If you have been following my recent posts, you know I am supporting the Abortion Rights Freedom Ride set to kick off on 23 July 2013 in New York City and San Francisco.  I discussed this summer’s action with a number of people I respect, and there is a divide in the abortion rights community on whether or not it is wise to embark on this action.  I did not reach the decision to support and join with the Riders without giving the decision due diligence; nor, did I neglect to consider the multiple outcomes of the action.

When facing a dichotomous debate among two sides of the community, two camps who should be working together toward common goals, I ask myself now as I did in the past, What Would Dad Do?  Would he shrink back into the shadows, rely solely on private action and influence, or would he advocate, and actually engage in, direct action and response to those who tormented, stalked, and eventually killed him?  Obviously, we know the answer:  he did not back down!  As I wrote a couple of posts ago, I also cannot and will not back down.

Upon the 20th year after my dad’s murder by a Christian terrorist, as we face continued threat of violence, and as state after state passes draconian anti abortion legislation, I reflect not only on what my dad would do but also consider the words of Yeats:

Things said or done long years ago,
Or things I did not do or say
But thought that I might say or do,
Weigh me down, and not a day
But something is recalled,
My conscience or my vanity appalled.

Knowing I will be appalled by remaining silent, I resolved the vacillation by opting to support what I believe is the right course of action.  To that end, I co-authored a piece on the merits and need of the Abortion Rights Freedom Ride with one of its primary organizers Sunsara Taylor.  I want to share with you our recent missive so perhaps more of us will come together on the need for direct, vocal, and mass support our clinics, our doctors, and our rights

Abortion Rights Are At a Crossroads:
This is NOT a Time to Lay Low – It is Time for Massive Uncompromising Struggle!

By Sunsara Taylor and David Gunn, Jr.
July 12, 2013

Across the country, people are waking up to the state of emergency facing the right to abortion. As legislators in Texas push hard to close down 37 of 42 abortion clinics statewide, new laws in North Carolina would close four of their five remaining clinics. Meanwhile, Ohio’s recently passed budget could close as many as three abortion clinics. North Dakota, on August 1st, may become the first state to effectively ban abortion. Already Mississippi’s last abortion clinic is merely an appellate ruling away from closure. We could go on.

If we do not reverse this trajectory now, we will condemn future generations of women and girls to forced motherhood, to lives of open enslavement, terror, and life-crushing shame. Women will be forced to have children they do not want, trapping them in abusive relationships, driving them into poverty, forcing them out of school, and extinguishing their dreams. Women will go to desperate and dangerous measures to terminate unwanted pregnancies, once again flooding emergency rooms and turning up dead women in cheap motels with blood caked between their legs.

We face two divergent roads: Either we seize control of the debate and reset the terms and whole trajectory of this fight; or we continue down the road of “established conventional wisdom,” only to awaken before long to an unrecognizable and untenable situation for women. What each of us does matters,and matters tremendously.

It is in this context that we initiated an Abortion Rights Freedom Ride. Our echo of the Civil Rights Freedom Rides is intentional and fitting. Women who cannot decide for themselves if and when they have children are not free. On the contrary, they are mere child-bearing chattel whose purpose is to serve and not actively chose their destinies.

Volunteers on this Freedom Ride will caravan from both coasts to North Dakota, traverse through the middle of the country into Wichita, and head due south to Jackson, Mississippi. Our aim is threefold: one, we must move beyond localized fights andlauncha national counter-offensive; two, we must radically reset the political, moral, and ideological terms of this fight so that millions understand that this fight is about women’s liberation or women’s enslavement; lastly, and of paramount importance, we must call forth the mass independent political resistance that is necessary to defeat this war on women.

As the Abortion Rights Freedom Ride evolved from conception to genesis, many have responded by with enthusiastic and unequivocal support. Regular people from across the country as well as those who have been on the front lines of the abortion rights struggle are joining with us in demanding abortion rights without compromise and thanking us for daring to travel to where women’s rights face harshest threat.

However, some who share our passion for the cause have raised concerns and even opposition to this action. They fear the Abortion Rights Freedom Ride will be too confrontational, too vociferous for abortion, and may turn off avenues of support.
Some have argued that it is wrong for people to come into local areas from the outside. Others argue that mass political protest will endanger the chances of winning important court cases and that it is better to rely on official channels of politics.

