And a group of experts wants you to know that federal regulatory policy is partly responsible.

New year, same as the old year: Republicans in statehouses across the country followed January 2016’s 147 anti-choice bills with a record-breaking 167 anti-choice bills introduced in the first month of 2017. Among those bills is a spate of proposals aiming to limit access to medication abortion. While nearly every aspect of abortion care is threatened, the multifaceted attack on medication abortion is particularly troubling in light of last year’s Food and Drug Administration (FDA) update to the label of the medication abortion drug Mifeprex, and a recent New England Journal of Medicine commentarythat explains how the update barely scratched the surface of needed changes.

The ten authors—a multidisciplinary group of clinicians, public health and legal experts, and researchers—of “Sixteen Years of Overregulation: Time to Unburden Mifeprex” detailed the ways in which the ongoing over-regulation of Mifeprex is not just unnecessary, but harmful to patients considering or seeking medication abortion.

The new label introduced a host of changes for Mifeprex use, including new dosages and an important revision that allows it to be administered later into pregnancy. These changes are expected to “reduce confusion among women, providers, and policymakers about the appropriate use of the drug,” according to the authors, who also anticipate abortion becoming “less expensive, more convenient, and more widely available.” When used with the drug misoprostol, mifepristone is a very effective and safe way to end an early pregnancy.

But the drug is still restricted through what’s called the Risk Evaluation and Mitigation Strategy (REMS). These are additional rules implemented through the federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FDCA) when the Food and Drug Administration suspects a drug has serious adverse effects. Mifeprex’s REMS regulations determine where, how, and by whom the medication can be prescribed and administered—despite its proven efficacy and safety. The drug cannot be sold at pharmacies and must be dispensed by a certified prescriber in a clinic, medical office, or hospital. To become “certified,” a physician must submit a form to the drug’s maker declaring that he or she can date a pregnancy, diagnose ectopic pregnancy, and provide surgical intervention if needed, either personally or by referral. All of this, of course, adds additional hurdles for the patient and provider.

“The REMS places medically unnecessary burdens on patients and providers, and keeps mifepristone [the generic name of Mifeprex] from being prescribed by clinicians and then obtained in retail or mail-order pharmacies, alongside hundreds of other medications,” said Dr. Beverly Winikoff, president of Gynuity Health Projects. “The negative impact from over-regulation of medical abortion with the REMS, like other abortion restrictions, can fall hardest on poor women, rural women, women of color, undocumented women, and young women.”

Winikoff told Rewire that the growing percentage of patients who choose Mifeprex as their preferred abortion method—from 6 percent of all abortions in 2001 to 31 percent in 2014 and nearly half of those before nine weeks’ gestation—means that the REMS restrictions affect a significant number of people.

Thirty-seven states currently have medication abortion restrictions on the books. Six, like Oklahoma’s outright ban on medication abortion, are temporarily or permanently enjoined by court order. Oklahoma’s legislature is doubling down by introducing new legislation to make a violation a felony with a possible $100,000 fine and attempting to reduce the window patients have to access abortion altogether to six short weeks. Oklahoma’s fixation on medication abortion isn’t an outlier; a full 15 percent of the 288 abortion-restricting laws passed from 2011 to 2015 concerned medication abortion.

Having official federal restrictions like REMS lends credibility to these legislative efforts.

“It’s unconscionable that the REMS restrictions remain after 16 years of data showing mifepristone is an exceedingly safe and effective abortion method,” said Winikoff. “The restrictions on mifepristone are a shameful example of regulation run amok—and they’re harming women’s health. Women and their health providers shouldn’t have to jump through hoops to get a medication that’s been safely and effectively used in this country for a decade and a half.”

The commentary’s authors also point out the contradictions between the purpose of REMS (public safety) and unnecessary regulations. For example, there’s no risk of overdose when each patient only receives a single dose of Mifeprex. Also, even if there was a high rate of complication (mifepristone is less risky than over-the-counter pain relievers like Tylenol), requiring the medication to be taken in a doctor’s office wouldn’t prevent infection or bleeding.

