Sometimes it seems as if no family planning clinic is complete without a crowd of anti-abortion protesters lined up outside its walls — and yet, as ubiquitous as they may be, their numbers remain largely faceless as most photojournalists focus their cameras elsewhere. With the photo series Faces of the Fight, however, photographer Wendi Kent aims to change that completely. Rather than emphasizing typical subjects such as clinic staff or pro-choice advocates, Kent travels to clinics that provide abortions around the country to photograph the ever-present protesters.
In the past, anti-abortion protesters have reportedly dug through clinic trash in search of privacy violations, published photos of abortion patients in stretchers, and recorded the license plate numbers of cars arriving at and leaving abortion centers — all in addition to berating and harassing people coming and going from a clinic. This is not to say that all protesters, including the ones captured on camera in Faces of the Fight, use these tactics; however, says Kent, hearing the stories of these extreme yet legal measures are what inspired her to create the project in the first place.
"I've been doing reproductive justice work for about five years now but focus primarily on abortion rights. Near the end of 2013, I started to hear more and more stories of these protesters' methods... I realized that I didn't know who was doing this kind of stuff," she tells Bustle over email. "Who are these people and how would they like it if everyone knew all about them? What if we publicized what they do to women at these clinics?"
A woman holds a sign at a clinic in Englewood, NJ.
"The protesters are all different and all have different reactions to me. Some get riled up when they see me there with my camera. Some settle down. Many hide their faces. Some want to preach to me, some yell and call me names," Kent writes to Bustle. "Many of them begin to film and photograph me when I make it clear I'm not going to stop. A lot of them get angry I'm photographing them. It's 'an invasion of their privacy.'"
"The protesters are on public property in a public space and I'm not using their images to sell a product, so I can photograph them all I want. They hate that," Kent adds. "But that's usually when they get out their smartphones [or] turn their chest cameras on me because I tell them, 'Look, you can photograph me just like I can photograph you.'"
Faces of the Fight, which focuses on clinics in danger of being closed down, has taken Kent everywhere from New Jersey to North Carolina, but the tactics of abortion protesters remain similar no matter where they are. Many shout themselves hoarse, some wave around graphic depictions of babies covered in blood, and others peacefully pray for the women coming and going through their ranks.
Protesters hold a prayer vigil along a fence outside a clinic in Chicago. Kent writes, "While this particular group is peaceful, they are accompanied by 5 to 6 foot tall signs of bloody and dismembered fetuses."
When asked about her hope for the series, Kent said that she doesn't have just one. "I hope that it inspires med students to seek out abortion education and training. I hope it encourages people to volunteer to escort, to talk to their family and friends about what is happening. I hope it helps confirm to escorts how important their role is. ... I hope this encourages friends and family to support the women and girls in their lives who seek abortion care," she writes. "I hope that it shows the anti-abortion movement that bullying and terrorizing simply isn't acceptable and it will no longer be tolerated."
A protester pushes a baby carriage carrying fetus dolls outside a clinic in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
A protester approaches a truck in North Carolina as a clinic escort (wearing a vest) directs the vehicle to a driveway. Escorts are volunteers for the clinics who help guide patients and staff in and out of the buildings.
A protester holds a sign outside a Milwaukee clinic.
Images: Courtesy of Wendi Kent (6)