A Tale of Two Cities

By Jordan Wyer, MSW

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness…  and I’m not just referring to the famous opening line of the Charles Dickens novel with the same title as this post. This February, anti-abortion zealots calling themselves “Red Rose Rescuers” had their day(s) in court after orchestrating clinic invasions across the country including Sterling Heights and West Bloomfield, Michigan. In both cases, the defendants were charged with trespassing in the private waiting rooms of two separate women’s health facilities. The verdicts from these cases would set a precedent for anti-abortion violence in the future and I had the opportunity to observe each trial.

Both cases requested a trial, chose jury members, called witnesses to testify, and delivered guilty verdicts to each defendant. However, the evidence presented to the jury was vastly different. Sterling Heights was a circus. West Bloomfield was justice. When the Sterling Heights Court sentenced the invaders to two years non-reporting probation, celebrations of the success of our justice system were overshadowed by the circus the defense created during the trial. In West Bloomfield, the defendants were placed on trial for the crimes they had committed. They were not given the same opportunity to diverge from the facts.

The Worst of Times in the Age of Foolishness

As the opening statements made by the Prosecutor in Sterling Heights indicated, this case was straightforward. None of the defendants would deny entering the center, nor would they deny refusing to leave when asked by staff and police officers.  Though the evidence showed they were obviously guilty of the crimes they committed, the defendants were permitted to preach their objections to the healthcare provided by the clinic from the witness stand. The courtroom was filled with anti-abortion supporters applauding their testimonies. It seemed that abortion, not their actions, was on trial. They made false claims about the safety of abortion. They spread lies about our offices, the care we provide, and the pregnant people we serve. Less than two hours after they were sentenced, the defendants returned to the scene of their crime. So, I wanted to take this opportunity to set the record straight.

Abortion is the safest and most common outpatient procedure performed in the country and has been legal for almost 50 years! There are laws in Michigan that prevent family members, partners, and providers from coercing women into abortions and my clinic screens for this type of coercion. We support the dignity of our patients and want to insure they are making the best choice for them. Our facility is licensed with the state of Michigan and has jumped through every hoop placed before us to make sure our doors stay open. We are not national organizers that participated in a national effort to infiltrate clinics and break the law. We are a small, law-abiding business that contributes to our community. We are PROUD to be abortion providers and provide life saving care to our patients.

And though the defendants were provided a soapbox to run our name through the mud, we were shamed into silence and not given an opportunity to defend ourselves because this case was not about abortion.

The Best of Times in the Age of Wisdom

The differences of the trial in West Bloomfield were night and day. The defendants were charged with trespassing & interfering with the police. All evidence presented and testimonies heard were relevant to these charges. The defendants were not be given the opportunity to preach their beliefs. Abortion was rarely mentioned. In the closing statements, the defense attempted to compare the actions of Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King Jr., and Gandhi to the passive resistance displayed by clinic invaders.  They compared a woman’s right to medical privacy to the holocaust. And the Prosecutor did not stand for it. He drove home the real point: The rights of providers and their patients were violated that day. Per the United States Constitution, women have the right to abortion and an individual’s beliefs cannot infringe on this right. There was no circus or soapbox, only facts in the case, and the jury made their decision based on those facts as our justice system intended.

As providers, we know this is only the beginning and we will celebrate this win! Even though anti-choice activists are exploring new and old methods of disruption and violence, the courts are upholding the laws put in place to protect providers. This case set a precedent. An individual cannot enter a business, be asked to leave, and remain without being arrested even if that business provides abortions. Pro-choice cases have a great record of setting precedents and changing laws; however, trials can be long fights and our abortion providers do not always have the resources and time to follow the path our justice system creates. The next battle may be right around the corner. Support your local providers as they continue to fight on the frontlines and support our right to choose.