They wrote:

“[T]he pharmacologic effects do not begin for hours after ingestion. If a serious complication were to occur, the location where the woman had obtained the tablets would be entirely irrelevant to her clinical outcome. In fact, recent research has shown that allowing each woman who has a medical abortion to take the mifepristone in the place of her choosing is safe and is preferred by many women.”

They also outlined other potential harm caused by requiring dispensing providers to have special certification. Being certified means creating a public record as an official abortion provider; the risk of harassment and threat can understandably discourage Mifeprex provision.

The hoops created by REMS are especially burdensome in rural America. For physicians outside urban settings, there is a greater risk of not being able to treat an unexpected patient because they are not certified and therefore are unable to stock the medication ahead of time—and being unable to refer a patient to another health-care provider. Where clinics have closed en masse, distances to the nearest provider can be hundreds of miles, and the availability and legality of telemedicine can’t be guaranteed due to legislative attacks. For example, the Utah Telehealth Amendments (HB 154) bill that just passed the state house would make medication abortion by telemedicine illegal except in cases of rape, incest, or threat to the life of the patient.

Cristina Aguilar, executive director of the Colorado Organization for Latina Opportunity and Reproductive Rights (COLOR), told Rewire about the importance of medication abortion in her state.

“In a rural state like Colorado, health care can be difficult for people to obtain,” she said. “Medication abortion is an option that many providers offer to expand access, including in smaller clinics outside of urban areas.”

In addition to attempting to put it literally out of reach, legislators are still advancing bills requiring doctors to tell their patients that medication abortion can be reversed—which is scientifically incorrect. Lawmakers in Colorado, Georgia, Indiana, North Carolina, and Utah have introduced  “abortion reversal” bills like the ones in place in Arkansas and South Dakota (and successfully challenged in Arizona last year).

Aguilar connected “abortion reversal” with the history of medical experiments performed on marginalized communities.

“Looking at the so-called research on the idea of reversing medication abortion shows that this is a refuted theory based on the anecdotal experiences of physicians who were willing to do experimental treatment on pregnant women, without the usual research safeguards to protect their health and safety. Women of color have seen this before,” she said. “There is a long history of women of color being coerced and abused within the scientific and medical profession.”

SisterSong Executive Director Monica Simpson told Rewire that requiring doctors to lie to patients is bad medicine and a violation of trust.

“When women make a decision to have an abortion, they are clear about their decision and it should be respected. It’s cruel to tell women something that undermines their decision and isn’t even backed up by science.”

Simpson also echoed Winikoff’s concerns about who is most affected by these restrictions.

“When medication abortion is restricted, the most marginalized communities are most affected, those who are oppressed by systemic and historical barriers, including low-income folks, people of color, Black women, undocumented folks, young people,” said Simpson, stressing that abortion is an important part of reproductive health care in her community.

The experts cited social justice concerns like Simpson’s, agreeing that decisions on when and whether to parent should be left to the patient and the medical community’s best practices and that medication abortion restrictions impose harm. In their article, they said that the REMS requirements to “assure safe use plainly impede women’s access to the drug …. Considering the severe shortage of abortion providers in many parts of the United States and the long distances that many women must travel to obtain abortion services, we contend that any barrier to access that has no demonstrated benefit is excessive.”

Source: Rewire

https://rewire.news/article/2017/03/03/going-wrong-way-medication-abortion-access/

Well, suppose it’s time for me to give the obligatory “Year in Review” report on abortion rights.    

