Supreme Court


The Wichita Divide

Hyperbole.

I always liked that word, although it was years before I understood its meaning.  And, of course, like most Americans I always mispronounced it by saying “Hyper Bowl.”

Speaking of…yesterday, a friend of mine told me about yet another book on abortion called “The Wichita Divide: The Murder of Dr. George Tiller and the Battle over Abortion” by one Stephen Singular.  I will admit right up front that I have not read the book in its entirety and probably never will.   Immersed in the issue for years, I never read any of the books about abortion except – to be honest – to go to the index to see if I was mentioned.

So, I may be totally misrepresenting Mr. Singular’s thesis but the gist is that the city of Wichita and the state of Kansas are now hotbeds in the battle over abortion rights.  Actually, he refers to these spots as the hosts in a new “war.”  Other authors and columnists also commonly refer to the current state of the battle over abortion rights as a “war.”

Hyperbole.

I will admit that there may have been some semblance of a “war” in the 1980’s and 1990’s when abortion clinics were being bombed and abortion doctors were being stalked, threatened, attacked and killed.  It was domestic terrorism, pure and simple – and I was in the middle of it.  But I put the word “war” in quotes because, to me, a war is when two sides are engaged in the battle.  In that case, the bombs were being planted and the shots were being fired by one side only.  Yes, to be fair, the attacks were coming from a violent fringe of the anti-abortion movement, but it was a one-sided assault nonetheless.   We never shot back.

But, to define today’s situation in Wichita or the nation as a “war” is laughable.  Nationally, although there are some exceptions, the average abortion clinic no longer has to deal with anti-abortion protestors.  If they do, it’s usually a handful of octogenarians who barely have enough energy to yell “Don’t Kill Your Baby!”   After taking their morning medication, these “warriors” will grab their twenty year old sign, take the bus out to the clinic and, depending on the weather, stand out front in a pathetic effort to “save babies.”  Of course, the

y rarely succeed.  It’s actually a sorry scene compared to years ago when anti-abortion groups like Operation Rescue could conger up hundreds of people at a moment’s notice to block access to a clinic.  Protestors were regularly arrested and sent to jail.  On the other hand, I’ll bet you that not more than 10 people have been arrested in the last few years for blocking access to an abortion clinic.  At the same time, folks like Randall Terry, the founder of Operation Rescue, Joe Scheidler and Pat Mahoney have virtually disappeared.  In fact, here is a question for you:   can you name one national anti-abortion leader?

On the other side of the coin, the abortion clinic escort movement, which helped many women get through the crowds of pro-lifers, has also virtually disappeared.  Of course, that is good news in that there is no great need for these courageous folks who volunteered their time to help women obtain an abortion.

I have no doubt that another doctor will ultimately get killed, a clinic will be vandalized, and some staffer will one night get a death threat.  But – and I don’t mean to sound cavalier about this – this is part of the territory.  When a person signs up to work in an abortion clinic, they understand the risks.  It’s the same for a firefighter or a policeman.

But, despite the occasional incident carried out by some bored pro-lifer, for the life of me I cannot fathom how anyone can suggest that there is some kind of “war” in Wichita or anywhere else over the abortion issue.    It might sell a book or two, but it’s a totally silly suggestion.

Hyperbole.

No Sex

Okay, boys and girls.  Let’s talk about sex.

Now that I have your attention.

So, as we know, there are a whole bunch of people out there who would prefer to make abortion illegal in this country.  They would like to go back to the old days when far too many women were being transported to the hospital emergency rooms because of a self-induced abortion or one performed by a shady back-alley “abortionist.”  How they can place more value on the “life” of that fetus over a woman’s health is beyond me, but I respect thoughtful anti-abortion advocates and support their right to try to make abortion illegal again through the judicial or legislative process.   Knock yourself out.

But here’s what I don’t get.  There are also millions and millions of anti-abortion advocates who do not support birth control.   I guess they are just taking their marching orders from the Pope who, theoretically, never has sex.  So, these people are telling others that if they are going to have sex with their partner, then it has to be with the intention of producing a child.  Forget the condoms or the birth control pills.  That is VERBOTEN.

Now, my question is this – how often are these anti-abortion, anti-birth control wackos having sex?

