This article explores the gendered sound world of anti-abortion protests outside U.S. abortion clinics. These clinics are spaces of dissent where, on a daily basis, protesters congregate to vocalize their opposition to abortion. We employ the concept of sonic patriarchy, the sonic counterpart to the male gaze, to explore how anti-abortion protesting dominates the aural space surrounding abortion clinics and is used as a vehicle for controlling gendered bodies. Protesters use megaphones, speakers, and yelling to infuse the soundscape of the abortion clinic with an overwhelming cacophony that people must enter to receive care. This article reconceptualizes how we think about sound and violence by emphasizing how the everyday sounds of anti-abortion protesting are perceived and experienced as violence by people seeking abortion services. This domination of the sound world engenders a form of nonconsensual listening, in which it becomes difficult, if not impossible, to ignore the sonic performances of protesters. We also discuss the additional labor that clinic staff and volunteers must provide to shield patients against this volume of sound, as well as the affective and physical consequences of entering this sound world to receive healthcare. Furthermore, we describe the inherent difficulties in regulating sound and the importance of understanding the intent and context of sound-making in identifying certain sounds as violent. We argue for a more rigorous regulation of sound-making outside of clinics, as it perpetuates not only abortion stigma but also gendered sonic violence on all people who enter abortion clinics.


Today was a very loud day. You usually can’t hear the anti-abortion protesters inside the main office, but when they started singing, the manager, Audrey,2 walked to the window, looked out, and said, “Oh it’s them outside. They are so loud, that I thought it was the movie (playing on the TV in the outer waiting room).” About 10 minutes later, the head volunteer clinic escort,3 Izzy, walked inside and said that she “might have to call the police, because the protesters [were] being really aggressive with the escorts this morning.” She added, “I don’t know what’s going on this morning; there are only three guys on that corner, but they are being so much louder than they were last week when there were a lot of them.” The nurse told Izzy that “it’s so loud back here that patients can hear everything and it’s really upsetting them.” About 20 minutes later, Izzy came back in to tell Audrey that the escorts had called the police and that she had moved all of the escorts onto the clinic property, because the protesters were bumping into them and “getting physical.”

When the police arrived, one white male officer came in to talk to the all-female staff.4 The nurse told him:

We can hear them all the way in the back today and it's really disruptive to the clinic. Especially [being able to hear them] in the recovery room, and that’s just too loud. I have a two-day patient who had a [laminaria] placement yesterday, and she came in here crying and told me she almost didn’t come in because of the protesters. And that is really dangerous to her health.5

I sat talking to the officer, who told me that he really misses the safe zone,6 because “it was so nice that they weren’t getting called out here.” I asked him about writing tickets for the protesters who had been violating city sound ordinances, as well as the protesters' many violations of the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act.7 The clinic escorts and legal observers had been keeping video and written documentation of all of these violations.

The officer replied, “Well, I really have to be there and see it, because you often can’t tell from the video. And then if I see it on the video, I have to give warnings first.” He also said that if what they are doing is not a clear violation, a higher court would just dismiss it. I pointed out that the protesters had been especially loud today. If I could hear them in the back of the clinic, they had to be louder than allowed by the municipal noise ordinances. He replied, “Yeah, they probably are, but they quieted down immediately when I got here. But I’ll sit outside for a while and observe.” After the officer left, a patient waiting to be called for lab work came over to chat with me. She said she didn’t expect the protesters to be there, but she “should have realized.” She continued:

What they were saying, I just tuned it out, it went in one ear and out the other—but when they are all yelling it’s really only that one voice that you hear that gets into your head. Just like we’re talking in here, they have the right to stand out there talking—it’s just how loud it is that’s the problem, because you can hear them in the waiting room. You can’t really hear them in [the back] now.8

This fieldnote excerpt describes the gendered sound world of anti-abortion protests, which regularly bombard the ears of people entering abortion clinics in the United States. Not only do people experience the sounds of protest as they drive up and walk into the clinic, but these sounds may seep into the clinic itself. Here, a patient and nurse describe the volume of the protesting as being “too loud,” citing this noise as disruptive to the appointment and potentially affecting the emotional and physical well-being of the patients. The conversation between the ethnographer and the officer highlights the difficulties of enforcing limits on sound, as tickets are rarely written for violating sound ordinances outside of abortion clinics.

At one clinic, an escort asked a street preacher using a personal microphone to turn down the volume, and he responded by telling her to go measure the decibel reading from the distance and for the amount of time specified by the city ordinance. When she did so and walked back over to tell him that his microphone exceeded the allowable decibel limit, he yelled at her “What’s the decibel reading?” while turning up the volume on his microphone. This example shows the blatant disregard by protesters for moderating their own sound, putting the onus for enforcing the sound ordinance on escorts, and ultimately on the police. Police presence is the only reason the anti-abortion protesters will lower the sound, as protesters know they can be ticketed for exceeding the noise ordinance. Sometimes this means turning down the volume on their speakers, personal microphones, or other amplification devices, and other times this just means lowering the volume of their yelling.

This article discusses the gendered sound world outside of abortion clinics, and anti-abortion protesters as perpetrators of a form of violence called “sonic patriarchy.”9 Anti-abortion protesting is a form of gendered violence aimed at the reproductive regulation of female-presenting bodies entering the abortion clinic space.10 This reconceptualization of abortion clinic violence shows that the sounds of anti-abortion protest constitute violence in themselves, even when this rhetoric would not be legally characterized as true threat, incitement, or assaultive speech.11 Protesters dominate the sonic landscape through yelling, music-making, and amplified sound. The space surrounding abortion clinics has become saturated with anti-abortion noise, while clinic escorts attempt to shield patients from sonic violence, often through competing sonic practices. Clinic escorts also make small talk with patients to distract them from protesters, and clinic staff expend additional labor to calm patients who are upset by the protesting. The aural experience of anti-abortion protesting impacts abortion patients, clinic staff, and volunteer clinic escorts as they navigate these spaces, and these affective experiences of protesting are impacted by the intent, context, and content of anti-abortion speech. While the aural experience is often perceived as violence, intimidation, and harassment by people who are accessing the clinic space, there are inherent difficulties in the regulation of sound-making outside abortion clinics.

