Late March, 1997.
A little over one hundred abortion clinic doctors, owners and staff people trekked to Washington, D.C. like battle-scarred soldiers returning from a great war. For years, they had been under siege by pro-life terrorists who felt they had permission from their personal God to inject noxious butyric acid into clinic’s keyholes, bomb abortion facilities, make daily threatening phone calls and even kill abortion doctors.
Then, just a few weeks earlier, the national debate over the so-called “Partial Birth” abortion procedure blew wide open when a rift developed between abortion providers and pro-choice groups over how frequently the procedure had been used and in what circumstances. Tensions between the groups were at an all time high. And now, members of the National Coalition of Abortion Providers, whose Executive Director, Ron Fitzsimmons, in an attempt to tell the truth about that abortion procedure had precipitated the firestorm, were coming to Washington, D.C. for their annual national convention.
As they were setting the agenda for the meeting a few weeks earlier, NCAP staff came up with an idea to rally the beleaguered troops. They suggested that, as the last item of business for the three day conference, the entire group go to the U.S. Supreme Court for a picture.
In retrospect, it may not have been the most original idea but it was new to this group who often worked in the shadows. Normally, they were not prone to exposing themselves in a public way. They rarely, if ever, congregated as a group in a spot that would make them a convenient target for would-be terrorists. But, with some of their colleagues bailing out because of an impending snowstorm, those that remained dressed for the occasion and cabbed up to Capitol Hill for their group shot.
As the professional photographer composed the shot, you could feel the excitement grow. You got the sense that at least for those few moments they had nothing to hide and it was as if they could feel the presence of Justice Harry Blackmun, the author of Roe v. Wade, the decision that legalized abortion in 1973. The photographer had to take a number of pictures, but you got the feeling that the group could have stood there for hours.
Over the next 6 years, as a member of the NCAP staff, I visited many abortion facilities and was continually greeted by a framed picture of the group in front of the Supreme Court hanging in the clinic waiting room or the administrator’s office. Yes, over the years a number of those pictured have left us, like Doctor George Tiller and NCAP founder, Susan Hill. But as I look at that picture, which is now hanging in my study, I remember that it was a great step forward, that it was a moment when this group of abortion providers were able to stand roudly in front of the building that had been the source of a legal decision that legitimized their work and proved to be a giant leap forward for women’s health.
- Impact of state anti-abortion laws hard to gauge (seattletimes.nwsource.com)
- Mallory McDuff, Ph.D.: Pro-life Argument Deserves Hearing in Mercury Ruling (huffingtonpost.com)