I’ve always been a bit of an optimist when it comes to the future of Roe and access to abortion, but I’m not so sure anymore.  Sure, when it comes to the basic right to abortion, we’re still in decent shape in the Supreme Court.  They don’t have the votes to overturn Roe.  But all we need is an anti-abortion President to be elected in 2016 and, without the threat of a filibuster (thanks to the Democrats in the Senate), it may be a little more difficult to stop an extremist from being appointed to the Court.   And, depending on which legal authority you subscribe to, all the antis need is maybe one vote to reverse Roe.  Indeed, I really wish some of the older more liberal justices would resign now so Obama can at least make those seats secure.

But when it comes to access issues, there is no doubt the anti-abortion movement is on a legislative roll.  In 2013 alone, 22 states adopted 70 different restrictions, including late-abortion bans, doctor and clinic regulations and limits on the use of the abortion pill. Twenty-four states have barred abortion coverage by the new health exchanges and nine of them forbid private insurance plans, as well, from covering most abortions. A dozen states have barred most abortions at 20 weeks of pregnancy, based on a theory of fetal pain that has been rejected by major medical groups. Such laws violate the viability threshold and have been struck down in three states, but proponents hope the Supreme Court will come up with a new standard.

What’s most frightening, however, are the laws that on their face seek to “protect the health of women seeking abortions” by imposing severe regulations on the clinics.  Such regulations include absurd requirements like mandating that hallways be a certain width (to get the gurney out when a woman has an emergency).  Personally, I have never heard of a patient getting stuck in a hallway and it might not sound like a big deal to some to widen the hall, but when you think about how much it might actually cost to get the necessary permits, hire construction crews, etc., it’s an onerous and very expensive proposition.   Some of the new laws also require the clinic to provide more parking spaces, as if that’s an easy thing to do, especially in a more urban environment. 

We know that this is all a bunch of crap, that the antis do not give a hoot about making the abortion experience “safer,” but the anti-abortion legislators, like those in my home state of Virginia, are buying it. They just get their marching orders from their local “Right to Life” chapter and vote in lock step.  Chalk up another victory for “women’s health!” 

But, truth be told, these regulations are starting to severely restrict access to abortion services.  For example, there is now only one clinic left in the state of Mississippi and in North Dakota and both of them are hanging by their fingernails in the face of a legislative onslaught led by the local anti-abortion forces. 

The bottom line is that more and more clinics are closing and women are now travelling further to get abortions.  Please note what I said – many of them are STILL getting abortions, even if it means having to miss several days of work to travel to another state.  On the other hand, many other women are simply deciding to give birth to an unwanted child instead of losing three days of pay. 

The only thing we can hope for is that ultimately there will be a backlash in this country on the political front and there is some evidence that that may be occurring.  For example, right here in Virginia we recently elected an outspoken pro-choice Governor who will hopefully reverse some severe clinic regulations that were passed two years ago that threaten the existence of several clinics in the state. And the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League points to other recent successes on the political front.

Let’s hope it is not too late.

Abortion

Abortion

Imagine what it is like to be 14 and pregnant. Not now, but in 1976. No adult to confide in or ask for advice because to confide in someone would mean admitting that you had had sex. Whatever culture of sex, drugs, and rock ‘n roll was underway, as the daughter of a military officer, you were supposed to be chaste. The concern about what people would think was greater than the concern about being pregnant. The fear of informing your parents was even greater. Your mother was a depressed alcoholic who you did not want to give another reason to drink. Your father once left welts up and down your legs and back because you cut a class. Your 19-year-old boyfriend offered to marry you and, what seemed to be spoken at the same time, asked if you thought about abortion. You knew that your family would be moving more than an ocean away within three weeks. There was little time to sort things out.

Few of us can know what we would do in many situations until we have been there. And, once there, we are challenged to be strong and thoughtful as we also challenge our moral views of whatever the situation. Almost 40 years later, I can vividly recall each emotional moment of what I just asked you to imagine. It was challenging and heartbreaking to be so young and alone.

