Anti-abortion group Operation Save America stopped in Jackson and set up on the sidewalk outside Emerg-A-Care to protest Dr. Brent Blue on Friday.
One of the protestors, clad in a blue baseball “Jesus” cap, was Cal Zastrow, of Michigan.
According to Zastrow — a self-described “slave to Jesus Christ” — the group came to “preach the gospel” outside the clinic. He and his 29 fellow Operation Save America protestors arrived just after 3 p.m. and remained there for a few hours. He said they plan to leave town Saturday.
None of the protestors outside the clinic were from Jackson. In fact, Jackson was only one stop along the group’s itinerary, which also includes clinics in Montana, North Dakota and South Dakota.
Zastrow and the group came to protest surgical abortion services that Blue offers at his practice. Blue said Friday that "the pregnancy termination part of our practice is minuscule," noting that most patients are coming for other medical services.
Protestors, meanwhile, brought with them signs bearing provocative anti-abortion rhetoric and graphic images of aborted fetuses.
This isn’t the group’s first visit to town.
Operation Save America previously caused a stir by attempting to mount a similar protest on the Town Square during the 2011 ElkFest. In response, the town issued a temporary restraining order barring protests during the Boy Scout Antler Auction.
Two protestors — Mark Holick and Chet Gallagher — were arrested for violating that temporary restraining order. The charges against Holick and Gallagher were dismissed shortly after their arrest, but they claimed their First Amendment constitutional rights were violated.
Consequently, Holick, Gallagher, and their umbrella organization, Operation Save America, filed suits against the town and former Jackson Police Lt. Bob Gilliam. The suits were settled for a collective total of $275,000.
The duo and their organization also brought suits in the Wyoming Supreme Court, which characterized the restraining order as unconstitutional. The men also sued the town and Gilliam personally in Wyoming’s Federal District Court.
“We’re not here to pick fights with people, we don’t want lawsuits, we don’t want that,” Zastrow said Friday. “But if we’re denied our First Amendment rights then that may be an option. I’d just as soon not.”
When Operation Save America returned in 2012, they were met with a coordinated “ignoring with intent” campaign that much of the town embraced.
On Friday, local high schoolers, Alex Andrikopoulos and Chase Christopher, were driving by on Broadway when they saw the protestors, decided to go into the Staples across the street to buy a sign on which they jokingly scrawled "legalize recreational cocaine" to poke fun at the protestors.
"I personally disagree with them. I think women should have a choice," Christopher said. "So we're out here to try to discredit them."
Though he was younger at the time, Andrikopolous said that the last time the group was in town, he remembers his mother covered his eyes to prevent him from seeing the graphic imagery on the posters.
Macie McCormick, 17, said she also remembers a negative response when the group visited in 2011.
“I get that you can voice your opinion, but you're showing this to everybody who drives by, especially little kids. And that's just not something you show little kids."
When she saw the protestors today, she and a few friends decided to quickly make their own counter-protest signs to set up alongside the anti-abortion ones. McCormick held up a sign reading “Keep Abortion Safe and Legal” and her friend held up a “My Body My Choice Sign” beside her.
"It upset us, because it's not right,” McCormick said. “So we decided to come out here with our own posters saying it should be the woman's choice. So we're just trying to raise our awareness, because theirs is not what we believe in."
Though the protestors held graphic signs and took turns speaking provocative messages into a megaphone, operations at Emerg-A-Care remained largely undisturbed.
Blue said that when he arrived at the clinic that day protestors were not present but were there when he left. Blue’s policy in response to protestors is simply to “continue to provide healthcare to women.”
“We take our usual precautions that we always take,” he said, “but protestors have a right under the constitution to protest, and I have a right under the constitution to provide healthcare to women.”