Because the future of women is at stake, we feel it is critical to address these concerns head on. In fact, it is exactly the faulty logic at the root of these concerns that has contributed to all of us finding ourselves in such a dire situation.

First, while local ground conditions are different and unique in some ways, the fact that every clinic and every state is facing heightened assault is not unique nor is it local. We all face a national assault on abortion rights which requires a national counter-offensive. Not only is it utterly immoral for us to abandon the women living in the states most under direct duress, it is delusional to think that what happens in states like Arkansas, Mississippi, North Dakota and Kansas will not come soon to a theater near you. Our futures are bound together and we all share the responsibility to take this on and turn the tide where the attacks are the most severe.

Second, while it is true that a great many people – including many who support abortion rights – are defensive about abortion, they should not be ashamed and this defensiveness and shame is precisely something we must eradicate.

Among the reasons many are defensive about abortion are decades of propaganda by those who oppose women’s equality but posture as defenders of “babies”; meanwhile, supporters of abortion rights have too often been conciliatory, muted, and compromising. This must stop. This fight has never been about babies. It has always been about controlling women. This is why there is not a single major anti-abortion organization that supports birth control.

If we want to turn the tide, we have to tell the truth: there is absolutely nothing wrong with abortion. Fetuses are NOT babies. Abortion is NOT murder. Women are NOT incubators.

A great many people are hungry for this message. They are furious and searching for a meaningful vehicle to make their outrage felt. It is only by asserting the positive morality of abortion rights that we can call forth and mobilize the tens of thousands who already share our resolve. Only through direct action and a polemical shift can all of us stand together and change how millions of others are thinking. Shouldn’t this emergency situation awaken us to the need to change public opinion, not accommodate it?

History has proven that directly confronting oppressive social norms can be disruptive and scary; yet, it is a necessary and uplifting part of making any significant positive change. Many argued that it was wiser for LGBT people to stay closeted until society was more accepting; others counseled against the Civil Rights Freedom Rides out of fear that it would only rile up the opposition, but it was only when people took that risk and got “in your face” that broader public opinion and actions began to change.

We must create a situation where being anti-abortion is seen to be as socially unacceptable as it is to advocate lynchings, anti-LGBT violence, or rape (although, if you listen to some on the Right, rape advocacy is not necessarily off their table).When we reach that summit, we will be on our way to turning the tide.

Third, while court cases are important – even essential – it is only through truly massive independent political struggle that we stand a chance at defeating the truly unyielding and powerful foe we face. Every setback the anti-abortion movement experiences only makes them more determined and every victory only makes them more aggressive. They will not be appeased if we lie low. No court case or election or new law will stop them. Not only has the existing power structure proven unwilling or unable to do so, people who believe they are on a “mission from God” are not bound by human laws and do not yield to public opinion.

But they can be defeated. Forced motherhood is deeply opposed to the interests of humanity. If we get out there and tell the truth, if we resist, if we clarify the stakes of this battle, and if we mobilize wave upon wave of the masses to get off the sidelines and into the streets with us, we can win. There is a tremendous reservoir of people who can and must be called forth to join in this struggle. We have seen this vividly in Texas. Let us not underestimate the potential that exists in every state across this country.

We stand at a crossroads. For the future of women everywhere, let us refuse the worn pathways that have allowed us to lose so much ground. We must not lay low, hope these attacks will blow over, and allow women in some parts of the country to be forced into mandatory motherhood while hoping to preserve the rights of a shrinking few. We cannot continue to foster the attitude that abortion is the 21st Century’s Scarlet Letter while allowing abortion providers to be further stigmatized and demonized. We cannot recoil from the massive fight that urgently needs fighting at this moment in this time.

Now is the time for courage, for truth telling, for stepping out and launching an uncompromising counter-offensive. We have right on our side. We call on everyone who cares about the future of women to join with us in strengthening the national impact and influence of this Abortion Rights Freedom Ride. Join with us at our kick-off rallies in New York City and San Francisco in July 23. Caravan to meet us in North Dakota, Wichita, Kansas, and Jackson, Mississippi. Send a donation or a message of support. Reach out to individuals and religious communities that can provide safe passage to the courageous individuals who are giving up their summers and putting everything they have into winning a different and far better future for women. Most importantly, let us together take the rough road to victory. It may be less traveled, but only through struggle can we reap the benefits of love’s labor won.