Abortion Rights

Abortion Rights

Abortion had been legal for three years but legal did not mean accessible, especially for minors. None of the family planning places I called could provide an abortion nor could they even see me because of my age. A friend I finally confided in told me about a woman who could perform an abortion on me for $500. Her house – where she performed the abortions – was filthy.  I was smart enough to know that the abortion option was not safe and marriage was not the right response to the pregnancy. The only thing I knew for sure was that I was going to have a baby.

As the “new girl” at a middle school, I stood out in no small part because I looked at least potentially pregnant. I denied my pregnancy to a guidance counselor who questioned me.  I successfully feigned fatness to my parents and siblings, thanks to the full and flowing smock tops girls wore then. Halfway into my third trimester, my parents confronted me. I still denied I was pregnant. After insisting that I visit an obstetrician, we were all informed that I would deliver a baby within a couple of months. In less than a week, an adoption agency caseworker met with me at school. She treated me to lunch or dinner on a weekly basis, always trying to convince me to “stop being selfish” and give my baby up. I refused. By then I had in fact bonded with the child I was carrying.  I was following recommendations for in-utero nurturing that I read about in the Boston Women’s Health Collective Our Bodies Ourselves. I was religiously taking the prenatal vitamins the OB gave me and I even attended two childbirth classes before I gave birth.

Those who would have encouraged me to give birth, because abortion was wrong, would never have considered that my son was placed in a foster home because my parents refused to let me bring him home. They would not have prepared me for my parents deceptively adopting the son I fought so hard to keep and had lovingly mothered – the son they so vehemently objected to my keeping. Once the social workers convinced my parents that foster home was not a good long term alternative, my son came home and they fell in love with him. So much so that when my father knew he was going to be relieved from military service, and they would move to another state, they told me that they had to adopt my son in order for him to have medical care. I signed the papers without separate counsel or knowledge of the pending move. Not long after that, my father informed me that they were moving, my son was now their responsibility, and that they knew I wanted to stay put (even though, at 16, I only had a car).  To a powerless 16-year-old who lived in fear of her father, the message was clear: you are on your own and without your child.

No anti-abortion person could have prepared me for living in a car in Ft. Lauderdale, or in Central Park in New York City, or what it was like to survive without a family or support system and, most of all, without the child I deeply loved and cared for. I could not have been prepared for what it felt like to show up at my parents’ place several years later to see my beloved child living in a house without indoor plumbing and the same parents with the same problems that marred my childhood. I only mention those things here because all too often when people learn I had a child so young, I am complimented for how well I turned out…or some comment like, “See? It can be done…the pro-choice people always make the choice of life seem so doomed…”

What I really what to share here is that it is 2013 and yet, in terms of abortion rights for young women, it feels like it is 1976 all over again. Don’t read into this that I absolutely would have chosen abortion had it been accessible. Consider instead that I had the option to illegal abortion – and so will young women throughout the country as states further erode abortion rights. Consider that no matter how much more acceptable sexual activity or teen pregnancies are in our culture, we provide minimal education and support for either. Most striking in that regard is that the very people striving to criminalize abortion are at the same time thwarting educational and support services for young people and their tiny offspring.

No choice is an easy choice when a pregnancy is unplanned. Abortion is not a viable or appropriate choice for all women. Adoption has a seedy side that some of us know all too well. Motherhood is best when both the mom and the child are adequately supported by society. If you oppose abortion, think hard before you judge one more woman for thinking abortion is the more moral choice. We really don’t know what we’d do in a given situation until we are there.

God Hates

God Hates

Dear M and S,

I do not ask for understanding, but comprehension.  You both have questions.  Some I’ve answered, insinuated, or obscured for the normal parental reasons.  I owe you, though, the story as I remember it so you may understand through comprehension how dangerous it is, even in the 21st Century, to contradict and undermine conventional thinking.  I hope our family’s historical facts illustrate our ongoing obligation to confront fundamental Pentecostal thinking so we move forward, not backwards.  I am now a mere four years younger than your grandfather when one blinded by fundamentalism and the hate it naturally engenders created a symbol of the man who you never knew.

