Health

Despite social distancing orders from the governor and public health officials, protesters are continuing to gather outside a Louisville abortion clinic. On Saturday, about two dozen anti-abortion protesters lined the sidewalk outside EMW Surgical Center in downtown Louisville, one of Kentucky’s two remaining abortion clinics.

Very few were wearing masks or maintaining the six feet of distance the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) says helps prevent the spread of the deadly coronavirus.

While one protester who declined to be identified shouted at women through a bullhorn, Daniel Nolan stood by quietly with a Bible. A member of Sovereign King Church of Southern Indiana, he said he comes here often for these Saturday protests.

“We gotta wear masks, and six foot apart, and social distancing. Hair salon’s everything’s been shut down. But yet this place remains open,” Nolan said.

Nolan said for Gov. Andy Beshear to be “consistent” in measures to protect life, he should shut down the abortion clinic.

Like most of the other protesters Nolan was neither wearing a mask nor standing six feet apart from others. Neither was his friend Jon Faughn, of Immanuel Baptist Church. Faughn said he was skeptical the masks would prevent the spread of the disease, and that social distancing measures were “doing more harm than good.”

Asked if they were worried they may be asymptomatic and possibly spreading the virus, Nolan responded, “What if? We’re basing on a ‘what if?'” He added that “we don’t know a whole lot of information” about the virus.

The CDC reports more than 75,000 Americans have died from COVID-19 since the pandemic began, and scientists say the virus’ death-rate is “substantially higher than the flu.” In Kentucky, nearly 300 people have died, including 115 in Jefferson County.

Meanwhile, COVID-19 has sidelined the volunteer escorts who usually buffer patients from protesters as they enter the clinic. Meg Stern with the Louisville Clinic Escorts said in order to keep themselves safe and follow CDC guidelines, the group has decided not to work the sidewalk during the pandemic. Instead, some volunteers typically observe the protests from their cars across the street. With the volunteers gone, protesters swarmed closely around women as they went in or out of the building. That worried Stern.

“This has always been a public safety hazard. Coronavirus makes it deadly one,” she said.

EMW clinic co-owner Ona Marshall is also concerned about everyone involved, including the protesters.

“They’re putting themselves at risk, they’re putting our patients at risk, they’re putting our staff at risk,” she said.

During the protest, officers in two Louisville Metro Police Department vehicles monitored from across the street.

“We’re always prepared for every situation that may present itself,” LMPD spokesman Dwight Mitchell said, in response to questions about what resources they were providing to protect patients entering the clinic.

Stern is calling on Louisville Metro Council to enact a “safety zone” that would create a clear path to the door for abortion clinic patients. Stern has been advocating for the safety zone for awhile, but she said the pandemic conditions make it even more important.

Jess Clark is WFPL's Education and Learning Reporter.