After spending a week in New Orleans protesting clinics that provide abortion care, the private home of an abortion provider, and even a church, Operation Save America protesters gathered outside the headquarters of the Jackson, Mississippi, police department Monday. Inside, fellow anti-choice activists were facing criminal charges associated with protest activities. The charges stemmed from arrests outside the Jackson Women’s Health Organization (JWHO), the last remaining clinic that provides abortion care in the state.
Those protesting felt the arrests were unfair. “They say you’re in violation of the law, and right across the street there were commercial signs doing just the same thing. They didn’t arrest those people,” Rusty Thomas, the assistant director of OSA, told the ABC affiliate WAPT.
Philip “Flip” Benham, director of Operation Save America (OSA), told the Clarion-Ledger that they are frustrated with the “silly” city ordinances that prohibit signs from resting on the ground on public walkways. He also said that local law enforcement maintains a constant presence waiting to arrest any violators.
“One of the difficult places that we’ve had to deal with the police department is in Jackson, Mississippi,” Benham said. “We just returned from New Orleans where we’re dealing with a very professional police department that understands the first amendment. But unfortunately here in Jackson these police and this police department [have] made it paramount that Christians should not be allowed out in the street.”
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Three of the four individuals facing charges were found guilty by a Jackson Municipal Court judge, and one individual’s charges were dropped.
Roy McMillan was found guilty for obstructing the sidewalk entrance,
as was Harriett Ashley, who was also found guilty for failing to obey a police officer. Both McMillan and Ashley are residents of Jackson, and regularly protest the JWHO clinic.
Chet Gallagher was found guilty of interference with a lawful business, while Cal Zastrow’s charges were dropped. Both Gallagher and Zastrow are involved with OSA protests activities and were in New Orleans for the week-long protests.
DuVergne Gaines, executive director of the Feminist Majority Foundation’s National Clinic Access Project, was in Jackson City Court for the proceedings. In a statement following the verdict, Gaines called the result a huge victory.
“These extremists were held accountable for obstructing access to the last remaining clinic in the state of Mississippi, the Jackson Women’s Health Organization,” Gaines said. “They have, literally, laid siege to this facility for the last two years since we learned its fate was in jeopardy because of Mississippi’s TRAP [targeted regulation of abortion providers] law. We’re thankful for the police department’s vigilance in enforcing the law.”
The convictions come a week after a lawsuit was filed on behalf of Pro-Life Mississippi in a U.S. District Court against the Jackson police department, accusing the department of “blatant and ongoing violation of free speech rights of pro-life advocates.”