ABORTION CLINICS UNDER SIEGE

Barton, Judy

Abortion clinics under siege After the writs come the firebombs Judy Barton Maggi Cage knew she was in for a fight when she rented a building in Grand Chute, Wisconsin, in September 1977 and...

...Columbus, Ohio...
...And again she was right...
...Along with the opposition, both in Youngstown and in Grand Chute, has come loyal support from her landlord, from the Wisconsin Civil Liberties Union, and from local citizens concerned that individual rights are being eroded...
...But the supporters of the right to choose face a formidable foe...
...One of the broader threats is a proposed amendment to the Criminal Code Reform Bill pending in Congress...
...Such a law could make it next to impossible for family planning and abortion clinics to operate...
...Hit them in the pocketbook," she says, "and people will begin to wonder if they really want their taxes to be spent defending local officials engaged in a campaign of harassment...
...Circuit Judge Gordon Myse ruled that the zoning code was being selectively applied for the purpose of harassment...
...and Akron, Ohio...
...A 1977 Gallup poll found that 44 per cent of Catholics think the Church should relax its stand on abortion...
...Many regarded the Hyde Amendment as a sell-out because it permitted Medicaid funds to be used for abortions in cases of rape...
...Among these, the Catholic Church is the biggest force...
...No business in the area would sell her materials to fix the windows...
...However, the thrust of the anti-abortion movement is to impose a single, religious moral conception on all of society, eroding the separation of church and state which is a cornerstone of democratic liberties...
...Although another major organization, the National Right to Life Committee, has failed to disclose the sources of its income or to file lobbying reports, as it is legally required to do, the National Abortion Rights Action League (NARAL) has discovered that much of its income comes through the Catholic Church, collected at special "Respect Life" Sundays...
...they would have to be warned about the risks of physical injury, emotional damage, sterility, and death...
...The "right-to-lifers" are still a minority...
...Once you've gotten into motion a single-issue, extremely fervent constituency," comments Rhonda Copelon of the Center for Constitutional Rights, "you have the force in place to move in a similar fashion on other issues such as restrictions on contraception, sex education, or even aid to parochial schools...
...Having gained experience in an equally beleaguered clinic she once operated in Youngstown, Ohio, this twenty-seven-year-old women's counselor is a veteran of the fight for abortion rights...
...In Cleveland, the Concerned Women's Clinic was destroyed by fire, a worker was temporarily blinded by a chemical thrown at her, and the police refused to investigate vandalism at the clinic...
...And then came the town attorney with a newly enacted "informed consent" ordinance designed to enmesh the clinic in lengthy litigation...
...Even before the doors opened, the windows had been broken...
...When pressed, most right-to-life groups will say they don't support violence...
...First came the building inspector...
...Then came a Town Board resolution opposing the opening of the facility and calling for a national constitutional convention to outlaw abortion...
...Despite all this, the Fox Valley Reproductive Health Care Center is still better off than many others of its kind...
...And she was right...
...Abortion clinics under siege After the writs come the firebombs Judy Barton Maggi Cage knew she was in for a fight when she rented a building in Grand Chute, Wisconsin, in September 1977 and prepared to open the Fox Valley Reproductive Health Care Center, a clinic offering, among other services, legal abortions...
...And so, last August, almost a year after the clinic was established, it finally opened its doors...
...These changes could include such favorite right-wing issues as limiting the rights of those accused or convicted of crimes, increasing the power of the Presidency, or restricting school desegregation...
...There was also a "counseling" requirement: Patients would have to be shown pictures of a fetus growing in its mother's womb...
...Firebombings, threats, attacks on workers and invasions of clinics by vigilante groups are commonplace around the country...
...in St...
...Paul, Minnesota, a Planned Parenthood clinic has been shot into and burned, and workers have been threatened with the kidnapping and murder of their children...
...She also stood up to the local building inspector and was told by state authorities that the only additional requirement would be a holding tank at the clinic...
...She relies on high visibility and lots of publicity to let people know that their rights are being threatened and to encourage them to fight back...
...Perhaps the biggest threat is the curTo defeat this determined...
...Twenty-one more states are needed to endorse the call for a constitutional convention, a call already rejected by at least eleven states...
...In Akron, where the constitutionality of the "informed consent" ordinance was on trial before a hostile judge, 1,000 supporters from feminist, political, and religious groups and from labor unions met last September to demonstrate their support for women's legal right to abortion...
...A De-Vries Associates poll in 1974 showed that more than two-thirds of Catholics favored abortions to save a woman's life, preserve her health, or terminate a pregnancy caused by rape...
...Its overwhelmingly conservative delegates a NARAL study published in July 1978 showed that two-thirds of all anti-abortion Congressmen had poor voting records in terms of supporting major social legislation would no doubt attempt to change the Constitution in other ways to limit individual rights...
...To hamstring the clinic even further, the ordinance required that parents of patients under eighteen would have to be notified in advance of abortion, that parents of those under fifteen would have to give written consent, and that husbands would also have to be notified...
...Others oppose abortions for humanitarian reasons...
...This amendment would restore enforceability to an old anti- obscenity law prohibiting the mailing of all literature and materials not only about abortion but also about contraception...
...In June 1976 the National Right to Life Convention in Boston offered a workshop on "How to Disrupt an Abortion Clinic...
...No suspects have been apprehended in any of the cases...
...Judy Barton is a free-lance writer in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin...
...Not all anti-abortionists are right-wingers...
...Newspaper polls show that 67 to 81 per cent of Americans believe abortion is a matter to be decided by a woman and her physician...