To learn more about and get involved with the Abortion Rights Freedom Ride, go to: http://www.stoppatriarchy.org/

Sunsara Taylor writes for Revolution Newspaper (revcom.us) and is an initiator of the movement to End Pornography and Patriarchy: The Enslavement and Degradation of Women (StopPatriarchy.org)

David Gunn, Jr. is the son of David Gunn, Sr., the first abortion doctor to be assassinated by an anti-abortion gunman, and blogs for Abortion.ws

Anti Abortion Terrorism

Anti Abortion Terrorism

It’s quite possible that I met Lee Ann Nichols just a few weeks before she was killed at an Abortion office..

As a staff person for the National Coalition of Abortion Providers, in early December, 1994, I had gone up to the Boston area to visit a number of member clinics.  One of my first stops was the Preterm Clinic on Commonwealth Avenue.  As always, I was escorted around by the administrator and introduced to all the staff people.  Lee Ann was the receptionist but I just can’t remember if I met her.

Just a few months after Paul Hill murdered Doctor Baird Britton and his bodyguard, pro-life terrorist John Salvi also took the law into his own hands in a shooting spree at two clinics in the area.  Witnesses had testified that Salvi had been a somewhat regular presence in front of Preterm and the Planned Parenthood clinics. As for his mental state, letters released after his arrest indicated his belief in conspiracies by the freemasons, the Vatican and the KKK, which he thought was targeting Catholics.   Salvi’s mother later said that her son had told her that he “was the thief on the cross with Jesus.” He also told her that “…the mafia and KKK are out to get me.”

Anti Abortion Terrorism

Anti Abortion Terrorism

On Decebmer 30, 1994, John Salvi calmly walked into the Planned Parenthood facility and shot Shannon Lowney, the receptionist.  He then walked over to Preterm where he killed Nichols and engaged the security guard, Richard Seron, in a gun battle.  After that, Salvi dropped a bag containing a second gun and 700 rounds of ammunition and fled the city.  A nationwide alert was put out and the NCAP office was inundated with calls from clinics all along the east coast asking what security precautions they should take.  The next day, 1,200 miles away in Norfolk, Virginia, the Reverend Donald Spitz and his followers ended their regular protest outside the Hillcrest Clinic and fifteen minutes later, Salvi suddenly appeared at the building’s main entrance.  He sprayed the lobby with a hail of bullets but no one was hurt.  Within 10 minutes, police surrounded a pick-up truck and Salvi was arrested.

At one point, the Boston Globe reported that Salvi had a piece of paper with Donald Spitz’ name on it.  Spitz was “follower” of Paul Hill and espoused the “justifiable homicide” theory.  Spitz was never charged with aiding Salvi in any way but Salvi’s trial gave Spitz a lot of national attention because he stood outside the courtroom defending Salvi’s actions.

I had met Spitz a few times and I always thought that, like Paul Hill, he loved the media spotlight.  So, this particular case was ripe for him and his ego.  He knew folks would be outraged if he said he supported Salvi and some pro-choice folks were apoplectic that he was out there applauding Salvi’s rampage.  Still, I was one of the few that suggested that he was within his Free Speech rights and that we should just ignore him and not give him the attention he desired.

About two years later, after he was convicted of murder, Salvi was found dead in his prison cell.  The official report said that his death was a suicide but there was some controversy because other reports claimed that he was found with his hands and feet tied together, cotton shoved in his mouth and a bag placed and tied over his head.

For the abortion provider community, this new outrage upped the ante even more because now someone had just decided to walk into a clinic and start shooting.  He was not necessarily targeting a doctor.  Indeed, I remember talking to some clinic line staff who very privately expressed some “comfort” that the assassins until then had “just” been targeting the doctors.  But this was different.  Suddenly, parents and loved ones of clinic staff were asking their loved ones to leave the potentially dangerous situation.

It seemed that no one was safe anymore.

 

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!

ACLU

You gotta love the American Civil Liberties Union.

For many, many years, the political right wing has pounded them over and over again to the point where there came a time when few people would admit they were “card carrying members of the ACLU.”  Indeed, the last time I heard any reference to the ACLU cards was in that great speech by Michael Douglas in “The American President” where he smacks his conservative opponent for NOT being a member of the ACLU.  Brings tears to my eyes.