I last saw my father on Sunday, 7 March 1993.  We did not see each other often, but we talked with relative frequency and were repairing a fairly entrenched rift in our relationship that began 10 years prior when he left our family for another woman after moving us—your grandmother, aunt, and I—to a shit small hovel of an antiquated old southern town in Alabama split between the poles of old blue blood southern aristocratic antebellum money and dirt floor poverty.  Dad came and stayed the weekend with me in Birmingham as he did infrequently.   Three days before his visit, I’d had my wisdom teeth removed.  He called, as he was want to do, late in the afternoon on Thursday or Friday and announced he was coming into town and would be staying with me.  It was a conversation like any other and I don’t recall any real detail other than he was coming.

I know he stayed over at least Saturday and Sunday 6 and 7 March 1993.  I have no memories whatsoever of Saturday night; yet, I do vividly remember Sunday dinner, can still see the round wooden table and mismatched chairs I took from home when I moved away in 1989, and know we grilled cow protein of some form or another—it was probably a New York Strip as I’d not developed an appreciation for the rib eye yet.  Due to the recent dental surgery, the steak, though cooked appropriately, was difficult to chew which made it more difficult to swallow.  We enjoyed our meal, some more than others, while Billie Holliday gently but huskily sang in the background.  Our conversation drifted from school, to my sister—she was 17 and in the final days of her senior year, to politics—President Clinton had just been inaugurated, to my progress in school, and to his work.

Dad explained the protesters were becoming ever more aggressive and confrontational. The few protesters I personally encountered a few years prior when I traveled the circuit with dad were the typical abortion porn sign holders and silent layers of hands. In my teen years, I found his weekly schedule nothing but normal though it took him from our small town hell to Columbus, Georgia then to Montgomery, Alabama, then to Mobile, Alabama, and finally to Pensacola, Florida only to resume anew the next week.  Other kids’ parents traveled so what was so different about his schedule?  I did not figure out until much later that he made this circuit because no one else would.  I certainly never took it a logical step further and deeper to ask why no other local doctor in Columbus, Montgomery, Mobile, and/or Pensacola serviced these clinics.  It was my normal and I was 14 when I first started driving him on some of his trips; yet, as we discussed the present situation, I noticed he seemed preoccupied.  We finished our meal, drained a few more beers, and awoke March 8 and said our goodbyes.

I was aware clinics were bombed in the past and even asked him once if he ever worried about one of the clinics he serviced getting attacked.  He reassuringly told me it did not concern him, and he went on with his day.  Over the weekend of his last visit, though, I thought about the heightened protests, and the ever increasing threats of violence; additionally I remembered my mom calling me one afternoon about a year before this final visit to tell me strangers were in town passing out wanted posters of dad which included his weekly schedule.  When that incident occurred, he again brushed off our concern and said he was not preoccupied with the actions of some crazies.

That Monday morning, prior to seeing him off for the last time, I confronted him about the posters, the renewed threats, and told him I was scared for his safety.  Dad finally told me he had been carrying a gun for a few years, that he suspected he was being followed frequently, and that a strange protester approached him that previous Friday (would have been 5 March) while he was in the car leaving the clinic in Pensacola heading my way.  He said this man had an eerie look about him and spoke to dad through his car window while staring deeply at him with glazed long staring maniacal eyes.  I remember asking when the stalking started, and he indicated it had been going on at least as long as the wanted poster’s origination about a year or so earlier.  I asked if he considered quitting the circuit and going back to less controversial OB/GYN care.  He told me if he stopped, it would be difficult to find a replacement and he was committed to his patients.  He left headed south, and for the first time I admitted to myself that he had a dangerous job and as anyone whose parent has a dangerous job, I wrapped myself in the warmth and security of “not mine”, “not this time”, and drank the Lethean water temporarily cooling my angst and trepidation.