Theoretical Framework

We will be exploring the sounds outside abortion clinics within Lentjes’s framework of sonic patriarchy, “the sonic counterpart to the male gaze,” which encompasses speech acts such as mansplaining and catcalls.12 Lentjes has expounded elsewhere that “sonic patriarchy is a concept I have theorized in order to give name to the domination of a sound world in gendered ways […] In public space, sonic patriarchy can be heard in the catcalls and whistles and mansplaining that grope their way into the aural space of female and feminine bodies.”13 The undercurrent connecting these speech acts is a lack of regard for the consent of the hearer. Although these sounds do not inherently constitute “violence” (and typically are not intended as such), in the public sphere they materialize as a form of aural invasion that forces the hearer into a position of nonconsensual listening. Sonic patriarchy’s range of intrusive sounds should be considered not only as noise (in that they are heard by the surrounding communities as unwanted sound) but as sonic manifestations of gendered control.14 The sounds of sonic patriarchy enact a mode of political domination in both the private and public sphere, an affect Lentjes elsewhere terms “gendered sonic violence.”15

This article will consider not only the sounds of anti-abortion protesting as a mode of sonic dissent but also the sound shields of clinic escorts as a response to these sounds of protest. We grapple with the dissonance between the sounds of right-wing activism and the sonic resistance of these sounds. There is a tendency within scholarship on sonic violence to focus on sound’s forcefulness within extreme circumstances—such as torture, war, and police brutality.16 This tendency can eclipse the everyday ways in which sound and music are more subtly used as a vehicle for control, and we strive to push past this focus on sound within sensationalized contexts that can be read as “trauma narratives.” Instead, we argue for a consideration of sound’s capacity for violence within what Lauren Berlant refers to as “crisis ongoingness.”17 Extending our ears past large-scale trauma or crisis, we can hear instances of everyday scenarios (such as walking down the sidewalk or going to a doctor’s appointment) in which nonconsensual sound can still be experienced as violence. Thinking about everyday sounds specifically in terms of consent can open uncharted territory.

Sonic patriarchy can be heard as the background music for the crisis ordinariness of gendered and sexual harassment, which is so ubiquitous as to have become mundane. Sonic patriarchy can be thought of as the assumed ownership of feminized ears, out of which “masculine” interruptions materialize in the form of gendered sonic violence. These interruptions, while frequently innocuous, influence the ways that women interact with the sound world in general; for instance, many women have described wearing headphones to block out the noise of whistles and pick-up lines. Sonic patriarchy also occurs through the assignment of a gender binary to the human voice: we are conditioned to hear “masculine” voices—such as that of the male police officer—as authoritative, and to hear female voices as “shrill” or “hysterical.”18 In sum, sonic patriarchy manifests as the gendered domination of a sound world (whether private or public), shaping the ways in which women are heard or are forced to hear.

Sonic patriarchy, like the male gaze, is an objectifying force that shapes space in gendered ways. The concept of the “male gaze,” which was first theorized by Laura Mulvey, concerns the representation of female bodies.19 In the decades since Mulvey’s foundational article, the applications for the male gaze have been expanded beyond film and continue to be used in critical analyses of heteronormativity’s pervasive effects in visual culture. Gendered modes of surveillance and control, including the male gaze, have been discussed primarily through this visual lens within the realms of feminist and queer theory. (Theorists within these spheres typically employ Foucauldian models of visual surveillance when delving into the intricacies of biopolitical networks and proliferations thereof.) Sonic patriarchy can complement the male gaze by offering an aural dimension—and therefore a multi-sensory approach—to these analyses. Feminine bodies’ objecthood is experienced in the visual realm under the male gaze, and in the aural realm through sonic patriarchy. Catcalls can be heard as a vocalization of the male gaze; these vocal ejaculations sonify the objectification of the feminine body.

This objectification is further complicated and made more acute during pregnancy; pregnant people endure intrusive questions and their bodies being touched without their consent. In these instances the male gaze can become a means for externalizing the fetus and for transforming the pregnant person into a backdrop against which the fetus can be brought to life.20 Anti-abortion rhetoric relies on fetal surveillance for more effectively leveling the male gaze at the figure of the fetus, or, in the words of an early anti-abortion slogan, “providing a window onto a pregnant woman’s stomach.”21 The phenomenon of fetal imagery has been examined within the realms of feminist theory, anthropology, and cultural studies.22 Scholars focus on visual economies of surveillance and objectification in their discussion of anti-abortion rhetoric; in this article, we draw from their work while also complicating it by bringing in the dimension of sound and aurality. Anti-abortion rhetoric employs both the male gaze and sonic patriarchy in providing a visualization and a “voice” for the fetus. Protesters have long relied on sound as a means for, as one pastor puts it, “giving voice to the voiceless.”23

Sound and speech, therefore, are another tactic on which anti-abortion rhetoric depends; anti-abortion propaganda is not limited to the realm of visualization. Examples within the sonic realm include “Women’s Right to Know Acts,” which require doctors to read a state-sanctioned screed out loud to abortion patients, as well as “fetal heartbeat bills.”24 The technologization and amplification of the fetal heartbeat allows anti-abortion lawmakers to listen more closely to the potential product of pregnancy than to pregnant people themselves. Their legislation relies on the sonification of the fetus; both the amplifying and silencing capacities of reproductive healthcare restrictions allow the fetal heartbeat to become so loud that it silences the pregnant person. Other crucial examples of anti-abortion politics within the sonic realm are the street preaching, sidewalk counseling, and music-making that take place at anti-abortion protests. These particular sounds, which the authors have witnessed firsthand, are exemplative of anti-abortion extremists’ use of sound as a force for control.


The authors of this paper conducted independent research projects using feminist, activist research methods, including audio recording of anti-abortion speech, participant observation, and interviews.25 Arey conducted 18 months of fieldwork at two independent abortion clinics in North Carolina.26 Alterman conducted research at 18 independent abortion clinics (primarily in the Midwest and Southeast) over the span of 16 months. Lentjes conducted research over a period of four years at seven clinics, focusing predominantly on an independent clinic in New York. Additionally, each author concentrated their observations and interviews on different populations: Alterman primarily interviewed clinic staff, Lentjes primarily spoke with anti-abortion protesters, and Arey surveyed patients and patient companions. All authors also conducted semi-structured interviews (both formal and informal) with volunteer clinic escorts.27

Each researcher conducted participant observation while volunteering as a clinic escort (with Arey also volunteering as a legal observer); we refer to this shared research methodology as multi-sited, feminist, activist ethnography.28 This collaborative article traces rhetorical and sonic practices of anti-abortion movements across clinic spaces. George Marcus defines “multi-sited ethnography” as “following webs of power” that extend past local communities.29 While using multi-sited ethnographic practices to draw connections between sonic and rhetorical practices in multiple field sites, we aligned our research practices with reproductive justice efforts. Feminist scholars have noted the need for the integration of feminist knowledge production as both theory and praxis, to produce scholarship that actively promotes social justice.30 This aligns with Oparah and Okazawa-Rey’s definition of activist ethnography as “a model of active engagement between the academy and movements for social justice.”31 As activists concerned with reproductive justice, we produce knowledge from this standpoint, in collaboration with each other and with our interlocutors.

Throughout this article we refer to the different groups conducting anti-abortion activities outside of clinics as “protesters,” noting that they have various modes of individual self-identification, including: sidewalk counselors, street preachers, Crisis Pregnancy Center employees, prayer ministries/vigils, and so on. We call all direct-action engagement outside of abortion clinics “protesting” because it is regulated by city permits allowing these groups to “protest” adjacent to clinic spaces. Protest speech is considered to be public speech; it takes place on public property, for a public audience. During each author’s research, each audio-recorded and analyzed public, anti-abortion protest speech.32

Each author approached their data from a different disciplinary perspective, using theoretical modes of analysis such as performance studies, discourse analysis, and sound studies.33 While the qualitative data presented throughout the paper is drawn from individual projects, it was analyzed concurrently for co-occurring themes. In analyzing qualitative survey data, fieldnotes, and interview materials for recurring thematic content on experiences with sound, authors created codes such as “loud, noise, quiet, sound, yell, harass, verbal, and hear” to identify relevant data. The thematic convergence of codes across varied mechanisms of data collection and analysis lend support to our findings and indicate the applications of research findings beyond a single research project.

