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.

Making Abortion Less Accessible

I really need some help sorting this one out folks.   I am writing this directly to the pro-lifers who read this blog.  I really need to get your angle on something…

So, if you are pro-life you think abortion should be illegal, right?  You generally think – although there are differences of opinions within your movement – that the doctor should go to the jail and some of you think that the woman (because she basically created the need for the doctor) should go to jail as well.  You don’t want to see any more abortion clinics because they are complicit in the killing of babies or pre-born babies or the unborn or whatever you wish to call it.  Am I correct so far?

But now, here comes the ole Commonwealth of Virginia where pro-life forces have successfully persuaded the state Board of Health to issue regulations that will govern how abortion clinics are run.  Pro-lifers say they want to make the abortion process safer for the women because there are so many sleaze balls out there performing abortions.

Okay, folks, what am I missing here?

A woman going into an abortion clinic is usually going in for one reason – to abort their fetus, their baby, their child, their – well, you pick title.  And the pro-lifers don’t like.  Indeed, they will spend hours and hours standing in front of an abortion clinic, screaming and yelling at women in an effort to persuade them to cancel their appointment.  Some will go further and threaten the doctors and their staff in the hopes that they will stop performing this pernicious act.  Some will burn down the clinic.  Oh, yeah, and some will actually get a gun or two and kill the doctor and/or their staff to make the point.

But now – wait a second!   Now these same folks want to guarantee that the abortion is performed in a safer environment.  Suddenly, the pro-lifers are now very concerned that a woman might be injured while she is “killing her baby.”  Now, they seem concerned that if there is an emergency the hallways need to be wide enough to get the gurney out to the waiting ambulance.  They now want to make sure that the air conditioning is at a proper setting, so the woman will be comfortable while she terminates her pregnancy.  In South Carolina, where they promulgated regulations several years ago, they were so concerned about making abortion such a pleasant experience that they required the clinic to regularly mow their lawn and to rid the property of all kinds of critters.  In Kansas, pro-lifers want to make sure that the woman’s personal belongings are safe so they required clinics to have a locker for each patient.  Damn the cost, they shouted!  Women should feel mentally comfortable when they are aborting.  Then, tossing a bone to the Custodial Engineer’s Association of America, they threw in a requirement that a janitor’s closet be at least 50 square feet, enough room to hang out and watch television.  Bravo to the pro-life movement!   Is there no end to their compassion?

The new temporary regulations in Virginia will be formally voted on Sept. 15 by the state Board of Health and could go into effect by Dec. 31.  Clinics that provide five or more abortions per month will then be classified as hospitals.   Supporters of the restrictions say with a straight face that their only aim is to protect women. They assure us that they do not seek to make the regulations so onerous that it will force many of them to shut their doors.  Oh, sure, they’ll still shout that women are “murdering babies” inside that facility, but they still want to make sure that everything is nice and clean in there.

Can anyone help me out here?   I’m just a little confused….

Pro Life Bumper Stickers

Like most Americans (the sane ones, at least), I watched in horror as our elected officials almost brought our country to the economic brink a few weeks ago with their outright silliness over legislation to raise the debt ceiling.  Despite the fact that every Congress has gone through this drill many times (including under Reagan and Bush), this time around the young Tea Partyers decided it was time to draw the line in the sand – the economy be damned.

They cried that they had been sent to the Congress to send the message that we needed to get control of the “reckless” spending that was running rampant in our federal agencies.  So, screw your silly debt ceiling, they shouted!  I don’t care, Mr. President, if you are cutting a few trillion dollars in spending.  It’s not enough!  And, while you’re at it, don’t even think about raising any taxes, even on the billionaires who could care less if they had another $1,000 or so taken out of their paycheck.   There will be no compromise – and let the chips fall where they may!

What a friggin mess.  It was a game of machismo and Obama, because he actually believes in governing this country, had to blink.

And so it is with the debate over abortion.  As followers of this award-winning blog have seen in the past, the “debate,” and I use that term loosely, generally boils down to a cyberspace shouting match where no one gives any ground, where no one dares say “hey, you got a point there,” lest they be accused of treason.  Yes, there are some who have a bottom line but at times do show that they are at least hearing the other side.  But, for the most part, it is dueling academic reports and quotations.