And although being a member of the ACLU may not be as much in vogue as it used to, it’s great to see that are still fighting the good fight.  It seems that last Thursday the ACLU of North Carolina filed a lawsuit against the state to force it to produce one of those “specialty license plates” that support abortion rights.  This is in response to some action last June when the state legislature authorized the issuance of a “Choose Life” license plate.  During the debate, several pro-choice legislators offered amendments to allow for other plates with messages like “Trust Women” or “Respect Choice” but I guess the anti-abortion legislators were in no mood to be fair, so they defeated all of the amendments.  The ACLU, in its lawsuit, is now arguing that the First Amendment does not allow a state to promote “one side of a debate while denying the same opportunity to the other side.”  Interestingly, they added that their position would have been the same “if the state had authorized a pro-choice license plate but not an anti-choice alternative.”

I’m trying to think this one through a little.  So, if the state of New York had voted to allow a “Support Abortion” license plate and rejected any attempts to authorize a pro-life plate, the ACLU would have filed a lawsuit on behalf of the pro-life movement demanding that the state authorize a plate for their side?  Now, I know that the ACLU has stuck its neck out defending the KKK in free speech cases and other controversial, conservative clients, but why do I find it hard to believe that they would have run to the aid of the pro-life movement?   If anything, that would have created an interesting scenario and I chuckle thinking of the rather testy meetings of the pro-choice coalition after they learned that the ACLU would be

Pro Choice License Plate

spending its money defending the anti-abortion crowd.

As for this case, let me remind you that I am not a lawyer.  Oh, I went to law school for one year which gave me some very basic understanding of the law but I left to take a job on Capitol Hill (and the rest is history).  But I guess I’m wondering what the big fuss is all about?  I ask because, if you really think about can you remember the last time you saw a car with a “specialty” license plate on it?  And, let’s face it.  Most folks, unless they are a little kooky, are not gonna go around advertising how they feel about the friggin abortion issue, are they?  I am as pro-choice as they come, but I would never think about putting a pro-choice license plate on my car.   If anything, I would be very concerned that some anti-abortion nut ball would see my car and have a little fun with it.  I prefer to advertise my pro-choice credentials when I am questioning a candidate or when someone makes a simple statement that I disagree with.  Indeed, I always look forward to asking a candidate how they feel about the abortion issue because ninety nine percent of them don’t even want to talk about it and, when forced to, it’s fun watching them squirm.

So, I applaud the ACLU for taking this action, for fighting the good fight.  But if they lose, it’s a signal to the rest of the state legislatures that are considering taking similar action that they don’t have to worry about being “fair” and, if they win, how many people really will put a pro-choice license plate on their car?  I would hope it would be a lot, but I’m just a little cynical.  But, yes, I still have my twenty year old ACLU card!

Sex Selective Abortions

After getting my kids off to college this weekend, I actually sat back and read the newspaper!  Thumbing through the New York Times, I came across an article about a new medical test that would help couples identify the sex of their unborn baby much earlier in the pregnancy.  Today, you have to wait until about 15 weeks or so to get a definitive answer.

This is a great scientific advancement so, of course, the pro-life groups are up in arms and expressing grave concern.  That’s because they think that women will start aborting fetuses because they wanted a boy instead of a girl or they already had three girls and were hoping to mix it up a bit.  And, of course, if the male has anything to say about it, he would abort that silly little girl over the next Derek Jeter.

Let’s all acknowledge that in certain cultures boys are preferred over girls and the practice of sex selection abortions is rather common in some of those cultures.  And, to be honest, while the idea of aborting a fetus because of its sex feels rather strange to me, I still have to support the woman on this one.  As I have always said, up until the point of viability the women should be able to abort no matter what the reason, no matter how uncomfortable it might be for others.  That’s because, if you start carving out exceptions such as sex selection, then you’re on a slippery slope and our lawmakers would soon be looking at other exceptions.

Of course, those who were raised in other cultures wind up coming to the United States so it is quite possible that a woman, for example, from India might want an abortion here in the U.S. because she knows she’s having a girl.  This new test will allow her to identify the sex much earlier which would allow her to have an abortion earlier in her pregnancy.  And, if you are going to have an abortion, earlier is always better than later, no?

So, yes, this new test might “encourage” a woman, particularly one from the East, to have an abortion for purposes of sex selection.  But let’s be real about this.