Overview of Anti-Abortion Violence

Anti-abortion protesters have perpetuated violence against abortion providers, patients, clinic escorts, and their surrounding communities since the first free-standing abortion clinics opened in the early 1970s.34 Referred to as the ground zero of the abortion wars, standalone clinics have remained an ideal target for protesters because they provide the most abortions and often reside in easily identifiable buildings.35 Clinic protesters historically have posed—and continue to pose—major barriers for clinics, from daily annoyances to committing crimes such as bombing, arson, and murder. Even forms of violence considered minor, such as the verbal harassment outside of clinics that we explore in this article, accumulate week after week and may signify serious threats for providers due to a history of severe violence.36

Several scholars refer to anti-abortion protesters as the direct-action arm of the larger pro-life political movement who mobilized as a result of their dissatisfaction with Roe v. Wade; however, some scholars elaborate that many protesters have joined the movement from diverse political and social logics.37 There are currently members of numerous for-profit and nonprofit organizations and church groups who flood abortion clinics to protest or participate in direct-action tactics. Abortion providers use the following categories to describe protesters: prayers, sidewalk counselors, and haters and/or screamers.38 “Prayers” are the protesters who pray in front of clinics, mostly keeping to themselves. “Sidewalk counselors” approach patients near the entrance of the clinic—sometimes aggressively—to offer unsolicited “help” coupled with inaccurate and stigmatizing literature.39 “Haters” or “screamers” are combative protesters who yell, shame, and intimidate patients and staff.40

When it comes to clinic violence, most prominent in the public consciousness are illegal acts such as murder, attempted murder, bombings, chemical attacks, and arson. For instance, since the 1993 murder of abortion provider Dr. David Gunn, there have been 11 murders and 10 attempted murders of abortion providers in the United States and Canada.41 The percentage of clinics experiencing this type of severe violence steadily decreased after 1994 and then began sharply increasing during the past decade.42 The Feminist Majority Foundation (FMF) details that the percentage of clinics reporting the most severe forms of violence remains “dangerously high,” with almost half of all providers experiencing some form of severe violence, threat of severe violence, and/or severe harassment.43

Less known to the public is the relentlessness and, we argue, the violence of daily anti-abortion activity. For instance, 62% of clinics experience anti-abortion protest activity daily or weekly.44 Studies find that protesters’ tactics generally do not change patients’ minds about abortion; however, they do tend to make accessing abortion a harrowing experience for patients.45 Carole Joffe and David S. Cohen report that “even the most effective response [from providers and escorts] still leaves women seeking abortion services feeling at best attacked and at worst physically stressed in ways that hinder good medical care.”46 Furthermore, they stymie abortion providers by demanding additional labor to comfort patients; as a result, many clinics rely on the consistent labor of volunteer escorts to comfort patients and navigate them past protesters.47 Additionally, protesters make it difficult for providers to secure a lease and tarnish their reputation with the surrounding community.48

Sound Worlds of Anti-Abortion Protests

Although anti-abortion protests have been ever-present since the 1970s, it wasn’t until the early 1980s that protesters shifted from their initial tactics of “nonviolent sit-ins” to the “street theater” tactics that are still prevalent today.49 Protesters now sonify their dissent in the areas surrounding the clinic, rather than in clinic waiting rooms. These public spaces are more difficult to regulate than the private medical space inside the clinic. Sidewalk preachers line the sidewalks that patients must pass through, repeatedly shouting “They kill babies in there!” “Don’t murder your child!” and “Look at the picture, Mommy!” This last phrase is a sonic command directing patients’ attention toward the loud visual exclamation of the three-by-four foot posters the protesters hold. These posters depict mangled fetuses meant to illustrate the visual reality of abortion. Sound studies scholars frequently point out that you can close your eyes but not your ears. While patients can look away from these signs, they cannot as easily block out the sounds of the protesters.

Sound-making methods (both amplified and unamplified) include singing, shouting, sermonizing, playing instrumental music, pleading, group prayer, and solo prayer. Notably, protesters continue their sermonizing and direct engagement attempts regardless of whether an individual target such as a patient or abortion provider is within earshot, indicating that their speech acts are meant for the ears of the surrounding community as well. Cohen and Connon note that “the most common form of harassing communication is verbal harassment [ranging] from protesters making somewhat civil comments in a normal speaking voice to protesters repeatedly screaming and yelling aggressive and threatening messages.”50 Whatever their volume, these speech acts are a form of sonic patriarchy, invading the aural space of patients as they are made to hear the anti-abortion message whether they want to or not.

Indeed, many protesters continue yelling after patients audibly indicate that they do not want to hear whatever the protesters have to say. Even as a defendant in a lawsuit against a protest group in New York state, an anti-abortion pastor stated that he did not stop talking to patients despite explicitly being asked to: “He explained that he does not necessarily stop trying to speak to a patient when she says that she does not want to hear what he has to say, because he wants to help people ‘hear issues that are difficult to hear at this moment.’”51 This pastor echoes a sentiment that many (if not most) protesters have expressed, indicating that they will repeat their message “as many times as it takes” to be heard, no matter how difficult this message might be to hear. The protesters’ goal is to make themselves heard at all costs. They continue yelling when the sidewalk or parking lot outside the clinic is empty—even in cases where it is physically impossible for their voices to extend into the clinic itself—claiming in interviews that they believe they can still be heard inside.

The sound world outside the clinic is typically strident and unpredictable. However, one of the most common refrains within this cacophony is a periodic shout of distress on the part of protesters who “perform” the role of the fetus. These protesters, who are almost always male, shriek “Mommy, Mommy, don’t kill me!” in a vocal performance that commands attention from those within earshot. This vocal performance achieves a silencing of the pregnant person through a sonic animation that “ventriloquiz[es] for the unborn child a fear of murder.”52 Their sounds of anguish are alarming not only for patients and clinic personnel but also for passersby, who sometimes stop in their tracks out of evident concern. It is important to note here that these cries of distress are a common (yet disturbing) leitmotif within the anti-abortion sound world. It is also significant that the male voice, typically heard as one of authority, is the one most commonly used to “give voice to the voiceless.” Female voices fade into the background as the traditionally deeper, more robust male voice transforms itself into a high-pitched pleading whine—which is ultimately still recognizable as “male.”

This act of ventriloquism issues forth from a voice that mere seconds before was preaching in deep, bellowing tones. These vocal tones, when heard in Western contexts, have long been coded as “masculine” due to acoustic qualities such as a low pitch and booming volume. The sociolinguistic processes through which these sonorities are coded as “male” is significant, as Elinor Ochs has pointed out that “pitch has social meaning.”53 Sound studies and voice studies scholars have also taken up the sociocultural contexts shaping pitch perception, asserting that the human voice itself “becomes an acoustic sign” through which gender roles are re/produced.54 These scholars argue that “analyses of sound […] cannot be divorced from a sociohistorically bound consideration of its material condition and sensuous pulsation.”55 In the case of abortion clinic protests, where the sound world is dominated almost exclusively by “masculine” voices, thunderous male vocal sounds possess the capacity for eclipsing the content of the words being shouted. Sensation supersedes sense as the sheer volume of these vocalities commands a gendered respect that can be traced as far back as Aristotle’s writing on the subject.56 Protesters rely on vocal sound in their efforts to captivate the ears of patients, volunteers, providers, and passersby, and the viscerally felt cacophony of these sounds is compounded by its cultural connotations.