Anti Abortion Rally

Let’s assume that Mary and John have been married for 10 years and, being good Catholics, they have sex only once a month.  Now, of course, they are not going to conceive every time they have sex.  That’s particularly true if they do not have intercourse and really go out on a limb by doing something else (which, I suspect, is probably enough to send you straight to hell).  But let’s say they have intercourse 7 times in a year.  So, what I’m starting to add up in my head is that they will have one child a year.  Now, I know this is not scientific but my point is at that rate – if everyone in the country suddenly because devout Catholics – we would beat the crap out of China in the population race, marking probably the only time we would beat China in anything.

I think what this all comes down to is anti-abortion folks who don’t support birth control probably don’t have much sex.  And that shouldn’t be too surprising.  I mean, have you been to an anti-abortion rally lately?  Have you looked at the crusty old men and the misshapen women who have suffered through ten pregnancies?  And talk about getting in the mood.  Can you imagine standing outside of a clinic for hours, screaming at women, fantasizing over the baby they think they’ve saved, then going home to have some furious post-demonstration sex?   I think not.  And that’s why it is easy for them to say “no” to artificial birth control because they are doing it naturally by not having sex!

The point that I want to make, of course, is that anti-abortion folks need to get real.  If you really want to stop abortion, it ain’t gonna happen by you standing outside a clinic with a bullhorn shouting “Don’t kill me, Mommy!  Don’t kill me!”  The way you will stop an abortion is by preventing the conception of the child in the first place.  That’s why I will always say that abortion clinics, because they counsel women on birth control and offer free samples, do more to stop abortion than anyone.

And the other thing I want to say to my friends in that movement is:  have some fun.  I am now 61 years old and my spouse is 57.  We still have sex several times a week in all kinds of places and all kinds of positions with all kinds of toys.  Saturday morning is our favorite time – the time that most demonstrators are out at a clinic.

Life is too short, folks.  Join the party before it is too late.

Dr. Finkel

After a while, we simply referred to him as “Finkel.”

I am referring to Doctor Brian Finkel who for many years owned an abortion facility in Phoenix, Arizona. He was an outspoken Ob-Gyn who performed abortions with a gun on his hip. He was one of the few doctors who would talk openly and honestly about his work. Check that, he never saw a microphone or television camera that he didn’t love. And today he is serving time in a county jail for sexually assaulting and molesting a number of his abortion patients. He will probably be there for the rest of his life.

I can’t remember when I first heard of Doctor Finkel, but I think it was when he called our office to inquire about how he could join the National Coalition of Abortion Providers. At that point, we had only three staff people, including me, so it was impossible to run a complete check to determine if he was a good doctor who was running a respectable clinic. Still, I did call a few people on my board but no one had ever heard of him. When I called him to talk about membership, I was impressed by his candor and his articulateness. And, truth be told, he was one of the funniest guys I had ever met.

We ultimately allowed him to join. What appealed to me was Finkel’s willingness to talk about his work. Around that time, the anti-abortion violence was really hitting the fan and our doctors were running in the opposite direction. They were either quitting their job altogether or at least going underground. But I needed doctors to talk, to share with the world their horror stories, to testify before the Congress, to tell the real story. And Finkel, who employed a professional speech writer, fit that bill.

Shortly after he joined NCAP, I visited him at this clinic. It was one of the more beautiful facilities I had ever seen, all decorated in a southwest motif. I quickly learned that he had an Elvis fixation, as his walls were adorned with all sorts of pictures and tapestries featuring The King. Indeed, Finkel referred to himself as “The Elvis of the Pelvis.” In person, I started to get a different perspective. He was rather short with his staff, often referring to them as “honey” or “sugar lips.” And in private conversations, he would regularly refer to “the bitches” who needed abortions. When he had to go into the surgery room, he would say he was going to “the vaginal vault.” He would refer to the “niggers” or “spics” who “didn’t know how to keep their legs closed.” The invectives flowed so smoothly out of his mouth that it stunned me to the point where at first I literally could not respond. I would ultimately admonish him and he would cool it for a while. Of course, being a total slob did not disqualify him from performing abortions and, again, I needed a doctor who had the balls to speak to the American public. I was very torn.

In 1994 NCAP decided to hold a press conference in Washington D.C. to urge the (Clinton) Administration to help protect abortion providers from the terrorism that was raging across the country and, with a gulp, I invited Finkel. He was a big hit. That night, our event was the first story on each of the network news shows and Finkel was the star because he was smart enough to know about props. At one point, he bent down behind his podium and held up his bullet proof vest to the cameras. “Mr. President, I need protection. I am just an Ob-Gyn in Phoenix Arizona, not an American ranger in Mogodishu.” After that, Finkel became a star. He and I were both on Good Morning America a few days after John Salvi killed several abortion clinic workers in Boston. He debated everyone, he was even on the Howard Stern show.

