Dr. David Gunn

Dr. David Gunn

I met David Gunn, Jr. about ten days after his father was assassinated by an anti-abortion terrorist.

Doctor David Gunn performed abortions at several clinics throughout the Southeast.  He was what they called a “circuit rider,” driving every day through Georgia, Florida and Alabama to provide abortion services to women in need.  On March 10, 1993 his destination was the Pensacola Women’s Medical Services clinic.   After parking his worn out car, he climbed out and headed for the back entrance to the clinic to avoid the protestors out front.  But standing right there was Michael Griffin, a relatively new anti-abortion protestor, and as Gunn passed him Griffin took out a pistol and fired into Doctor Gunn’s back, killing him instantly.

The murder made instant national news because it was the first time that a doctor who performed abortions had been murdered because he was “killing babies.”

Abortion

Abortion

Of course, the news services put out a wide net to find anyone who was close to the players involved in this terrible tragedy.  And without hesitation, one of those people came forward:  David Gunn, Jr.  His message was very simple:  there was an anti-abortion conspiracy to kill abortion doctors and the Clinton Administration needed to do more to prevent this from happening again.

David was an instant “media star.”   His waist-length hair immediately caught your eye.  When he spoke to the camera, his soulful eyes enraptured the audience.  He was soft spoken, not a rabble-rouser and his pronounced stutter made him even more compelling when he spoke.  Over the next few weeks, he was a constant presence on all of the news shows.

Anti Choice Christian Terrorist

Anti Choice Christian Terrorist

I met David the day before we were scheduled to appear on “The Donohue Show.”  We had a nice dinner the night before and he struggled to talk about his Dad.  It was clear that by that time he was already exhausted from all of the media appearances, but he was willing to push on “for the cause.”   The next day we sat on the stage together, accompanied by Mr. Paul Hill, an anti-abortion activist who actually told David and the national audience that his father’s murder was “justified” because Michael Griffin was “protecting the babies from being murdered.”

Over the next few years, David Gunn, Jr. became a national spokesman for the pro-choice movement.  Indeed, pro choice organizations practically fought over him as they encouraged him to “endorse” their group.  He basically put his life on hold and he travelled the country warning the nation that there were more murders to follow.  And he was right.

David’s story is a story of relentless courage and persistence.  And I’ve always thought that his experiences needed to be shared with the public.   And that is why I am absolutely thrilled to announce that David Gunn, Jr. has agreed to become a “guest blogger” once a month on this page.  He recently told me that he always wanted to write about him and his father but, like so many other young people he got preoccupied with raising a family, getting a job, etc.   But now David will start writing that story in the form of a monthly blog.

We are honored to have David join us!

Abortion

Abortion

Janelle Templeton was a 27 year old mother of two living in West Philadelphia.  Hers was a tough neighborhood, overrun with prostitutes, drug dealers and neighbors who, like her, barely survived on assistance from the government.  She dropped out of high school in her sophomore year and when she found herself pregnant, she welcomed her babies into the world in the hope that they would ultimately escape the cycle of poverty that had trapped Janelle and her family for many years.

Then, about two years ago, Janelle learned that she was pregnant again.  It didn’t matter that she wasn’t sure who the father was.  What mattered was that she had been trying to eke out a good life for her two children and she knew – she just knew – that bringing another child into her world would make that dream all the more difficult to obtain.  So, she decided to have an abortion.

Abortion

Abortion

She did not have a computer, so she opened up the tattered Yellow Page directory that she had stored in the kitchen closet.  She opened it up and right at the front of the book she found the category “Abortion Services.”   Populating the page were several large ads for the several clinics in the Philadelphia area.  They all seemed to have the same picture of a pensive looking woman.  Among the items highlighted were the insurance plans they accepted (Janelle was on Medicaid), what kind of anesthesia they offered, and other miscellaneous services that meant nothing to her.  Looking at the addresses, she noted that most of them were in the downtown area but there was one that was just three bus stops away:   the Women’s Medical Center.

