Kentucky’s last abortion clinic — EMW Women’s Surgical Center in downtown Louisville — is at the center of protests and public hearings that begin this week. Operation Save America, a far-right religious group, is coming to Louisville this weekend to kickoff a week-long conference.
In preparation, the city is holding a hearing Wednesday on creating a buffer zone that would limit anti-abortion protesters from coming into close contact with people going into the clinic.
Some cities such as Chicago, Portland and San Francisco have enacted buffer zones —usually an 8-15-foot zone that protesters are barred from entering. Chicago and Oakland, and the state of Colorado have enacted “bubble zones” around abortion clinics, barring protesters from several feet around a clinic patient, provider or escort.
In May, 10 protesters from Operation Save America — formerly Operation Rescue — were arrested for blocking the doors to the EMW clinic. The group changed its name following reports that violence against abortion providers and at clinics was tied to the organization.
Members from Operation Save are planning a news conference prior to the Metro Council’s Wednesday meeting. In a letter to council, National Director Rusty Thomas told members the issue isn’t about safety.
“Supporters of a ‘safety zone’ have crafted the issue before you to appear as a ‘public safety issue,’” Thomas wrote. “In reality, it’s a religious/freedom issue.”
Thomas said if the city moves forward with enacting an abortion buffer zone, the group will sue.
“Louisville will be sued for violating our duty before God and by denying our constitutional rights,” he wrote.
Although Thomas said the group does not promote violence, last year at its annual conference in Kansas, Operation Save hosted Matthew Trewhella as keynote speaker. He is founder of a subgroup called Missionaries to the Preborn and was one of the first anti-abortion leaders to call for militias.
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.
Operation Save America is planning a large protest at the EMW Women’s Surgical Center in downtown Louisville on Saturday, July 29.