Behind the scenes, however, he kept telling me that the local District Attorney was out to “get him.” He even asked me to talk to the D.A., which I didn’t do. That’s because deep down I started to suspect that Finkel was a little wackier than I really thought. Then, in September 2001 everything hit the fan. That’s when a woman told a Phoenix newspaper that after undergoing an abortion in Finkel’s clinic she had woken up from sedation to find the doctor lying against her with his hands on her breasts. In the weeks and months that followed, more than 100 women reported similar allegations against Finkel to the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office, which charged him with more than 60 counts of sexual misconduct involving 35 different women and he was convicted on most of those charges. Finkel called me asking me to intervene on his behalf but I couldn’t do it. Of course, I couldn’t prove anything but I had just seen or heard too much over the years. To this day, I wonder if there was anything I could have done to prevent those women from being harmed.

Today, on Father’s Day, I get a letter from Finkel adorned with lots of wild doodling and numerous exclamation points. He tells me how he was “railroaded” and how “justice will soon be served.” His only remaining option is the U.S. Supreme Court. So Finkel, who is now in his sixties and has about 20 years on his sentence left, will probably die in prison.

Good riddance.

Lobbyists on Capitol Hill

“We must stand up to the special interests in this country!”

How many times have you heard a politician utter this phrase? Invariably, it is always followed with a rousing round of applause, perhaps even a standing ovation. Yes! Let’s get those blood sucking, sleazy lobbyists who represent those blood sucking, sleazy special interests! Lynch ‘em!

I don’t know who is more stupid – the politicians or the voters. Or maybe they both deserve each other.

So, who are these “special interests” that we all hate so much? Well, in the context of this world famous blog we need to recognize groups like the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League and the National Right to Life Committee. These groups spend hundreds and thousands of dollars (if not millions) each year promoting their agenda and/or fighting the other side’s scurrilous attempts to bring down our Republic. So, when President Obama or Speaker Boehner assure us that they will no longer cow-tow to the special interests, what exactly does that mean? I mean, it sounds really good, doesn’t it? But let’s get past the rhetoric and play this out for a second.

First of all, EVERYONE has some kind of special interest in something, don’t they? Of course they do. And, if I recall the First Amendment, EVERYONE has the right to express those interests to their Member of Congress or any other elected official. So, if Mark Jones of Brooklyn, New York writes a letter to his Congressman opposing higher taxes, he is expressing his views on an item of “special interest” to him. When Billy Bob Horsehide of Butte, Montana sends an email to his Senator about gays in the military, he is conveying his “special interest” in that issue. EVERYONE has a special interest in something so I don’t understand why everyone says we need to eliminate the “special interests.”

Then, let’s say that Mark Jones is also anti-abortion but he doesn’t have the time or perhaps inclination to write a letter expressing his opposition to the “legal killing” that is going on in this country. Instead, he sends $100 to the National Right to Life Committee. Then, the NRLC sends its cadre of lobbyists to Capitol Hill to meet with Members of Congress to express their concern for the “unborn.” Mark is only using a larger organization of like-minded individuals to convey his position on an issue of importance to him. What the hell is wrong with that? Is the NRLC one of those “special interests” that pro-life Speaker John Boehner would seek to eliminate? I think not.

Lobbyists

Then let’s take Obama. He also has made a big deal out of promising the American public that he also will eliminate those nasty “special interests.” Let me show you how absurd that notion is. Say pro-life Congressman Chris Smith introduces a bill that eliminates abortions after 24 weeks and the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee indicates that he would like to move the bill for a vote. The committee is primarily pro-life so there’s a good chance that the bill will pass. Are you telling me that when a staff person at the White House hears about this bill, he is just gonna sit back and not give it another thought? No way, Jose. In the real world, he will pick up the phone and call – dare I say it – the LOBBYIST for NARAL to get their thoughts on the prospects for this legislation which ultimately could wind up on the President’s desk. The staff person will ask the “experts” about the impact of the bill, he will ask if the pro-choice Members of Congress on the committee should offer some amendments to mitigate the impact of the proposal. In other words, the White House staff will actually strategize with their allies in the pro-choice movement. They may even have a meeting in the Old Executive Office building with all of the pro-choice lobbyists!

