Valerie Berry, a strong anti-abortion supporter and the program manager at A Moment of Hope, standing outside of Columbia’s Planned Parenthood health clinic holding one of the “care bags” the organization gives to people considering abortions. Photo by Julie Crosby
Yells of “Roll down your window!” and, “Let us help you!” reverberated down Middleburg Drive on Tuesday as clusters of anti-abortion supporters flagged down cars driving past them and towards the parking lot of Columbia’s Planned Parenthood health clinic.
Since Texas’ new abortion restrictions went into effect on Sept. 1, there has been an increase in the number of protestors outside of the clinic.
“We know that these laws going into effect have emboldened and energized the opposition,” said Allison Terracio, the organizing program coordinator for Planned Parenthood South Atlantic. “Across South Carolina there is for sure an increase in protest activity.”
Valerie Berry, program manager for A Moment of Hope, an evangelical, Christian group that aims to dissuade women from having abortions, is a regular outside Planned Parenthood.
But in the wake of Texas’ new restrictive abortion ban, Berry said she feels more excited and hopeful for the end of abortion in South Carolina. She and volunteers from her organization stand outside Planned Parenthood every Tuesday and Friday, the days that abortions are performed at the clinic.
“A woman came a week ago for an abortion,” Berry said Tuesday. “She was inside, very unsettled about it and decided to think about it some more, so she rescheduled and, on her way out, she stopped to get a bag, and a week later she called in and asked for an ultrasound.”
The woman ultimately decided not to get an abortion, Berry said.
“So stories like that keep us going and help us know that people just want to know that someone cares,” Berry said.
Planned Parenthood also has volunteers in the parking lot, a good distance away from the anti-abortion supporters who try to convince patients to consider other options. Their job is to greet patients and help drown out the noise of the protesters on the street.
“(The Texas abortion ruling) absolutely horrifies me,” said Diane Grant, one of the volunteers. She likened what happened in Texas to the dystopian novel “The Handmaid’s Tale,” and fears that other states, such as South Carolina, could follow suit.
The most recent NBC polling numbers show that across all Americans, 54% believe abortion should be legal, while 42% believe it should be illegal. However, in the conservative South, 43% believe abortion should be legal, while 52% believe it should be illegal.
The South Carolina General Assembly passed the S.C. Fetal Heartbeat and Protection from Abortion Act on Feb. 18, this year, but the bill was blocked by a federal judge, has been tied up in courts of appeal and is not currently in effect.
South Carolina’s bill features many similarities to Texas’ bill, requiring the testing for a “detectable fetal heartbeat before an abortion is performed,” and prohibiting “the performance of an abortion if a fetal heartbeat is detected,” according to documents released by the State House. In contrast to Texas’ bill, S.C.’s bill would allow for abortion in cases of rape or incest.
However, some anti-abortion supporters don’t find Texas’ bill restrictive enough.
Steven Lefemine, with Columbia Christians for Life, an organization which also protests at Planned Parenthood, has been lobbying against abortions for over 20 years.
Lefemine carried with him signs featuring heavily religious and intense imagery.
“I don’t support incremental measures like the Texas bill,” said Lefemine. He, and his organization, has been supporting the Personhood Act of South Carolina since 1998, which establishes “the right to life for each born and pre-born human … at fertilization,” according to documents released by the State House.
Despite the ongoing controversy, Planned Parenthood hasn’t changed its mission of providing “high-quality, inclusive and comprehensive sexual and reproductive health care services all people need and deserve…” according to its website.
“Our job is not the protesters. Our job is to be laser focused on ensuring that people get the healthcare that they need,” Terracio said.
Above all, Terracio wanted to make one thing clear to Planned Parenthood patients.
“I just want to underline and put in bold and highlight that abortion remains safe and legal in South Carolina, and really every other state,” she said. “The Texas ban … had an immediate impact on people in that state, but we continue to show up every day for our patients.”
The contents of a “care bag” given to patients from the anti-abortion group A Moment of Hope. Photo by Connor Hart
The entrance to Columbia’s Planned Parenthood, one of only three clinics in South Carolina where patients are able to get an abortion. Photo by Julie Crosby
Columbia Christians for Life, an avid anti-abortion group, brought many signs to its protest at Columbia’s Planned Parenthood. Seen here is one of its signs featuring scripture. Photo by Julie Crosby
Columbia Christians for Life, an avid anti-abortion group, brought many signs to its protest at Columbia’s Planned Parenthood. Seen here is one of its signs featuring graphic and intense imagery. Photo by Julie Crosby