Anti-choice activists staged a protest Sunday that included large graphic images outside of Jackson, Mississippi, churches during Palm Sunday services.
Jackson, home to the state’s last abortion clinic, the Jackson Women’s Health Organization (JWHO), continues to be the target of the radical anti-choice groups Operation Save America (OSA), Abolish Human Abortion (AHA), and Survivors of the Abortion Holocaust.
Protesters held graphic images of supposedly aborted fetuses and attempted to hand out pamphlets and shouted at church members as they arrived for Sunday services. The protesters stood along Old Canton Road in front of Fondren Presbyterian Church, which is adjacent to St. Luke’s United Methodist Church.
The protests reportedly angered many churchgoers and local residents. Dorsey Carson, a member of Fondren Presbyterian Church, recorded the activity on video. Carson confronted the protesters in the video,
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Rev. Ricky James, pastor of St. Luke’s United Methodist Church, reportedly wrote a letter to his congregation calling the actions of the anti-choice protesters an example of “deceit and hate.”
duVergne Gaines, director of the National Clinic Access Project, told Rewire that anti-choice groups OSA and AHA have coordinated an effort to target JWHO. “They have formed a strategic alliance to terrorize the Jackson community, especially Mississippi’s last abortion clinic, for the next three weeks,” Gaines said.
JWHO was recently the target of vandalism, as an unidentified person destroyed some of the clinic’s security cameras and a generator. Footage was captured of a person on the clinic property before security cameras were destroyed.
Michelle Colon, an escort at JWHO, told Rewire that despite the increased protests in the city, there has not been an increase in protest activity at the JWHO. “They were successful getting their local supporters to turn out for the protests at the church and the Zippity Doo Dah events,” Colon said.
The Zippity Doo Dah events are annual fundraisers in support of Jackson’s Blair E. Batson Children’s Hospital.
Targeting houses of worship for protests is nothing new for OSA members. In New Orleans, the group staged a protest inside the First Unitarian Universalist Church, interrupting a memorial service for a church member who had recently died.
The anti-choice protesters denounced the denomination, and referred to the church as a “synagogue of Satan.”
Pat McEwen, a representative of OSA, told the Jackson Clarion-Ledger that the group was not responsible for the protests in front of the Jackson churches on Sunday. “We got into town on Sunday night,” McEwen said.
However, at least one participant in the protest has been associated with OSA for several years.
Cal Zastrow, who can be seen in the video holding a large graphic image, has been heavily involved in the anti-choice movement for many years. Zastrow has had a long association with OSA, as he has appeared at many OSA events and protests, including participating in the group’s protest in New Orleans last year.
Zastrow last year was one of four anti-choice activists who faced criminal charges for protest activities outside of the JWHO. OSA activists were outside the Jackson municipal courthouse to protest what they said were unfair charges.
The charges against Zastrow were dropped, but three other anti-choice activists were convicted of obstructing the sidewalk entrance and failing to obey a police officer.
Gaines said that AHA and OSA’s actions contribute to a climate conducive to violence. “Witness the hatchet-wielding assailant destroying clinic property in the dead of night just days before this protest began,” Gaines said.
A recent report found threats of violence against abortion providers have doubled since 2010.