Indeed, that’s how it worked years ago when I was a LOBBYIST for the abortion provider movement. I was constantly in touch with President Clinton’s liaison with the “women’s groups.” The point is the White House or those on Capitol Hill do not work in a vacuum. Nor should they. So, all of this stuff about getting rid of the “special interests” is horse hockey, pure and simple. In fact, I would take it a step further – “special interest “ groups are part of our democratic system, they are a way for the little guy to join other like minded little guys and convey their message to their elected officials.

What the heck is wrong with that?

When I was at the National Coalition of Abortion Providers, one thing I did on a regular basis was have conversations with leaders of national anti-abortion organizations.  I did so in the hopes that they would get a better understanding of the abortion process, the abortion doctors and the women who desired abortions.  If I had any kind of agenda, it was the hope that if these leaders understood more about the reality of abortion, they might be more inclined to tone down their rhetoric a little (and thus be less likely to incite some would-be assassin).   Also, to be honest, it was a good way for me to test my debating skills.

One person I spoke to on a regular basis was Father Frank Pavone, the Director of “Priests for Life.”  We

Father Frank Pavone

met maybe twice a year formally and occasionally ran into each other at protests and other events.  I know that Frank was always grateful for my candor.  I have to admit it was often a one way conversation in that I was trying to educate him on why clinics did what they did.  Still, he always said that he got a lot out of our conversations, but who knows?

One day, during one of our meetings, he asked if I might be interested in meeting with a bunch of “his folks.”  Not being shy, I said I’d meet with anyone.  So, he invited me to come up to Staten Island to his “national headquarters” to meet with a group of his priests and staff.   I jumped at the opportunity.

When I arrived at his office I was warmly greeted by the receptionist and other staff.  I have no doubt they were alerted to the fact that I was coming.  I wasn’t nervous at all.  Indeed, I felt like some of them were more nervous than me.  I have to say I was excited about being in the “lion’s den.”  Frank eventually came out, got me a cup of coffee and we talked for a bit in his private office.  He then walked me down the hall to a large conference room.

Seated around a conference table were about 20 priests.  I sat at the head of the table.  It was a very strange feeling (as a former Catholic) to be surrounded by them but I was not nervous at all. I was totally ready for any of their questions.

I kidded around about being a “former Catholic” then went into a 20 minute monologue.  I talked about who our doctors were and what motivated them, I admitted that there were bad doctors that we wished we could close down, I confessed that our clinics are not perfect, that some women do ultimately regret their abortions, that abortion is a form of killing, that late term abortions, although rare, were “gross,” that I totally defended their right to protest at a clinic, that women know they are aborting some kind of “life”, that our clinics tried desperately to make sure the woman never came back, that some doctors do make a nice living but that a lot of them gave away their services, that the number of abortions fortunately was going down and that a number of clinic staff also talk to their local antis.

When I was done, I apologized for going on so long and said I’d be happy to answer any questions.

You could hear a pin drop.  Cue the crickets.

Indeed, it got very awkward so I chimed in and said “C’mon folks, hit me with everything you got!”  They chuckled and Frank looked around and said “any questions?”

Ultimately, one young priest shyly raised his hand and said “Do you know Doctor Tiller?

I said I did.  Waiting for some zinger about third trimester abortions, I braced myself for the follow-up.

“Well, what is he really like?”

This is it?   This was their tough question?

I answered the question but while I was talking, I realized what I had just done.  I had thought of practically every charge or accusation that they could come up with and answered all of them as honestly and candidly as possible.  I laid it all on the table.  Geez, I had told the priests that abortion was “killing” and, after that, they didn’t know what to say in response.

Ultimately, at one point some older priest with an edge to him asked me about the “partial birth abortion” procedure.  I first surprised him when I said that the procedure, as described by the anti-abortion movement, was basically accurate.  That surprised them because they were used to hearing the pro-choice groups say that there was no such thing as a “partial birth abortion.”  I said I don’t care what you call it but there is such a procedure.  I then I added that I felt that in some ways the PBA was a more “humane” form of abortion because the fetus was left intact and it gave the mother the opportunity to see it and say “goodbye.”

Again, crickets….

You could have cut it with a knife.

All in all, it was an exhilarating experience for me.  Frank later told me that it was “fascinating.”  Whether or not it made any difference is beyond me.  But what it did teach me is that advocates of abortion rights just need to be brutally honest about abortion, not try to sugarcoat things and just trust women to make the right decision.

