Pro-choice activists have long argued that prayer vigils outside abortion clinics constitute a form of “harassment” towards women who come to terminate their pregnancies. There has been scant evidence of violent or malicious behaviour on the part of pro-lifers. Now, however, we have proof of at least one aggressive demonstration outside a clinic; only the aggressor is pro-choice – and a Pennsylvania state representative to boot.
Rep Brian Sims (pictured) used the smartphone app Periscope to film himself approaching a pro-life vigil outside the Locust Street Surgical Center, a Planned Parenthood clinic in Philadelphia, a city in the state’s southeast. Sims approached a woman he referred to as an “old white lady” and a “racist, classist bigot”. He shouted: “Shame on you! Shame! Shame! There’s no faith that tells you you are right and everybody else is wrong. Don’t convince yourself that what you are doing isn’t extremely racist.”
Video footage later emerged showing that Sims had previously confronted vigil-holders at the same clinic. He referred to the vigil participants as “pseudo-Christian protestors” engaged in “shaming young girls” and insisted that there was “nothing Christian, or godly, or loving about what you’re doing.”
This would be enough to raise many readers’ hackles. But then Sims added: “I’ve got $100 to anyone who will identify any of these three.” He was referring to the young, female pro-life demonstrators standing outside the clinic. He then suggested he was offering the cash in exchange for the demonstrators’ names and addresses.
The act of publicly releasing the names and contact information of one’s political opponents is called “doxxing” and has become increasingly common among left-wing activists. A particularly gruesome example occurred last November when a mob descended on the Washington, DC home of Fox News host Tucker Carlson. Several protesters banged on his door and demanded the family leave town. Carlson himself wasn’t home, but his wife and children were. They called the police, fearing for their safety.
Students at Covington Catholic High School in Kentucky – some of whom weren’t even at the March for Life, and so weren’t present at the infamous encounter with the Native American activist – were also doxxed earlier this year. According to one student: “A lot of people’s parents were also doxxed. Their work was called. I mean, this could greatly affect their job. They could be fired.”
Pro-lifers countered the state congressman by rallying in Philadelphia. Thousands congregated outside the Locust Street Surgical Center. Speakers included Live Action founder Lila Rose and Abby Johnson, a former Planned Parenthood clinic director turned pro-life activist.
The rally received enthusiastic support from Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia. “These videos, which Representative Sims took himself, have rightly sparked broad outrage,” he said in a statement. “His actions were unbecoming of an elected official. I’m calling on all people of good will to channel their indignation into right action and prayerful witness.”
The archbishop further noted that “Representative Sims spoke often of shame and there was plenty of that to be found in his actions, which demonstrated a complete disregard for civility and basic human decency. It was particularly disdainful that he offered a bounty for the identity and home addresses of three young ladies in order to encourage protests at their homes.”
He concluded: “Let us meet the hateful actions of Representative Sims with the love of Christ and let us fervently pray for respect for life from conception to natural death.”
Even The Atlantic, a progressive news magazine, registered its dissatisfaction with Sims. “[B]eyond criticisms of Sims’s tone,” wrote assistant editor Elaine Godfrey, “his tactics run counter to the desires of providers: many healthcare centers offering abortion services don’t actually want their supporters pushing back against protesters, a practice they see as counterproductive to patient safety.”
Planned Parenthood’s communications director confirmed this: “From a distance, protests and counter-protests look the same to a patient who’s just coming in to get healthcare.”
Sims may, therefore, run afoul with the pro-choice lobby that has been so supportive in the past. Live Action also noted that Sims won NARAL’s Champion of Choice award in 2014. In 2013 it was announced that he would be inducted in NARAL’s Hall of Fame. NARAL – formerly known as the National Abortion Rights Action League – is the oldest and one of the largest pro-choice groups in America. His Political Action Committee (PAC) also received $500 from Planned Parenthood of Pennsylvania during the 2017 election cycle.
The real test, however, will come when Sims faces re-election for his seat in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives. Rank-and-file Democrats may not think so strategically as Planned Parenthood executives. Given the highly charged nature of the debate and our deeply partisan political climate, they may prefer Sims’s more confrontational style. This could be the first instance of a new, even more hostile method of activism in the abortion debate.