Ask Iris: Should Anti-Abortion Activists Be Allowed to Harass Preschoolers?

[CONTENT NOTE: harassment, domestic terrorism.]

Q: Should Anti-Abortion Activists Be Allowed to Harass Preschoolers?

A: No.


I hope this edition of Ask Iris has been helpful.

Have a nice day.


This really should require no further explanation whatsoever, but since I’m presently snowed in, and my WIFI still seems to be working (so far…), I think I’ll spend a few minutes expounding upon that “No.”

  • Anti-abortion activists should not be allowed to harass preschoolers.
  • Anti-abortion activists should not be allowed to harass anyone, and no one should be allowed to harass preschoolers.
  • No one should be allowed to harass anyone.


I hope this edition of Ask Iris has been helpful.

Have a nice day.


Wow, those winds sure are howling, and the view from my window is a complete whiteout.

I have a nice hot pot of coffee and a temporarily content kitty (is there any other kind?) so…

Some background on the question.

A new Planned Parenthood clinic is currently under construction in Northeast DC, right next door to a school.

Over the past several months activists opposed to the clinic’s construction have been “purposely and aggressively menacing” school children as young as 3 years old with graphic images and language, causing “severe emotional stress,” according to a lawsuit filed in DC Superior Court by the school in December. Teachers have had to keep students inside at recess, and…with a larger crowd and a number of prominent antiabortion figures expected on account of the annual March for Life [sic], administrators decided to cancel school altogether.

The school closure cost [Bill Harper, parent of a 5- and7-year-old students] $80 in extra childcare fees, but he was most angry about how the recurring demonstrations have disrupted the day-to-day educational experience for the students. “The whole school is focused on preventing the children from being terrorized. They’ve had to redesign the community,” he said, gesturing to black cloth draped across a fence to hide a playground. He told me that teachers sometimes have to take students on a long detour to reach the gymnasium across the street without encountering protesters. To Harper, they aren’t just a nuisance but a safety concern: One of the defendants named in the lawsuit, Robert Weiler Jr., was previously convicted of plotting to bomb an abortion clinic and shoot doctors in nearby Greenbelt, Maryland.

Why this particular terrorist wasn’t locked up for lifetime is perhaps a subject for another post, but I would be remiss if I did not make a few points about the d00d here.

“From all indications, it appears he was acting alone,” said Gregory K. Gant, the special agent in charge of the ATF’s Baltimore field division.

He’s a white terrorist, you see. And as we all know, white terrorists operate in a cultural void, and in any event are uniquely impervious to violent rhetoric and ideology, religious or otherwise. He is simply “Lone Wolf” No. 194,801.

Agent Gant also said this:

“In some ways, it could have been a bigger threat because it wasn’t something we were tracking, and we didn’t see it coming.”

Surveillance state: FAIL. While the state is quite keen on deploying counterterrorism tactics to infiltrate and monitor Walmart employees, and ordinary citizens opposed to US economic policy, immigration policy, harmful trade agreements, union-busting, racial profiling, the death penalty, Israeli violence against Palestinians, endless wars, etc., white terrorists operating on US soil just aren’t the kind of people law enforcement would ever thinks to track. I mean, gosh, how could anyone, anywhere, ever have seen anything like this coming?

But! I digress. Back to the Forced Birth Brigades.

The lawsuit [filed by the school against the activists] describes the protests as a form of coercion, intended to draft parents and administrators into a campaign to block the clinic from opening next door. The antiabortion activists “have promised they will ‘be back every week’ if the students and parents do not take action against the Planned Parenthood health center,” the complaint alleges. Protesters have shouted at children to “Tell your parents they kill kids next door.” In November, an activist named Jonathan Darnel sent an e-mail to school administrators that read, “I am not threatening you. Nevertheless, if you are failing to challenge Planned Parenthood, I feel a moral obligation to alert the community (including the parents of your students) myself…. I’m sure you don’t want to see me, my antiabortion friends and our graphic images any more than we want to be in your neighborhood.”

Defendant Larry Cirignano was at the protest on Thursday, wearing a banana-yellow tie stamped with the words “choose life.” I asked him if he was at all concerned for students who were disturbed by the images and messages he and other demonstrators present to them. “I’m worried more about the kids who are in the pictures,” he responded. “It’s sad that the school and parents didn’t think they should get involved.” Gesturing at the group waiting to hear [David Daleiden, the weasel behind the recent deceptive video campaign intended to take down Planned Parenthood] speak, he said, “Most of these people aren’t from around here.” Cirignano said he’s being represented by Mat Staver of Liberty Council, who also represents Kentucky County Clerk Kim Davis.

These are just fantastic people: respectful, honest, kind, informed, tolerant, compassionate, rational—exactly the kind of community exemplars you would definitely want to have around young schoolchildren.

What to do about it.

As the lawsuit winds its way through the courts, it is well worth remembering that the US Supreme court struck down a Massachusetts law providing for buffer zones around women’s clinics—clinics that were open and operating, not construction sites. The justices so ruled from the safety and sanctity of their very own buffer-zone protected place of work.


As I noted at the time, that decision was unanimous—thus rendering the entire Supreme Court as currently constituted not just a bunch of flaming hypocrites, but guilty of providing material support to terrorists.

As this is now the state of affairs, I propose a simple counterstrategy of tit-for-tat. To wit: picket the schools where the protesters’ children attend, and hold up giant posters picturing women killed and imprisoned as a result of anti-choice policies—most prominently the photo [CONTENT WARNING: extremely graphic violent image, NSFW] of Geraldine Santoro taken at the scene of her death from a self-abortion attempt. Shout in the kids’ faces “Your parents want to kill mommies!” “Your parents like killing poor mommies!” “Your parents want to put poor mommies in jail!”

Stop when they stop.

Why no one will actually do this.

Because it’s horrible, that’s why—even if it is, apparently, legal. Pro-choice activists like to think of ourselves as better people than our enemies. And of course we are, demonstrably so: you don’t see us going around firebombing right-wing churches and shooting anti-abortion ringleaders, do you? And in any event, we are certainly “above” directing reprehensible tactics at innocent schoolchildren, or frankly at anyone at all.

And therein lies our dilemma.

Just think for a moment about what it actually takes, how extreme things have to get, before conservatives change their minds. And not just about the abortion issue, but about anything: global warming, for-profit healthcare, creationism, gun access, immigration, the unbroken record of failure of right-wing economic policy and governance, take your pick. Evidence is not enough. Experts who know what they’re talking about are not enough. Epic calamities are not enough. Personal calamities are not enough. These people cannot be reasoned with—and yet they are winning. There is no denying that their tactics, however reprehensible, are nonetheless effective.

It’s quite the conundrum, no? It certainly leaves me contemplating whether I ought to rethink that “No.”


I hope this edition of Ask Iris has been helpful.

Have a nice day.

[a version of this post appeared at perry street palace.]