patients. Contrary to popular belief, these anti-abortion protests aren’t calm, respectful gatherings–they’re targeted and racist harassment by extremists who seek to control other individuals.

Right-wing zealots, often with explicit ties to notorious white supremacist groups, do everything they can to intimidate our patients. These protesters, who are mostly white, sometimes go as far as to exploit the imagery of slavery, lynching, and the Holocaust to shame our patients about their health care decisions.

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We must hold our lawmakers accountable for ending this dangerous harassment–not only must our leaders set an example by protecting our legal right to abortion, they must also find sustainable ways to support clinics facing violence.

So far, politicians have failed to protect clinics. As we’ve seen at the Women’s Centers, police often allow anti-abortion activists to stop the flow of traffic and pedestrians by putting up podiums in the street and displaying signs with violent imagery—all without permits.

Enabling this behavior is part of a broader history of law enforcement surveilling and criminalizing people, especially people of color, for their pregnancy outcomes, and is indicative of why we cannot rely on law enforcement for our safety. Instead, we look to the leadership of our clinic staff–they are the experts on safe and compassionate care and are best equipped to defuse tense situations at clinics, not the police.

We can no longer afford temporary solutions that involve increased police presence at our clinics. We need bold policies that address the root problems of anti-abortion extremism.

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Our clinic staff and providers will continue to meet our patients with warmth and compassion no matter what protestors and politicians hurl our way, because we all deserve equal access to this essential care, without shame, discrimination, or surveillance.

Meanwhile, we need your help to call on our representatives to listen to the expertise of health care providers on what they need to ensure care that is uninterrupted and comprehensive and resist all efforts to restrict abortion.

We need to invest resources in the abortion funds and independent clinics that play a critical role in our communities, and we need more folks to volunteer with our clinics to help support patients seeking care.

Most importantly, we need to destigmatize abortion and give people the information and resources they need to make their own decisions about if, when, and how to start a family without fear of harassment or government intrusion.

Abortion gives Pennsylvania families freedom and control over our futures – especially those of us in communities who are often blocked from exercising our rights. It’s time we all join the fight for our futures.

Lizbeth Rodriguez is the Pennsylvania Community Engagement Coordinator for The Women’s Centers, a collective of independent clinics including clinics in Delaware County and Philadelphia.

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Capital-Star Guest Contributor
Capital-Star Guest Contributor

The Pennsylvania Capital-Star welcomes opinion pieces from writers who share our goal of widening the conversation on how politics and public policy affects the day-to-day lives of people across the commonwealth.