Abortion Care Network

Abortion Care Network

I recently received an email from a woman named Peg Johnston, an old friend up in Binghamton, New York who has been running an abortion facility for many years.  She has seen it all:  the murders, the bombings, the protests with hundreds of people at her front door.  And, like so many of her colleagues, she has persevered.

For many years, she was one of my closest confidants when I was the Executive Director of the National Coalition of Abortion Providers.  We went through a lot together and, yes, I was a pain in the ass to her at times (or maybe a lot of times).   After I left NCAP, she helped transform the organization into what is now called the Abortion Care Network.

In the early years, NCAP was a Capitol Hill lobbying effort that represented independent abortion providers.  To this day, I take pride knowing that we actually got three laws passed that provided protection to the doctors, staff and patients who use these facilities.  Later, NCAP started focusing on the business side of the industry, putting together group purchasing plans, business conferences, etc.  What really got my juices flowing, however, was NCAP’s effort to de-stigmatize abortion.  And I was pleased when I received Peg’s email to see that the Network continues to fight to make abortion more acceptable in this country.

Abortion Care Network

Abortion Care Network

It’s hard to believe that after 40 years of legal abortion, the procedure is still shrouded in mystery, spoken only in whispers.  Millions and millions and millions of women have availed themselves of this procedure but so many of them still sit by in silence.  And that has allowed the anti-abortion movement to fill in the blanks, to demonize abortion and to make women feel ashamed for having them.

But Peg and her group continue to press the envelope.  She and her colleagues have seen women come into their facilities, leave and move on with their lives.  They continue to insist that “good women have abortions” and that abortion is “okay.”  They also believe – and they taught me – that the pro-choice movement needs to speak more honestly about the abortion procedure.  They argue that women are not stupid, that they know exactly what goes on during an abortion and it is an insult to obfuscate.  “We Trust Women,” is their catch-phrase.

Whether or not the Abortion Care Network or, for that matter, NCAP has had an impact is hard to tell.  But I can tell you personally that it sure felt good not having to worry about trying to avoid the “A” word and just putting it out there.  Sure, our candor pissed off our pro-choice colleagues at times, but we slept well at night knowing we were telling the simple truth and that, by doing so, we were lifting the veil of secrecy about abortion.

And now Peg and the Abortion Care Network are on to their next project in their never-ending battle to make abortion more acceptable in this country.  Below is a link that announces a new video contest they are sponsoring, which speaks for itself.   I encourage everyone to submit their videos, to speak out if you’ve had an abortion and, yes, to send money to the Abortion Care Network:


I would be remiss if I did comment on the case of Doctor Kermit Gosnell.

As many of you know, Doctor Gosnell performed abortions in the Philadelphia area for many years.  Then, in late 2011, he was indicted for, among other things, eight counts of murder.  In addition, several of his staff people, including his wife and sister in law, were also charged with assisting in botched abortions, practicing medicine without a license or covering up the actions of those who did.  One of them, Adrienne Moton, has already pleaded guilty to third-degree murder as well as conspiracy and other charges and is in jail.  Other staff people have also pleaded guilty and have testified at the trial.

In all my years at the National Coalition of Abortion Providers, I never heard of Doctor Gosnell.  And I surely don’t know if he is innocent or guilty of the charges.  Of course, if you read the latest reports from the pro-life media, he is clearly guilty of running a “chamber of horrors” even though the defense has not even presented its case.  While some of the testimony that has been presented so far appears rather damaging, I choose to actually let the judicial process play out because – dare I say it – I do believe that one is innocent until proven guilty.  Unlike my pro-life friends, who eschew the protections in the Constitution, I’ll wait to see what the jury has to say.

But I will add that the testimony so far has been rather shocking and, if he is found guilty, they should lock him up and throw away the key.

This case has put the pro-choice groups in a quandary.  First, there were some reports that a staff person with the National Abortion Federation actually examined his facility and recommended that he not be permitted into the organization.  But after that, he continued to perform abortions.   Then, Brenda Green, executive director of CHOICE, a nonprofit that connects the underinsured and uninsured with health services, said that she “tried to report complaints from clients, but the health department wouldn’t accept them from a third party. Instead, the patients had to fill out a daunting five-page form, available only in English, requiring them to reveal their identities upfront and be available to testify in Harrisburg.”  He was like a cockroach who could not be stamped out.

