- Associated Press - Wednesday, August 13, 2014

(For use by New York Times News Service Clients)

c.2013 Houston Chronicle< On nearly every weekday morning between late 2010 and this spring, Eileen Romano stood outside a Beaumont abortion clinic to do what she could to fight a procedure she saw as morally wrong.

Unlike traditional so-called sidewalk advocates, however, Romano did not simply try to talk the women who arrived out of having their abortions. She also sought to get the clinic closed with a tactic that is becoming increasingly common in the Texas anti-abortion community: tracking license plates.

Romano wrote down the numbers on the cars that parked outside the facility, checking to ensure the plates showed up twice - for a pre-abortion consultation required by state law and the procedure itself. If a car only came once, she said, it was a sign the doctor had done the abortion without a consultation, and the 63-year-old activist made a note to potentially report to state regulators.

Before the clinic closed in March, Romano estimated that she documented nearly 7,000 license plates. She still has the records.

”We never used the license plate numbers to delve in someone’s personal life. Never. That was not the purpose of it,” Romano said. “The purpose was tracking and keeping tabs on the numbers and what was going on.”

The tactic and other ways in which anti-abortion activists are taking legal enforcement into their own hands became public this week when opponents released audio of an event that drew about 350 people to the state Capitol to learn “what you can do to keep abortion facilities closed.” One trainer bragged that her group not only tracked patient license plates, but also used plates to identify abortion doctors to see if they had admitting privileges at a nearby hospital, as required by law.

”We have a very sophisticated spreadsheet,” said the trainer, Karen Garnett, executive director of the Catholic Pro-Life Committee, adding, “You have license plates, car model, make, description of the person.”

Abortion-rights supporters in Texas and across the country denounced the tactics, calling them a new iteration of a long pattern of harassment by anti-abortion activists that has in some cases ended in violence.

”No one appointed them law enforcement officials, or officials of the health department,” said Vicki Saporta, president of the National Abortion Federation. “It’s about intimidation.”

Spokeswomen for the Texas Medical Board and Department of State Health Services said their agencies investigate clinics based on citizen complaints but declined to comment about whether they encourage or discourage the tactics adopted by some anti-abortion activists.

Joe Pojman, executive director of the anti-abortion Texas Alliance for Life, said the tactics have become more common since a 2011 law requiring women to see a sonogram before getting an abortion and last summer’s approval of House Bill 2 over a nationally-watched filibuster.

Closing arguments

House Bill 2 was back in court Wednesday for closing arguments in a challenge to the admitting privileges requirement and a separate provision set to take effect Sept. 1 that would require abortion facilities to comply with the standards of ambulatory surgical centers.

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