Jenny Black's day began with red paint poured over the sidewalk and wire hangers strewn about her business' parking lot. Just another Good Friday, she said.
Black is the CEO of Planned Parenthood of New Mexico, and its administrative offices are across the parking lot from the San Mateo clinic. That medical office is the site of protests year-round, primarily by Project Defending Life, an anti-abortion Catholic ministry that set up shop down the street about four years ago. The organization has since moved closer, a mere 50 feet from the clinic.
Sally Govea, who's volunteered with Project Defending Life since the beginning in 2006, said her group was not responsible for the hangers or the paint. Instead, the ministry participates in the 40 Days for Life campaign, waged in 167 cities, according to the national organization’s site. Participants fast, pray and protest at abortion facilities over 40 days, culminating in large Good Friday events.
This year, between 300 and 400 gathered in the alley behind Planned Parenthood. The sky was overcast. People wore red duct tape over mouths and necks, on jeans and arms. "Let's have a moment of silence to gather your intention in your mind," said Father Stephen Imbarrato. Protesters of all ages, from small children to the elderly, held homemade signs. Some hefted large, gruesome banners depicting fetuses torn apart. The crowd began a single-file procession, one of many that day to circle the block.
Carla Josephson belongs to the state's chapter of the National Organization for Women. She stood in front of the clinic with a sign supporting abortion rights. "I'm here making sure people understand women have the right to decide how many children to have or not have," she said. "It's up to her, not the state and not the church."
“We just don't put our patients through it.”
Jenny Black, CEO of Planned Parenthood of New Mexico
Black doesn’t open the Planned Parenthood clinic on Good Friday. "We just don't put our patients through it." The anti-abortion protesters spent four hours circling on Friday, April 2, she said. "We anticipate it every year. We're tough cookies. There are protesters out here all the time." The staff doesn't find it as disturbing as the patients do, she added. "Patients seem more upset, and they're already distressed about the situation they're in. They get yelled at, have ugly posters shoved in their faces."
Still, she said, Planned Parenthood supports the protesters’ First Amendment right. But Black was especially concerned about this year's Good Friday event. Scott Roeder, the man convicted of killing Dr. George Tiller, was sentenced the day before to life in prison with the possibility of parole after 50 years. "We were on heightened alert this year," Black said. "We reviewed security protocols and remained ever-vigilant." Planned Parenthood has to take several staff safety precautions that other businesses don't have to worry about, she added. "It's a great strain on our resources."
Project Defending Life also protested outside Dr. Curtis Boyd's clinic, Southwestern Women's Options. Boyd was highlighted in a March 16 L.A. Times article titled "Late-term abortion doctors fill in for Tiller." Boyd had announced on his website that he would begin performing third-trimester abortions: "Dr. Tiller was one of the few doctors in the United States who provided late-term abortions to women with severe fetal abnormalities or maternal health indications. His death has restricted women's access to late-term pregnancy terminations, and we have had an increase in phone calls and inquiries regarding second-trimester and advanced abortion services." Two doctors who had worked with Tiller joined Boyd's staff.
" ... They've picked up since the election of the president and the abortion issues that come with that."
Sally Govea, a volunteer with Project Defending Life
Project Defending Life volunteer Govea said the organization has been going to Boyd's office for three years. "We go there every month on the second Saturday of the month," she said. "Some people go there on their own during the week." She added that the group intends to step up its prayers and visibility at Boyd's location. The L.A. Times article mentions that Operation Rescue—the organization that led the protests at Tiller's office in Wichita, Kan.—has been in contact with Albuquerque's Project Defending Life. Govea said her group is committed to peaceful, legal actions.
There wasn't much anti-abortion activity in the state before the organization started its work a few years ago, she said. "Other outlying areas hadn't done much, but they've picked up since the election of the president and the abortion issues that come with that."
Boyd's former clinic, Abortion Acceptance of New Mexico, was burned beyond repair at the end of 2007 ["After the Fire," Jan. 31-Feb. 6]. The office seeks no press and doesn't grant interviews. According to a statement: "It's easy to sensationalize advanced cases, yet the circumstances are heartbreaking and represent desperate situations. ... Abortion is a legal medical service for women, and we have strong support from local and federal law enforcement. We remain dedicated to the support and work and the safety and welfare of our patients."