Indiana’s WTHR expertly called out anti-abortion harassment after an extremist group’s protest
Blog ››› ››› SHARON KANN
In the midst of a week of protests organized by anti-abortion extremist group Operation Save America (OSA), Indianapolis NBC affiliate WTHR produced a stellar segment calling out OSA’s extreme tactics while also highlighting the history of anti-abortion violence and harassment more broadly.
OSA has made a habit of organizing protests across the country, targeting abortion providers, patients, and clinics. In 2017, the group organized events in Kentucky and Indiana. Beyond protesting outside of clinics in the states they visit, OSA members have also spent years targeting individual abortion providers at home -- circulating flyers around providers’ neighborhoods with identifying information and inflammatory language. During OSA’s 2017 Indiana event, group members not only shared these flyers but also attempted to protest outside the home of a Planned Parenthood employee -- embarrassingly ending up at the wrong location. Despite the frequency with which OSA deploys such tactics, as well as the extremism of its actions, local media have previously downplayed the severity of these protests.
But during WTHR’s July 25 segment, reporter David MacAnally and his colleagues Andrea Morehead and John Stehr highlighted the extreme rhetoric OSA used and fact-checked a claim from a spokesperson that these tactics posed no threat to providers. They also provided greater context about the severity of anti-abortion violence. This is not the first or likely the last time that OSA will target Indiana abortion providers -- here are lessons that other media should take from WTHR on how to cover the extremist group and its actions:
Don’t allow OSA or other anti-abortion extremists to downplay the severity of their actions
Although OSA claims to be nonviolent -- a sentiment a spokesperson echoed in the WTHR report -- the organization has a long history of engaging in harassment, using violent rhetoric, and even associating with violent anti-abortion extremists. MacAnally’s report focused on but one example of OSA’s tactics: its circulation of threatening flyers in Indiana with the names and home addresses of Planned Parenthood doctors -- a tactic the group has employed many times.
During his July 25 report, MacAnally highlighted the extreme rhetoric deployed by OSA and fact-checked a claim by a local OSA spokesperson that the tactic posed no threat to providers. With the identifying information obscured, MacAnally noted that OSA’s flyer included claims that the providers “murdered children” and encouraged recipients to join OSA in prayer that the providers “repent to killing preborn children.”
At one point, MacAnally spoke with Aletheia Church pastor and OSA local partner Derin Stidd, who dismissed fears of violence against providers, stating that he wasn’t “particularly concerned” because the tactic was “done often.” Rather than letting Stidd’s characterization remain unchecked, MaAnally debunked the claim, explaining, “Nationally, though, shooters have tracked abortion doctors to their homes and offices and murdered them.”
Make clear the severity and frequency of anti-abortion violence and harassment
After MacAnally contextualized OSA’s attempts to downplay anti-abortion harassment, WTHR anchors Morehead and Stehr provided additional reporting on the long history of violence by anti-abortion activists against abortion providers -- making the stakes of OSA’s actions crystal clear. As Morehead explained, “Adding to the concern over this mailer is the history of violence against doctors, or even clinics, that provide abortion services.” She noted that in 1998, a “sniper killed [abortion provider] Dr. Barnett Slepian in his home,” that an anti-abortion extremist killed Dr. George Tiller in 2009, and that Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood was attacked in 2015, leaving “three people … dead.”
MacAnally’s and Morehead’s accounts of anti-abortion violence and harassment provide a much-needed rebuttal to common excuses offered by anti-abortion extremists when questioned about their methods. In reality, anti-abortion violence and harassment pose an increasing threat to providers, patients, and clinics, and -- as recent data from the National Abortion Federation (NAF) demonstrates -- this trend shows little sign of abating. Already in 2018, there have been numerous reports of violence or threats against clinics, with incidents reported in Illinois, New Jersey, Utah, Texas, Pennsylvania, California, Washington, Massachusetts, and more.
While MacAnally did note that OSA participants “signed a nonviolence agreement,” other comments made by the group illustrate its definition of “nonviolence” is likely very narrow. For example, as James Farrar, another pastor at the Aletheia Church, told The Indianapolis Star, the flyers were “intended to let the neighborhood know that someone in their neighborhood makes their living by killing children” in the hopes they “would generate pressure from neighbors like an awareness campaign, so people realize that these people are living right around you.” Although this action in itself is not violent, it's more than clear that OSA’s goal is to harass, demonize, and alienate abortion providers -- regardless of the consequences.
On August 11 and 12, OSA will be joining like-minded anti-abortion extremists in Spokane, WA, to “liberate America from the blood guiltiness that is savaging our nation.” Media in Spokane, and any future cities where OSA holds protests, would be well-served by following in WHTR’s footsteps when covering the group’s tactics.