Sonic authority, and particularly male vocal authority, is wielded in order to lend rhetorical weight to the anti-abortion argument. This rhetoric materializes as what Carol Mason refers to as “an oral, performative discourse designed to spur religious conversion.”57 The structure of the anti-abortion protest theater adheres to a strict gender binary: as Phelan puts it, “speaking men and observing women.”58 While male protesters typically take on the task of sermonizing or preaching, women are often given tasks such as sign-holding, pamphlet distribution, and “sidewalk counseling.” Sidewalk counselors insist that if patients, volunteers, and clinic staff simply “hear them out” and talk with them for a while, they’ll change their minds about abortion. Patients frequently verbalize their objection to the protesters by saying “no thank you,” and yet the sidewalk counselors disregard these objections and continue their sonic assaults. Their speech acts constitute a form of sonic patriarchy, forcing unsuspecting patients into a position of nonconsensual listening. It is almost impossible to ignore the protests once they begin—an event that one clinic escort referred to as “the ripping apart of silence.”59

Megaphonic Harassment

Protesters’ use of sound amplification intensifies the inescapability of nonconsensual listening. Microphones, megaphones, bullhorns, and speakers infiltrate the clinicscape. The cacophony of (mostly male) voices dominates the clinic and surrounding areas. Amplified protester messages become inescapably loud, which can resonate through the waiting room, counseling offices, and even procedure rooms. To shield their own ears as well as the patients’, clinic staff and escorts invent strategies to eliminate the sounds, such as erecting fences and sound barriers, playing loud music, etc.; however, often little can be done to muffle amplified protester noise. For example:

At around 7:30 a.m. a hefty truck bulldozes down the road hauling an enclosed trailer. “Here comes the circus,” quips Deborah. A man and several teenage boys open the trailer doors and heave the professional-looking sound equipment on the grass behind the sidewalk, leaning it against the gate. They prop the speaker on a tall stand that towers over the fence. I spot a microphone, multiple foldable chairs, a chorus of children ranging from infant to teen, and a sizable bible.

Escorts stand between the patients in the parking lot and the protesters, blocking patients from view, but they can’t hamper their sounds. I can’t hear Karie’s conversation with the patient over the noise, but she distracts the patient with small talk, completely ignoring the cacophony. Suddenly, I hear “JESUS DIED FOR YOUR SINS!” booming from a male protester out of his giant speaker, which he has positioned to resound over the fence. Once Deborah hears him roar, she turns up the volume of the escort’s speaker, not nearly as mighty. Their speaker blares metal music; however, it fails to dull the yells of the man. A few minutes later, I peer through a hole in the fence and I see another has taken the microphone. He grips it tightly while yelling, standing as close as he can get to the fence in front of the entrance. As escorts usher more patients briskly toward the clinic entrance, the protester continues to yell with the hopes that they will hear him in the waiting room near the entrance.

He takes a deep breath and addresses the “fathers” in the waiting room. He starts yelling into the microphone and proceeds to yell during the entirety of his plea. He screams: “My child was almost murdered here…we wanted her dead […] you want your child dead because of some relief you may have…it’s not relief, it’s not relief…it is a guilt that you will never be able to get rid of […]. I’ve been there with the tears in my eyes, so those of you who are crying in the other room right now know what was going with your child but because of your fear, you won’t go in and say ‘STOP, STOP! I will not do this thing! Stop!’ Go in. Go into the room and open up the doors and say ‘STOP! I will not do this. I want my child to live!’”

A second wave of patients arrive. They rush through this gauntlet of noise, some trying desperately to cover their ears, others guffawing in disbelief at the protesters’ comments. I realize there is nothing we can actually do to block this noise—we’ve exhausted all of our options. The protesters are too close, too loud, too amplified. I write a thought that had never fully occurred to me until that moment: “sound as weapon.”60

This story is one of many instances in the field when I witnessed the weaponization of amplified sound and the multiple strategies escorts use to muffle it. Despite the many attempts of escorts to block protester noise, their amplification pierced through the fence and the escort’s music. The message, emphatic and aggressive, not only drowned out any aural reply but also relied on multiple gender stereotypes, which intensified the punch.

The protester uses sonic patriarchy to dominate the soundscape with his amplified voice, making the issue of abortion about his own personal narrative. He yells into the microphone, because speaking into the microphone is not loud enough for him. The tenor of his voice remains emphatic throughout his speech, as if every word were gospel. He intonates his words, inserting rhythmic pauses, and repeats particular words and phrases to emphasize them. Patients hurry past his speaker as they enter; one patient covers her head with her sweater to block the sounds and shield her face. His imperious call saturates the moment. The space surrounding the clinic and the entrance becomes his domain, his speech prevails because he has the loudest speaker. Furthermore, the content of his speech adds irony to the sonic dynamic because the male speaker draws on specific gendered tropes in order to incite action among “fathers” while muting pregnant people. For instance, the male speaker draws on patriarchal masculine tropes by insisting that men can control women’s reproductive futures by simply entering a room and yelling “stop!”61—thereby suggesting that a male command (i.e., “stop”) can quite literally end an abortion, and not the direction of the doctor, nurse, or pregnant person.

Escorts have developed strategies to distract patients from this overwhelming protester noise; however, there is only so much they can do when this noise exceeds allowable municipal decibel levels. They aim to hush protesters’ sounds by creating sound shields. Deborah and Karie arrived before the protesters and wedged pieces of cardboard at the top of the fence. They also attached a tarp to the bottom of the fence. Although this blocked the sight of the clinic and some of the noise, too, the protesters raised their speaker to loom above the tall fence. Protesters have been known to stand on stools or ladders, or to squeeze a megaphone between the rods of a fence, to more effectively project their message.

Escorts also try to drown out the protester noise with their own amplification devices. In the fieldnote example, escorts wielded a large speaker near the entrance and played metal music when protesters started to shout. Other clinics also play music to combat the protesters’ yells with intentionally chosen songs. For example, one escort described playing upbeat and/or empowering songs to create a cheerful ambiance for arriving patients (and potentially to annoy protesters), such as songs like “R-E-S-P-E-C-T” by Aretha Franklin. Without access to a quality speaker or a powerful sound-canceling method, some clinics defy protester noise with alternative and/or ad hoc modes of amplification. For example, escorts at a clinic in the Southeast attached tiny Bluetooth speakers to the inside of their umbrellas to block the sounds (and sight) of the protesters with their own small speakers. An escort at another clinic in the South parked in front of the clinic entrance, rolled down her windows, and blared pop music from her car when a protester’s sound device exceeded the decibel limit, also exceeding the decibel limit herself.

