Health

Abortion opponents gathered Friday morning outside DuPont Manual High School in Old Louisville before the sun rose. Armed with pictures of fetuses, the protesters were also stationed outside Noe Middle School, where Metro Councilman Brent Ackerson’s 11-year-old daughter attends school.

“She saw graphic depictions of what you would expect at an antiabortion rally, the signs. My daughter is 11, and that’s nothing she needs to be looking at or dealing with in her life right now,” Ackerson said. “These folks have stepped way across a line.”

Gov. Matt Bevin last month signed two laws limiting abortions in Kentucky. One bans the procedure after 20 weeks of pregnancy and is being challenged by the American Civil Liberties Union; the other requires a sonogram with a description from a doctor for a woman seeking an abortion.

Friday’s protesters came from Operation Save America, a far-right religious group previously known as Operation Rescue. OSA President Rusty Thomas said they were at the schools to help prevent abortions.

“Our outreach to high schools and campuses throughout America is based on our philosophy that prevention is better than a cure,” Thomas said. “We live in a sexually promiscuous society.”

OSA is holding a leadership conference this weekend in advance of its national conference here in July. Thomas also met with Bevin this week.

“Our ultimate goal is that Kentucky will make history as the first surgically abortion-free state in the United States of America,” Thomas said.

The EMW Women’s Surgical Center in Louisville is the last abortion provider in Kentucky, following the closure of a clinic in Lexington. Planned Parenthood of Indiana and Kentucky last year closed its clinic in Louisville after a lawsuit by the state over questions about the status of its license application.

OSA is staying at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary’s Legacy Hotel. The group is holding its conference at Crossroads Church in Georgetown, Indiana, this weekend.

Ackerson said the group’s presence here is concerning.

“Shame on anyone that is affiliated with these individuals. And that would include, if it’s the Baptist Seminary that is housing them, shame on them also,” Ackerson said.

Colby Adams, spokesperson for the Seminary, said the organization does not have a relationship or affiliation with the group.

“In no way does it connote an official endorsement or partnership,” Adams said. “We’re not in the position to make value judgments on the groups that stay at the Legacy.”

Past Calls for Violence

Operation Rescue changed its name to Operation Save America after reports that violence against abortion providers and at clinics was tied to the organization.

Although Thomas said the group does not promote violence, Miranda Blue at People for the American Way said there are documented ties.

Last year at OSA’s annual conference in Kansas, the group hosted Matthew Trewhella — who founded a subgroup called Missionaries to the Preborn and was one of the first anti-abortion leaders to call for militias — as a keynote speaker.

Trewhella was also part of an anti-abortion and anti-government group that cited abortion as a key reason “to spring immediately and effectively to arms,” according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, which monitors extremist groups.

“These [are] people with extreme views who are willing to associate with the fringe of the fringe,” Blue said.

OSA is planning a large protest at the EMW Women’s Surgical Center in downtown Louisville on Saturday.

Lisa Gillespie is WFPL's Health and Innovation Reporter.