Unfortunately, many women considering an abortion don’t even know how to check out the doctors.   They often just decide who to go to based on the cost of the procedure and, like other medical services, if you are looking for the cheapest price, you may pay for it in more ways than one.  NAF does have a section on their website which tells women what to look for when choosing a clinic but how many people even know about NAF?  So, it does not surprise me that some women made their way to Doctor Gosnell.

But the tougher question is what do the pro-choice groups do if they know there is a “troublesome” doctor?  It’s hard to make allegations if you do not have very specific information but the information has to come from the women and they don’t want to even admit they had an abortion.  To be sure, one hears rumors but one has to be extremely careful lest one get sued for slander.  Indeed, years ago I was quoted in the New York Times suggesting that women not go to a certain doctor with clinics up the east coast and within two days I had a “cease and desist” letter from his attorney threatening to sue our organization and me personally.  I can tell you that a threat like that certainly makes you think about criticizing someone publicly.

The bottom line – and it’s a tough one – is that women have to learn to expect more and they need to speak up when they experience substandard care in an abortion facility (or any other medical facility).  Then the authorities need to react quickly and with certainty.  For years, we talked to numerous health authorities about that doctor on the east coast and while he lost his license in one state, he kept opening up clinics in other states.  To be sure, the pro-lifers will say that clinics need more regulations and this may come as a surprise but many clinics are not adverse to discussing well-intentioned and useful regulations.  But they will not cooperate when those regulations are designed solely to put a clinic out of business.

One final note about this case.  If the allegations are true, Doctor Gosnell is an aberration amongst abortion providers.  The vast, vast majority of women obtain abortions in comfortable and safe environments but, unfortunately, the media would rather focus on Doctor Gosnell than those who are merely offering safe abortion services to hundreds and thousands of women each year.

Abortion Congress

Abortion Congress

No matter what your position on the abortion issue, I think we can all agree that our government is virtually paralyzed.  No one can get anything done and the simple explanation is those “special interests” that focus just on their particular issue.  Indeed, just about every group that does some lobbying rates Members of Congress and come election time everyone runs to see if he or she has that vaunted 100 percent voting record on their issue.  If they don’t, watch out.  Lemme give you a good example.

One of my best friends is a Congressman from Virginia.  He’s been around for many years, I’ve worked on his campaign, donated money, etc.  When he ran for Congress the first time he did something unusual – he actually ran commercials highlighting how he was pro-choice.  He won that race and in the years after that, he earned a 100 percent voting record with the National Abortion Rights Action League.   And every time a new campaign cycle came around, he received the maximum $5,000 contribution from NARAL.

Then one day, while I was at the office of the National Coalition of Abortion Providers, he gave me a call.  “Pat, what the hell is this partial birth abortion thing?”   As readers of this blog know, the “partial birth abortion” procedure as dubbed by pro-lifers, entailed pulling the live fetus down the birth canal, removing the contents of the cranium to deflate the skull, then removing the fetus from the canal.  The doctor who developed this technique explained it was designed for women with small birth canals.  Well, the shit hit the fan when the anti-abortion movement discovered this procedure.  And folks like my friend in Congress, who is Catholic, were horrified.

I explained to him as much as I could about this procedure but he was clearly uncomfortable. Then, to his credit, he told me bluntly that he felt he had to vote to ban the procedure and, as much as I was disappointed, I actually admired how he had examined this issue based on the individual merits.

Ultimately, the votes were cast and he voted to ban the procedure.  At that point, it did not become law because President Clinton vetoed the bill.  The ban later became law under President Bush.

And in the next election cycle, the NARAL-PAC gave him NO money.

One vote and his 100% record was gone – and his “friends” felt they had to punish him for daring to vote against them.  As we know, several pro-choice Members of Congress did the same, including Senator Daniel Moynihan and Representative Patrick Kennedy.

This is how Washington, D.C. works folks.  Either you toe the line or watch your back.  And this is why nothing ever gets done.

