AUSTIN -- A video posted to YouTube Tuesday morning by Progress Texas and NARAL Pro-Choice Texas featuring audio segments of an anti-abortion strategy session has once again ratcheted up tension between groups on both sides of the abortion debate.
"We are committed to having sidewalk counselors and prayer partners in front of every abortion facility during all hours that abortions are being performed and part of that is so we can track," Catholic Pro-Life Committee of North Texas executive director Karen Garnett is heard telling activists at the beginning of the video.
The recording comes from a training session last Monday at the Texas Capitol hosted by the Austin-based Texas Alliance for Life. The event was widely publicized by the organization and open to the public, and executive director Joe Pojman estimates more than 200 people showed up for the roughly two and half hour seminar focused on tactics. Of those heard being discussed in the 4:50 video, one tactic in particular has become the focus of controversy.
"You track license plates," Garnett is heard explaining. "This way, the license plates who are coming into any abortion facility, we have a very kind of sophisticated little street sheet where everybody keeps track. This way you can track whether or not a client comes back, if they've turned away, or if they come back. This is not to look for identity on clients if they're not telling you, if they're not telling you who they are, if you're not engaging in conversation. But you have license plate, car, make, model, description of the person."
Progress Texas executive director Ed Espinoza says despite being discussed in a public setting, the tactic came as no less of a surprise. Since publishing the video, he says many have expressed extreme concern over the practice.
"It's outrageous," said Espinoza, who told KVUE Tuesday the tactic was deliberately intimidating and over the line. "This is not the way that politics are done. You don't follow people around. You don't record their information and then detail their activities in a spreadsheet. That's just crazy. Nobody does that."
The video concludes with text warning, "Since 1993, 4 doctors, two clinic employees, one clinic escort and one security guard have been killed by anti-abortion violence. Since 1991, there have been 17 attempted murders."
Anti-abortion groups reacted to the video Tuesday with similar outrage. Garnett told KVUE she was appalled by the way the video appeared to connect her advice to fellow activists with violent acts such as murder.
"In absolutely no way is this ever used to intimidate or harass or stalk or anything along those lines. No one is ever contacted," said Garnett. Because of the mandatory 24-hour waiting period between the initial consultation and the abortion procedure, Garnett says her organization notes license plates primarily to determine how many women actually return for the procedure.
"If a car returns, then that is someone who is having an abortion," said Garnett. "If a car does not return and we never see that car return, then we can feel pretty confident that that mother has made a decision for life."
When it comes to providers, Garnett says the license plate information is useful in determining identities for the purpose of checking if their requisite paperwork and local hospital admitting privilege requirements have been met. Asked whether the same information is used to contact providers at their home, Garnett said such a use is out of the question.
"We have never, never, ever sent any materials to an abortion provider's home. We have never gone to their home," said Garnett. "No. It is for identification purposes only, for the state of Texas, to see if they are performing abortions legally and to pray for their conversion."
Garnett said other details, such as car makes and models and physical descriptions of clients, are used as references to better remember any customers who initiate contact. After the video's release, Garnett said she received several calls from unlisted numbers and recorded a threatening and expletive-filled voicemail left by a man claiming to have found her own license plate information.
"We are completely committed to nonviolence," said Garnett. "Nonviolence against the child in the womb, nonviolence against the woman who is undergoing the violent act with the killing of her child, completely committed to nonviolence against abortionists. We respect all human life and we pray for the conversion of every abortionist and abortion clinic worker."
"It's doing everything you can to bring someone around to your point of view, and it's bullying," countered Espinoza, who noted the many well-known murders of abortion providers in the past. "I think that this issue has a demonstrated pattern of violence, coercion and intimidation, and any time that you act in some sort of way that continues to demonstrate that pattern, you're going to be aligned with it."
Espinoza said Progress Texas is calling upon Republican lawmakers to weigh in on the issue.