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.

Abortion Clinic Bombed

I was talking to an old friend of mine yesterday, a doctor who used to perform abortions in the Midwest years ago.  He retired in 2004 and in the course of the conversation we started talking about, as he put it, the “wild west days” when the bullets were flying and the bombs exploding at abortion clinics all across the country.  He then expressed his concern that the younger activists do not remember or just simply did not know what was going on in this country at that time.

As a staff person for the National Coalition of Abortion Providers, I was in the middle of it all.  Our office served as one of the “command posts” that sprung into action when the crap hit the fan.  The minute we got the news about a shooting or any other kind of violent act, we would send out an “Emergency Fax” to all of our clinics alerting them about the incident.  The main reason why we did this was to simply let them know that one of their colleagues had been involved in some heinous act and more often than not the other clinics would communicate their concerns and well wishes to their friends who had just joined the growing number of victims of anti-abortion violence.  In essence, we generated a nationwide group hug.

After talking to this doctor, I started to think about the particularly “bad” years and 1997-1998 was a period that really stuck out in my mind.  Yes, by that time several doctors had been murdered and other acts of violence had been committed, but this time period was a particularly bad one:

In January, 1997, a bomb exploded outside an office building in Atlanta that housed an abortion clinic.  Then, an hour later, while the police and rescue workers were still on the scene, another bomb exploded near a trash can. Seven people were injured;

In March, a Molotov cocktail was thrown into the window of Family Planning Associates and an anti-abortion advocate drove his truck through the doors of another clinic in the area.  Two weeks later, four fires were set on the roof of the Mountain Country Women’s Clinic in Montana;

In May, an arsonist drove up to the Lovejoy Surgi-Center, ran a hose from a metal drum containing an unidentified flammable liquid into the clinic and ignited it.  A month later, an incendiary device was thrown through a hole cut into the air conditioning duct on the roof of the West Alabama Women’s Center;

A few months later, a bomb exploded at the New Woman All Women Health Care in Alabama killing an off duty policeman and critically injuring a nurse.  Five months later, in the space of one week there were eight butyric acid attacks on clinics in Florida.  In these cases, the assailant injected the acid into the clinic using a syringe and because of the horrific and noxious smell, the clinics had to be evacuated, washed down and closed for several days.  This incident started a spate of similar attacks over the next few months;

Towards the end of 1998, my good friend, Doctor Barnett Slepian, was murdered in upstate New York when anti-abortion activist James Kopp fired a shot through a window in his house.

This list is, of course, a small sampling of what was going on in those days.  And, as I read this list and recall the people involved, I honestly do get chills.  I can remember the fear, the loss, the insanity and the sense of helplessness that overwhelmed all of us.

Today, there is less violence when compared to those days but that is no consolation.  History can repeat itself and so every so often I intend to write about an incident or two in more detail in the hopes of reminding those coming up behind us of the sacrifices made by the doctors, the staff and others in defending the right to choose abortion.  I also look forward to seeing our friends in the pro-life movement condemning the violence.

Protestors Holdilg Gross Sigs

Protestors Holdilg Gross Signs

It goes without saying that the abortion issue is probably the most controversial issue of our time.  Beginning in earnest after the Supreme Court handed down its decision in Roe v Wade, the “pro-life” and “pro-choice” forces have been going at for years – and there is no light at the end of the tunnel.  And if you read the polls, it’s really had to say what side is actually “winning.”  Indeed, I’m not even sure how you determine who is winning.  The bottom line is I know abortion is still legal in this country but they are harder to get.  You decide.

Some even go so far to say we are in a “war” over abortion, although I wouldn’t go that far because to me a “war” is when two sides are engaging in violence and, as far as I can tell, the only violent acts have come from the pro-life side (and please, if you are pro-life, do not bore me with the “violence in the womb” argument).  But, for the moment let’s say we are engaged in a war.   The question now is how far are you willing to go to win this war?  In the world of international relations, somewhere along the line we came up with the rules of the Geneva Convention which set some boundaries for conduct that warring parties are supposed to adhere to (although not everyone complies).  In this abortion “war”, I think there should be boundaries as well.  And recently, one pro-life group crossed a boundary that makes my head spin.

