Liberal activists in Texas have released audio they say is from a training session for anti-abortion activists at the state Capitol earlier this month—audio in which trainers can be heard discussing their successes stalking patients and clinic workers, scaring women, and tricking them out of seeking the procedure.
The activists were gathered at the Texas Capitol in Austin for a "pro-life primer" titled "Keeping Abortion Facilities Closed." It's unclear how Progress Texas, the pro-choice group that released the audio, obtained its recording.
"We are committed to having silent counselors and prayer partners in front of every abortion facility during all hours that abortions are being performed," said the first speaker, identified by activists as Karen Garnett, executive director of the Catholic Pro-Life Committee of North Texas. She continues:
And part of that is so that we can track. We can track the number of women who choose life, the mothers who choose life. We can also track who works there. Who is your abortionist. How do we know who has privileges. Well you do that, it's totally legal to track license plates, right, so this way, the license plates are coming into any abortion facility—we have a very sophisticated little spreadsheet everybody can track. This way you can track whether or not a client comes back, if they turn away or come back.
This tracking is not meant to find the identity of a client, Garnett stresses, "but you'd have license plates, car make, model, description of the person. And then as far as the staff members and the abortionists, you can identify if you got a new abortionist."
Intimidating physicians who perform abortions seems to have been a major focus of the training course. A speaker believed to be Michael Demma, director of a Catholic group called Respect Life, brags on the recording about getting three of four clinics shut down in the Ft. Worth area, then adds somewhat ominously of the last remaining clinic: "They have two abortionists. We've been able to identify one in there and we're still searching for the other."
"These abortionists are feeling the pressure," Abby Johnson, organizer of the session, adds. "I think they feel like they're on the run, and that's how we want to keep it. We want to keep pressure high on them and [let] them know that they can move wherever they want—they can move down the road or to another city—and we're still gonna be outside their clinics."
Garnett adds that the anti-abortion activists' intimidating presence alone deterred many women from seeking treatment at the targeted centers:
When we're out there, we're helping moms choose life, we've got the sidewalk lined with people, Abby tells us that the number of canceled appointments, no-shows, just because they don't want to drive in because they see our presence there. That's one impact.
Pro-choice advocates say the audio also suggests that anti-abortion activists "also spread misinformation about clinics in order to specifically target low-income patients." They cite a presentation attributed to Eileen Romano of a group called 40 Days for Life in which she says her activists used "the street talk" to pass on an untrue rumor that the abortion clinic was shutting down.
"The poorer ones that are going there for abortions, they heard that it was going to close, so they quit going there and started going to Hope Clinic," she says, referring to an anti-abortion women's clinic. "Because they thought [the abortion clinic] was closed and they didn't have transportation to get there. God is good."