I was talking to an old friend of mine yesterday, a doctor who used to perform abortions in the Midwest years ago. He retired in 2004 and in the course of the conversation we started talking about, as he put it, the “wild west days” when the bullets were flying and the bombs exploding at abortion clinics all across the country. He then expressed his concern that the younger activists do not remember or just simply did not know what was going on in this country at that time.
As a staff person for the National Coalition of Abortion Providers, I was in the middle of it all. Our office served as one of the “command posts” that sprung into action when the crap hit the fan. The minute we got the news about a shooting or any other kind of violent act, we would send out an “Emergency Fax” to all of our clinics alerting them about the incident. The main reason why we did this was to simply let them know that one of their colleagues had been involved in some heinous act and more often than not the other clinics would communicate their concerns and well wishes to their friends who had just joined the growing number of victims of anti-abortion violence. In essence, we generated a nationwide group hug.
After talking to this doctor, I started to think about the particularly “bad” years and 1997-1998 was a period that really stuck out in my mind. Yes, by that time several doctors had been murdered and other acts of violence had been committed, but this time period was a particularly bad one:
In January, 1997, a bomb exploded outside an office building in Atlanta that housed an abortion clinic. Then, an hour later, while the police and rescue workers were still on the scene, another bomb exploded near a trash can. Seven people were injured;
In March, a Molotov cocktail was thrown into the window of Family Planning Associates and an anti-abortion advocate drove his truck through the doors of another clinic in the area. Two weeks later, four fires were set on the roof of the Mountain Country Women’s Clinic in Montana;
In May, an arsonist drove up to the Lovejoy Surgi-Center, ran a hose from a metal drum containing an unidentified flammable liquid into the clinic and ignited it. A month later, an incendiary device was thrown through a hole cut into the air conditioning duct on the roof of the West Alabama Women’s Center;
A few months later, a bomb exploded at the New Woman All Women Health Care in Alabama killing an off duty policeman and critically injuring a nurse. Five months later, in the space of one week there were eight butyric acid attacks on clinics in Florida. In these cases, the assailant injected the acid into the clinic using a syringe and because of the horrific and noxious smell, the clinics had to be evacuated, washed down and closed for several days. This incident started a spate of similar attacks over the next few months;
Towards the end of 1998, my good friend, Doctor Barnett Slepian, was murdered in upstate New York when anti-abortion activist James Kopp fired a shot through a window in his house.
This list is, of course, a small sampling of what was going on in those days. And, as I read this list and recall the people involved, I honestly do get chills. I can remember the fear, the loss, the insanity and the sense of helplessness that overwhelmed all of us.
Today, there is less violence when compared to those days but that is no consolation. History can repeat itself and so every so often I intend to write about an incident or two in more detail in the hopes of reminding those coming up behind us of the sacrifices made by the doctors, the staff and others in defending the right to choose abortion. I also look forward to seeing our friends in the pro-life movement condemning the violence.