Haley Pessin reports on this weekend’s victory by New York City for Abortion Rights in stopping anti-choice bigots from their weekly harassment of patients at Planned Parenthood.
About 150 people showed up outside the Basilica of St Patrick’s Church in Lower Manhattan, despite heavy rain, to defend patients at a local Planned Parenthood that provides abortions. Christopher “Fidelis” Moscinski—a Catholic priest with a history of criminal charges for harrassing patients, clinics, and abortion providers across the country— has been leading “Witness for Life” events on Saturdays in Manhattan. Parishioners at St. Patricks may not even know that the church is supporting this action, which isn’t advertised anywhere on their website. It’s an important reminder that anti-choice bigots have been emboldened even in states where abortion will remain legal if Roe were to fall.
New York City for Abortion Rights (NYC4AR) has been leading counter-protests for years to defend the clinic and take the fight to them—right outside the church. They have faced everything from arrests by the cops to physical assault by the “antis”, and they are often outnumbered. Today was different.
Normally, the antis would have started marching toward the clinic around 9 a.m., but the counter-protest organizers announced that the police, who usually escort the procession, had determined it was “unsafe” to march. There were too many of us, the counter-protesters!
Counter-protests like this matter because they have the potential to delay—and in this case, prevent—the church procession from descending on the clinic, allowing patients to arrive without facing harassment from anti-abortion extremists and to begin their procedures well before the antis arrive. It’s an incentive for us all to come out again to defend the clinic in the future, and a reminder that clinic defense works.
Participants drowned out the praying antis with chants like, “This church harasses patients,” “Keep your rosaries off our ovaries,” “Abortion is health care, health care is a right,” “Thank god for abortion,” “Pray! You’ll need it. Your cause will be defeated,” and “Free abortion on demand, can we win it? Yes, we can!”
At one point, a handful of people volunteered to leave and go to the clinic, since a small group of antis had gone straight there. This smaller contingent of counter-protesters was able to block the sidewalk and protect the clinic’s entrance.
A few of us from Tempest NYC showed up and handed out flyers with an article on why being a socialist means defending abortion rights from our website and announced an organizing meeting Sunday, May 8 at noon at Union Square, co-sponsored by Socialist Alternative, Left Voice, and Tempest.
Since we didn’t need to go to the clinic, the organizers turned the event into a speak-out in front of the church where people shared their abortion stories:
“I’m proud of my abortion!”
“Fuck SCOTUS! I will aid and abet abortion until it is free, on-demand, and without apology.”
One person shared the story of their mom’s two abortions. Her grandmother had ten kids in Spain, where abortion was illegal. “Without my mom’s abortions, I wouldn’t be here,” they said.
A health care worker spoke about their friend, who had an ectopic pregnancy and tried to keep her baby, but found out it was not viable and ran into serious medical complications; she would have died without access to abortion. In addition, she also became pregnant during the pandemic and didn’t want to be, and was thankfully able to go to Planned Parenthood in another state and get an abortion for free. She spoke about how abortion needs to be free for everyone who needs one, because if it’s not available, more people are going to die. “We need to fight for as long as we can and even past that.”
Another speaker from Radical Women talked about the need to build this movement and why we can’t talk about abortion without talking about people with disabilities and forced sterilization, too.
Someone from Brooklyn People’s March said, “As soon as I saw the positive on that [pregnancy] test, I knew I was not ready to be a parent… What I cannot accept is that any side of the spectrum of the government would try to legislate our bodies.” They also mentioned how in countries where the procedure is illegal, the infant mortality rate has tripled. They continued, “Do not stand in our way. Do not police our bodies.”
Finally, a member of NYC4AR ended with this before we dispersed: “There is no reproductive justice without racial justice. There is no reproductive justice without queer and trans justice. There is no reproductive justice without climate justice.”
The organizers encouraged people to sign their petition demanding that the church stop harassing the clinic and defend abortion rights.
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Haley Pessin is a socialist activist based in New York. She is a member of the DSA Afrosocialist Caucus and of the Tempest Collective.