While pro-choice advocates gathered for a vigil and rally in front of City Hall today, anti-abortion protestors allied with Operation Save America
stood on a hill nearby and shouted "Stop the killing of innocent babies," holding the photos of fetuses that have become synonymous with some in the right to life movement.
Operation Save America, a renamed version of the 1980s group Operation Rescue, has descended upon the City of New Orleans to evangelize against abortions and Planned Parenthood
this week. The group's members have stormed a service at First Unitarian Universalist Church Uptown, and they've picketed the homes of three abortion providers across the state. The city of New Orleans welcomed the group
earlier this week 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 pro-choice advocates. Amy Irvin, an activist with the New Orleans Abortion Fund
who helped organize today's rally, told Gambit
that 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."
Some pro-choice activists held signs that demanded an apology from the mayor to the women of New Orleans.
Aside from the political conflict, says Irvin, the purpose of the meeting 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. The climate in the South and even in New Orleans is such that women can't be public about that."
Eden Gass, a breast cancer survivor, explained to the crowd that when she noticed a lump in her breast, she went to Planned Parenthood on Magazine Street because it was the only affordable option. "Planned Parenthood has saved countless women's lives," she said. "Here's to Planned Parenthood!" Across the way, a teenage girl held a sign with a big red "X" over the bold-faced typed words "Planned Parenthood."
Lauren Mullen, a poet, told the crowd that she had an abortion when she wound up with "the wrong guy" and wanted to focus on her career. She received vigorous applause when she ended her story by saying, "And now I'm the director of Creative Writing at LSU."
Tara Ciccarone, who successfully sued
the City of New Orleans with the help of the American Civil Liberties Union
in 2012 over First Amendment violations related to the Clean Zone ordinance, donned a cape with pro-choice slogans and had her legs painted with similar words of solidarity. "Stalking and harassing people in their homes and at their work is not a First Amendment right!" she said.
Ciccarone described going home a few years ago for her grandmother's funeral held in a Catholic church, and wanting to receive communion during the service. To do this, she said, she would need to confess, and so she confessed to a priest that she had gotten an abortion earlier in her life. "I was avowed by the Catholic church of the sin of abortion," she said. "If you consider it a sin. It was my confession. But the point is, I'm sick of the stigma that I feel like it's something I can't tell people happened. Because people will think bad about me, when I was a young girl. And the religion I belong to that worships Jesus Christ, even though I'm not really that Catholic, forgave me for it!"
As testimonies went on, a group of members of the First Unitarian Universalist Church began to sing "We are standing on the side of love" to produce a sound barrier against pro-life advocates, who were issuing proclamations about the day of judgment for pro-choice advocates.
One of the pro-life advocates, Ken Scott, is in town from Denver, Colorado, and is working with Operation Save America, but attended the rally independently with his wife. "We're trying to evangelize these people," he told Gambit
, "because there's a greater storm than Katrina that's coming. Did you know that, a greater storm? ... In the past history, 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."
Duverne Gaines, the director of the National Clinic Access Project of the Feminist Majority Foundation
and an organizer of the rally, said one of the confusing things has been Operation Save America's targeting of Planned Parenthood, which doesn't 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."