I spoke with your grandfather again on 9 March 1993.  We did not discuss anything specific.  I was preparing for exams; he was in another of the endless line of hotel rooms and sounded lonely.  Sadly, our terminal conversation was brief and unremarkable.  He indicated he was well and heading to Pensacola, and I told him to be safe.  In retrospect he seemed to hang on the line as though he did not want the conversation to end; yet, neither of us could find a way to carry it forward.

I drove to class the next morning on what was, otherwise, an exceedingly peaceful and beautiful spring day in Birmingham.  I’ve always preferred living in Birmingham than other cities as it is big enough to provide some degree of needed anonymity; yet, small enough to retain remnants of its prior smallness which is both sides of the pole simultaneously.  As I was studying for a Semantics class, dad was driving to work.  As I got into my car to head home, he was very likely getting out of his for the last time.

You guys have never seen a real answering machine as far as I know since everyone has digital voicemail these days.  In ’93 you were lucky to have the kind with a microcassette (I’ll explain that later) that was the size of a stereo component.  I don’t recall who checked the messages on the afternoon of 10 March—my at the time girlfriend or me—but I remember thinking it odd to get a message from my grandmother in the middle of the week in the middle of the day.  It was an altogether cryptic but clear message.  She simply said “call me when you get home.”  Both of you are still too young to know there are certain messages you don’t want to return.  I don’t mean the messages from people you’ve left behind or don’t want to talk with at that particular moment, but the messages from family purposely ambiguous so you are intrigued enough, but not too scared, to return the call as soon as you hear the message.  Of course I sensed something was wrong, and, logically, I feared it involved dad.

Dad called me one night in January surprisingly upbeat and happy sounding.  It was the night of the 20th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision (Supreme Court decision that guarantees a woman’s right to an abortion as you may or may not know when you read this; I’ll get to abortion proper later), and he actually to and was genuinely excited to share his day with me.  First, he said someone from Rolling Stone magazine contacted him recently looking to do a profile on his experience as one of the few Southern abortion providers; secondly, he told me how he had finally had enough of the protesters and their bullshit.  He then described how he sang “Happy Birthday to You” at the protesters outside one of the clinics in Montgomery and in the penultimate verse added, “happy birthday dear Roe v. Waaaade.” He subsequently aimed a small boom box at those gathered outside the clinic and played Tom Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down” singing loudly along.

For some reason, I thought of this event as well as the suspicious protestor dad described over the weekend as I returned my grandmother’s call.  When she answered, I immediately knew what I suspected was true; yet, we had to play out the charade.  I asked her why she called.  She asked if I had seen the news.  I told her I had been at school studying.  She said good.  I asked why.  She then told me what I intuitively knew.  “Your dad was shot,” she said and I could hear her sadness as she said it.  I asked if he was ok thinking people survive gun shots routinely.  She told me he wasn’t and that he died e route to the local hospital.  She said she was sorry, that she loved me, and asked that I call my mom.

One day both of you will confront my mortality.  Let’s hope it is much longer than four years from now when I’ll be 47 which is how old your grandfather was when he died.  I know that seems old, but it is really very young, and when you hit forty, you’ll both realize how young it is.  My desire is you are prepared for it and it doesn’t pounce on you from behind a corner while you’re busy reading some goddamned semantics notes.

I drove to my mother’s house where some friends and my sister had gathered.  We hugged, cried, and watched cable news run the story of dad’s death and label him “the first abortion doctor to be murdered” ad infinitum.  You have to contextualize the nature of the event and times to truly understand.  On one really used the internet, e-mail was barely in anyone’s vocabulary, and few people had cell phones.  CNN was the only 24 hour news source (it’s hard to conceive of life without Fox, but it was pleasantly non-existent at the time).  Abortion clinic violence was still considered fresh news and had not yet matured and then expired.  In laymen’s terms, your grandfather’s assassination was a big fucking deal, and was the news for days, months, and years as more doctors and nurses in the abortion field died violently.  Cable news still had some decency about the images they showed, or they were simply too late to get images of your grandfather’s body.  The image I recall from that spring day is a shot of his bloodstained glasses disfigured and broken in the grass where his body most assuredly fell.