Salvi Abortion

Salvi Abortion

On December 30, 1994, an anti-abortion zealot named John Salvi walked into two clinics in Brookline, Massachusetts and killed two abortion clinic workers. He wounded five others. There had been other murders, of course, but this one was different because Mr. Salvi went in not necessarily targeting the doctor. It was just a random massacre of people who were there to help women.

As a staff person for the National Coalition of Abortion Providers, I was at the Baltimore Aquarium when I got the call about the murders. On an empty tank of gas, my younger son and I sped back to the office in Alexandria and we started the drill. We gathered as much accurate information as possible (not an easy task) and issued a broadcast fax to several hundred clinics across the country. We got them the information because they needed to be prepared when their local media showed up at their door for comments. I was never presumptuous enough to suggested talking points. These folks were in danger every day of their life – they knew what to say.

I gave a few interviews as well. The one I remember most clearly was when I was flown to New York City to be on Good Morning America. Things were crazy for a while, even though they caught Mr. Salvi rather quickly after he unsuccessfully tried to shoot up one of our clinics in Norfolk, Virginia.

About a week later, an agent from the FBI called and asked to meet with me. He came to the office a few days later and he expressed concern that this latest shooting spree was something different in that it targeted “ancillary personnel.” He added that it might inspire another terrorist to “up the ante” and go after others that were peripherally involved in the abortion issue, like pro-choice advocates. My first reaction was that high profile advocates like Eleanor Smeal with the Feminist Majority Foundation and Kate Michelman with the National Abortion Rights Action League certainly deserved protection. But, although I was a relatively low profile advocated, the fact that I had been on Good Morning America caused the FBI some concern. I started envisioning a federal marshal sitting in my office every day and going with me to the local book store. But, instead, the agent just said that “you need to protect yourself.” I wasn’t sure what he was talking about and when I asked him directly he said “you might think about getting a gun.”

More Guns in AMerica than People

Anti Abortion Christians Love Guns

Now, I am totally anti-gun. If I could I would take every one away from every American, the NRA be damned. So, when he made the suggestion, I just had to laugh. Ultimately, however, they frightened me enough and a few days later I walked literally across the street where there was a small little gun shop. Hey, I live in Virginia, what can I tell ya?

I walked in and told the crust ole guy behind the counter about my situation and he calmly started talking about twenty twos or twenty threes or whatever, how certain guns feel in the palm of your hand, how you intend to use them, firing power, cost. My friggin head was spinning. Then he suggested I try holding a few guns just to “get the feel.” When he handed me the first one – a real live gun – my hand started to shake and I started sweating palpably. It’s one thing to play guns as a kid, using a stick as an imaginary AK 47, wiping out the bad guys. It’s another thing to hold a weapon that, once loaded, can actually kill a person. I imagined how I would actually use it to defend myself, where I would have to keep it on my person. I thought about having to be so aware of my surroundings that if a would-be assassin crept up behind me, I would be able to calmly turn around, whip the gun out of my pants, cock the pistol, aim and shoot before he shot me. In a more likely scenario, I visualized walking down the street at night and having an old school buddy tap me on my back to say hello. Oh yeah, I’m cool enough to tell the difference between a prolife assassin and my ole baseball buddy!

I dropped the whole idea pretty quickly. My family and I, however, did take precautions. When an unidentified box was delivered to our office one day, I called the police, they brought the dogs and after watching it for an hour, they opened the box, only to find a bottle of wine. And when Doctor Bart Slepian was later killed while standing in front of his window in his home, we kept all of our blinds closed for months and remained very aware of who might be outside in our wooded lot. In a way, it was good for me to go through these exercises as it reminded me what our abortion doctors and their staff were going through on a daily basis. They have to be aware of the cowards who might sneak up behind them or who might be stalking in the woods. These pro-life assassins should only have half as much courage as these doctors.

Pavone Anti Abortion Priest

Pavone Anti Abortion Priest

Kate’s article on Father Frank Pavone (below) brought back some old memories and some new thoughts.

When I was with the National Coalition of Abortion Providers, I regularly had conversations with Father Pavone (as well as other pro-life leaders). In addition to our having a few lunches (where we split the tab), I once facilitated his visit to an abortion clinic and he once arranged for me to meet with a group of 30 other priests to talk about the abortion issue. When he came to Washington, D.C. for the annual “March for Life,” Frank would invite me to meet with some of his travelling companions.

