The anti-abortion group Operation Save America is converging in Milwaukee this week for its annual national event. The controversial group will be staging a number of protests, rallies, and other events around the city — placing a particular focus on getting youth involved.
On Monday, the group protested on the corner of N. Water Street and W. Wisconsin Avenue in downtown Milwaukee, displaying posters with graphic images of aborted fetuses designed to create a reaction. A man on a megaphone spoke, surrounded by a group of people in red, black and white t-shirts with crosses that read "Jesus is the Standard."
Protester Matthew Wiersema, of Illinois, told WUWM, "We’re exposing the abortion genocide that’s going on, that’s hidden away. It’s rampant in our culture. They’re mass murdering pre-born children inside killing facilities across the nation.”
The group aims to abolish abortion in all circumstances. Members are also known for derisive statements about Muslims and gay people. But the group’s members describe their protest as "non-violent and loving."
"We're a Christian group, we're not violent, we don't believe in that," said Ante Pavkovic, of North Carolina, one of the leaders of this week’s events. "Our message is really what we’re doing — all we can do is pray, speak, beseech, preach too, show people, give them literature, and that’s where it ends. I mean we can’t make anyone do anything."
But there is some lack of support among Wisconsin anti-abortion groups. Heather Weininger of Wisconsin Right to Life issued a statement saying: "We don’t support the activities they do and really don’t have any further comment than that."
A passerby named Lisa who works downtown commented, “They have the right to do what they want. I think it’s a little disruptive, but they have their rights."
Operation Save America also protested outside the Affiliated Medical Services abortion clinic on N. Farwell Avenue and the Planned Parenthood Clinic on S. Water Street — two of three abortion clinics in the state, the other one being in Madison.
Erin Quinlan, of Shorewood, was picking up her sister near Affiliated Medical Services, when she saw the graphic signs. She said she flashed back to when her daughter was 7 years old and was traumatized by seeing similar signs.
"It’s devastating for anyone to see, much less small children. 'What’s that mommy?' You know for days they’re going to have that picture in their mind. Do[es OSA] care? No,” she said.
Quinlan said it’s sad that the protesters have small children with them. There were also lots of police in the area, keeping a watchful eye.
DuVergne Gaines is director of the Feminist Majority Foundation’s national clinic access project. She was in Milwaukee for what she described as her organization’s mission "to protect embattled reproductive healthcare providers."
Women dressed as handmaids from The Handmaid's Tale are standing in silence next to an anti-abortion protest by Operation Save America on Wisconsin Ave. Handmaids are part of pro-choice counter-protest. pic.twitter.com/bTVZN9kXBo
— Emily Files (@emilyrfiles) July 17, 2019
Gaines said her group trained almost 50 volunteer escorts in Milwaukee on Thursday night.
"We also have had lawyers volunteering their time, coming up from Chicago, Madison, elsewhere to be legal observers to support this healthcare provider," she said. "Hundreds and hundreds of community members are here assisting this clinic and also on standby to assist Planned Parenthood.”
The clinics where protests were held released statements. Affiliated Medical Services says it’s asking members of the community who support the clinic to not engage the protesters because the clinic doesn’t want to escalate an “already scary and chaotic situation.”
The national abortion rights advocacy organization Abortion Access Front, formerly Lady Parts Justice League, has scheduled a comedy tour and counter-protests against Operation Save America in collaboration with 24 other local and national organizations supporting abortion rights.
There have been similar protests by Operation Save America around the country over the years. The group plans protests every day this week in Milwaukee.