WASHINGTON ― Dr. Yashica Robinson, a 40-year-old gynecologist in Huntsville, Alabama, experiences what she calls a “constant mental beatdown” from protesters every day as she tries to do her job.
At her private practice, Robinson provides birth control, pap smears and maternity care. She also provides abortions at a separate clinic in Huntsville. But throngs of protesters show up daily at both practices to block the entrance and harass her and her patients, including those who are visibly eight months pregnant and just coming in for an ultrasound. Robinson said the protesters sometimes touch or grab the patients, videotape and photograph them, call them “murderers” and leave “WANTED” posters on their cars plastered with photos of Robinson.
“It’s unnerving,” Robinson said. “I call when I get up to my driveway to make sure someone has the door ready for me, so I don’t have to put my head down and take my eyes off the protesters. I never know what they’re going to do.”
“I had a patient who wrecked her car trying to get into the driveway,” she recalled ― a woman in her early 20s who was just coming in for a Depo-Provera birth control shot, and who found herself having to navigate a gauntlet of protesters lining Robinson’s narrow drive. “The protesters pointed and laughed at her.”
Robinson’s patients “come in confused and shaken,” she said. “They’re like, ‘What’s going on out there?’”
The scene outside women’s health clinics has become dramatically more threatening to patients and providers since 2015, when anti-abortion activists produced a series of heavily edited videos that purported to show Planned Parenthood workers negotiating the sale of fetal body parts. The videos have been thoroughly debunked, and Planned Parenthood has been cleared of wrongdoing in multiple investigations. But the percentage of clinics reporting violence and threats by anti-abortion activists nearly doubled after the videos were released, from 19.7 percent of clinics in the first half of 2014 to 34.2 percent in the first half of 2016.
The most common types of violence and intimidation that clinics have reported include stalking, bomb threats, death threats and people blocking access to clinics. In 2015, at one Colorado Planned Parenthood facility, a man broke in and shot 12 people, killing three. He cited the alleged sale of “baby parts” as his motivation. Nearly half of clinics (49.5 percent) reported at least one incident of severe violence or harassment in 2016, such as a break-in, robbery or instance of arson or vandalism. A quarter of all facilities said they experience harassment by anti-abortion protesters on a daily basis.
“This is just not tolerable behavior in a democracy,” said Ellie Smeal, president of the Feminist Majority Foundation, a nonprofit. “This would never happen to men walking into a medical clinic.”
The FMF released a new report ahead of a nationwide protest of Planned Parenthood funding this weekend, which women’s health advocates worry will turn violent. At the “Defund PP” rally on Feb. 11, anti-abortion demonstrators are expected to protest at more than 200 Planned Parenthood health centers in 44 states.
“This weekend, Planned Parenthood is the target,” Smeal said. “The public must be aware that this is no ordinary protesting... This hostile climate at women’s health clinics and towards health care workers is accompanied by an increase in severe violence and threats.”
One of the organizers of the rally, Eric Scheidler of the Pro-Life Action League, said the concerns about violence are unwarranted.
“Of course we say on [our] website we oppose all forms of violence,” he said. “There’s a lot of hype in the media about violence at abortion clinics, but it’s in fact extremely rare. Generally speaking, the experience outside an abortion clinic is, if anything, boring.”
The Feminist Majority Foundation released a video Thursday alongside its 2016 violence report to shed light on the experience of “walking the gauntlet” to get into a women’s health clinic. Watch the video below: