If clinics that did plastic surgery or colonoscopies inspired violent protests and vandalism, state legislators would pass laws to try and stop it. But rising violence at reproductive health clinics is tolerated.
A bill to make it a crime to impede access to reproductive health clinics remains stuck in an Ohio House committee. A nearly identical bill received just one hearing in the previous legislative session.
Just this past weekend, the Founders Women’s Health Center in Columbus was targeted by the “Bible Believers,” an organization recognized as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Protesters used megaphones to call patients “whores,” railed against “homo sex” and attempted to physically prevent patients and staff from entering the facility.
House Bill 234 would make it a crime to impede access to a reproductive health care facility and harass or intimidate its employees.
“Ohio needs to take a stand against the increasing violence and pass this bill,” said Rep. Stephanie Howse, a Cleveland Democrat and one of the bill’s main sponsors. “We can protect the protesters’ free-speech rights, but we also have an obligation to address their violent conduct and protect the rights of patients to access healthcare.”
Columbus City Council members responded to a spike in violence and vandalism targeting their city’s clinic by unanimously passing a law that establishes a 15-foot buffer zone around clinics. Toledo City Council is debating a similar ordinance for the City of Toledo.
State Rep. Teresa Fedor, a Toledo Democrat, supports local governments’ efforts but argues that a statewide law is needed.
“All Ohio women need the freedom to access healthcare – just as all clinic employees need the freedom to access their workplace – without fear of violence or intimidation,” Fedor said.
Howse agreed, pointing out that clinic violence is on the rise across Ohio. Preterm, which is Cleveland’s last abortion provider, has also been the subject of repeated vandalism. Surveillance cameras caught a man throwing a brick through the clinic’s window. Preterm officials believe he is responsible for the center’s 10 other broken windows this year, but no arrests have been made.
“The protests are getting larger, louder and more aggressive,” said Chris France, executive director of Preterm. “There is no doubt that their conduct constitutes harassment and intimidation, not free speech.”
The 2016 National Clinic Violence Survey found that anti-abortion violence in 2016 was higher than it’s been in two decades. It found that 34.2 percent of US abortion providers reported “severe violence or threats of violence” in the first half of 2016, compared with 19.7 percent in 2014. Before that, the highest recent peaks were in the mid-1990s.
Ohio was among four states targeted nationally by protesters using intimidation tactics this past weekend. Huffington Post reported that Michigan, Virginia and New Mexico were targeted as well, with protesters in some states storming waiting rooms and refusing to leave.
This report comes from ProgressOhio, a leading Buckeye State progressive organization that has served on Ohio issue coalitions on voter suppression, redistricting reform, fair tax policies, women’s rights issues, payday lending reform, and health care issues.