Escorts and clinic staff use diverse and creative strategies to dilute sonic patriarchy. However, as Joffe and Cohen insist, women shouldn’t have to rely on a network of inventive and dedicated providers and volunteers to obtain a legal and safe medical procedure.62 They emphasize that “[…] just because women will walk through throngs of screaming protesters to get basic medical care doesn’t mean they should have to endure this behavior.”63 In the next section we discuss the impacts of anti-abortion protesting, and the ways people experience protester noise as violence.

Affective Responses to Sound

Patients, their companions to the clinic, clinic staff, and volunteers are affected by the protests. Experiences of anti-abortion protesting are deeply connected to the volume of sound as well as to the content and context of these speech acts. The following are a sample of qualitative survey responses detailing patient and companion reactions to protest speech as being composed of loud or overwhelming sounds:

Clinic protesters are aggressive in their approach causing confusion and severe anxiety for me. My heart starts to race, the loudness of them yelling is frightening and scares me. It makes me feel judged, ashamed, hurt, nervous, scared, angry, anxious, annoyed, and uncomfortable. Sometimes they are so passionate about their protest that I am afraid they may attack me.64

This anxiety, fear, and intimidation in connection with being yelled at by protesters or experiencing “loud” sounds indicates that in addition to the content of the speech, the amplified sound enacts violence in itself.

I didn’t see protesters coming in, but I hear them now as I’m filling out the form. They have a megaphone and it's absolutely disturbing and gives me anxiety.65

While this second person did not see the protesters at all, she too was affected by the noise, which contributed to her anxiety while inside the clinic.

The thought of them being there was stressful for my partner. Luckily, they were rather quiet, and she didn’t notice. I have been driving by in the past and they have been much louder and more noticeable.66

This last response highlights the difference of experiences that patients may have, depending on the level of sound. The ability to ignore the protesters when they are quiet, versus the inability to ignore them when they are loud, highlights how anti-abortion protesting is a form of nonconsensual listening. While people can choose to listen to what protesters are saying when they speak without amplification, overwhelming loud sound takes away this choice.

As demonstrated in these examples, the level of sound contributes to intensified reactions to anti-abortion protesting. The Turnaway Study, a research project that investigated the effects of abortion and unwanted pregnancy on women’s lives, found that “two-thirds of women whom the protesters tried to stop from entering the clinic reported that protesters were upsetting, compared to the 36% of women who only saw the protesters but did not hear them.”67 This indicates that “loudness” is an integral part of the fear and anxiety that patients felt at the clinic. In addition to its volume, the content and context of anti-abortion protesting are vital to its function as a form of sonic patriarchy. The following interview response from a patient is indicative of anti-abortion protest as a form of sonic invasion:

One of the guys had a megaphone, and the other guy didn’t have the megaphone, he just had pamphlets. He kind of stood right there where we had parked and he said, “This is not the place to be ladies. You have other options. We can help you. We can do free ultrasounds. We can help you. You don’t need to go here. You need to just turn around and come to us.” And then another guy was yelling through the megaphone and honestly I don’t even remember what it was that he was saying, because I was listening to the other one closer to us.68

While she described multiple people yelling at her, the patient only hears the voice of “one guy,” who was standing in closest proximity to her. This physicality of sound contributed to her inability to tune out the speech and forced her into a position of nonconsensual listening.

Furthermore, the ways patients described their experiences show how people experience anti-abortion protesting as forms of harassment, bullying, verbal assault, and trauma. One middle-aged patient at the clinic said: “The protesters did and can make an impact, especially on the younger clients. I do understand that people have a right to choices, but this is a form of bullying and harassment. The protesters should be fined or jailed, for bullying is a crime.”69 Another patient said, “Verbal assault can get someone hurt. Signs are one thing, but verbal is overdoing it.”70 A response that came up frequently among patients was that protesters did not know what people’s emotional states were arriving at the clinic, and therefore what impact their rhetoric might have. As one patient put it:

They don’t know what nobody be going through, and there was one girl that was out there yelling at them. And I was like, you know, that could be anybody. They don’t know where people are at emotionally, and they yell at the wrong person they might get punched in the face or something. And I was about to run over them if they got in my way, and tap them with my car to make them move out of my way.71

Anti-abortion protesting affects each person differently, based on their personal experience and current mental state. Many people who experienced anti-abortion protest speech as violence against themselves responded by expressing intentions of violent retaliation against the protesters, such as “running them over,” “drop-kicking them,” “punching them in the face,” “fucking them up,” or “meeting them on the street later.” The connection between experiencing sonic violence and retaliatory statements of violence demonstrates how abortion clinics can become the setting for rhetorical or even physical violence between patients and their companions and protesters.

The sounds of the protesters not only enact violence on patients entering the clinic but also have socio-emotional and bodily effects for those who work at the clinic every day. When checking in one morning a patient said, “It’s rough out there today. They were yelling at me and all kinds of crazy stuff.”72 The clinic manager told her to “just ignore them,” and she replied, “yea, but I think those other workers have it even harder than us or y’all, because they were getting the worst of it.”73 While patients entering the clinic typically interact with protesters for a few minutes, navigating past the protesters as they drive up and walk in, volunteer escorts stand outside for hours, usually until all of the patients have arrived and checked into the clinic. This entails several hours of listening to protesters yell not only at patients but also at the escorts themselves.

The following is a quote from an interview with an escort who had been volunteering at the clinic every Saturday for two years:

Every Saturday I have to decompress in some form. For days when it's really bad, I usually can’t do anything for the rest of the day. I am so mentally, emotionally, and physically drained that the rest of my Saturday is completely wasted. I usually curl up on the sofa and just watch TV for the rest of the day. I guess the most impactful self-care that I have is probably like going home and showering it off. During the summer, I’m showering off sweat and protesters’ spit, because when they yell they spit on me—not directly on me, it's just what comes out of their mouth as they’re yelling [while standing] over me, so I’m showering all that off. Sometimes I feel the need to describe the day to my husband, and that usually ends with me like sobbing and him trying to comfort me. Sometimes I just have to yell about it, to yell out my frustrations.74

This quotation emphasizes the embodied experience of sonic violence. Many escorts stand right next to protesters, within a foot, using their bodies as a barrier between protesters and patients; this physical proximity means being sprayed with saliva from the protesters who are projecting their voices toward the patients walking in. While some escorts may wear headphones to attempt to drown out what protesters are saying, they cannot block out all sounds (since they need to be alert to the sonic dissent and potential threats from the protesters). Volunteer escorts are subjected to hours of yelling at and over them, not all of which they can ignore. The cumulative impact of this sonic violence is often felt by clinic staff and volunteers, who are subject to daily violence.

