For nearly two years, Wendi Kent, an abortion-rights activist and photojournalist based in Madison, Wis., has been documenting antiabortion protesters at some of the most targeted clinics in the country.
Her “Faces of the Fight” project was inspired by a “Wanted”-style poster created by an antiabortion group two years ago, which included the faces of an abortion provider, a clinic escort and a journalist Kent knows. So she decided to focus her lens on the protesters — some of whom pray quietly outside clinics or hand out religious literature, others who shout threats at the patients who walk past.
Kent, 35, says she wanted to show that these kind of confrontations are “really happening” and not just on hot-button days like the Roe v. Wade ruling anniversary. “This happens every day, all over the country,” Kent says. “This harassment doesn’t happen anywhere else, to anyone else. This only happens at abortion clinics, to women.”
She also hopes the protesters themselves might see her images. “I honestly believe that they don’t see themselves the way that everyone else does,” Kent says. “A lot of them follow my work after I meet them, and they’re often really shocked when they see themselves.”
Each image, she says, reveals something important about the nature of these confrontations and the people involved on both sides.
Here are five examples:
The man standing on the left was the first protester Kent photographed, she said, outside the Family Planning Associates clinic in Chicago. In this photograph, he stands close to a clinic escort — someone who helps safely usher clients in and out of the clinic — in the parking lot outside the building.
“He is holding this piece of paper — it says ‘John 3:16’ on it — he’s holding that in front of her face,” Kent says. “And she is holding the sign that the escorts show the cars that pull up, which says, ‘DON’T STOP — they’re not with us,’ ” warning patients about protesters who might approach them.
Federal law prohibits the protesters from blocking a clinic’s entry or exit, Kent says, “so she is looking down at the ground, at his feet and at the property line, to make sure that he doesn’t cross that line.”
Outside the Affiliated Medical Services clinic in Milwaukee, Wis., two clinic escorts in red vests walk past a row of praying protesters. Kent says protesters frequently obtain the same color vests that the escorts wear, in order to confuse clients when they arrive — so escorts are often forced to rotate the color of their vests to help distinguish themselves.
In this photo, Kent says, the escorts’ vests are also emblazoned with rainbows. “The escorts told me that the reason they added the rainbows was because they’d had protesters showing up in identical red vests.” At the time this photo was taken, she said, the tactic seemed to have worked; the protesters didn’t want to add rainbows — a common symbol associated with gay pride and gay rights — to their own vests.
The woman in this photo is a regular protester at the Affiliated Medical Services clinic: “She’s very passive, she’s polite and she’s nice,” Kent says. “There are plenty of protesters who don’t attack women, and I show that. I think it’s important.”
There is nuance within the antiabortion movement, Kent says, and many different kinds of protesters. Those who urge forgiveness for women who have sought abortions tend to be quiet and prayerful in their protest; others are more vocal and hostile, carrying signs with graphic images; and some are aggressive, even physically threatening.
The man on the left — he introduced himself as Don — drove eight hours from Virginia to protest outside the Metropolitan Medical Associates clinic in New Jersey. He was especially aggressive, Kent says. Here, Don confronts a man who had accompanied his partner to the clinic.
“Don started yelling at him: ‘Hey Dad, hey Dad, don’t go off without your baby . . . I can help you and your wife have this baby, sir.’ ” The man was shaken and angry, Kent recalls. “He was immediately like, ‘[expletive] you, you don’t know me, you don’t know what I’m going through.’ “
After the confrontation outside, Kent learned that the man and his partner had sought an abortion because their baby had developed without a spine and would not survive.
This photo, taken outside the same clinic in New Jersey, shows Don confronting another visitor to the clinic as he stands outside the established “buffer zone.” The scene demonstrates how these protected spaces don’t do much to prevent aggressive confrontation, Kent says.
“At this clinic, there’s a buffer zone that extends eight feet around the door. But you can see how close he can still get to the patient,” she said. “The buffer zones in every town are different, and the fights for them are different, and those fights are ongoing.”