Within hours of the killing, my mother’s phone started an interminable ringing which would not abate for months.  On the other end of the line was a New York Times reporter looking for comment.  I considered whether or not we wanted to talk, I had mixed feelings of surprise and anger at being asked for comment on the day I found out my dad was dead, and I had no idea what to do given our family’s life capsized, up righted, capsized, and sank in the span of a few hours that afternoon.  We had large issues confronting us:  burial, finances, familial relations, loss, and grief, and it was overwhelming to add media and politics into the mix.  Initially, I wanted to simply hang up on the woman from the Times; yet, I remembered how joyful dad was when he thought someone was finally going to tell his story and write about the insane conditions under which he worked all at the hands of fundamentalists.  I also remembered his calm happiness when he relayed the events of 22 January 2010 and how he joyously sang in defense of his profession and services.  I made a decision, asked for the reporter’s name and number, and said I’d call her back later as we had other pressing needs to address.

I always wondered if the protester dad described to me the weekend before he died was Michael Griffin, the man who assassinated your grandfather.  If so, he looked into the eyes of his assassin five days before he struck, and it was the last time he looked into his eyes as Griffin attacked from behind too cowardly to face the person he hated, stalked, and still feels deserved to die.  I am still convinced others were involved in dad’s assassination.  There was an organized protest in front of the clinic the day

Griffin struck, and the organizer of the protest had witnessed to Griffin in the weeks leading up to the assassination.  This self styled minster had an effigy of your grandfather in his garage, and I do not doubt he influenced or seduced Griffin to take his violent action.  I will tell you more about these events as I continue the story.

To this day I cannot forget the image of his glasses. I also continue to celebrate his fine voice which was inspiring to me personally and has proven inspirational to others.  I am now the dad where I once was the son, and it is my obligation and duty to pass this history on to you so, perhaps, in some minor way, it helps  you understand the essence and roots of hatred as well as how one fine voice can make all the difference if you simply sing out.

With love

PS. The title was taken from Treblinka by Jean Francois Steiner

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.

Abortion

Abortion

Susan Hill and I were having lunch at the Mayflower Hotel years ago when she informed me that she was opening up another abortion clinic, this time in Jackson, Mississippi.  I looked at her incredulously and asked her why?    “Because the women down there need a good facility” she answered.

I had known Susan for many years by that time.  She was a vivacious, articulate woman who could sweet talk anyone to get what she wanted.  She’d also rip your lungs out if you crossed her.  At that time, she ran seven abortion clinics in cities like Jacksonville, Raleigh and Fort Wayne.  She also owned what had to be the most famous abortion clinic in the country, the Fargo Women’s Health Organization – the only clinic in the state.  Because it was all by itself in that conservative part of the country, it was the target of incredibly intents anti-abortion activity.  Protests with thousands of people, fire bombings, constant death threats.  Their doctors had bodyguards and were smuggled into Fargo in the back seats of cars.  The clinic was featured on the cover of the New York Times Magazine.

Abortion

Abortion

And Susan loved all of the attention it got.  It was her political statement against those who sought to make North Dakota an “abortion free state.”

At that time in Mississippi, there were two other abortion clinics that left much to be desired.  “The women deserve better and I’m gonna build the Taj Majal right there in Jackson,” Susan told me.  She was anxious to go into the belly of the beast and build a state of the art abortion facility in that backward state.   Over the next year or two, she spent a lot of time flying back and forth to Jackson.  I can still visualize her walking the streets in her skin tight dresses, usually a black ensemble that offset her outrageously blond hair.  When she walked into a room at the Ritz in Manhattan, she attracted attention.  I could only imagine the ruckus she caused in redneck country.

