Undercover Video: Texas Pro-Lifers Take It Up A Notch

Supporters and opponents of abortion rights arguing at a protest (courtesy Joshua Yospyn on Flickr).

Late Tuesday, Progress Texas and NARAL Pro-Choice Texas released a frightening undercover video that shows just how far “mainstream” pro-life activists are willing to go in order to keep women from having abortions in Texas. The most disturbing revelation is that one of the major pro-life groups in Texas now seems to have the capability to track the license plates of those coming into abortion clinics.

A member of the Progress Texas team managed to slip into the Texas State Capitol last Monday for “Keeping Abortion Clinics Closed,” a training seminar sponsored by the Texas Alliance for Life. Watch it here:

The most disturbing revelation came when Karen Garnett, director of the Catholic Pro-Life Committee of North Texas, revealed that her team has developed “a sophisticated kind of little spreadsheet” that they use to track the cars that come into abortion clinics, and has distributed it to pro-life groups across the state. The spreadsheet contains the license plate, make, and model of the car, as well as a description of the person. In the case of patients, Garnett says they use this information to keep tabs on who comes back to the facility after a mandatory 24-hour waiting period between the consultation and the procedure. In the case of staff members, they use this information to see if “you got a new abortionist.” If they think there’s a new provider on hand, Garnett says they can use the information to see if he or she has admitting privileges at a hospital, in accordance with HB 2, a draconian state law that took effect last year that effectively shut down half of Texas’ abortion clinics. Never mind that this provision has no basis in actual fact, and that many hospitals are unwilling to grant admitting privileges specifically to avoid scrutiny from pro-lifers. She also said that pro-life groups should ensure that there are protesters and “sidewalk counselors” outside clinics at all times in order to dissuade people from going in. She added that one of her colleagues recalled a spike in canceled appointments due to women who see the crowds in the streets.

Amid a firestorm of criticism from pro-choice activists, Garnett told KVUE in Austin that the information gathered is “in absolutely no way” used to harass or stalk anyone. Instead, it’s used to find out how many women actually come back to perform an abortion, and to see if abortion providers’ paperwork is in order. Progress Texas executive director Ed? Espinoza wasn’t buying it, saying it was “just crazy” to record people’s information in that manner. It’s hard to blame Espinoza for being skeptical. After all, Garnett says she opposes stalking and harassment, but in the video she expressed considerable glee that a number of women who came back after the waiting period had second thoughts after seeing “the sidewalk lined with people.”

While the spreadsheet has gotten most of the coverage, Progress Texas captured a statement by Abby Johnson of Live Action that is almost as chilling. Johnson spoke about how a prominent abortion provider in Austin, Tad Davis, has contingency plans in case another portion of HB 2 is allowed to take effect in September. It requires abortion clinics to meet the same standards as outpatient surgery centers — which would force renovations that are well beyond the limits of most abortion clinics’ budgets. The law is currently being challenged in court, but if that challenge fails, that provider in Austin will be one of only six abortion providers in the entire state. Johnson, a former Planned Parenthood worker who reportedly hopped the fence in September 2009 after seeing an abortion on an ultrasound (even though there doesn’t appear to be any evidence an abortion took place on the day Johnson said it did), said that Live Action has already found where Davis plans to build a new clinic. To her mind, it’s evidence that abortionists “feel like they’re on the run, and that’s how we want to keep it.” She said that abortion providers in Texas should know that “they can move wherever they want,” but anti-abortion protesters will be right there. This coming from a woman who once complained about the ugly and nakedly aggressive tactics she encountered at the Planned Parenthood clinic where she worked before changing sides.

We shouldn’t be all that surprised to find that pro-lifers find such behavior to be acceptable. After all, back in 2009, they tried to pass a law in Oklahoma that would have set up a database on every abortion performed in the state. The database would have included the patient’s age, race, education level, residence, and where the abortion was performed, among other things. Legally, that would have been enough information to identify the person — as I learned in journalism school at Carolina, if you give out enough information that a person can be identified, it’s no different than plastering someone’s name and address all over the place. It would have exposed Oklahoma to astronomical liability had a woman been harassed as a result — but that apparently didn’t seem to matter to those who cobbled this law together. Fortunately, it has apparently died on the vine after a judge issued an injunction against it in October 2009. Additionally, Operation Rescue senior policy director Cheryl Sullenger still has a job after it emerged she’d told Scott Roeder about George Tiller’s court dates. At minimum, Sullenger was grossly irresponsible. At worst, she’s an accessory to murder. What does it say about the “mainstream” pro-life movement that she’s still on Operation Rescue’s payroll? Nothing good, from where I’m sitting.

It is becoming more and more apparent that the pro-life movement is only using abortion as a backdoor way to destroy the right to privacy. And tactics like these only prove it.

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Edited by D.H.

Darrell Lucus.jpg Darrell Lucus is a radical-lefty Jesus-lover who has been blogging for change for a decade. Follow him on Twitter @DarrellLucus or connect with him on Facebook.

Darrell is a 30-something graduate of the University of North Carolina who considers himself a journalist of the old school. An attempt to turn him into a member of the religious right in college only succeeded in turning him into the religious right's worst nightmare--a charismatic Christian who is an unapologetic liberal. His desire to stand up for those who have been scared into silence only increased when he survived an abusive three-year marriage. You may know him on Daily Kos as Christian Dem in NC. Follow him on Twitter @DarrellLucus or connect with him on Facebook. Click here to buy Darrell a Mello Yello.