Anti-abortion activists flock to Georgia for national convention

Activities included daily protests at abortion clinics
Operation Save America organizers protest Friday outside of an abortion clinic in Forest Park. (Olivia Bowdoin for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Olivia Bowdoin

Credit: Olivia Bowdoin

Operation Save America organizers protest Friday outside of an abortion clinic in Forest Park. (Olivia Bowdoin for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

About 100 anti-abortion activists lined the sidewalk in front of A Preferred Women’s Health Center in Forest Park on Friday.

Activists packed the sidewalk and lined the median in front of the abortion clinic, playing hymns on violins and using a loudspeaker to discourage people entering the facility from getting an abortion. At one point protesters played the prolonged sound of a baby crying.

“Do you hear that? Mama, please value your child,” said Lisa Metzger, a North Carolina resident who travels the country opposing abortion. “When that baby is forcibly removed from the womb, they are crying.”

Abortion rights activists were also at the clinic, getting into spirited but respectful debates with protesters and serving as a barrier for the patients.

The anti-abortion activists are in town for the annual convention for Wisconsin-based Operation Save America, a Christian-based organization that focuses on ending abortion, and had been coming to the clinic every morning since Tuesday. The daily protests were part of the convention agenda. The convention culminates with a rally 11 a.m. Saturday at the state Capitol.

Frank Campana, a Florida resident and anti-abortion activist, said he protests because he wants to have a conversation with those considering abortion.

“We believe that life begins at conception, and we want to stand in the gap between the life of the child (and the mother),” he said. “And we want to appeal to those that are going in that they have a choice. That we can help them.”

The sudden surge in protesters caused clinic staff to call in reinforcements from across the country, with volunteers coming from states such as California, Ohio and Tennessee to serve as escorts for those getting abortions and a barrier between the patients and the protesters.

Marcee Lichtenwald, left, and Max Carwile volunteer together to "protect the privacy and dignity of women's health care" by escorting women into abortion clinics while activists are protesting outside a facility in Forest Park. (Olivia Bowdoin for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Olivia Bowdoin

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Credit: Olivia Bowdoin

The crowds were unlike anything the abortion clinic staff had ever seen, said Calla Hales, the facility’s executive director. The clinic typically draws between five and 10 protesters a day.

“Their presence is not only intimidating and agitating for patients seeking legal and necessary health care, but it’s also incredibly disrupting and frustrating for all surrounding businesses and residences in the area,” Hales said. “These people are much more aggressive, hostile and inflammatory than our typical experiences. Despite this, we’re still committed to seeing patients.”

Anti-abortion activists from across the United States spent the past week at the Georgia convention protesting, praying and strategizing their next steps as they work to rid the country of abortion.

Jason Storms, national director of Operation Save America, said while the convention was in the state during the one-year anniversary of Georgia’s restrictive abortion law taking effect, it was purely coincidental. Instead, he said, Atlanta was chosen because it was one of the birthplaces of the organization in 1988, when hundreds of people were arrested protesting at abortion clinics in the area.

Just over a year ago, Georgia’s abortion law took effect banning most abortions once a doctor can detect fetal cardiac activity.

Georgia law is also part of what drew them here, as activists push lawmakers to pass a total abortion ban.

“The state is red-leaning and has pro-life majorities in its state government, but sadly all they have accomplished in protecting the preborn is a weak ‘heartbeat bill’ that enables the clinics to by and large continue the slaughter of preborn children,” Storms said. “We’re not big fans of the ‘heartbeat bill.’ ”

Georgia lawmakers in Republican leadership have said they plan to wait until the state Supreme Court rules on a challenge to the abortion law. Justices in March heard arguments from abortion rights groups and providers who said that when the law passed in 2019, Roe v. Wade was the law of the land and the state constitution does not allow the Legislature to enact statutes that violate the law, which lawyers call “void ab initio.”

The 1973 U.S. Supreme Court Roe v. Wade ruling, which guaranteed a right to an abortion until a fetus was viable outside the mother’s body, was overturned last summer shortly before the courts allowed Georgia’s law to take effect. The state Supreme Court’s decision is expected by mid-November.