Shane Burley: Abortion Clinic Defense Needs to Be Seen as a Key Part of Anti-Fascism

Truthout | May 27, 2023

We can build broad anti-fascist coalitions while blocking far right demonstrators to make clinics safe for patients.

Clinic defense has been a crucial part of left-wing social movements since Roe v. Wade affirmed the constitutional right to abortion in in 1973. The effort to defend clinics against an increasingly violent anti-abortion movement was where incredibly broad coalitions could be built to unite various ideological tendencies behind one clear goal: blocking far right demonstrators to make the clinic safe for patients.

In the 100 days after the Dobbs decision that overturned Roe, at least 66 clinics stopped offering abortion care and left people seeking abortion support with few options. The right wing’s victory did not halt anti-abortion organizing, but instead sharply escalated clinic harassment. Now reproductive justice organizers from around the U.S. are again prioritizing abortion clinic defense, and they are looking to the lessons of the past to figure out what kind of strategies make sense for the increasingly frightening period ahead.

A Centerpiece of the Left

Operation Rescue, founded in 1986, was one of the largest and most radical anti-abortion groups in the U.S. It often physically blockaded the entrances to clinics and badgered patients in a desperate attempt to stop abortions across the 1980s and 1990s. Each Saturday in California (where the organization had a headquarters), local members would meet in San Francisco, often at a church, and reproductive rights activists would be sitting outside. Once the anti-abortion organizers returned into their cars and began driving, members of the Bay Area Coalition Against Operation Rescue would figure out which clinic they were targeting and then try to beat their opponents to the site.

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