Recently, two pro-choice groups in Texas released audio evidence of anti-abortion leaders encouraging their activists to track the license plates of clients who access the abortion clinics they protest. The audio, found here, was recorded during an August 4, 2014 Texas Alliance for Life training. In the recording, anti-abortion leaders acknowledge that one of the reasons they stake out clinics is so that they can “track who works there." According to Karen Garnett, executive director of a pro-life organization in north Texas, tracking “the license plates coming into any abortion clinic” using a “kind of…sophisticated little spreadsheet” is a “totally legal” way to make sure abortion doctors have state-regulated hospital admitting privileges. Garnett goes on to say that anti-abortion activists can also use license plates to track women who are accessing the abortion facilities. Tracking patients’ license plates will allow them to know whether or not a client returns to the abortion facility. In the audio, the trainers lay out several other intimidation tactics activists can use, including: identifying and monitoring patients, providers, and clinic staff; obstructing pathways to clinics; tracking the physical descriptions of patients and their vehicles; and using tax records to find new locations of abortion facilities.
The audio from this “Keeping Abortions Facilities Closed” training is full of revealing double speak. In one breath, one of the trainers tells the audience that they are there to help mothers and then praises the fact that their intimidation tactics make women too frightened to even attempt to access the facility. The audio captures Eileen Romano, anti-abortion activist, praising the fact that their intimidation tactics have turned 244 women away from abortion facilities. She’s particularly proud that she and her group have managed to deceive poor women who struggle to find transportation into believing that one clinic was closing. Romano can be heard explaining that, because of their tactics, “the poorer ones...quit going” to their local clinic and had to find transportation in order to get to a clinic farther away. The speakers say they’re concerned about the women accessing the clinics, but really, they’re only concerned about making it difficult for these women to get the care they need.
On Tuesday, Salon published an excellent article explaining how, in Texas, these intimidation tactics will only become more concentrated as more and more clinics close. These intimidation and tracking techniques aren’t new. Anti-abortion activists have been using these methods to harass doctors, staff, and clients for decades. This audio just bolsters what has already been documented. The fact that this isn’t new information doesn’t make the audio any less frightening, though. Listening to one of the speakers talk joyfully about the number of women who cancel their appointments because the anti-abortion activists lining the streets frightens them away may feel overwhelming, but it brings the truth to light: this isn't "counseling," this is intimidation. Listening to audience members applaud when one of the speakers talks about how many clinics in one Texas area have been shut down is disheartening, but it reveals a truth that pro-choice and women’s rights activists have known for a long time: anti-abortion activists aren’t really interested in women’s safety – they’re interested in closing clinics and making abortions inaccessible.