Protesters march on anti-abortion center
By Gwendolyn McClure
About 30 protesters marched on Jan. 21 from a Morrisania health clinic that provides abortions, women’s health care and counseling to a Mott Haven clinic they say uses deceitful methods to dissuade women from having abortions.
The rally was held to coincide with the 39th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 Supreme Court decision that helped legalize abortion in the U.S.
“Women should be able to access health care without getting harassed,” said Max Diorio, who participated in the protest. Diorio has worked as a volunteer escort for two years, leading patients past protesters at the Dr. Emily Health Center at Southern Boulevard and 149th St.
The center provides contraceptives, routine women’s health exams and Pap smears along with abortion services, but women who come for simple medical visits face the same harassment as those who come for pregnancy-related services, volunteer escorts say.
The protesters—comprised of health care workers, clinic escorts and Bronx community groups—braved snow and freezing temperatures, while holding signs displaying reproductive rights messages along the march. When they arrived at the crisis pregnancy center near the Hub, they chanted, “not the church, not the state, women must decide our fate,” and other slogans.
Reproductive rights advocates argue that although crisis pregnancy centers like the one in the Hub disguise themselves as women’s health centers, they lack the qualifications needed to counsel women in crisis. Critics also contend the primary goal of such centers is to intimidate pregnant women into abandoning abortion as an option to unwanted pregnancies.
Manhattan social worker Zoe Fasolo began organizing the local marches supporting women when she found out three years ago that anti-abortion activists were targeting the Dr. Emily Health Center with frequent protests outside the clinic.
“We’re just going to let them know they can’t change it,” she said. “It’s our right to choose.”
While politicians debate abortion rights on national television, Dr. Emily has become a Bronx battleground for one of the nation’s most divisive social issues, allowing Diorio to see what the conflict looks like up close.
“This is the frontline of the culture war that is the war around rights,” she said. “There’s legislation going on, but this is where we have to fight the fight.”
Fasolo and Diorio say they have seen the number of protesters decline recently. They say escorting patients used to be so stressful that all they could do after their shifts was sleep. They hope patients are feeling safer too, but, Diorio added, that doesn’t mean she’s about to stop helping out.
“If we were all to think our job was done and leave, it would revert,” she said.