Montgomery Humanists Fight for Safe Access to Abortions

The ink was barely dry on Montgomery Humanists’ chapter application to the American Humanist Association when we got word that a national anti-abortion protest would be hosted in our hometown.  Radical anti-choice groups Operation Rescue/Operation Save America and Abolish Human Abortion (ironically abbreviated AHA) were to attend a weeklong rally in Montgomery, Alabama, with the state’s Chief Justice Roy Moore, notorious for his Ten Commandments display at the Supreme Court building, as their headline speaker. To make matters worse, the house next door to the abortion clinic, just steps from the parking lot, had been listed for rent.

Xandi Andersen, founder and president of Montgomery Humanists, was already a veteran clinic escort and immediately began working with clinic staff and volunteers to discuss how Montgomery Humanists could help.

Through small donations, the clinic defense volunteers were able to secure a lease on the property next door, and it quickly gained a reputation as a place of refuge from the guilt and shame that protesters heap onto patients, staff, and volunteers every day.

Now, nearly a year later, the POWER House (People Organizing for Women’s Empowerment and Rights) continues to provide a safe space for patients and serves as a meeting space for clinic defenders, activist groups, and the Montgomery Humanists. More importantly, keeping the house in pro-choice hands means giving the patients a bit more distance from the screaming protesters.

The POWER House has so far survived on small donations from individuals who believe, as humanists do, that women should not have to endure harassment when seeking medical care. But in early March, the POWER House team received news that a faith-based anti-choice group was trying to buy the POWER House for more than it’s worth. Their intent is to turn the POWER House into a “crisis pregnancy center”—a fake clinic where they can pose as a pro-choice organization and then use religion to shame women who come seeking abortions.

A wreath made from discarded anti-choice literature (via Left in Alabama)

A wreath made from discarded anti-choice literature (via Left in Alabama)

Montgomery Humanists is working hard to make sure the POWER House stays in pro-choice hands, but renting is only a short-term solution. Working together with the Montgomery Area Reproductive Justice Coalition (MARJCO), Montgomery Humanists will be fundraising all summer to secure the funds to buy the POWER House. MARJCO has started a crowdfunding campaign where individuals can contribute to the cause, and Mia Raven, MARJCO president, has begun selling wreaths she makes from the anti-choice literature the protesters leave at the clinic every day.

“Our main concern is keeping the protesters from using that house to get closer to the women,” said Raven. “They already harass people from the sidewalks, and this house would put them dangerously close to where the patients and the clinic staff park their cars. We just can’t let that happen.”

Andersen started a game to raise funds for the POWER House while discouraging the protesters from screaming at patients. It’s called Pledge-a-Phrase, and anyone can play along at #pledgeaphrase on Twitter. Pledgers choose a word or phrase from the list, or one of their own, and choose a dollar amount to pledge to the POWER House for each time the protester shouts the phrase. Clinic escorts will tweet the tallies and post them on a whiteboard outside the POWER House so the protesters can see that their shouts are funding women’s rights.

“We don’t always have enough clinic escorts to tally the phrases, but it’s fun when we get to play,” said Andersen. “When we first started playing, we raised about $3,000 in the first few weeks and the antis stopped shouting for a while. It was nice.”

To make a tax-deductible contribution towards the purchase of the POWER House, checks can be mailed to Montgomery Humanists, PO Box 6547, Montgomery, AL, 36106-0547.  You can also make tax-deductible donations online via PayPal, or contribute directly to the POWER House (not tax deductible) through their Tilt campaign.

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