The months-long protests and counter-protests outside American Family Planning Clinic have come to an end, with businesses up and down Village Oaks Drive signing trespass orders.
“We’re happy about this,” said Allison, who declined to give a last name. She is one of the counter-protesters who have been out nearly every weekend in front of the clinic to help shield clients from abortion protesters.
Protesters have always been a common sight outside the American Family Planning — Pensacola’s only abortion clinic. But in December, a clinic staff member reached out on a local Facebook group asking for volunteers to help escort patients as protesters were harder to ignore.
“(They said) they were being harassed by pro-lifers who are coming out and yelling nasty things,” explained another counter-protester, Shannon, who also did not want to give a last name. “They have a baby crying on a speaker to scare people coming in here.”
Every Friday and Saturday for the last four months, dozens of people on either side of the issue came out. Some abortion protesters would park their vans or trucks, with graphic images of unborn fetuses, on the side of the road. On the busiest of days, people would be in the street or parked in front of businesses across from the clinic.
Allison said they’ve been working with the Escambia County Sheriff’s Office to issue trespass warnings for months. One of the first ones signed was in January, but in order to stop protesters, they were going to need full compliance.
Last week, Fraley Provisions, which neighbors the clinic, signed the last trespass order. Before the order was signed, Allison said protesters would park there and yell to clients coming out of the side door.
“It was not a good situation,” she said. “We put up a wind screen, turned on the sprinklers — anything to keep them away from that door.”
The trespass warnings are standard in language. In nearly all of the seven trespass warnings, business owners specify “no protesters protesting or parking on property.” Some also include “no transients or panhandlers.” One warning states “no unrelated individuals standing, parking, transiting my property other than our employees.”
Pensacola has a violent history when it comes to abortion protests. On Christmas Day 1984, all three of the city’s clinics were fire-bombed. In 1993, Dr. David Gunn was murdered by Michael Frederick Griffin in Pensacola. It was the first documented murder of an OB-GYN where the intention was to prevent a doctor from performing abortions.
While the recent protests at American Family Planning have not been violent, Allison said they were a few “scuffles,” like the time a protester grabbed her wrist and she pushed them.
Shannon said the trespassing orders are a sign of “Pensacola coming together” in her eyes.
“The city is deeply affected by this issue,” she said. “I feel like we did something that actually mattered. Protesters have been bothering that clinic for decades.”
Allison and other volunteers still check in on the clinic. Of course, now they are limited in scope just like the protesters. They only park at the clinic and come out as needed.
“Staff tells us all the time how much they appreciate it,” she said. “It relaxes them knowing there’s people around. I believe everyone has a choice and no one should be forcing their thoughts on others. Abortion is health care.”
Another game-changer for the clinic will be a fence to keep a physical barrier from trespassers. Through an online fundraiser, volunteers raised $5,000 for the clinic to build a fence. Shannon said the clinic’s corporate office in Washington, D.C., has to work out the permitting.
Although the abortion debate is never-ending, Shannon said she’s proud of the work from dozens of volunteers who represent organizations such as Strive, Worker’s World Party and Pensacola Women’s March.
“Sometimes, you can’t wait for the world to change,” she said. “Someone has to start doing the work. Why not you and your friends?”