By now, everyone involved in this issue knows that Doctor Lee Carhart, a physician from Nebraska, has decided to carry on the work of the late Doctor George Tillerby performing later abortions and he

has established a practice in Germantown, Maryland.  He has been there for several months and has been so open about what he is doing that he even gave a front page interview to the Washington Post a short while ago.  I’ve written in the past about how I wish my friend Lee would just “shut up” and do his work quietly (out of fear for his safety), but Lee is not built that way.  He is an advocate as well as a physician.

Not surprisingly, there have been protests at the Germantown clinic.  That’s okay, that’s the First Amendment in action.  I don’t like it but I support their right to be out there on a Saturday yelling and screaming and parading around with their gross signs.  But now here comes a pro-life splinter group with a new tactic that boggles my mind.  It seems these folks found out who owns the office complex where the abortion clinic is located.  Yes, they had enough negative energy stored up that they probably combed the real estate records in the county for his name.  I have no doubt that they probably tried to find out where he lives but have not yet been successful.  But, after discovering the name of the landlord, they found out where his CHILDREN go to SCHOOL.  And, once they discovered that his children went to an elementary school in Maryland, they came up with the idea of picketing the kids’ school!   Yep, they went out there just a few weeks ago during the day and stood in front of the school with their ugly signs and blaring the name of the landlord (and, by reference, his children).

Dr. Carhart and Dr. Tiller

Just think for a second about not just his children, but all of the children as they jumped off the bus, already thinking about their lunch period or recess and then they see this sick group of people holding signs.  When they look closer, they may see the pictures of a dismembered fetus, they may see lots of blood, they might see the word “abortion” in big red letters.  Of course, they are probably too young to even comprehend what is going on but – as this group would say – THEY NEED TO LEARN ABOUT THE HORRORS OF ABORTION!

Who are these nut balls who believe it is up to them to introduce these young children to this difficult issue?  Aren’t they the same ones who scream about parental control?  The thing is I know who they are, they are the ones whose own children will be forced at a very early age to stand outside of an abortion clinic on a beautiful Saturday, be forced to hold a disgusting sign, chant a slogan, scream at the women. And they’ll say their six year old told them they’d rather be out there than playing soccer with their friends.

I have always encouraged a healthy, honest debate on this issue.  But a line has to be drawn somewhere.  Again, I would support their right to do this, but do these folks have no shame?  Besides, from a strategic point of view it’s a pretty stupid thing to do because they are pissing off a lot of parents, even those who are pro-life.

I wonder how these folks would feel if we went to their kid’s school and held up signs of women lying in a pool of blood after a botched abortion?  We could easily do it, we’ve got the pictures.

The difference is we’re too civilized.

My last few blogs have generated a lot of interesting discussions. I love a good, hearty debate so I want to thank everyone for chiming in and for keeping it (relatively) civil. Abortion is obviously an emotional and controversial issue that, as far as I am concerned, will never really be “resolved” because it is just not as black and white as some of our national organizations would have us think.

The last post discussed the efforts of some anti-abortion groups to declare the fetus as a “person” from a legal sense and it generated a rather lengthy thread. We got reams of information about the humanity of the fetus-baby, when it starts breathing, how it can feel pain, how it can hear music, when it starts to fart, etc. It was all very fascinating. No, that’s not true. I gotta admit that it was totally boring to me. After a few posts, I stopped reading most of the scientific information that was shared with us, especially the footnotes and citations by supposedly objective authors. At some point, I just started to tune it all out because to me it was just becoming an academic exercise that had no relation to the real world.

Maybe I’m just too simple. Every time I would see the paragraphs going on and on and on, I would just think of that 21 year old girl living in subsidized housing in the South Bronx who made a mistake. She had unprotected sex with that boy who

abortion stress

Abortion "Stressfull Decision"

has been destined for Riker’s Island since he was in elementary school. And she got pregnant. And, instead of playing the poverty card, I would also think of the 45 year old woman in Beverly Hills who thought she was incapable of getting pregnant anymore and whose marriage is a shambles. I just wondered how both of these women would have reacted if they were reading these regurgitations of the scientific literature? C’mon, folks, let’s get real. They wouldn’t have read any of it. Do you really think these women care that the fetus at 8 weeks has fingers, or a lung or whatever they have at 8 weeks?

Well, maybe they do care a little or are at least interested but do pro-lifers really think that all of the scientific “evidence” of “life” is going to make a difference that much of a difference? No way. Indeed, I can prove it. In a number of states the abortion clinics are required to show women pictures of how the fetus will develop, what it has at what stage. And, if you talk to clinics you will learn that it is extremely rare – I mean extremely – when a woman sees the pictures and is so shocked that she cancels the abortion. One clinic owner told me how they had to get extra trash cans because all of the (taxpayer paid) brochures wound up being thrown out.

Sure, it will be sad experience in some way. The woman may think about how, had she not had the abortion, she would have had a child. But, to her, it was the decision that she had to make at that time. It’s the same process that so many pro-lifers went through when they had their abortion. The only difference is now those pro-lifers are admitting that they now “regret” their abortion or that they were snookered, they didn’t know it had fingers or they didn’t know they could have put it up for adoption. And now they are saying that others can’t have the abortion because they know better.

Bolderdash!!

I appreciate how some want to pass on their “wisdom” and share their experiences to help those coming after them. But it is the height of obnoxiousness and somewhat hypocritical to say that, while you had the chance to have your abortion, you now know better so no one else should have one.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – I trust women. I trust that they will talk to whoever they want to talk to, they will process the decision as well as they can, they will try to find a reputable clinic with good counseling and they will do what they think is best for THEM at that moment.

For the most part, none of them will be persuaded by the scientific facts. Women already know that the fetus is alive with, at some point, human characteristics. And they don’t want that fetus to grow into a baby that they will have to raise. That’s why they have the abortion.

Personhood Abortion

Personhood Demonstration

I am now totally convinced that the anti-abortion movement in this country has no idea how to stop abortion and, worse, some of their strategies might actually result in more abortions in this country.

There is now another anti-abortion group out there called “Personhood USA.”  They are led by a young activist by the name of Keith Mason who hails from Colorado.  Personhood USA’s announced goal is to pass amendments to several state constitutions that would recognize someone as a person “exactly at creation.”   As Mason explains, that would be at the moment of “fertilization…when the sperm meets the egg.”

Go ahead, Keith, make our day.

Okay, so I’m not gonna spend any time talking about how only about half of these fertilized eggs actually result in an ongoing pregnancy.  I guess to folks like Keith, it is irrelevant.   I suppose that when fertilization occurs, the parents will go out and get their new little “person” a Social Security but if it never appears, well, we’ll just toss his or her card out.  Despite some possible glitches, Keith is charging full steam ahead.  Indeed, this November voters in Mississippi might vote on a “personhood amendment” to their state Constitution, although it is being challenged by the ACLU.  And Keith has declared that his organization hopes to get proposals like these on the ballot in nearly half the states by 2012.

If Keith and his buddies want to spend all of that time on initiatives like these, I might even send him $5 to encourage him because it is an incredible waste of their time, money and energy.  If you have ever worked on a ballot initiative you know how much work it is and if Keith wants to try to mobilize the anti-abortion folks in that state on a proposal that – even if it passed – would never pass constitutional muster, then I say go for it.   Of course, he is ignoring the fact that a similar measure was defeated in Colorado in 2008 and 2010 but if his crowd wants to spend their time pushing something like this instead of working to defeat President Obama, I applaud their decision.

Kelth Mason Abortion

Keith Mason

Here’s the other kicker.   Let’s say that the measure actually does pass in Mississippi and it starts making its way through the court system.  Let’s say that in the meantime, President Obama has three more appointments to the U.S. Supreme Court and he gets into a pissing match with the pro-choice movement and, seeking revenge, he appoints three ardent, right wing conservatives.  Then this case gets to that Supreme Court and they uphold the law!

