While pro-choice advocates gathered for a vigil and rally in front of City Hall July 24, anti-abortion protestors allied with Operation Save America stood on a nearby hill and shouted "Stop the killing of innocent babies." Operation Save America, a renamed version of the 1980s group Operation Rescue, descended on New Orleans last week to spread its pro-life message. The group's members interrupted a memorial service at First Unitarian Universalist Church Uptown and have picketed the homes of three abortion providers across the state.
The city of New Orleans welcomed the group with a recognition of outstanding service to the city signed by Mayor Mitch Landrieu, a certificate the mayor's office now says was issued in error.
That answer, though, was unsatisfying to rally attendees. Amy Irvin, a founding board member of the New Orleans Abortion Fund, told Gambit she would like to see Landrieu make a public statement about the mixup. "We would like for him to ask that the certificates be returned and so far we haven't seen that," she said. "We did make some inquiries today, calling the office to see, and we didn't get any response about that." Other activists held signs that demanded an apology from the mayor.
Aside from the political conflict, Irvin said, the purpose of the rally was to give women a space to tell their own stories. "It's important for people to see and hear that, because abortion is a very stigmatizing thing," she says. "Women are shamed and feel guilty about a legal procedure."
Duvergne Gaines, the director of the National Clinic Access Project of the Feminist Majority Foundation and a rally organizer, said she was confused about Operation Save America's targeting of Planned Parenthood, which doesn't currently provide abortions in the state of Louisiana. To women across the state, Gaines had this message: "Wherever you are, no matter what your choice is, that is the right choice. You should feel no shame."
As testimonies went on and pro-life advocates began talking about "the day of judgment," members of the Unitarian Universalists sang "We are standing on the side of love" to drown out their proclamations.
Ken Scott, a pro-life advocate from Denver, told Gambit, "We're trying to evangelize these people, because there's a greater storm than Katrina that's coming. ... In the Bible, when God's people went against God, he always generally took life for life. So instead of a 9/11, I think probably, who knows how much time we have left. In the next couple of years, maybe a third of America will be gone." — JEANIE RIESS