Since Medicaid did not pay for abortions, she knew she would have to pay cash for the abortion.  So, despite the proximity of that one clinic, she started calling the other clinics to price shop.  She soon learned that the price varied, depending on how many weeks pregnant she was.  She guessed that she was about 10 weeks pregnant at that point and was shocked to hear prices in the $400 range.  Then she called the Women’s Medical Center and was told the price was about one hundred dollars less than the other clinics.  It was a no brainer.  She quickly made the appointment without asking any more questions.  The clinic staff didn’t ask any either.

Abortion

Abortion

She ultimately borrowed the money and a few days later jumped on the bus to go to the clinic.  When she walked inside the facility, she didn’t take notice of the ripped carpet, the chairs with broken arms, the receptionist who didn’t make eye contact and just took the cash.  She didn’t realize how inexperienced the staff was, that they were working for $12 an hour and had little training in performing an ultrasound, administering anesthesia and handing out prescriptions.  Indeed, how was she to know that some of these staffpeople would ultimately plead guilty in court to numerous medical infractions?   Janelle basically was oblivious to the unsanitary conditions in this clinic.  She just needed that cheap abortion.

After a three hour wait, she was escorted to the back room.  Passing one room with an open door, she saw a woman on a table sobbing and noticed bloody gauze tissues tossed onto the floor.  She had a queasy feeling in her stomach but she knew it was too late to turn back.  The staff person escorted her into a small room with tattered wallpaper and was told to undress, put on a smock that smelled of urine and instructed to sit on the bare table.  She then started thinking about when she talked to one of the other clinics in Philadelphia and how nice the receptionist sounded and how it was a shame that her Medicaid would not pay for an abortion.  Then, her thoughts were interrupted…

“Hello, I’m Doctor Kermit Gosnell.”

It’s hard to believe that it’s been twenty years…

On March 10, 1993 the “abortion wars” began in earnest.  To be sure, before that day anti-abortion zealots had bombed abortion clinics, harassed doctors and staff (one doctor was actually kidnapped), verbally tortured women as they entered the abortion facilities and engaged in many other forms of what soon would be called “domestic terrorism.”

But on March 10, the first shots were fired – into the back of Doctor David Gunn.

Truth be told, when I got the call from Susan Hill, the owner of several abortion facilities throughout the nation, telling me a doctor had been killed, I wasn’t shocked because in the previous months, anti-abortion activity had been ramping up.  Doctor Gunn worked at Susan’s clinic in Columbus, Georgia and at other separately owned clinics throughout the South.  He was known as a “circuit rider” because he traveled from city to city in his beat up car, performing abortions for a few hours then moving on.   Without his services (and energy), several clinics would have been forced to close because he was the only doctor.  Women would have had to travel much further to receive abortion services.

One of David’s regular stops was the Pensacola Women’s Medical Services, a relatively new clinic in a town that was well known for its virulent anti-abortion zealots.  David had mentioned to Susan that the anti-abortion activity had been picking up at the clinics he worked at and he decided to arm himself – to no avail.

That morning, David Gunn pulled up to the back of the clinic and parked in his usual   space.  There were a few protestors at the front of the clinic but when David pulled in, one of them made their way towards the parking space.  When David got out of the car, he did not bother taking his gun.  He took a few steps towards the clinic and Michael Griffin, a relatively new face to the protest scene, took out his gun and shot David in the back.  He died instantly.

The murder was the lead story in every paper and on the network news.  The inevitable had happened – an abortion doctor had been killed in the name of “saving babies.”

Soon thereafter, the dyke burst wide open.  Over the next few years there would be more murdered doctors.  Then, clinic staff people were targeted.  Those who provided abortion services, no to mention their families, were gripped with fear.  Suddenly they did not walk anywhere without checking their surroundings, looking under their cars for bombs, watching every protestor with a wary eye.  The sale of bullet proof vests escalated dramatically, clinics hired security guards and purchased expensive metal detectors.