Legislating Anti-Abortion Protest Sound

Anti-abortion protesters’ sonic assaults remain largely unregulated. The clinic has little recourse, as their attempts at requesting city and state regulation of protesters are often stymied by concerns about violating protesters’ freedom of speech. The debut in the early 1990s of protester regulations (e.g., buffer zones, bubble zones, and injunctions) ushered in debates about the First Amendment that continue to the present day.75 Despite their early success, protester regulations have resulted in various and inconsistent rulings; anti-abortion protesters insist that their speech cannot be muted. However, the First Amendment supports the rights of abortion patients and passersby in public space: Although speakers’ rights tend to prevail if “captive audiences” (patients) can reasonably avoid their speech in public forums, if they cannot avoid their speech (which is the case when entering most clinics), the First Amendment allows the government to prohibit “offensive” speech.76 Abortion advocates and clinics assert that their patients are indeed “captive audiences” and that the medical procedure of abortion necessitates insulation from the public forum.77

Even if a clinic obtains a buffer or bubble zone, it is unlikely that the ruling will significantly quiet the protesters—often, they just yell louder or use amplification equipment. Additionally, patients and escorts are not the only “captive audience” for the protesters, as the surrounding communities of the clinic are forced to listen to protester noise. For example, the sounds of protesters infiltrate facilities near abortion clinics (businesses, schools, physicians’ offices). At one clinic in the Southeast, escorts said that no one ever drives down their street unless they’re headed to the clinic, because everyone in the neighborhood tries to avoid the noise.78 The clinics themselves are often blamed for the protester noise instead of the actual protesters.79

Cohen and Joffe describe how some clinics have successfully combated the cacophony penetrating the clinicscape with noise ordinances and injunctions.80 Noise ordinances and injunctions can take many forms, including the prohibition of noise that exceeds a certain decibel, noise made by amplification devices, and noise that “disturbs the peace.”81 Some ordinances apply to entire cities or towns, while some apply only within a certain distance from a medical facility. Many localities have noise ordinances and some places have enacted them as a direct response to anti-abortion protester noise with variable success. One clinic that succeeded in passing an ordinance for their center (and all healthcare facilities in their area) focused on the negative effect noise had on patients’ health and safety.82 In their case, a group of physicians testified to the ways in which noise can increase patients’ anxiety and can raise blood pressure. As a result, a doctor may need to increase the sedation medication for the patient, which increases patient risk.83 The passing of the ordinance successfully halted the continued use of sound amplification outside the clinic. However, anti-abortion protesters still yell and harass patients.

Noise ordinances tend to prevail in courts—especially since the 1994 Supreme Court precedent that states: “‘The First Amendment does not demand that patients at a medical facility undertake herculean efforts to escape the cacophony of political protests. If oversimplified loudspeakers assault the citizenry, the government may turn them down.’”84 However, ordinances can be difficult to enforce due to law enforcement’s reluctance to write citations, their inability or hesitancy to consistently monitor clinics, and/or their disinclination to enter First Amendment litigation.85 Typically, as described in our introductory fieldnote, protester noise (and the acute violence it actualizes) is often left unregulated and trivialized as everyday, innocuous speech.


Sound, like the fetuses it endeavors to “protect,” is unseen by the naked eye. Yet unlike the unseen fetuses they endeavor to protect, anti-abortion protest sounds are not regulated nearly as extensively by governing entities. As discussed in this paper, even the noise ordinances and sound regulations set in place are not actually enforced by local police. The following fieldnote example demonstrates this issue:

In May 2018, I visited a clinic in the Southeast that was surrounded by hundreds of protesters who had set up a row of speakers facing the clinic, through which they could broadcast the sounds of their singing, music-making, preaching, and worshipping. A city noise ordinance permits amplified sound up to 75 decibels as long as the sound-making organization has successfully applied for a sound permit. I approached a police officer who was measuring the sound levels in the clinic parking lot and saw that the reading on his decibel meter exceeded the 75 dB limit. But when I asked him what he intended to do about it, he said he would only intervene “if things get really bad.” I could still hear the sounds of the protest even when I entered the clinic waiting room and shut the door behind me.86

Sound levels can be a crucial, though slippery, form of evidence even at protest sites where amplified sound is prohibited entirely. This became evident in a recent court case in New York state, in which clinic escorts partnered with the attorney general’s office in filing a motion for an injunction to have a buffer zone put in place outside the clinic. Ultimately the case was lost; despite hundreds of hours of surveillance footage, the “burden of proof” of harassment was not met. In her decision, the judge stated, “Several of the videos…are of little utility, because there is no audio.”87 Similarly, as the police officer in our introductory anecdote put it, “you often can’t tell from the video.” In other words, visual documentation of harassment is meaningless without the aural dimension providing a multisensory context. Therefore, a first step toward dismantling anti-abortion sonic patriarchy would be to document audio just as scrupulously as soundless video security footage. Clinic escorts, legal observers, and other clinic affiliates can use sound as a tool for combatting the weaponized sounds of the protesters.

The outward, visual appearance of these exchanges should not distract from the violent nature of anti-abortion harassment, nor should their brevity. Interactions between abortion clinic patients and anti-abortion protesters are brief—sometimes only lasting a few seconds—yet as the affective responses of the patients have demonstrated, these interactions can still be a site of violence and trauma. Sound studies scholarship must consistently take into account the linguistic content and the political context of the sounds it discusses. Masculinist approaches to sound studies refer to “the sounds in themselves,” as if each sound can be boiled down to an ontological essence that remains the same for all hearers and in all circumstances.88 However, the situatedness of any sound is imperative for understanding its cultural implications, especially given that language (in these situations audible, spoken language) perpetuates gendered norms and sexual domination.89 The sound of a person speaking (or even yelling) is not inherently “violent.” But such a sound certainly becomes violent when it occurs within the decades-long narrative of the anti-abortion movement. Therefore, building on Cusick, we can state that the protesters possess “acoustical agency” not (only) because they are the sound-making agents but also because they are using sound as a verbal expression of their embodied, patriarchal, political agency.90 In sum: The protesters’ speech acts are upsetting not only because they are loud and unexpected but also because of their intent, content, and political context.

The protesters dominate the sound world outside abortion clinics as a means of denying political and acoustical agency of those in earshot. At what point does their “right to free speech” equate to a “right to be heard”? And at what point does a protester’s “right to be heard” trump a listener’s “right not to hear”? When we think about listening, we typically assume the positionality of the listener to be one of consent. But abortion clinic patients have not consented to the sounds that harangue them on their way to their appointments, and these sounds are typically unavoidable to those attempting to reach the clinic entrance. The authors have not once witnessed a protester ask for a patient’s consent before carrying out their various sonic performances. In fact, patients often shake their heads or verbalize the words “no thank you,” attempting to refuse the “counseling” offered by the protesters—but these verbalizations are ignored. The protesters’ repeated unwanted vocalizations constitute a type of aural assault. The listeners’ embodied experience of these speech acts shapes the way they are perceived, not only as noise, but as gendered sonic violence.