Susan ultimately built her clinic, which I was fortunate enough to visit on two occasions.  It was a jewel, albeit an eyesore to the anti-abortion zealots who now had a new target.  And they camped out front for years thereafter.   But the clinic survived and served thousands and thousands of women.

A few years ago, Susan Hill died of breast cancer.  I think of her often.  And I could not help thinking about her again just a few days ago when I read that the Jackson Women’s Health Organization was on the verge of closing.  It seems that the Health Department has announced that it would revoke the clinic’s operating license after an inspection found that it is has not complied with a state law that requires that all abortion doctors to maintain local hospital privileges.  Closure of the clinic may take up to six weeks until a hearing can be held and a formal revocation can take place.

But I also heard that the clinic staff was fighting hard to keep the only clinic in Mississippi open.  They are apparently grasping onto any straw and fighting at every turn to assure that women in that state have access to good reproductive health services.

They may or may not ultimately prevail.  But their courageous efforts deserve much applause.  I know Susan is rooting them on right now.

Abortion

Abortion

The January 20 edition of “Time” Magazine has an interesting cover story.  It suggests that since abortion was legalized by the 1973 Roe v Wade decision, the abortion rights groups have been “losing ever since.”   I’m sure it’s an interesting piece.  I say that because I still have not read it.  Frankly, I don’t read a lot of pieces like this one because I can predict by now what they will say.  And, in this case, I’m just not sure how one can make the determination that we are “losing.”

If you are just looking at the hard numbers, such as the number of abortion clinics in the country, you might think we are losing because there are fewer clinics.  Indeed, the pro-choice groups always harken to that statistic which says that 78% (or thereabouts) of the counties in the country have no abortion providers.  So, yes, there are fewer clinics, especially in some rural areas.  But let’s think that through a little.  The fact is that the number of women seeking abortion services has also slowly decreased over the years and fewer patients mean that some clinics will not be able to survive.  That’s just plain ole capitalism.  So, if the number of clinics is decreasing does that mean we are losing?   I’m not so sure.   Indeed, I consider abortion a very specialized form of medicine and, unlike chiropractors or dentists, there just isn’t an abortion clinic on every corner.  In some rural states, women do have to travel to get an abortion but does that mean we are losing the battle?

Abortion

Abortion

The “Time” Magazine piece will no doubt discuss the thousands of anti-abortion bills that have been introduced on the state level.  Yep, there is a lot going on and by this time just about every state has some kind of law requiring parental consent, a 24 hour waiting period and other insulting measures.  And, sure, these are “victories” for the anti-abortion movement but keep in mind that their ultimate goal is to outlaw abortion and they are nowhere near that goal.  In fact, they couldn’t even pass that “Personhood Amendment” in the friggin state of Mississippi.  It also failed in Colorado.  Also on the national level, keep in mind that the anti-abortion folks control the House of Representative, meaning they control what bills they will consider.  And John Boehner and his crew would never, ever think of bringing up a national “Personhood Amendment” for a vote because they know it would never become law.  And why make your own members walk the plank voting on such a controversial issue when it’s not going anywhere?   Also, on the national level keep in mind that with Obama’s re-election, he will certainly have a chance to appoint some more pro-choice justices who will further enshrine Roe as the law of the land.

Abortion

Abortion

I’m sure the piece will discuss the polls and how support for “choice” has dwindled a bit over the years.  But I’d be really interested in looking very closely at those polls.  How was the question asked?  Who conducted the polls?  I cannot prove it but I still believe that a majority of people in this country, if engaged in a dignified honest conversation, would eventually say that they support some access to abortion services.

So, yes, over the years we’ve taken our hits and access to abortion services might not be what it used to be.  But, for the most part, if a woman in this country wants to get an abortion, she can get one.  Does that mean that the pro-choice movement is “losing?”