Community Health

The founder of Kentucky’s last abortion clinic said the facility is increasing security ahead of anti-abortion protests that will start Saturday.

EMW Women’s Surgical Center founder Dr. Ernest Marshall said he and other staff have been in close contact with the Louisville Metro Police Department and the U.S. Marshall Service. In a conference call Thursday, Marshall described the difficulty surrounding the choice women make to have an abortion. This, he said, is coupled with the logistical problems for some in getting transportation to the clinic, which in many cases is hours away from their homes.

“After overcoming so much to come to our clinic, our patients are forced to face a final obstacle: the excessive bullying and harassment outside the clinic,” Marshall said. “They come to us already made their decision, and it’s awful that they’re then subjected to the surveillance and humiliation outside our doors.”

Far-right religious group Operation Save America will hold its annual conference in Louisville beginning Saturday, and is organizing protests outside the clinic July 22 and 29.

Anti-abortion group Created Equal also has a permit to play footage of a “live” abortion on a large “JumboTron” screen outside City Hall on July 26, according to the group’s Facebook page.

Vicki Saporta with the National Abortion Federation said it will be critical that police enforce the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act, which prohibits people from blocking access to the EMW Center.

“They’re trying to shut down this clinic and I think they’ll go to whatever extremes they think they need to [and] that they think they can get away with,” Saporta said.

While the FACE Act will technically apply no matter what, currently there’s no buffer zone restriction to limit protesters from filling the public sidewalks in front of the clinic.

In a motion pending in U.S. District Court, U.S. Attorney John Kuhn asked a judge to grant a temporary restraining order under the FACE Act. If the judge grants the motion, it would implement a buffer zone and would mean any violation of the buffer zone would carry with it stricter federal penalties.

A similar measure has been informally discussed in Louisville’s Metro Council, though no official ordinance has been proposed. At a committee meeting Wednesday, members were told LMPD is not planning on using extra police or barriers outside the clinic.

Meg Sasse Stern, an escort who aids women in entering the clinic, said 2,658 patients entering the clinic in the past year took surveys asking for their reactions to the protests outside. Eighty-six percent of patients said they were “disturbed,” in some way, including being blocked, intimidated, shoved or touched. Half felt threatened, unsafe or scared. A third of respondents reported considering confronting anti-abortion protesters.

“Anti-abortion extremists emboldened by the prospect of ending legal abortion in Kentucky are marshalling to stage a massive disruptive action that could threaten patient access to the clinic,” Stern said.

Abortion appointments will go on both Saturdays as planned, despite the protests, according to Ernest Marshall.

In May, 10 people associated with Operation Save America were arrested for blocking the door to the clinic. A Louisville Metro Police Department officer told Metro council members Wednesday that besides those arrests and some property damage last week, there haven’t been any recent incidents at the abortion clinic.

Lisa Gillespie is WFPL's Health and Innovation Reporter.