Clinton Signing a Document

September, 1993.

Six months after the assassination of Doctor David Gunn.

I was sitting at my desk in the offices of the National Coalition of Abortion Providers, thinking about the memorial we were going to hold in Pensacola, Florida in March to commemorate the first anniversary of David’s brutal murder.  We had decided, with some trepidation, to have an open air event with our doctors and clinic staff at the site where David was killed earlier that year.

We knew it was going to be an extremely emotional and solemn event and those who had decided to go were clearly on edge.  I’ve always had a flair for the dramatic so I started thinking about something I could do to make this event one that they would never forget.  So, I picked up the phone and called a friend of mine who worked at the White House.

After exchanging a few pleasantries, I said “Betsy, we’re doing this event in March of next year and I think the President should send our folks a message of support.”  You could hear a pin drop.  You see, at that point it was clear that President Clinton was pro-choice but to ask him to actually acknowledge the work of abortion doctors was taking things to a whole new level.   No president had ever even mentioned the doctors and staff who worked in our clinics.  It was the same old story:  you could say you were pro-choice but no politician would actually talk about abortion, especially the President.  So, I knew I was pushing the envelope.

“Are you out of your mind?” she asked.

I then went on for another few minutes and, at the end of the conversation she said “let me see what I can do.”

The conversations went on for weeks but to me the good news was that they were still going on.  By December, no one in the White House chain had said “no.”  Then, in early January, Betsy called me and said “I still cannot promise anything, we’re going back and forth on this but why don’t you draft something up for us?’  Within two hours I had drafted a letter from President Bill Clinton praising the doctors and staff for the work they performed.  I gulped and faxed it over to her.

Several more weeks went by and I heard nothing.  By now, the details of the event were all set.  We planned on having the outdoor ceremony at the site of David’s murder and, after some remarks by staff people who worked for David Gunn, I would give a speech.  It was my hope to start it off by reading this first of its kind letter from the President of the United States.

A few days before we were going to fly to Pensacola, I still hadn’t heard anything.  I kept calling and getting no response.  I figured it was done.  Then, the day before my flight Betsy called me. “We’re talking to him today about it.”   HIM?  As in the President?   Yep, she said casually.  My heart was in my throat.  And then I didn’t hear from her the rest of the day.

The next day my flight was scheduled to leave at 2:00 p.m.  At 10:30 Betsy called me and said “he approved the letter.”  I seriously had tears in my eyes when I asked her when it would get to the office.  “We just sent it by courier.”  Literally about 30 minutes before I had to leave, the letter in a White House envelope was in my hands and it stayed with me all the way down to Pensacola.

On the day of the event, as about 100 abortion providers sat outside in the Pensacola sun, I opened up the ceremony and announced that I “had a letter from a friend.”   Without identifying who the letter was from (no one was in on the secret except my staff), I started reading the letter which congratulated “those of you who offer abortion services to thousands and thousands of women each year.”  One person later told me that she thought I was going to announce that the letter was from some “lame pro-choice congressman.”

Then, towards the end of this wonderful letter, I read the last paragraph which started “So, Hillary and I want to extend to you…”  I could barely get the words out and the crowd collectively gasped.  I have the tape of this event you can hear one person say out loud “Holy Shit!”  I could see people actually crying as I (barely) finished the letter.

The President of the United States had finally recognized them.  In the years that followed, the President used other occasions to congratulate our group but by then it was “old hat.”  It was getting him to do it for the first time that took all the work – and it was worth it.

Today, the letter hangs on my wall.

Advertisements