And, yes, some doctors decided to abandon their practice and some clinics closed.  But the others hunkered down, refusing to surrender to the terrorists.  Indeed, the Tom Petty song “I Won’t Back Down” became the anthem of abortion providers everywhere.

Ultimately, the violence waned for many years.  That’s why the murder of Doctor George Tiller was such a shock because it had been a while since there was any violence of that nature.   And it will no doubt happen again but the “good” news is that that wave of violence that was ushered in on the morning in Pensacola is just a memory for many.  Still, we can never forget and we should use this “anniversary” to remember not just the sacrifice of David Gunn, but of the others who gave their lives to further the reproductive rights of women.

And rest assured that we will indeed not back down.

Misogynist Phil Bryant

Misogynist Phil Bryant

I practically peed in my pants when I heard this one.

Recently, the Governor of the great state of Mississippi, Phil Bryant, was asked about a new law he just signed that would require all doctors who perform abortions to be board-certified OB-GYNs and have admitting privileges at a local hospital. It could ultimate force the only clinic in the state to shut down.
When asked about the law, he started ranting about abortion and, at one point, he actually said the following about people who run or work at abortion clinics: “…their one mission in life is to abort children, is to kill children in the womb.”
I’m not sure where to start with this one. My first reaction was does this guy think that abortion doctors and staff have all gotten together and adopted a mission statement which declares that “our goal is to abort children, to seek out those little fetuses and tie the woman down to the table and get that kid and kill it. We vow that nothing will detract us from our mission!”

Mississippi Dumb

Mississippi Dumb

Does this dork – an actual governor of an actual state in these United States of America – really believe that abortion providers wake up in the morning with this “mission” on their mind? For gosh’s sakes, Gov, get real.

I’ll let you in on a not so very secret. When these doctors and staff are driving to their clinic, they are generally thinking of one thing. They are thinking about how they are going to help a number of women that day – women who have sought out their services, women who if they have to will literally climb over hundreds of abortion protestors who are trying to block them from getting into the abortion clinic. They are thinking of the women who will travel hundreds of miles to find that clinic and who will walk in the front door aware that at any moment, they could be blown up. That’s the real mission of these doctors and their courageous staff. They are not thinking about killing “children in the womb.”

Abortion Mississippi

Abortion Mississippi

Now, if the Governor is insinuating that the doctors are in it for the money, that they want to “kill children” to make the big bucks, well, I’ve written before. The fact is that abortion clinics are also businesses. Many years ago, after abortion was legalized, a number of doctors identified a dramatic need in this country, i.e., hundreds and thousands of women who wanted a legal abortion. So, they set up abortion clinics – and that cost money. Then, lo and behold, they learned that it also took money to operate the clinic! So, they determined that if they wanted to remain available to those women, they had to charge a fee for their service. But, somewhere along the line, some anti-abortion advocates came up with the notion that these services should have been performed for free and it gave them yet another bumper sticker line, that abortion doctors were “making money off of dead babies.”

I could go on and on. But I grow weary of idiots, yes, idiots like this Governor who try to use their position of power and responsibility to stir things up. And, of course, when the next abortion doctor is killed, the Governor will avoid the questions and blame it on someone else.

Shame on you, Governor.

John Stewart

John Stewart

Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.

I’m sorry folks, but I cannot resist writing again about my legislature here in Virginia.  After all, our elected officials, including Governor Bob McDonnell, have been the butt of jokes on Saturday Night Live and John Stewart.  Why shouldn’t I jump into the mosh pit?

By now, everyone knows how the legislature passed a bill requiring women to have an ultrasound before they could get their abortion.  The unstated purpose of the legislation, of course, was to put yet one more (expensive) obstacle in the way of women seeking to obtain a legal medical service.  Oh, sure, the pro-lifers argued that women need to have even more information about the abortion procedure because, well they don’t say it out loud but, women are DUMB.  But thankfully we have these strong, sensitive, intelligent mostly male legislators to get women through this procedure!