We have explored many instances in which sound becomes violent through a lack of regard for the hearers’ consent, in addition to the politicized context in which these sounds are heard. Nonconsensual sound does not have to occur in extreme circumstances, such as war or imprisonment, for it to count as violence. Anti-abortion protesters use sound to shape and control the space outside of clinics. Their anti-abortion posters make seen the otherwise unseen, and their shouting forces patients to hear. And while patients can avert their eyes from the poster images, their options are more limited when it comes to the sonic component of these protests. The protesters’ shouted words enact an interruption on ears that the protesters claim are closed to the voices of unborn children. Anti-abortion protest sounds are used to “perform” the voice of the fetus; they intimidate; they harass; they traumatize. This article has indicated the myriad ways in which sound becomes a tool for violence within the anti-abortion movement. We hope that this will serve as a first step toward more effectively governing and regulating the sounds of sonic patriarchy outside abortion clinics



Each section has been written by one of three coauthors: Lentjes—Theoretical Framework, Sound Worlds of Anti-Abortion Protest, Conclusion; Alterman—Megaphonic Harassment, Overview of Anti-Abortion Violence, Legislating Anti-Abortion Protest Sound; Arey—Introduction, Methodology, Affective Responses to Sound.


Names and identifying information have all been altered to protect research participants.


Clinic escorts are volunteers who walk into the clinic with people seeking abortion care, past anti-abortion protesters; they often carry umbrellas to shield people from the view of the protesters.


The race of protesters, clinic escorts, and staff can be a factor in police enforcement outside of abortion clinics; however, sound ordinances are rarely enforced against any party, regardless of the race of the complainant or violator. We want to acknowledge that Black, male bodies are policed differently than their white counterparts in public spaces. In this instance, the police were called by majority white-presenting, female escorts, and the protest group in question was composed primarily of Black, male protesters; however, the officer primarily engaged with the white, female protester who was a member of this protest group and expressed to the ethnographer that she was the most reasonable member of the group. Across our fieldwork there were numerous other instances of inequalities in policing, such as Black abortion clinic owners discussing their unequal treatment by police in comparison with the white, evangelical protesters who surrounded their clinics.


Arey, fieldnotes, December 2018.


Safe zones or buffer zones are spaces where protesters stand farther back from the clinic entrance and are physically separated from patients and clinic volunteers. These clinic protections are passed at the municipal level.


Established in 1994, the FACE Act criminalizes at the federal level the obstruction of access to or provision of reproductive health services by use of force, threat of force, or physical interference.


Arey, fieldnotes, December 2018.


Rebecca Lentjes, “Sounds of Life: Fetal Heartbeat Bills and the Politics of Animacy,” Sounding Out!, July 9, 2018,


Not all people who have abortions identify as women, including men, trans, and nonbinary persons.


There are a variety of legal standards used to understand verbal harassment, including true threat and incitement. In incitement cases, courts consider public nature, physical proximity, and timing of speech, and whether such speech has been historically followed by violence. See also Brooks Fuller, “Words, Wounds, and Relationships: Why Social Ties Matter to Free Speech in High-Conflict Protests,” Journalism & Communication Monographs 21, no. 3 (2019): 168–258; Mari Matsuda, Words That Wound: Critical Race Theory, Assaultive Speech, and the First Amendment (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1993).


Our use of the term “speech acts” is informed by anthropology literature such as J. L. Austin, How to Do Things with Words (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1962); Michelle Z. Rosaldo, “The Things We Do with Words: Ilongot Speech Acts and Speech Act Theory in Philosophy,” Language in Society 11, no. 2 (August 1982): 203–37; Alessandro Duranti, The Anthropology of Intentions: Language in a World of Others (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015). We are also thinking alongside philosophers such as Judith Butler and Adriana Cavarero, who have written on “speech acts” and vocality in relation to gender domination and proliferating power structures through which gendered voices command authority and perpetuate gender roles even within mundane, everyday contexts. See Judith Butler, “Performative Acts and Gender Constitution: An Essay in Phenomenology and Feminist Theory,” Theatre Journal 40, no. 4 (December 1988): 519–31; Adriana Cavarero, For More Than One Voice: Toward a Philosophy of Vocal Expression (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2005).


Lentjes, “Sounds of Life.”


For more on the subject of religious noise, see Isaac Weiner, Religion Out Loud: Religious Sound, Public Space, and American Pluralism (New York: New York University Press, 2013).


Rebecca Lentjes, “Gendered Sonic Violence from the Waiting Room to the Locker Room,” Sounding Out!, October 31, 2016,


In recent years, sound studies scholars have begun grappling with the intersections of music, sound, and violence. These scholars have demonstrated the ways in which sound-making—frequently thought of as an expression of agency—is used in certain contexts as a tool for the suppression of agency. See, for instance, Suzanne G. Cusick, “‘You are in a place that is out of the world…’: Music in the Detention Camps of the ‘Global War on Terror,’” Journal of the Society for American Music 2, no. 1 (February 2008): 1–26; J. Martin Daughtry, Listening to War: Sound, Music, Trauma, and Survival in Wartime Iraq (New York: Oxford University Press, 2015); Steve Goodman, Sonic Warfare: Sound, Affect, and the Ecology of Fear (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2009); Daphne Carr, “Sound Protocol: Street Medic Prevention and Treatment of Sonic Injury,” presented at “Music and/as Discipline,” March 10, 2017, CUNY Graduate Center, New York, NY.


Lauren Berlant, Cruel Optimism (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2011).


Anne Carson, Glass, Irony & God (New York: New Directions Press, 1995).


Laura Mulvey, “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema,” Screen 16, issue 3 (October 1975): 6–18.


Lisa Mitchell, “Baby's First Picture: Ultrasound and the Politics of Fetal Subjects,” in Gender, Identity & Reproduction: Social Perspectives, eds. Sarah Earle and Gayle Letherby (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2003).


Faye Ginsburg, “The ‘Word-Made’ Flesh: The Disembodiment of Gender in the Abortion Debate,” in Uncertain Terms: Negotiating Gender in American Culture, eds. Faye Ginsburg and Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing (Boston: Beacon Press, 1992), 67.


See, for instance: Lauren Berlant, “America, ‘Fat,’ the Fetus,” boundary 2 21, no. 3 (Autumn 1994): 145–95; Ann Kaplan, “Look Who's Talking, Indeed: Fetal Images in Recent North American Visual Culture,” in Mothering: Ideology, Experience, and Agency, eds. Evelyn Nakano Glenn, Grace Chang, and Linda Rennie Forcey (New York: Routledge, 1994), 121–38; Rosalind Petchesky, “Fetal Images: The Power of Visual Culture in the Politics of Reproduction,” Feminist Studies 13, no. 2 (Summer 1987): 263–92; Peggy Phelan, Unmarked: The Politics of Performance (New York: Routledge, 1993).


Sybile Penhirin, “At an Abortion Clinic: Protesters, Patients, and Escorts,” NY City Lens, February 12, 2014,


Guttmacher Institute, “State Bans on Abortion Throughout Pregnancy (as of May 1, 2020),”, (accessed May 23, 2020). See also Rosemary Candelario, “Transvaginal Sound: Politics and Performance” S&F Online, 11, no. 3 (Summer 2013); Lentjes, “Sounds of Life”; Amanda Nell Edgar, “The Rhetoric of Auscultation: Corporeal Sounds, Mediated Bodies, and Abortion Rights,” Quarterly Journal of Speech 103, no. 4 (2017): 350–71.


Methods were independently approved by IRB protocols at the authors’ respective institutions.


