The New Orleans Police Department’s Second District is preparing for Operation Save America anti-abortion protests planned for Uptown starting this weekend, police said at a meeting in headquarters Friday.
Operation Save America, a fundamentalist Christian conservative organization that opposes abortion, has planned a series of protests from Saturday (July 19) to July 26 that they refer to as “Battle for the Heart and Soul of New Orleans.” The movement is sparked by Planned Parenthood’s designs for a new 7,000-square-foot facility on South Claiborne Avenue that would perform abortions, according to the organization’s website.
“We have some unfinished Kingdom business to complete as we seek the Lord to uproot and overthrow these altars of Moloch,” Operation Save America representatives wrote on the website. Organizers claim that the city’s number of what they refer to as “death camps” have whittled down to one in New Orleans proper, from 8 in 1995.
According to an article from Gambit late last year, the $4.2 million Planned Parenthood facility is slated to open late this year or early next year.
NOPD gearing up
Operation Save American provides few details about its plans for the weeklong protest on its website, though it does note that it has reserved 70 hotel rooms in Kenner. The website also provides updates on efforts to slow the construction of the Planned Parenthood facility on South Claiborne.
NOPD Second District Commander Paul Noel said Friday that his team had a “very robust” plan in place to provide extra security on Claiborne Avenue, as well as on other sites throughout the city.
“We feel we’re very prepared,” Noel said.
The NOPD will have extra vans, tents with shade for police officers, prison wagons and a truck with barricades, Noel said. Additionally, his unit has secured intelligence officers in plain clothing, officers equipped with body cameras and mounted officers to patrol certain areas of Uptown on horseback, he added.
“If we need more resources, we can bring them in gradually to deal with this,” Noel said.
He added that he had scheduled a meeting to discuss how to best handle protests, and the laws involved.
At Friday’s meeting, NOPD Ronal Serpas pointed to Occupy NOLA as an example of how to properly maintain crowd control in tough situations.
“Occupy NOLA did not have single problem in City of new Orleans. We did not overreact and take the bait,” Serpas said, adding that sometimes protestors “want somebody to lose their temper and cross the line and do something.”
Planned Parenthood says organization will remain ‘committed’ to patients
Planned Parenthood officials say they’ll work closely with law enforcement to ensure safety of their patients, even if they are meant to feel intimidated, according to Jewel Bush, the communications manager in Louisiana for Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast, Inc.
“Planned Parenthood’s primary concern is for the health and safety of women in Louisiana. We are steadfast in our commitment to ensuring that our patients and women and men who need high-quality, affordable health care can access it freely and safely,” Bush said in an emailed statement. “These protests are designed to intimidate communities and the many patients who rely on Planned Parenthood for basic health care services including lifesaving cancer screenings, testing for HIV, treatment for sexually transmitted infections and family planning and birth control. The bottom line is women should be able to get health care without fear of violence, harassment or intimidation.”
During thirty years of operation, the organization has worked to help women prevent unintended pregnancies as well as provide abortions, Bush added.
“The overwhelming majority of Planned Parenthood services focus on prevention including contraception, breast and cervical cancer screenings and testing and treatment for sexually transmitted infections. No organization does more to prevent unintended pregnancies and the need for abortion that Planned Parenthood,” Bush said. “If these protesters were truly committed to reducing unintended pregnancies, the need for abortion and the alarming rates of sexually transmitted infections and HIV in this community, they would stop the harassment and work with Planned Parenthood and other health care providers to address these dangerous health disparities.”
New Orleans Abortion Fund prepared
Jessie Nieblas, a member of the board of directors of the New Orleans Abortion Fund, says she worries about the health of women seeking reproductive services in Planned Parenthood and other clinics when groups like Operation Save America protest.
Initiated in 2012, The New Orleans Abortion Fund is a local segment of a national organization that helps provide monetary support for women seeking a full spectrum of reproductive services, including abortions, through pledges. Last year, the fund helped 200 women, Nieblas said.
Nieblas adds that her main concern next week isn’t that the group will protest the Claiborne Avenue site, which has yet to open, but that members will protest elsewhere and potentially interfere with women’s ability to get services through clinics around the city.
“I do feel it’s going to have a big impact on health care access while protestors are there,” Nieblas said, adding that one targeted area is the Women’s Health Care Center on General Pershing. “They’re blocking a clinic that sees thousands of patients every year.”
While there are federal laws that prohibit blocking access to clinics, Nieblas says that law isn’t always followed. To that end, her organization plans to have representatives in place to help women get in and out of the clinic — but not to engage with the crowd outside.
“What’s important is that they’re not counter-protestors,” she said.
Nieblas said she was glad to hear that NOPD had a plan in place.
“We are really counting on NOPD and other agencies to uphold the health care needs of our community,” Neiblas added.
This story was updated on July 16 to add a comment from Jewel Bush, a communications manager for Planned Parenthood.