Anti Abortion Governor

Anti Abortion Governor

Ultimately, however, the boys found out that many women would have to get a vaginal ultrasound, which means sticking a probe up “there.”  Suddenly, charges of “State Sponsored Rape” hit the airwaves, jokes abounded and Virginia became a national laughing stock.  How did all of this happen?

Bills in the Virginia legislature move very, very fast.  A hearing on a bill can last only an hour and they are usually perfunctory exercises.  That’s particularly true with the abortion issue, where elected officials are either for or against.  It is a rare legislator who actually thinks about this issue and 99 percent of them vote on abortion like lemmings to the sea.  They just have their aide check to see the position of the pro-life or pro-choice groups and they vote with their buddies, the goal being getting a 100 percent rating on their annual “scorecards.”

Vaginal Probe Sonogram

Vaginal Probe Sonogram

So, in this case when the vote came up, both sides voted accordingly.  Then, the poop hit the fan.  It seems that some lawyer from out of state actually thought about the effect of the bill and reasoned that the “jelly belly” ultrasound for a woman who was in the early stages of pregnancy wouldn’t work because you can’t see the fetus that well which meant that they’d have to perform a – dare I say it – vaginal ultrasound!  Even the folks at Virginia NARAL were surprised.

Soon after things hit the fan, Governor McDonnell started to back track.  And the reason was simple – he has national political aspirations and could not afford to because a late night television joke.  In essence, he had to admit that he and his fellow pro-lifers hadn’t thought the bill through and so they will now pass something less drastic.

This whole process (or lack thereof) is yet another example of why politicians should not be involved in this issue.  They’re out there trying to score political points, not understanding that they are actually affecting the lives of women.  But there’s another disturbing issue – and that is that this is yet another example of how the pro-choice groups still don’t seem to be communicating well with the actual abortion clinics.  The day the bill was introduced, didn’t anyone think about picking up the phone to ask a local clinic how it would impact on them?   It doesn’t sound like that happened because, if they had talked to the clinic, the doctor or nurse could have easily told them how ultrasounds work.

It’s sad to think that we have John Stewart and the folks at SNL to thank for defeating this legislation.

No More Bullying Abortion Facilities

About ten years ago, I attended the funeral of Norma Stave, a good friend who, with her husband Carl, was the co-owner of two abortion clinics in Maryland.  Carl was the main physician who performed the abortions.  When I arrived at the church, Carl came up to me and asked at the last second if I would deliver a eulogy.  I had always been comfortable talking in front of audiences but this was a different animal.  Still, I was able to get through it, using my few minutes to praise Norma for her devotion to women in need.

Skip ahead a number of years.  Carl died shortly after Norma and their son, Todd, ultimately became the landlord for their two buildings.  About eight months ago, Todd’s clinic in Germantown, Maryland attracted national attention when they hired Doctor Lee Carhart, a physician who worked for the late George Tiller and who vowed to continue George’s work by offering late term abortions.

Victim of Anti-Abortion groups

Victim of Anti-Abortion groups

Soon thereafter, local anti-abortion advocates learned that Todd owned that building where Lee worked.  They quickly organized a number of protests, accomplished their goal of getting publicity in the local papers and have been a continual presence ever since.  Then, looking for another angle to get their names in the papers, they decided to crawl deeper into the gutter.  They learned where Todd’s 11 year old daughter was going to school and at a Back to School night, they stood outside the school with a banner that read “Please Stop Killing the Children” and the usual photos of aborted fetuses.   Then, these wackos actually put Todd’s picture, phone numbers and email addresses online and urged their followers to contact him with their “prayers.”  Todd was inundated with calls and emails.  Nice, huh?

But Todd decided to fight back.  He compiled a list of the people who were calling and emailing him and he sent that list out to 20 of his friends, urging them to call those people.  He told them to not argue with them, to just be polite and tell them that “the Stave family thanks you for your prayers.”  Well, those 20 friends passed on the info to their friends, and so on and so on and within two days they had 5,000 pro-choice folks making calls.  Interestingly, the calls and emails to Todd’s house came to an abrupt halt.

Hmmmmmm…Is Todd on to something here?