The term independent abortion clinic means that a clinic is privately owned. These clinics provide 58% of all abortions in the U.S. See also Abortion Care Network, “Communities Need Clinics: Independent Abortion Care Providers and the Landscape of Abortion Care in the United States” (2019).


We would like to acknowledge our racial privilege as white women, and to highlight that Black bodies and voices are policed differently in public spaces.


George E. Marcus, “Ethnography in/of the World System: The Emergence of Multi-Sited Ethnography,” Annual Review of Anthropology 24, no. 1 (1995): 95–117.


Charles R. Hale, “Activist Research v. Cultural Critique: Indigenous Land Rights and the Contradictions of Politically Engaged Anthropology,” Cultural Anthropology 21, no. 1 (2006): 104.


See also Christa Craven and Dána-Ain Davis, eds, introduction to Feminist Activist Ethnography: Counterpoints to Neoliberalism in North America (Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2013), 4; Faye Harrison, Outsider Within: Reworking Anthropology in the Global Age (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2008).


Julia Chinyere Oparah and Margo Okazawa-Rey, eds, introduction to Activist Scholarship: Antiracism, Feminism, and Social Change (New York: Routledge, 2016), 3.


Identifying information from all audio recordings and fieldnotes has been removed to protect patients’, staffs’, volunteers’, and protesters’ privacy.


See Judith Butler, “Performative Acts and Gender Constitution: An Essay in Phenomenology and Feminist Theory,” Theatre Journal 40, no. 4 (1988): 519–31; Stanton E. F. Wortham and Angela Reyes, Discourse Analysis Beyond the Speech Event (New York: Routledge, 2015); Georgina Born, ed, Music, Sound and Space: Transformations of Public and Private Experience (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013).


Carole Joffe, Dispatches from the Abortion Wars: The Costs of Fanaticism to Doctors, Patients, and the Rest of Us (Boston: Beacon Press, 2009).




Jennefer A. Russo, Kristin L. Schumacher, and Mitchell D. Creinin, “Antiabortion Violence in the United States,” Contraception 86, no. 5 (2012): 562–66.


Faye D. Ginsburg, Contested Lives: The Abortion Debate in an American Community (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1989); Ziad Munson, The Making of Pro-life Activists: How Social Movement Mobilization Works (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008), 18.


David S. Cohen and Carole Joffe, Obstacle Course: The Everyday Struggle to Get an Abortion in America (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2020).


Often overtly or covertly evangelical Christian, Crisis Pregnancy Centers (CPCs) are nonprofit organizations, created with the primary goal of convincing women to continue their pregnancies. See Amy Bryant and Erika E. Levi, “Abortion Misinformation from Crisis Pregnancy Centers in North Carolina,” Contraception 86, no. 6 (2012): 752–56.


Cohen and Joffe, Obstacle Course, 116.


National Abortion Federation, “Violence Statistics & History,” 2020,


Feminist Majority Foundation, “2018 National Clinic Violence Survey,” 2019,


FMF has measured clinic violence through their National Clinic Violence Survey every two years since 1993. They categorize anti-abortion violence into three main categories: severe violence, severe harassment, and targeted intimidation and threats. Feminist Majority Foundation, “2018 National Clinic Violence Survey,” 2.


Ibid., 3.


Diana Greene, Katrina Kimport, Heather Gould, Sarah C. M. Roberts, and Tracy A. Weitz, “Effect of Abortion Protesters on Women’s Emotional Response to Abortion,” Contraception 87, no. 1 (2013): 81–87.


Cohen and Joffe, Obstacle Course, 114.


Rebecca J. Mercier, Mara Buchbinder, and Amy Bryant, “TRAP Laws and the Invisible Labor of US Abortion Providers,” Critical Public Health 26, no. 1 (2016): 77–87.


Cohen and Joffe, Obstacle Course, 142.


James Risen and Judy L. Thomas, Wrath of Angels: The American Abortion War (New York: Basic Books, 1999), 91.


David S. Cohen and Krysten Connon, Living in the Crosshairs: The Untold Stories of Anti-abortion Terrorism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015), 87.


People of the State of New York v. Kenneth Griepp, et al., 17-CV-3706 (Eastern District of New York 2018), 18.


Peggy Phelan, “White Men and Pregnancy: Discovering the Body to Be Rescued,” in Acting Out: Feminist Performances, eds. Lynda Hart and Peggy Phelan (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1993), 387.


Elinor Ochs, “Indexing Gender,” in Rethinking Context: Language as an Interactive Phenomenon, eds. Alessandro Duranti and Charles Goodwin (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992), 339.


Cavarero, For More than One Voice, 3.


Nina Sun Eidsheim, “Sensing Voice: Materiality and the Lived Body in Singing and Listening,” Senses & Society 6, no. 2 (2011): 149.


Carson, Glass, Irony, & God.


Carol Mason, Killing for Life: The Apocalyptic Narrative of Pro-Life Politics (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2002), 47.


Phelan, “White Men and Pregnancy,” 385.


Lentjes, fieldnotes, September 2016.


Alterman, fieldnotes, September 2019.


Whitney Arey, “Real Men Love Babies: Protest Speech and Masculinity at Abortion Clinics in the Southern United States,” NORMA (2020): 1–16.


Cohen and Joffe, Obstacle Course.


Ibid., 145.


Arey, Qualitative Survey Responses.






Diana Greene Foster, The Turnaway Study: Ten Years, a Thousand Women, and the Consequences of Having—or Being Denied—an Abortion (New York: Scribner, 2020), 80.


Arey, interviews 2018–2019.








Arey, fieldnotes, December 2018.




Arey, interviews 2018–2019.


For further delineation between buffer zones, bubble zones, and injunctions, see Cohen and Joffe, Obstacle Course; Joshua C. Wilson, The Street Politics of Abortion: Speech, Violence, and America’s Culture Wars (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2013).


Wilson, The Street Politics of Abortion, 25.


Ibid., 26.


Alterman, fieldnotes, September 2019.


Cohen and Joffe, Obstacle Course, 128.


Ibid., 133–36.


Ibid., 134.






Ibid., 136.


Ibid., 134–36.


Lentjes, fieldnotes, May 2018.


People of the State of New York v. Kenneth Griepp et al., 50.


The concept of “the sound itself” has been utilized by Pierre Schaeffer, Michel Chion, and others; an argument against the knowability of sound can be found in Tara Rodgers, “Toward a Feminist Epistemology of Sound: Refiguring Waves in Audio-Technical Discourse,” in Engaging the World: Thinking After Irigaray, ed. Mary Rawlinson (Albany: SUNY Press, 2016).


Judith Butler, Gender Trouble (New York: Routledge, 1990). See also literature on indexicality and gender, such as Michael Silverstein, “Language and the Culture of Gender: At the Intersection of Structure, Usage, and Ideology,” in Semiotic Mediation: Sociocultural and Psychological Perspectives, eds. Elizabeth Mertz and Richard Parmentier (New York: Academic Press, 1985): 219–59.


Suzanne Cusick, “An Acoustemology of Detention in the ‘Global War on Terror,’” in Music, Sound and Space: Transformations of Public and Private Experience, ed. Georgina Born (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013), 289.