According to her supporters, 75-year-old Joyce Fecteau is a gentle woman wrongly arrested for her devotion to saving the unborn. “A pro-life elderly woman has been arrested after sprinkling Holy Water on a public sidewalk outside the local abortion business in Huntsville, Alabama,” proclaims LifeNews before providing glowing review of all the “babies and mothers” she has saved over the years.
“Sprinkling holy water on a public sidewalk” is in the eye of the beholder, however. Reporter Steve Doyle writes that what really occurred was an assault, one that even Fecteau admits is a little different than the “pro-life” version.
In a Monday interview, Fecteau said the “unknown substance” was holy water that she keeps in a squirt bottle. She said she sprayed it because someone from the pro-choice group was walking close to her while burning a “noxious material.”
“I had been told repeatedly by my health care provider not to breathe in that smoke because it’s making me sick,” said Fecteau. “I can’t tell if (mist from the spray bottle) drifted on this lady’s face.”
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A picture allegedly from the day in question confirms the later story of a spray bottle, although whether it was being brandished purposefully in someone’s face remains somewhat unclear. Either way, it was definitely not a sprinkling of water on a public sidewalk as was originally claimed.
“It was not labeled holy water,” Pamela Watters, who lead the pro-choice counter effort told Doyle. “My people didn’t know what was in that bottle. It could have been ammonia, it could have been bleach.”
It’s not an unreasonable concern. Clinic escorts often discuss how “holy water,” an unknown substance wielded by anti-choicers, gets used as a weapon at their sites. Caitlin, an escort at Red River Clinic, the sole clinic in North Dakota, explained how what often used to be solely a means of “cleansing” clinic areas for God instead is becoming a way to either drive off or outright assault those who are trying to help patients enter for their appointments.
“A few months after I started escorting as a volunteer, there were a few elderly Franciscan nuns who were always blessing the building and sidewalk with holy water from small bottles,” Caitlin told Rewire. “I don’t remember if they were labeled or not. I was watching one of them as she was splashing it on the sidewalk. She saw me watching and caught my eye, and deliberately threw some directly into my face. In those days I wore contacts more often than I do now, but that day I happened to be wearing my glasses, otherwise she would have gotten me right in the eyes. I always wear my glasses escorting now.”
The “sprinklings” would get even more egregious during events like March for Life or the 40 Days protests, according to Caitlin. “They bring buckets of holy water and something that looks like a bundle of rushes, which they would dip in the water and then use to bless the building and sidewalk. One year, as Bishop Aquila was doing this, he got it all over us, from head to toe. A few people complained to the police, but they wouldn’t do anything.”
It’s a tool that isn’t exclusively used against escorts, either. Caitlin recalled one time when a protester poured water on a client who was smoking a cigarette after her appointment, or the protesters who would purposefully cover the sidewalks with it in the freezing North Dakota winters, redoing the sidewalks if the escorts tried to use chemicals to melt the forming ice. Her reminders to protesters to keep the water off the escorts usually went ignored, and in some cases even mocked. One even told her that her dislike of the water being everywhere was “the demons inside of me that were reacting to the presence of holy water.”
According to Caitlin, filing reports was impossible unless she could prove that any incident occurred on purpose, something the accused would inevitably deny, just as Fecteau is doing in Alabama.
Fecteau will be on trial in February.