During the coronavirus pandemic, right-wing media and anti-abortion organizations have continued to promote anti-abortion protesters, many of whom are violating state-issued social distancing guidelines and stay-at-home orders. Abortion opponents and their right-wing media allies are claiming that protesters are providing an important service, that their protests are protected under the First Amendment, and that Democratic officials’ stay-at-home orders are politically motivated.
Despite stay-at-home orders, protesters are still turning up outside abortion clinics to harass patients around the country, claiming they are providing an alternative to people seeking abortions. Various accounts indicate that many protesters are flouting social distancing guidelines by not maintaining 6-foot distances, not wearing masks, and gathering in groups larger than 10. In addition, clinic escort programs -- which are designed to help patients safely access clinics in the face of protests -- have been halted out of concern for the escorts and the patients they help.
In North Carolina, protesters at two clinics were arrested for violating the state’s stay-at-home orders and have now sued for what they claim is an infringement of their First Amendment rights. Anti-abortion activists and right-wing media responded to these arrests in particular because David Benham, an abortion and LGBTQ rights opponent whose planned HGTV show was canceled because of his bigoted remarks, was among those arrested. The media figures and groups are also attacking Democratic officials, as they’ve done already during this crisis, this time by claiming governors are allowing the arrests of clinic protesters for political reasons.
Here is how right-wing media and anti-abortion figures are defending clinic protests that are continuing during the pandemic:
Promoting or encouraging the idea that anti-abortion protests are important
- The Daily Wire promoted a claim from Benham that he and other abortion opponents could continue to protest at clinics because his organization is a “non-profit that connects women who choose life with extensive medical and support services.” The outlet wrote that orders from North Carolina and the city of Charlotte “list federally recognized public charities that offer social services as essential services.”
- Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins wrote in The Daily Signal:
Although Benham was released that same Saturday, the story is far from over. Attorneys at Alliance Defending Freedom are more than happy to point out the error of the city’s ways—in court, if necessary.
This is viewpoint discrimination, plain and simple. If abortion is “essential,” then persuading moms to choose life is, too. The coronavirus is deadly, but so is Roe v. Wade.
Good for the Benham brothers for refusing to be intimidated—not even in the face of bogus charges like Charlotte’s. The crisis facing the unborn doesn’t take a break when the rest of the world does. Sometimes it takes a stand like this one to remind us.
- Anti-abortion organization Operation Rescue:
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), who hosts a podcast with The Daily Wire's Michael Knowles, tweeted about Benham’s arrest in North Carolina, saying if the state “deems abortion ‘essential,’ then pregnancy care services [by protesters] are as well”:
Anti-abortion and anti-LGBTQ blogger Elizabeth Johnston, who goes by The Activist Mommy, posted videos of herself protesting outside the clinic where Benham was arrested, telling her viewers, “Find your closest abortion clinic and go be available, make yourself available.” In one video, Johnston said she convinced the couple not to have an abortion by handing them “a wad of money” and directing them to an anti-abortion mobile clinic to do an ultrasound. In another video, Johnston appeared to violate social distancing guidelines by leaning into the window of a car and handing materials to a person who she claims is coming to the clinic for an abortion.
Anti-abortion news organization LifeSiteNews asked readers to send a message to protesters arrested outside clinics, writing, “If we ever hope to gain God's favor as a nation we must stand right next to these brave pro-lifers.”
Anti-abortion organization March for Life:
Anti-abortion organization Love Life, whose members were arrested during protests in front of a clinic in Greensboro, North Carolina, wrote on Facebook:
While church doors are being closed, the doors of abortion centers around our country remain open to murder innocent children, the Church must be present! Now is not the time to preserve our lives, but to lay it down as Jesus did for us and commanded us to do for others.
Until the doors of abortion centers are closed, we are encouraging and challenging The Church and all Christians across this nation to start prayer walking individually at their local abortion centers where innocent lives are being taken. Let's be diligent to practice social distancing while we prayer walk.
Claiming that it is unconstitutional to arrest clinic protesters for apparent violations of state orders
- The April 16 edition of Eternal World News Network’s Pro-Life Weekly prominently featured an interview with Benham in which he claimed his presence at the clinic was allowed under the stay-at-home orders because he is “part of Cities4Life, which is a federally recognized public charity. We have constitutional authority to be there. We don't even have to practice the COVID laws.” Another segment encouraged viewers to sign an online message extending support to anti-abortion clinic protesters “as they bravely advocate for moms and unborn babies during this COVID-19 pandemic.”
- Anti-abortion organization Live Action:
- Live Action President Lila Rose:
- Anti-abortion media outlet LifeNews.com:
- Deborah Stilt, a member of the anti-abortion organization Personhood Alliance, wrote in LifeSiteNews:
And in a backwards turn of events, pro-lifers following social distancing guidelines are being arrested or threatened with arrest for offering help and hope to moms and dads at risk for abortion.
As the pro-life movement works to shut down abortion facilities state-by-state, we must also stand with sidewalk counselors and prayer supporters who are on the front lines of this battle. Sidewalk counselors and prayer supporters have a constitutional right to assemble and to exercise free speech, including during the COVID-19 crisis. We must be responsible to follow social distancing guidelines, and we must be respectful of our state health department rules.
But we must also REMAIN STANDING.
- Right-wing radio personality Eric Metaxas:
Attacking Democratic officials as politically motivated for enforcing stay-at-home orders against protests
- On Fox News’ Cavuto Live, National Review’s Andrew C. McCarthy attacked Democratic officials’ stay-at-home orders by claiming that residents won’t support the enforcement of orders they think are politically motivated and being enforced to “advance an ideological agenda.” As an example, McCarthy pointed to the arrest of a clinic protester in San Francisco.
- Right-wing commentator and former Fox contributor Todd Starnes also wrote for Townhall about the arrests:
In other words it's permissible under the law for abortion doctors to kill unborn babies, but it's not permissible for law-abiding pro-lifers to assemble in protest.
Why would the police arrest a handful of law-abiding pro-lifers when the local parks were packed with people violating social distancing regulations?
Benham has a legitimate argument. If he had been standing in a local park he would not have been arrested. But he was standing outside an abortion clinic - and that was a problem for Democrat leaders in the area.
- Cruz also tweeted that Benham’s arrest happened because “elected Dems are pro-abortion, they are abusing their power—in a one-sided way—to silence pregnancy counselors”: