Abortion

Abortion

Late March, 1997.

A little over one hundred abortion clinic doctors, owners and staff people trekked to Washington, D.C. like battle-scarred soldiers returning from a great war.  For years, they had been under siege by pro-life terrorists who felt they had permission from their personal God to inject noxious butyric acid into clinic’s keyholes, bomb abortion facilities, make daily threatening phone calls and even kill abortion doctors.

Then, just a few weeks earlier, the national debate over the so-called “Partial Birth” abortion procedure blew wide open when a rift developed between abortion providers and pro-choice groups over how frequently the procedure had been used and in what circumstances.  Tensions between the groups were at an all time high.  And now, members of the National Coalition of Abortion Providers, whose Executive Director, Ron Fitzsimmons, in an attempt to tell the truth about that abortion procedure had precipitated the firestorm, were coming to Washington, D.C. for their annual national convention.

Christian Pro Life Terrorists

Christian Pro Life Terrorists

As they were setting the agenda for the meeting a few weeks earlier, NCAP staff came up with an idea to rally the beleaguered troops.  They suggested that, as the last item of business for the three day conference, the entire group go to the U.S. Supreme Court for a picture.

In retrospect, it may not have been the most original idea but it was new to this group who often worked in the shadows.  Normally, they were not prone to exposing themselves in a public way.  They rarely, if ever, congregated as a group in a spot that would make them a convenient target for would-be terrorists. But, with some of their colleagues bailing out because of an impending snowstorm, those that remained dressed for the occasion and cabbed up to Capitol Hill for their group shot.

Abortion Law

Abortion Law

As the professional photographer composed the shot, you could feel the excitement grow.  You got the sense that at least for those few moments they had nothing to hide and it was as if they could feel the presence of Justice Harry Blackmun, the author of Roe v. Wade, the decision that legalized abortion in 1973.  The photographer had to take a number of pictures, but you got the feeling that the group could have stood there for hours.

Over the next 6 years, as a member of the NCAP staff, I visited many abortion facilities and was continually greeted by a framed picture of the group in front of the Supreme Court hanging in the clinic waiting room or the administrator’s office.  Yes, over the years a number of those pictured have left us, like Doctor George Tiller and NCAP founder, Susan Hill.  But as I look at that picture, which is now hanging in my study, I remember that it was a great step forward, that it was a moment when this group of abortion providers were able to stand roudly in front of the building that had been the source of a legal decision that legitimized their work and proved to be a giant leap forward for women’s health.

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.