My motivation for having these meetings was not necessarily to reach “common ground.” I never really thought that was generally possible. Instead, my goal was to make him and his folks understand more about what drove our doctors to perform abortions and what motivated the women to have abortions. I thought giving them that perspective would make their protestations more “calmer” and it would make them treat women a little more civilly.

The problem was that, after a while, I just felt like I was on display. I talked very candidly about abortion and it always seemed like he (and the others) were just not that interested in learning more about the abortion process and the women who sought abortions. When I met with his priests, I talked for an hour straight, laid out every step of the process, talked about the good stuff and the bad stuff and when I opened it up for questions, the only one asked was “What is George Tiller really like?” They never probed, never argued, never talked about why they opposed abortion.

"Pro Life" March Pictures

"Pro Life" March Pictures

Now, ten years or so later, I wonder what I accomplished, if anything.

I still see Father Pavone out there as he continues to rail about the horrors of abortion. As Kate alluded to, he recently has gotten into some hot water lately and, to be honest, I don’t give a damn. I am not out to wish anyone ill will. Meanwhile, there are folks out there who are seeking that elusive common ground but I really wonder if that is possible in light of the caustic ever present conversations that go on when talking about the abortion issue. I really wonder if it’s possible to have a civil conversation anymore about abortion.

Dr. Tiller was murdered in Church by A Christian AntiAbortion Pro Life Terrorist

Dr. Tiller was murdered in Church by A Christian AntiAbortion Pro Life Terrorist

Just take a peek at the Facebook page “Abortion.com.” It’s a pro-choice site and, yes, the administrator of the site can be a bit caustic at times. But, generally, the tenor of the “discussions” is very unproductive. It’s just folks lobbing bombshells at each other. That’s unfortunate because the administrator, who used to work in the field, is open to any questions about the abortion procedure and process, but, with a few exceptions (like our friend Rogelio), the pro-lifers on the site just like to jump in with a snide or viscous remark, calling all of us pro-choicers “baby killers” or “murderers.” Then they just run away. Wow, that’s some debate! Then there are those who seem intent on trying to bring down the whole site, trolling, spamming, etc. Indeed, recently someone actually threatened the administrator to the point where the FBI is now involved.

Maybe this more caustic “debate” is just reflective of the state of politics in general these days. Whether it is or not, I prefer to stick to my approach. I will try to present the facts about abortion and will answer any question, no matter how squeamish, that is posed to me. It’s a perfect opportunity for a pro-lifer who really wants to think about the issue to – dare I say it – work with the facts. Isn’t that how we should be making our decisions?

I dunno. Maybe I was just wasting my time. Maybe it really just comes down to my bumper sticker versus theirs. Geez, I hope not.

What happens next time?

What happens next time?

The pro-life terrorist boarded the Greyhound bus in Houston in early March, 1994, carrying two duffel bags stuffed with semiautomatic weapons. His destination was Pensacola, Florida where he planned to conduct what the FBI later described as a “Beruit-style” massacre at a meeting of the members of the National Coalition of Abortion Providers.

Just a year earlier, a pro-life assassin murdered Doctor David Gunn as he was entering the office of the Pensacola Medical Services, one of several facilities where he performed abortions. The murder was national news, casting a pall amongst his colleagues in the field and NCAP members were determined to get to the funeral in Tennessee, but a major snow storm dashed those plans. Months later, abortion clinic staff across the country still yearned to get together for that much- needed “group hug.” Ultimately, NCAP announced it would host a one year anniversary event at the actual site where Doctor Gunn was killed. Right across the street from the clinic was an open air amphitheatre – a perfect spot for a series of speeches and rememberences.

Meanwhile, a pro-life activist named Daniel Ware took notice and made his plans.

The “David Gunn Memorial” went off without a hitch and it was a great opportunity for the approximately 80 abortion doctors, staff and clinic owners to finally get together and console each other. The evening before, however, I received a call informing me that a man had been arrested in Houston who apparently was headed for Pensacola to disrupt our event. No other details were offered and the next morning we told the attendees about the incident but no one seemed too concerned. After all, they lived with the threat of terrorism every day. Instead, they were intent on going to the clinic where David Gunn was killed.

