A corner of midtown Tulsa has been ground zero for a years-long clash between abortion opponents and women seeking reproductive health services.
“People do not realize the ugliness here,” said Susan Braselton, who organizes volunteers to escort Tulsa Women’s Clinic patients through protesters with as little trauma as possible.
One of few abortion providers left in Oklahoma, the clinic is just off Interstate 44 and the Broken Arrow Expressway. A majority of the cars in the parking lot have out-of-state license plates — mostly Texas, since it implemented a ban on abortions after about six weeks of gestation in September.
Once Oklahoma’s Senate Bill 612 goes into effect, it will become the country’s most-restrictive abortion law, according to those who vow to fight the measure in the courts.
The law, signed by Gov. Kevin Stitt on Tuesday, will outlaw performing abortions at any stage of pregnancy and has no exceptions except to save the life of the woman.
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At least until the law’s August effective date, the Tulsa Women’s Clinic expects more Oklahoma license plates in the parking lot. Abortion opponents say they’re not giving up the fight yet.
Just two days earlier, as Stitt ceremoniously signed SB 612 into law, the governor spoke about making Oklahoma “the most pro-life state in the country.”
“We’re glad he (Stitt) signed it, but until it goes into effect, we’re going to keep coming out here trying to make a difference in the life of a child,” said Pastor Greg McEntire of Broken Arrow Baptist Church.
McEntire was at the clinic early on Maundy Thursday, a Christian holiday marking Jesus’ last supper, as well as his betrayal and arrest.
McEntire’s church’s children’s choir was also outside the clinic.
Protesters also urge women toward Go Life Mobile Medical, which offers free ultrasounds right across the street but with signage simply saying “Women’s services.”
“We start out with prayer and then we try to get the attention of people going in and have them come talk to us and try to warn them not to go through with an abortion,” McEntire said Thursday.
One woman with the group said they’ve been coming to the site in attempts to deter abortion-seekers for at least five years.
For just as long, another group has worked to provide support for those who are clients of the Tulsa Women’s Clinic.
Sam Robertson, a volunteer escort, said the escorts not only provide a “friendly face” but also serve as a buffer between patients and protesters, who scream and shout accusations of murder at women entering the clinic.
The escorts play dance music to try to drown out the protesters’ shouts, which intermingle with the hymns being sung by children.
“Typically they’re singing and yelling and trying to say stuff to shame or discourage or mislead, so a lot of times we’ll just play a girl power radio or put on some Shania Twain to create a good environment for these ladies,” Robertson said.
The clinic escorts “offer encouragement, because turning … the corner and seeing all these people is very nerve-wracking, even if you’re not here to get a procedure,” Robertson said.
Arguments ensued during the protest between escorts and protesters as they stepped onto the curb, the boundary line for trespassing. Robertson said they continued to test the legal waters regarding how and where they can protest.
McEntire was arrested Sept. 2 on a complaint of violating Tulsa’s noise statute that prohibits singing, shouting or using bullhorns outside of medical clinics, hospitals, schools and churches. The clinic had called the police when the noise could be heard from inside the clinic.
Because McEntire refused to sign a ticket, he was arrested, but Tulsa municipal records show that a municipal charge against him was declined Dec. 13.
Stephanie McEntire said she brought six of her children to the protest with her as a visual message for the clinic’s patients.
“Showing the women what they would miss if they went through with the abortion and that each life is precious and each life is special and that they need to see these children,” she said. “To throw that away by getting an abortion would be a terrible thing.”