Protest elicits strong reactions
Abortion protester Debbie Baker, right, of Wichita, Kan., tries to talk with counterprotester Talia Smith, of Jackson, outside the Powderhorn Mall on Wednesday. Smith chose not to respond. Several abortion opponents, led by Spirit One Ministries of Wichita, protested at several sites throughout town Wednesday. BRADLY J. BONER/JACKSON HOLE DAILYView our entire photo gallery >>
By Kevin Huelsmann, Jackson Hole, Wyoming
May 19, 2011
Several dozen members of a national anti-abortion group canvassed the streets of Jackson on Wednesday, hoisting signs with graphic images of dead fetuses and raising the ire of many valley residents.
St. John’s Medical Center staff on their way to work were greeted with protesters waving signs and handing out religious tracts, as were parents and children on their way to school. The echoes of a PA system set up in front of Powderhorn Mall could be heard as far away as Josie’s Ridge on Snow King Mountain.
“They told me this place is pretty liberal, and I’m seeing that,” Pastor Mark Holick said on Wednesday afternoon while holding a sign along West Broadway.
Holick is the head of Spirit One Ministries, a church based in Wichita, Kan., that teamed up with members of the national anti-abortion campaign Operation Save America to protest Dr. Brent Blue and to try to make Wyoming the first abortionist-free state.
“We hate the photos we hold up as much as anyone,” Holick said. “But we believe America will not stop supporting abortion until it sees what is actually happening.”
Though the protests elicited strong reactions from many valley residents and workers, no violent incidents were reported to law enforcement officials, Jackson Police Chief Todd Smith said on Wednesday afternoon.
“As long as they’re not breaking any laws, our role is to make sure they are able to exercise their rights,” Smith said.
Police responded to several complaints about protesters handing out pamphlets and fliers at Jackson Hole Middle School, Jackson Hole High School and in the lobby of St. John’s Medical Center. Protesters were asked to remain on public sidewalks, Smith said. Law enforcement officers established a liaison with the group and said they were being cooperative and complying with police requests, Smith said.
Teton County School District No. 1 Superintendent Pam Shea sent an email to district staff informing them that she asked law enforcement officials to deny the group access to school grounds.
“Any protest on school grounds has significant potential to interfere with the educational program,” Shea said in the email, which was sent out Wednesday afternoon.
Throughout the day, supporters of Blue stopped by and called Emerg-A-Care to lend words of encouragement, filling more than two pages of a legal pad at the office with comments.
“All you have to do is wrap anything in religion and then you’re righteous and can be bigoted and mean-spirited,” Suzanne Young said while writing a message to Blue at his office.
Blue could not be reached for comment by press time, but was in his office for much of the day, staff at Emerg-A-Care said.
While some passersby honked and gave anti-abortion activists thumbs-up signs, the graphic signs displayed by the protesters sparked angry reactions from many valley residents and prompted counterprotests in some areas of town.
“It was the pictures, they were too much,” said Esther Judge, who works at Cafe Boheme. “I have a child, who luckily is at school right now. It’s offensive, whether you’re pro-choice or pro-life.”
As the afternoon wore on, a group of counterprotesters formed around Judge, who at one point was blowing kisses to an anti-abortion activist telling her she was “believing a lie.”
The group held up signs that read “Pro-Choice” and “My Body, My Choice.”
Across the street from Powderhorn Mall, staff at Rendezvous River Sports erected their own PA system in an attempt to drown out the anti-abortion protesters, playing songs by Bob Marley at one point in the afternoon.
“It’s a little over the top,” said Tyler Martin, who works at Rendezvous and was serving as deejay for the afternoon.
While some business owners in Powderhorn Mall said the noise from the protest was distracting and driving away customers, Jackson Whole Grocer general manager Bob Millsap said he did not notice much of a difference.
“A few customers complained, but overall I haven’t noticed it affect the overall flow of business,” he said.
The group, which consists of between 25 and 40 individuals, is expected to continue their protest through Friday, holding services in the evenings at Mountain View Baptist Church.
Holick said valley residents could expect more of what they saw on Wednesday.