AN OPEN LETTER TO ST. PAUL IN BROOKLYN: STOP HARASSING PLANNED PARENTHOOD PATIENTS

Dear Rev. Fr. Paul Anel and parishioners at St. Paul and St. Agnes,

We’re writing to make sure you know exactly why we and your neighbors in Brooklyn insist on counterprotesting your church. Every second Saturday of the month, St. Paul and St. Agnes in Cobble Hill has been sending priests and parishioners to harass patients at the downtown Brooklyn Planned Parenthood. Our demand is simply that you leave Planned Parenthood patients alone. 

Fr. Anel, we’ve been counterprotesting your “Witness for Life” since June 2021. That’s when the Archdiocese of New York announced that its monthly clinic harassment (hosted by the Basilica of St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral in Manhattan) would become weekly, expanding to churches in Brooklyn, the Bronx, and Staten Island. 

And just like Archdiocese’s clinic harassment at St. Patrick’s in Manhattan, these now-weekly anti-abortion processions are led by Fidelis (Christopher) Moscinski, one of the most active clinic invaders in the anti-abortion movement today. 

More than two dozen times since 2017, as a member of the group Red Rose Rescue, Fidelis Moscinski has entered clinic waiting rooms to accost strangers and shame them into continuing unwanted pregnancies. He refuses to leave “until the abortions stop”—most recently on August 27 in West Chester, Pennsylvania, where he was charged with two third-degree felonies.

Moscinski’s clinic invasions have escalated sharply since Trump’s election. But his militant tactics are not new. He’s been blockading clinics and shutting them down since at least 1992 as a member of Operation Rescue. That’s the same far-right group that waged war on abortion clinics in the 1980s and 90s, fueling violence and terror that led to thousands of cases of stalking, assault, burglary, arson, bombings, and the murders of clinic doctors and workers.

That’s why we demand that you stop allowing Fidelis Moscinski to lead anti-abortion processions to the doors of clinics. We simply don’t care that he hasn’t invaded clinics in New York, that he merely makes a habit of invading clinics elsewhere. You can’t pretend that his militancy is benignly unrelated to that terrible history of clinic violence, or the clinic violence that’s on the rise today

But the truth is that even if Fidelis Moscinski were to stop leading these anti-abortion processions, the processions themselves have still got to go. They’re founded on two extraordinarily backwards and dangerous premises: that we’re murderers, or else that we’re the hapless dupes of murderous doctors; and that total strangers have the moral authority to intervene in our lives and healthcare decisions. In other words, your “peaceful prayer” in front of clinics creates a culture of forced-birth vigilantism. Of course that culture leads to violence. Being a clinic worker or patient means facing stalking, death threats, arson, vandalism, and daily harassment. Clinics are regularly overwhelmed with thousands of protestors ranging from everyday churchgoers to Proud Boys. This forced-birth vigilantism has now been enshrined in law in Texas, placing $10,000 bounties on the heads of anyone who facilitates abortion access—while actual, living people are immiserated by a country that has endless money to kill people abroad but none for universal healthcare. Stop coordinating clinic harassment, or at least be honest about your bedfellows: white nationalists and violent vigilantes.

We know from our many conversations with community members that the neighborhood hates your clinic harassment. When we table in front of your church, lines form down the sidewalk to sign our petition demanding that you leave patients alone. Have you ever seen people line up to sign a petition? In New York? We’re happy to tell you that outside of your patriarchal bubble, people know that abortion is extremely common, ancient, and liberatory. It’s an ordinary part of reproductive life. It improves our lives. It’s inevitable. 

Ask your own parishioners, who have abortions at the same rate as everyone else. When push comes to shove, when faced with the prospect of our bodies becoming incubators against our wills, we’ll find a way to refuse. You would, too. 

Finally, we want to say again how cowardly it is to call in the NYPD to arrest us and escort your clinic harassers to the doors of Planned Parenthood, as you did on August 14. The moment you feel threatened by everyday people—who simply refuse to concede that it’s benign for the Catholic Church to stigmatize us in the streets for exercising bodily autonomy—you call in the most repressive arm of the state to beat us back, while running a PR campaign in the National Review that demonizes us as “bloodthirsty.” 

We are healthcare workers, restaurant workers, childcare workers, teachers, and community members who believe in reproductive freedom. Who are you? You’re a representative of a world-historically wealthy and powerful patriarchal organization. You can’t look away from the violent culture you’ve produced. You can’t smear us as the aggressors. Redirect your gaze from your lurid and unscientific fetal fantasies toward us: we are the living, breathing people who have abortions and benefit from them every day. We know what we’re doing. Stop showing up at our clinics and we’ll stop showing up at your church.

Signed,

NYC for Abortion Rights