Years later, I was at a conference about how local police forces protect (or don’t protect) abortion clinics. At some point, a reporter with the Los Angeles Times casually mentioned how the FBI had successfully thwarted a “guy named Daniel Ware who was in Pensacola intending to wipe out members of the National Coalition of Abortion Providers at a David Gunn Memorial.” I almost fell off my chair. I had never been told that Ware had actually been in Pensacola while we were there.

I later learned that a pro-life activist had tipped off the FBI that a man was in Pensacola with the intention of killing as many abortion providers as possible during the memorial event. The FBI then started casting a wide net, interviewing numerous local pro-life activists. Although all of the facts are not known, it seems that Daniel Ware got wind that the feds were onto his plot and he immediately turned around and went back to Houston. He was arrested when he got off the bus.

It’s hard to describe the feeling of knowing that someone was in the vicinity of an event you were hosting and he was preparing to kill you. As I celebrated Saint Patty’s Day this weekend, I couldn’t help but thinking about how lucky we all were back in March, 1994.

Abortion Providers

Abortion Providers

On March 10, 1993, I got a call from a woman who owns an abortion clinic here in the Washington D.C. area.  Through her hysterical tears I heard her say that “they just killed one of our doctors in Florida.”  There was no more information after that – just the shocking statement.  After that first call, all hell broke loose.

Within a few minutes, I got a call from Susan Hill, my long time friend and owner of a chain of abortion clinics known as the National Women’s Health Network.  A few years earlier, Susan founded the National Coalition of Abortion Providers, the group that I worked for.  She quickly confirmed that a doctor had been killed in Pensacola – and that the doctor had actually worked at one of her clinics.  His name was David Gunn.

Abortion Providers

Abortion Providers

I’ve written before about the events that transpired once we received this shocking news.  David Gunn’s murder was front page news for several days because he was the first abortion doctor to be killed for performing abortions.  His assassin surrendered after pulling the trigger, was convicted very quickly and to this day remains in jail in Florida.

I share this story because yesterday was yet another anniversary of that horrible day.  But I share it also because, although it was the day that Doctor Gunn was killed, March 10 is now known as “National Abortion Provider Appreciation Day.”

Christian Prolife Convicted Murderer Terrorist

Christian Prolife Convicted Murderer Terrorist

All across the country, it is a day when supporters of abortion rights take a moment to personally thank all of the doctors, staff and owners who work in or run abortion facilities.  Actually, while I never shy away from the word “abortion,” I think “abortion facilities” is a misnomer because it minimizes the scope of the services these people offer to women.  There is a lot more than abortion when you are offering reproductive health services.  Indeed, take a minute to go to www.abortion.com and look at some of the websites of the clinics that are listed.  You’ll get a much better idea of the amazing work that they do.

They irony, of course, is David Gunn and the other doctors who were later killed, were not just doing abortions.  As the general public recently discovered with the Susan B. Komen fiasco, these doctors might also be performing mammograms or testing for chlamydia.  Not to mention the provision of birth control which is on everyone’s tongue, especially Rick Santorum’s.  Oh, the pro-lifers can wallow in their myopia over the abortions that are performed in these clinics, but any person of average intellect knows that there are more things going on in these facilities than abortions.

Abortion Provider Appreciation

Abortion Provider Appreciation

This does not mean, however, that I am “apologizing” for the abortion services that are provided.  To the contrary – I applaud my former colleagues for having the courage to perform this procedure knowing that their car could blow up at any time or that the next person walking up to them in the mall could be carrying a gun.  As Doctor George Tiller found out when he was ushering parishioners into his church, there is no sanctuary from a demented mind who actually thinks he might be “saving babies” if he shoots an abortion doctor.

I want to applaud the abortion doctors who, despite the dangers, continue to be there to help the millions of women who have picked up the phone and made an appointment for an abortion.  I applaud the counselors who take the time to talk to the women to make sure they are positive about their decision.  And I applaud the nurses who hold the woman’s hand while she is in surgery.