The fact is that when a woman goes into an abortion facility, after signing the paperwork, getting some medical tests, etc. she is then seen by a counselor.  The counselor discusses with her the abortion process, she reviews her other options, she talk about birth control and, well, sometimes they just plain talk.  But in the vast majority of reputable abortion clinics, the counselor does not ask why the woman is having the abortion.  There is no reason to know.  It would not change the abortion process.  That issue is left to the woman and anyone else she wishes to have involved in the decision.  Sure, a woman might just voluntarily offer why she was having the abortion but that question is not on the counselor’s “must ask” list.

So, in the future if a woman takes this new test and it indicates she is having a girl and she decides she does not want a girl, she may abort.  Personally, I think that would be a rare circumstance, i.e., to abort just because of the sex.  Even if you prefer a boy, when you learn that it’s a girl you perspective can change rather rapidly.  But if she wants to abort for that reason, no one is gonna know unless she decides to voluntarily talk about it.

Meanwhile, however, pro-life legislators have already indicated that they will be introducing measures prohibiting sex selection abortions.  I say go for it boys.  I think it’s a waste of time but if that’s where you want to spend your resources, go knock yourself out.  That’s because the reality is that, if you pass a bill prohibiting sex selection abortions, a woman will simply go to the clinic and, in the very unlikely event that she is asked why she is having an abortion, she’ll just make up another reason.

Duh…….

Emotional Terrorists

It seems that every once in a while, we get a new, energized abortion rights advocate who starts screaming about how every pro-lifer is a “terrorist.”  They usually also add how the Catholic Church has murdered more people than any other religion in the world, but I don’t have the time or energy to research what the Catholic Church has done over the centuries so I don’t opine on those comments.  However, I do have some experience in the world of abortion, so I would like to chat a little about whether or not all pro-lifers are “terrorists.”

I guess the first thing one needs to do is define “terrorist.”  In my head, the true terrorists are, of course, the folks who fly crowded airplanes into buildings, who blow themselves up in crowded market squares and who plot the death of innocent civilians or government workers.  You know who I am talking about:  Bin Laden, Timothy McVeigh, and that nut ball up in Norway who recently killed all of those kids.   Then there are the Micheal Griffins, James Kopps and Paul Hills of the world.  True terrorists, they.

But then, way on the other end of the spectrum, are those pro-lifers who just sit in their house, avoiding all demonstrations and who rarely opine about their position on the abortion issue.  They might pray at home or in church for an end in abortion and send some money to their local pro-life organization, but I have a very tough time calling them “terrorists” and I suspect that most pro-choicers would also be reluctant to affix that label to them.

Where I get stuck is when I think of those folks who go to their local abortion clinic on a regular basis and publicly demonstrate.  Are they “terrorists?”  Let’s talk about their motivations and their actions.

I guess your average protestorgoes to the  clinic in the hopes of stopping an abortion, whether it is by engaging in prayer (don’t even ask me how that would work) or, if they chance, talking one on one with the women as they approach the

Angry Protestors = Terrorism?

abortion facility.  Once they identify the woman, they might start screaming at them.  Some even resort to the use of a bullhorn.  Now, a woman who has made an appointment for an abortion usually is warned by clinic staff that there may be protestors outside so when she sees the anti-abortion folks out front, she knows they smell blood.  Then scream at her that she is “killing your baby!”  They may make a crying baby sound and shriek “Mommy, don’t let them pull my legs off!”  Sometimes it is just a simple “Murderer!”  The woman may have been warned, she may have seen demonstrations on television, but she is rarely prepared for this scene.  And, to top it off, she doesn’t want to be at the clinic in the first place.

Over the years, I have seen this scenario played out in the front of many clinics.  The unique perspective that I have, however, is that on a number of occasions, I have walked with the women passed the protestors into the actual clinic.  Some gave me permission to accompany them through the entire abortion process.  I have seen (and the protestors haven’t) how upset the women are when they sign in, whose blood pressure has risen because they are so angry at these strangers outside the clinic who don’t know her or anything about her personal situation.  I’ve seen women who have already shed a few tears as she contemplated her decision shed even more tears in the waiting room.  And then, after all of the theatrics outside, I’ve then seen them have their abortion.

Not all pro-lifers are terrorists.  That’s a silly statement.  But I would conclude that to the women who walked the anti-abortion gauntlet, who could feel the hatred, who heard the screaming, who would prefer to be just with alone with their loved ones – I would say that those particular women were indeed “terrorized.”