...But Maggi Cage knew her troubles were far from over...
...Catholic Conference, testifying at a Congressional hearing last year, opposed any government role in family planning and sex education...
...the Akron "informed consent" ordinance passed the Catholic-dominated city council by only one vote...
...Further weakening the anti-abortion movement are splits within the ranks of right-to-lifers...
...So the Town Board dusted off the zoning code and said the clinic would have to move to an industrial area...
...In addition, the Catholic Church uses its extensive communications network to help the right-to-life movement reach into people's homes and minds with a constant barrage of propaganda...
...Elsewhere in the country, supporters of the right to choose have also been rallying against opposition and attack...
...It would have required her to secure liability insurance coverage of at least $ 1 million, to pay steep application and licensing fees, and to provide expensive physical facilities (enough to assure the doubling of her fees to the patients...
...Cage knew that Grand Chute's new ordinance was more than just a simple public health measure and that, like its counterparts elsewhere, it was unlikely to survive constitutional* challenge...
...The anti-abortion movement is more than a single-issue campaign...
...Again, Cage filed suit...
...The National Right to Life Committee recently ousted its president, Mildred Jefferson, because she opposed focusing the movement on the drive for a constitutional convention...
...The stories of violence are numerous...
...Some see liberalized abortion policies as instruments for curtailing populations of the poor and ethnic minorities...
...On a local level, too, anti-abortionists often hold only a slim majority...
...But the hysteria whipped up by propaganda campaigns against abortion can encourage some individuals to turn to vigilante acts...
...A close copy of a mail-order anti-abortion ordinance which has flooded the country in recent years, Grand Chute's new regulation was quickly served on Maggi Cage...
...In Fairfax, Virginia, judges refused to prosecute clinic disrupters...
...Mildred Jefferson, former president of the National Right to Life Committee, and Monsignor James T. McHugh of the U.S...
...Surveys from several states show that the proportion of Catholic women obtaining abortions is actually higher than the percentage of Catholics in the population...
...they would have to be advised about the alternatives to abortion...
...In Omaha, police could find no suspects in a fire set at the Ladies' Center in August 1977, even though "hate" letters received by local newspapers had been clearly signed...
...lavishly funded minority will not be easy' rent agitation for a constitutional convention that would go beyond the passing of an amendment outlawing abortion...
...The potential political influence of the anti-abortion movement is of growing concern...
...Increasingly, anti-abortionists are turning their guns against family planning...
...It could become the wedge for a witch-hunt against liberal, Left, and feminist groups...
...The pickets that showed up were not the ordinary kind: Some vowed to chain themselves to the clinic to dissuade the patients from entering...
...Then came a firebombing, and an unsuccessful attempt to heave a Molotov cocktail into the building...
...A group called PEACE (People Expressing a Concern for Everyone), organized after the Boston convention, invaded clinics in six cities across the country on one day in January 1978...
...Cage's approach seems to work...
...and again she won...
...Backed by the Fox Valley chapter of the Wisconsin Civil Liberties Onion, she asked for a preliminary injunction against the ordinance and was granted it by Federal Judge Myron Gordon...
...In Grand Chute, Maggi Cage remains undeterred by legal or physical harassment...
...She has brought a $105,000 suit against town officials for lost income due to harassment...
...Behind these campaigns are many well-funded and well-organized groups...
...He ordered the renovation work halted, citing numerous building and plumbing code violations...
...Anti-abortionists were forced to accept a compromise on the Hyde Amendment limiting Medicaid funding for abortions, and they were unable to tack an anti-abortion rider on last year's military spending bill...
...One major organization, the National Committee for a Human Life Amendment, is funded by the U.S...
...Thirteen abortions were performed the first week...
...The legal maneuvers and vigilante actions directed against abortion clinics have been part of a well-orchestrated-campaign...
...At the Price-Hill clinic in Cincinnati, pickets bent on disruption have taken down the auto license numbers of staff and patients...
...Catholic Conference, an arm of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, through contributions from dioceses around the country...
...And while Catholics are preeminent among right-to-lifers, it does not follow that most Catholics necessarily are staunch anti-abortionists...
...Two hundred supporters from all over Wisconsin joined in a rally at the clinic on a hot summer Saturday last July, proclaiming their determination to preserve a woman's right to have abortion services available to her if she should choose to use them...
...It will require moving beyond traditional politics to a grass-roots mobilization of liberal activists, radicals, women, minorities, poor people, trade unionists all those whose interests are threatened by the growing strength of the right wing...
...The right-to-life movement is a powerful minority, but it is important to remember that it is only a minority and has met many defeats...
...But to defeat this determined, well-organized, and lavishly funded minority will not be easy...
...Also, she has a tight security system, maintains good relations with the local police force, and uses the law to good effect...
...State right-to-life conventions have encouraged clinic invasions and have given instruction in other techniques of harassment...
...As some sectors of the anti-abortion movement move further to the political right, more questions will arise in the minds of right-to-lifers and more splits will develop...
...Fires have occurred in the past year at clinics in Burlington, Vermont...
...But continued anti-abortion propaganda could sway public opinion...
...it could also be used to interfere with the efforts of legal pro-choice groups to organize and raise funds...
...Despite an alarming rise in vigilante-ism and many discouraging legal setbacks for those who are committed to the preservation of individual rights, the victory of the anti-abortionists is not inevitable...

Vol. 43 • March 1979 • No. 3


 
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