NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A federal judge in Tennessee has extended a restraining order against 10 anti-abortion activists and all members of Operation Save America, ordering them not to interfere with patients and providers at a reproductive health clinic outside of Nashville.
Tuesday's order came after the protesters attempted to enter the clinic operated by the nonprofit carafem organization twice last week during a national conference of Operation Save America — formerly Operation Rescue, according to court documents.
On July 28, three people entered the medical office building in Mt. Juliet where carafem is located and tried to gain access to the clinic by posing as patients, the complaint alleges. One of them, Bevelyn Williams, said on a livestream video that the trio would “terrorize the whole building” if it wasn't allowed inside the clinic. She also said the three were going to “take this whole building down," according to court records. Also with Williams were Rickey Williams and Edmee Chavannes.
The clinic went into lockdown with patients and staff sheltering in a locked room until police removed the trio from the building. The three then went to Planned Parenthood in Nashville, where they were arrested for trespassing after refusing to comply with multiple warnings to leave the property, according to Metro Nashville Police. Rickey Williams had a handgun in his waistband, according to court records.
The three could not immediately be reached for comment. Rickey Williams and Edmee Chavannes do not have listed phone numbers and a number listed for Bevelyn Williams rang unanswered on Wednesday.
Operation Save America National Director Jason Storms said on Wednesday that the three people arrested are not part of his organization, although their actions coincided with Operation Save America protests. Storms said the protests by members of his organization were lawful.
The complaint accuses Storms and several other members of the group of crossing onto carafem clinic property and attempting to enter the building on July 26. They were stopped by security at the exterior doors but refused to leave, sending the clinic into lockdown, according to court filings. When police arrived, Operation Save America Assistant Director Matthew Brock told officers that the group had "men out here who are willing to do what needs to be done,” according to court records.
Storms said the group was trying to ascertain whether Tennessee's trigger law was in effect and whether the clinic was performing abortions in defiance of that law. In Tennessee, abortion is currently banned at around six weeks, but a trigger law is expected to go into effect on Aug. 25 that would ban all abortions statewide except in cases when the procedure is necessary to prevent the pregnant person’s death or serious impairment of a major bodily function. It would make performing an abortion a felony and subject doctors to up to 15 years in prison.
Brock told officers, “'If the trigger law is in effect, and you're not going to enforce the law, we have people here who will enforce the law,'” Storms said. The group did not blockade any doors and people were entering and exiting the building during the discussion with law enforcement, he said.
The clinic filed for a temporary restraining order on Friday, claiming the protesters violated the federal Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act. That same day, a federal judge in Nashville granted an order that would expire on Aug. 5. On Tuesday, the order was extended until Aug. 12, the maximum length possible, with a hearing scheduled that day to determine if further action is needed.
Several of the protesters have been detained for blocking clinic access on multiple occasions. Bevelyn Williams and Chavannes were sued by the New York attorney general last year after they were accused of of repeatedly barring patients’ entrance to a Planned Parenthood clinic in Manhattan and threatening violence against patients and staff. In a settlement announced in April 2021, the pair agreed to a buffer zone around the clinic’s entrances and faced a $5,000 fine for any violation.