NEW ORLEANS – Hundreds of anti-abortion protesters from around the country are gearing up to converge on New Orleans for a week-long rally.
The national Christian group "Operation Save America" is partnering with local churches for the annual event, held in a different city each year.
The group plans to hold daily rallies outside the metro area's two abortion clinics, in Metairie and Uptown, as well as at the site of a future Planned Parenthood facility on South Claiborne Avenue.
“You're going to see people coming in with their bibles in hand, pleading with the women that are there to please not go in there and offer them help,” said Pastor Dale Sochia, of King Jesus Ministries. “We’re bringing the gospel to a dark place, because that’s what the word has called us to do.”
The New Orleans Police Department is getting ready as well. The Second District plans to provide extra security on S. Claiborne Avenue and other protest sites throughout the city, according to a spokesman.
Law enforcement officials say they can bring in more resources if needed. They plan to staff the rallies as they would any major event, to help with crowd control.
Intelligence officers in plain clothing with body cameras, mounted officers on horseback, and a truck with barricades will be part of the beefed up presence.
The Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office also plans to have uniformed and plain clothes officers at the abortion clinic in Metairie, so that if problems arise during the rally, they can be addressed immediately.
“Our track record is that we have never never in the history of Operation Save America had a violent crime prosecuted against us whatsoever,” he said.
Organizers have met with law enforcement several times as well, Sochia said, and they plan to contact them daily during the event.
But pro-choice groups worry the week-long protest could potentially block access to services.
"These protests are designed to intimidate communities and the many patients who rely on Planned Parenthood for basic health care services. The bottom line is women should be able to get health care without fear of violence, harassment, or intimidation," said Melissa Flournoy, PhD., state director of Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast in an emailed statement.
“The New Orleans Abortion Fund is deeply concerned about the radical protesters who will be descending upon Louisiana next week. We trust individuals to make the best health care decisions for themselves and their families. These protesters do not. They rely on scare tactics and intimidation to harass patients, companions, and community members,” said Jessie Nieblas, board member of The New Orleans Abortion Fund, a non-profit that provides financial help to women who cannot afford the full cost of an abortion.
“We have a crisis pregnancy center, so we have help, we're not just telling them don't do it, we actually have doctors,” said Sochia.
Last time the group was in New Orleans was nearly 20 years ago, when there were eight abortion clinics in the city. A new state law that goes into effect September 1st threatens to shut down the clinics that remain.
The event kicks off Saturday night and runs through Friday. There will be daily prayer rallies at 6:30 p.m. each night at the Williams Boulevard Baptist Church in Kenner, where protesters will discuss their plans for the next day.
This story was developed with our partners at UptownMessenger.com.