The result?

Sorry, Keith, but the result could actually be more (illegal at that point) abortions.

That’s because redefining “personhood” in this fashion will actually end up reclassifying many birth control methods as abortifacients or agents that induce abortions.

Hmmmm…. Less birth control available to women.

Now, I’m no rocket scientist but is it not possible that this scenario might result in more abortions?

Hello, Keith!   Are you out there?

The Wichita Divide

Hyperbole.

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

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

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

Hyperbole.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hyperbole.

Protestors Praying

There are all kinds of anti-abortion protestors.  There are the ones who stand out in front of the clinics holding graphic signs while screaming all kinds of invectives at the women.  It doesn’t matter to them that those women might also be going in for their annual pap smear or to pick up some birth control.  They still remain the target of their vile, un-Christian behavior.

Then there are the protestors who just stand in front of the facility quietly praying.  Sure, at times they might break out into song or into a group prayer led by some local religious figure but, for the most part, they just stand out there praying to God.  At least I assume that’s who they are praying to.

I vehemently support the right of anti-abortion protestors to stand outside of a clinic and protest, even if they insist on shrieking “Don’t Kill Your Baby!” to the women as they are enter the facility.  The First Amendment also extends to those who quietly pray on the sidewalk and who seem not as “angry” as the other whack jobs.  Still, I would suggest that those who quietly pray on the sidewalk do almost as much harm as their more vociferous colleagues.

Let’s do something that the anti-abortion folks don’t do very often – let’s think about the woman who has just learned she is pregnant.  But first, spare me the “well if she didn’t spread her legs in the first place” lecture.  I get it.  I know how you get pregnant.  So, let ‘s move on.

The woman is pregnant and, unless she was actually planning on having a child, there is a good chance she is not happy with this development.  Contrary to anti-abortion dogma, she just doesn’t run to the phone and make an appointment at the local abortion clinic.  Normally, she will struggle with the decision.  After all, she knows she is carrying a living organism in her body that will ultimately grow into her baby, so the notion that she might have to abort is not a pleasant one.  To help make up her mind, she might consult with the man who was involved, her friends, her family or any religious figures in her life.  Ultimately, she may decide that she cannot have the baby.  It is a difficult decision making process and her decision to abort is a sad one.

So, she makes the appointment and normally has to wait a few days.  That’s a few more days for her to keep thinking about her decision.  The day finally arrives and she goes to the clinic.  She has heard about the anti-abortion zealots who demonstrate at the clinics and tries to prepare herself, although she really doesn’t know what to expect.  As she approaches the facility, she notices about twenty people congregating out front and her blood pressure immediately rises.   She prepares to be verbally attacked.

She gets out of the car and walks up the pathway to the front door, trying not to look at the group of protestors.   She is somewhat surprised that they are not yelling at her, notices that they are holding Bibles and praying quietly.  But she is still embarrassed.  She knows they are there because of HER and they are there because they do not approve of what she did (have unprotected sex) and what she is about to do (abort the child).  They are clearly not there to provide her comfort in her time of need.  They are there because they do not want her to have the abortion.

On this blog, I’ve had a running commentary with a respectable pro-lifer who prays in front of a clinic.  But, unless I missed it, I have yet to get a clear answer as to why he has to be AT THE CLINIC.  If you are praying to God, what does it matter where you pray?  I thought you could be anywhere and still communicate with Him.

No, I suspect there is something else going on here although I just can’t put my finger on it.  Is there some voyeuristic pleasure out of seeing a woman who clearly has had (dirty) sex going in for a (dirty) abortion?  And please don’t tell me they are there to share their stories with the woman and to tell her she has other options.  They know damn well that they cannot help her if she decides to have the baby.  Sure, they might give her some diapers and clothes, but gimme a break.  Chances are they’ll never see that woman again and, if they did succeed in talking her out of the abortion, they just exchange high fives and congratulate each other on their “save.”

So, instead of doing something else for humanity for those few hours or praying quietly at your home for an end to abortion, you are out there at the clinic disturbing the women.

Why are you out there, my friend?