The increasingly caring and progressive community of Round Rock, Texas was pleasantly surprised to find a group of peaceful pro-choice protesters outside of Agape Pregnancy Resource Center on a Saturday morning in February. The protesters were members of the National Organization for Women Austin and Williamson County chapters, as well as the Democratic Socialists of America Austin chapter. The diverse group of feminists held signs declaring “Greg Abbot is not my OBGYN,” “Fake Clinics Receive $1.6M of your tax dollars,” and “Honk if you love Texas women,” among others. In the short hour-long protest, a hundred or so cars honked in support, people stopped by to learn about CPCs and the dangers they pose to pregnant people, and a new grassroots anti-CPC movement was born.
While most people in Round Rock were pleased to see the protesters, the paid employees and volunteers at Agape were definitely not. A confused and indignant Jo Markham, executive director of the so-called pregnancy resource center, told the right-wing anti-abortion group Texas Right to Life that in the 13 years the pregnancy resource center has been on Main Street in Old Round Rock, they “have never had protests of any kind.” Suddenly faced with a small taste of the kind of opposition with which anti-choice protesters regularly bombard women’s health clinics, Agape staff and volunteers did what any extremist religious group would do: they heckled, harassed, and yelled at the peaceful protesters.
Texas Right to Life is known for terrible writing, stealing other people’s photos, bribing politicians, and whining like little babies.
Desperate for a war to fight, Texas Right to Life jumped at the chance to cast the pro-choice protesters in a negative light. “There would seem to be nothing for anyone to protest,” Texas Right to Life wrote in a very badly-edited article on their website. “Agape provides pregnant mothers with services, classes, and resources free of charge.”
However, a simple glance at Agape’s website proves this claim to be false; it is painfully obvious that the main reason that Agape and all other CPCs exist is to keep pregnant people from getting abortions, and provide a dose of religious guilt to anyone who even considers going through with the legal, safe medical procedure. The vaguely-named and so-called free classes and services that Agape claims to provide are incredibly limited in scope: they include giving out free diapers, formula, and clothes to people who may be pregnant, but Agape will only allow people to receive free items if they have first attended a Bible study or similar religious class and earned the appropriate amount of “points” to “purchase” those items. Members of Austin NOW and Williamson County NOW Task Force have tried to obtain information on the “services” Agape claims to provide, but have not found anything substantial. The fact is that Agape, like so many other “fake clinics,” as NOW calls them, claims to help women only to distract the public from their larger, more sinister objective: to lie and guilt pregnant people out of an abortion procedure.
Agape staff has stated time and time again that the organization does not receive any federal or state tax dollars. However, a quick look at the website for The Heidi Group, a state-funded group of CPCs and “health centers” that do not provide anywhere near the full range of necessary reproductive health services, lists Agape as one of many of these supposed women’s clinics. It doesn’t take a genius to realize that this means, at the very least, that a state-funded website and organization is giving free advertisement and referrals to Agape, which, in turn, provides them with clients to preach to and to claim they have “saved.”
When protesters were first approached by Markham, she was relentless in her effort to find out which organization they were with, why they were protesting Agape, and what their names were. While NOW’s rules of conduct at protests are clear on general non-engagement with anti-choice groups, a NOW officer did eventually respond in an attempt to defuse the situation with Agape’s irate executive director.
“At first, I told her very politely, ‘We are not here to talk to you or to engage in any kind of debate. We are here to exercise our First Amendment Right to protest peacefully on public property,'” says Lexie, president of Austin NOW. “But she wouldn’t stop. She couldn’t handle it. She kept asking us who we were with, what our names are, and why we were protesting.”
Lexie says that, finally, she was forced to interact with Markham in order to distract her from the other protesters and move Markham and other aggressive anti-choice advocates away from the main group, to ensure everyone’s safety. “I told her we were there to protest CPCs receiving our tax dollars to lie to women and pregnant people. But that didn’t calm her down. It made her go nuts.”
In a fit of anger, Markham grabbed the anti-choice state-sponsored booklet, ironically entitled Woman’s Right to Know, which gruesomely outlines potential complications of available abortion procedures (complications that are incredibly rare, with childbirth being 14 times more likely to involve complications) as well as the potential negative feelings that can occur after an abortion. There is no mention in the booklet of how safe and common abortion procedures are, that the risk of complication is very low, nor that many women feel relief and even happiness after their abortion.
“We don’t receive any state tax dollars. We don’t lie to anyone. We just give them this booklet!” Markham cried, shoving Woman’s Right to Know at Lexie. When the Austin NOW president pointed out the manipulative language and photos on the two-page spread on abortion procedures, Markham laughed wildly and shrugged, unable to refute her point.
Your friendly neighborhood feminists!
Texas Right to Life, still determined to squeeze a story out of the incident, continued on with their poorly-written report. “We’ve prayed about the situation,” Markham apparently told the group, just after passively watching one of Agape’s male volunteers physically assault a protester on the street corner by shoving her off of a curb, and then proceeding to take photos of her car and license plate in a clear attempt at further intimidation. “We’ve decided to respond in love.”
When asked about Texas Right to Life and Agape’s claim that NOW protesters are “confused,” a group of several Austin and WilCo NOW members chuckled. “We’re not confused,” a member said, rolling her eyes. “Of course an anti-choice group would say that–they’re always calling us ‘hysterical women’ or something equally degrading. But we know exactly what we’re doing. We’re protesting Agape, and other CPCs, for a reason.”
Unshaken by the hateful anti-choice gang that now waves menacingly at them (while, strangely, offering packets of small cookies) every Thursday from their expensive storefront in downtown Round Rock, the Williamson County NOW Task Force (NOW WilCo) protesters who have elected to regularly protest Agape are now even more determined than ever. “We’re watching you, Carol Everett,” says Sharol Lovett, President of NOW WilCo, speaking to the ringleader of the state-sponsored anti-woman CPC giant The Heidi Group. “We know what you’re doing to women in our state, and we’re coming for you.”
Austin NOW and NOW WilCo’s rapidly-growing Adopt-a-CPC program is gaining traction, with 6 CPCs now on the roster. You can join NOW WilCo at Agape every Thursday from 4:30-5:30pm, or you can visit the Austin NOW website to view all upcoming protests and events.