Jennifer misses the action.

She misses the adrenaline rush, the nervous stomach, the sweaty palms.  She misses the television cameras, the high-powered meetings and the inspiring convention speeches.  She even misses the feeling of wondering if the person approaching her is her assassin.

Jennifer is a veteran of the abortion wars.

Protests

In the 1990’s, she ran a busy abortion clinic in Florida.  During those years, she experienced it all:  the swarms of protestors surrounding her clinic, the bombings, the daily telephone death threats, the butyric acid attacks, the stalking and, yes, the killings.  She was in the middle of the maelstrom.

Today, she works for a small non-profit organization, raising money for a good cause.  It’s a satisfying job but it’s not enough.  She misses the wars.

Now, I am no psychologist but after talking to her the other day I have developed a theory.  Just hear me out.

In her day, Jennifer commanded a lot of attention.  A physically stunning woman, she didn’t fit the stereotype of the beleaguered abortion clinic director or the hardcore feminist.  She swallowed up a room with her infectious laugh and turned a lot of heads.  She also thrived on being the center of attention.  She enjoyed the media interviews, testifying before the legislature and staring down those protestors who dared to think about closing her clinic.

After hours, Jennifer played hard.  She enjoyed her wine and her men.  She could drink her (mostly) male doctors under a table and the next day greet her patients with her dazzling smile.  She enjoyed calling the shots.  She even derived a sordid sense of satisfaction when she heard her protestors mumbling under their breath “there she is, that’s the one who runs the abortuary.”

Protests

Then she left her clinic to run another one in an inner city, a non-profit facility run by a board of directors.  Suddenly, she was reporting to a bunch of folks.  Then, the federal government passed several laws restricting the rights of protestors and things started getting quiet outside the clinic.  She was suddenly in a different world and she started to lose her edge   Then the clinic closed its doors.

Although she enjoys her current job, a few years ago, in an attempt to recapture some of her passion, she set up a fund for poor women who needed abortions.   But she told me this weekend that it didn’t work, that her juices still weren’t flowing.  She then admitted that she felt that the folks she was working with on the fund didn’t really appreciate what she brought to the table, i.e., they didn’t realize she was a hardened veteran of the abortion wars.  While she admitted these feelings were “kind of silly,” I could tell that she was hurting.

And my reaction to her was:  honey, join the club.

I told her how I also miss the old days as well.  I miss seeing myself on the network news or reading my pithy quote in the New York Times.  I miss being surrounded by throngs of angry protestors who were screaming:  “Richards, you are going to hell!”  I miss hob-nobbing with Members of Congress who needed my political advice.  In a sick way, I miss the abortion wars as much as Jennifer does.

I am sure others feel the same way.  I am reminded of Diane Derzis, a sassy southern woman who used to run a clinic in Birmingham.  In 1994, I flew down to observe an Operation Rescue event that was taking place at a different clinic across town.  When I arrived, I hung around, watched the happenings, talked to our escorts and chatted with the police.  Suddenly, out of the corner of my eye I saw a red convertible approaching and noticed that Diane was in the driver’s seat.  She was all dolled up and drove very slowly past the angry throng.  The local anti-abortion folks knew who Diane was and they started screaming at her.  Diane just waved.  What struck me, however, was that she wanted to be seen, she wanted to be yelled at.  She missed the action.  Indeed, later on she told me that she was actually “pissed” that they weren’t at her clinic. 

The craziness was an aphrodisiac.

The more I think about Jennifer, Diane, myself and our other colleagues, I realize that to some extent we’re like combat soldiers who have seen action and have been sent back home.  We were forced to go cold turkey and miss being in those dangerous situations.  For Jennifer, she misses watching her security camera trying to spot the next trouble-maker, she misses reviewing the protocols for a clinic bombing, she misses those interminable meetings with her designated FBI agent.

And, to add insult to injury, no one has ever said “thank you.”  Oh, sure, the folks she works with on the abortion fund know who she is, they’ve seen her resume and they are aware that some “stuff” was going on years ago.  But they really can’t appreciate what Jennifer did and the gravitas that she brings to the table.  So, that leaves Jennifer with her worn press clippings, her fading pictures and her memories.

Jennifer is a fighter.  She will ultimately prevail.  She will be fine.  And, yes, she deserves a pat on the back for a job well done.

But she’ll always miss the action.

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