About 30 physicians and medical students gathered May 3 at the Ohio Statehouse to show their support for Dr. Amy Acton, a day after about 15 to 30 protesters gathered at her house to show their disapproval.
Katie R. Forbes, a freelance photographer, said she spoke with a neighbor of the Ohio Department of Health director, who told her he saw at least one person walking in Acton’s neighborhood with a gun.
“I asked if this has been happening a lot,” Forbes told the Cleveland Jewish News. “And he said this was the first large gathering, but there’s been one or two people there for a week or so now. And I asked him if he feels intimidated or how he feels about that living next to her, and he said that it’s more of a nuisance. But he became a little concerned with the men that were walking around with guns who said that they were not now looking for violence, but they just said, ‘for now.’”
About 10 to 15 clinic escorts, people who escort patients into clinics that offer abortion services to shelter them from protesters, stood on the tree lawn of Acton’s home on May 2 to support and protect her property, Forbes said.
“Most of the protesters were … on either side of the escorts,” she said. “They were definitely holding it down.”
Most of the protesters did not wear masks or keep social distance, Forbes said, nor did they make speeches at Acton’s Bexley's home. She said it was quiet and that they mostly held signs. A Bexley police officer was on site, as was Bexley Mayor Ben Kessler.
Forbes posted her photos on Twitter. As the protest at Acton’s home became known, the Physicians Action Network, representing doctors in Greater Columbus, decided to hold a rally in support of Acton the following day.
Dr. Anita Somani said the Physicians Action Network organized the rally in about six hours using the app Telegram.
At least one person made his presence felt at both protests, a man who rode a motorcycle and wore a vest with “Proud Boys” embroidered on it, Forbes said.
Gov. Mike DeWine addressed the protesters and efforts at intimidating Acton and the media at his May 4 press conference. A protester approached NBC4 reporter Adrienne Robbins April 30 and berated her for wearing a mask, saying that Robbins was "terrifying the general public."
“As I shared with all of you, Fran and I grew up in Yellow Springs,” the home of Antioch College. “We grew up in a town (that) values the First Amendment to a great extent. And as we were growing up, demonstrators were in Yellow Springs a lot, and so that is something we’re used to and something that we respect. And so I am fair game.”
He said it is not fair game “to disrespect” or “be obnoxious” to the news media.
“You should come after me,” he said. “Reporters, photographers who are doing nothing more than following that First Amendment. They’re informing the public about what you think, what you say and what you think is important. The best way for you to get that across is the news media’s going to cover you. But to treat them with disrespect, to not observe social distancing with them, to be just obnoxious, I just find that very, very sad.
“Let me say what else is not fair game,” he said. “I’m the elected official. I’m the one who ran for office. I’m the one who makes the policy decisions. Members of my cabinet, Dr. Acton included, work exceedingly, exceedingly hard. But I set the policy. So when you don’t like the policy, again demonstrate against me. That is certainly fair game. But to bother the family of Dr. Acton, I don’t think that’s fair game. I don’t think that’s right. I don’t think it’s necessary to get your point across. You can get your point across very, very easily any day of the week with demonstrations of what I am doing and what policies you disagree with.”
At the May 3 Statehouse rally, physicians first stood near the steps wearing signs. They wore masks and held twine cut in six-foot lengths to maintain social distance.
“There is a lot of pushback to social distancing, taking care of people by staying home,” Somani said during the rally. “And we need to reinforce Dr. Acton and Gov. DeWine’s message: Social distancing works. We know that from history. We know that staying safe and taking care of our patients will help all of us. And we know that the people who oppose that don’t understand that science is important. Science matters. Facts matter. Taking care of ourselves by wearing masks, social distancing as we all have done today and by talking to our patients – letting them know we’re there for them and we understand the economic difficulties that people are going through. Some of us as small business owners are facing those same difficulties.”
The group then walked to High Street and lined a block with signs. People honked and waved as they drove by in support.
More than 400 comments were logged on the group’s Facebook page by mid-afternoon May 4 expressing a range of views. Some people chided those involved in the rally for failing to follow the governor’s stay-at-home order. Others thanked the group for their work and their support. Still others expressed rage and indignation at the gesture.
Somani said she has decided not to respond to what she called “the trolls.”
Noting that Acton is Jewish, Somani said, “I do think that’s part of why she’s targeted.”