So, for example, a pro-lifer will make their argument invoking Genesis (“and Adam begat Cain who then begat Tommy after he smote his bro Abel all the while declaring that there shall be no abortion”) or St. Luke the Meek (“ye shall never abort a possible Savior”).  They will spend hours insisting that their book is the only one worth shit, that it is the all knowing edition that lays out everything that must be obeyed – even if you wear a turban.  It is the WORD of the munificent and compassionate God, pure and simple and, if you stray from his oh-so-loving WORD, you will spend ETERNITY SURROUNDED BY FLAMES IN HELL.  Sorry, but those are the rules.

Then there are the pro-choicers who quote their own Gods or, to be more exact, Goddesses.  Steinem, Abzug, Friedan, Madonna.  Theirs is the word, the woman’s body is sacrosanct, it’s our way or the highway.  They believe that every anti-abortion person is a true nut ball or, worse, a terrorist.  The crisis pregnancy centers are all run by freak-a-zoids who don’t give a crap about women and who, once they talk that woman into having the baby, will disappear forever.  Adios, mama, you’re on your own!  Meanwhile, the pro-choicers will insist that that damned thing floating around in there is a fetus.  It ain’t a baby you idiot!   It doesn’t matter that the mother calls it a baby when that eight week fetus is wanted.  Nope, when we’re contemplating abortion, it’s a fetus, pure and simple.

The problem in this country is that we live in a bumper sticker world where no one dares to give ground any more.  I am right and you are wrong.  End of story.  Indeed, when was the last time you ever heard anyone say “hey, you got a point there, I wanna think about that.”  OMG!  Hey, we got a wimp over here folks!  A flip flopper!  Off with her head!

So, much like we saw in Congress, the abortion debate has become one intractable mess.

Well, I’m sorry but no one has the monopoly on wisdom on this or any other issue.  The truth is always somewhere in the middle.  To be sure, I am totally pro-choice but, damn it, at 24 weeks it sure looks like a baby to me.  And while I still support the right to abort it, it pains me to see it happen.  On the other hand, to the pro-lifers out there, you are never gonna convince me that a 6 week fetus is a baby or a “person” as some of you would suggest.  Get real.

I say we toss aside the bumper stickers for a bit.

Let’s start thinking and actually TALKING for a change.

Founding Fathers and Abortion

Founding Fathers - Right to Life

It was a sweltering July day in the city of Philadelphia in 1776.  The delegates to the convention slowly make their way into what ultimately would be dubbed “Independence Hall” but on this day it was still commonly known as “Moe’s Place.”   Representatives from the 13 American colonies were there to discuss whether or not to break away from Mother England and set up their own nation.  A committee had been formed to draft a statement of principles that would publicly explain to King George and the rest of the world why the colonies felt it was necessary to declare its independence and, in effect, start a war.

The debate over the proposed resolution was intense and went on for days.  Should we actually call the King a “tyrant?”  How do we address the issue of slavery?  Should we be quoting Thomas Paine or Voltaire?   Should we refer to God?

Then, suddenly, after days of laborious discussion, a delegate raised his hand and is recognized:  “Mr. President, why is there no language that protects fetuses from being aborted?”

There are puzzled looks on the faces of those in the room then Thomas Jefferson, the primary author of the document, calmly assures the delegate that his concern has been met and refers him to the section which says that all men shall be endowed with the right to “life” in this new nation so, he explains, since every baby has the possibility of coming out as a male, you cannot have any abortions!

Somehow I just don’t think that’s how it all played out.

Those who advocate making abortion a crime in this country love to cite the Declaration of Independence and, in particular, the line that says (cue the trumpets!):  “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” 

Or is it “inalienable?”   I always get that part confused.

Anyway, so somewhere along the line the anti-abortion folks started to interpret that passage to mean that everyone has a “right to life.”  See!  See!  The Founding Fathers, those wise old men, were saying that everyone, including those little fetuses, have the right to life!   See!  What did I tell ya?  You gonna argue with the likes of Jefferson, Franklin, Berkowitz and Adams?

Okay, now let’s everybody calm down and think this through a little.

First of all, the fact is that those sage, all-knowing Founding Fathers never said a word about abortion during that long summer in Philadelphia.  The word is never found in any of the historical accounts of the process.  I mean, just think about about it.  It wasn’t even an issue in those days and they had much bigger things on their mind, like creating a new country.  Didn’t they have other things to do that were a little more important than abortion?

Second, remember that in those days, when they said “all men” are blah, blah, they really meant all MEN.  We know that they weren’t talking about women – God forbid – and they weren’t talking about the slaves either.  They were talking about all of those old white people who had the power.  So, please do not tell me that, although they didn’t give a rat’s ass about women or slaves, they did care about protecting those little, defenseless fetuses.

This is one of those arguments that is really stretching it a bit, don’t you think?