Abortion

Abortion Rights

I talked to Todd last night.  He tells me that he has actually established a group called “Voice of Choice” (www.VoChoice.org) which seeks to organize a “person to person counter campaign against anti-choice bullying.”  The people who volunteer are notified when a certain anti-abortion advocate is harassing a doctor and are given that person’s phone and/or email.  Then they start contacting that person.  Todd says they have successfully stopped the harassment in two cases already.

I have no doubt that there are some pro-choicers out there who might feel uncomfortable about stooping to the tactics normally used by the anti abortion folks.  Indeed, whether or not to use these kinds of aggressive tactics has been the subject of many conversations within the pro choice movement for years.  In fact, Todd told me that some national pro-choice groups have been reluctant to cooperate with his organization.

When I was in the movement, I always came down on the side of those who did not support stooping to their level.  I thought it was beneath us, that we had to take the high road.  And maybe I’m just getting old and cranky.  But now I say screw it.  As long as it’s legal, go get the bastards, Todd!

Empty Press Conference Room

About a year after we formed the National Coalition of Abortion Providers, its members decided it was time to hold their first conference.  For years, many of them had been attending regular conferences hosted by the National Abortion Federation but some of the NCAP members were not members of NAF and the NAF meetings tended to focus on the medical side of the abortion issue.   The folks who belonged to NCAP believed strongly in having a political voice on Capitol Hill.  They argued that while NARAL was focusing on the general right to abortion, they needed someone to educate the Congress on the issues of direct importance to abortion doctors and clinics.

So, we booked the new Hilton Hotel in Alexandria, Virginia, put out the suggested agenda and kept our fingers crossed.  Like anyone

who is putting on a party, we were very nervous that no one would show up.  But, much to our surprise, about 70 clinic staff, owners and doctors came to Alexandria for the two day affair.  Two of the attendees were Doctors George Tiller and Bart Slepian, who both would ultimately be murdered by pro-life activists.

To highlight how NCAP was already establishing a presence on Capitol Hill, we persuaded Virginia Congressman Jim Moran, a leader of the pro-choice movement, to kick off the event.  Jim gave a rousing speech to a crowd of people, many of whom had never even met a real live Congressman.  The next few hours were devoted to public relations and business issues.  For example, we discussed how to conduct an “open house” for abortion clinics and where to get the best malpractice insurance.

The highlight of the meeting, however, was the adoption of NCAP’s first resolution.  At that time, the clinics were under siege legislatively on both the national and state levels.  It seemed that every day a bill was introduced requiring parental consent for minors, a 24 hour waiting period, the distribution of fetal development brochures, etc.  At one point, however, an NCAP member suggested that those who were introducing these bills really had no idea how clinics opera

Proud Providers

ted to begin with and how women approached the decision.  So, the members decided to adopt a statement which made it very clear how clinics operated and how patients were treated.  So, for example, they noted that 95% of minors already talked to their parent or parents, that women DID wait at least 24 hours from the time they decided to have an abortion and that the clinics were already subject to many federal and state regulations.

The resolution was adopted unanimously and we decided to have a press conference on Capitol Hill the next day.  We quickly hired a public relations firm to get the word out.  Besides the resolution, their pitch was that this would be a

chance for the press to see in person the owners, doctors and staff who actually worked in abortion clinics.  This was a “coming out party” of sorts for our folks.

The next day, about 30 members of NCAP, all dressed up in their best Capitol Hill attire, took taxis to the House Cannon Office Building and walked into the ornate Post Office and Civil Service Committee Room, ready to conduct their press conference.  But as we walked through the large mahogany doors, we entered an empty room.  Not one member of the press showed up.  We had given a press conference and no one came.  I was totally ticked off but the NCAP members were just thrilled to be in the room and when a young media student from Georgetown University came walking in with his little camera, they agreed to stand behind the podium and make their statements.

To this day, I’ll never forget them standing there, facing that one camera, looking very proud that they had adopted this resolution and were finally showing their faces to the public.  It was just one camera but for all they knew, they could have been talking to CNN.