Abortion: The New Militancy Part 1

‘The year of pain and fear’
Pro-lifers adopts street tactics in the war to abolish abortion
Gannett News Service
Rochelle Sharpe

Dallas – Inside the operating room, Kathy Kelley still could hear the screams.”Don’t spread your legs and let that man would appear baby out,” a booming voice ordered as she climbed onto the examining table. Waiting for her abortion, she started to shake. The voice outdoors pleaded now, in a higher pitch, “Mommy, Mommy! Save me, Mommy!”

Kelly relaxed only after nurse gave her a Sony Walkman to muffle the noise. The tiny radio has become as essential as anesthesia at the Routh Street Women’s Clinic here, where blocking the din of abortion protests is harder than blunting the operation’s pain.

Twelve years after the Supreme Court declared abortion legal nationwide, pro-life activists are turning increasingly to the streets. Having failed in the courts and Congress to make abortion illegal, new activists now try to make it impossible.

As a result, women across America find abortions more frightening, sometimes more dangerous and often more expensive.

“It’s time to get mean,” said Winston Wilder, president of Dallas’ Abortion Abolition Society, which arms its members with megaphones and stations them at each of the city’s seven clinics. They snap patients’ pictures, encircle their cars and yell through bullhorns so loudly the centers’ windows rattle.

“If they’re not going to change the laws, we’re going to make it hard,” Wilder said. “We want to harass them. We want to make the situation so tough that having an abortion is not feasible.”

Fewer than 200,000 of the nation’s 12 million pro-lifers protest outside clinics; the majority still work on legislative, educational and political campaigns. But even the largest and most traditional pro-life groups say militant activism has grown substantially.

“Five years ago a smattering of people were dabbling in it,” said Judie Brown, president of the American Life League, the nation’s largest grassroots pro-life organization. “Now, it’s central.” Next to education and serving pregnant women, direct action is the movement’s most important part, said Brown, whose group endorses such activities but works mainly in lobbying and education.

Clinic protests have increased with every other aspect of the movement, said Dan Donehey of the National Right to Life Committee, a major lobbying organization. “Direct action is just more visible.”

New activists from 34 states, appalled that 1.5 million women abort their pregnancies each year, met at their second annual convention in Appleton, Wis., this spring and declared 1985 a “year of pain and fear” for the abortion industry.

“This is no movement of moderation,” said Joseph Scheidler of Chicago, who wrote CLOSED: 99 Ways to Stop Abortion, and helped quadruple the activists’ ranks since 1983. “A violent death from abortion takes place every 20 seconds. We don’t have time to do things that won’t work.”

Inspired by evangelical and Catholic churches and guided by Scheidler’s writings, pro-lifers spread the suffering to everyone who has anything to do with the operations.

Activists accost patients and invade clinics – a marked contrast to protesters two years ago, who marched and prayed quietly outside. They haunt staff at home, too, sending death threats and picketing neighborhoods.

Their new counseling centers masquerade as abortion clinics. Unlike Birthright offices that openly advertise their missions, these new centers force women to watch graphic anti-abortion films. About one new center opens daily, most with deceptive names. By year’s end, pro-lifers say, they will operate about 2,900 – the same as the number of clinics, doctor’s offices and hospitals offering abortions.

More radical activists try to close clinics permanently. Since abortion became legal in 1973, one of every 15 family planning centers has been damaged by firebombs or arson; half the 68 incidents occurred during the last 17 months. Clinic violence and vandalism increased more than 300 percent during the last two years, causing more than $4 million in losses.

“This is a holy war,” said Penny Lea, a former gospel singer who tours the nation’s churches to talk about abortion.

Waving signs like hatchets, 15 picketers charge toward Kathie MacDonald-Evoy, as she drove into a clinic parking lot in Tempe, Ariz. They hovered so closely, she said, she had to push them back with her car door to get out. She became the center of a moving mob, as protesters surrounded her, pushing, taking pictures and screaming, “Baby killer!”

“It really got to me,” she said. “That night, I dreamed about people screaming at me, about what the baby looked like. I told real close friends I’d miscarried. It’s not like me to do that.”

After her abortion, Julie Kilmer, of Buffalo, N.Y., received baby magazines for months. A Virginia college student was trailed by protesters for so long she had a nervous breakdown; a 17-year-old in Wisconsin who tried to abort her fetus herself to avoid the heckling had to have a hysterectomy, said Maggie Cage, clinic director in Appleton.

A woman from Ft. Worth, Texas, almost killed herself.

She went to a clinic named Abortion Action Affiliates, but only after giving her medical history did she learn it was a pro-life crisis pregnancy center. They advertise and telephone books under “abortion services,” offering free pregnancy tests.

The woman said she was forced to watch a film filled with gory pictures of dismembered fetuses. Then, a counselor shouted at her, telling her most women bleed to death after abortions.

“I felt completely trapped,” said the woman, who is using Jane Doe as her pseudonym in her lawsuit against the center. “I decided if people didn’t feel I should kill my baby, I’ll just kill myself and then they couldn’t be mad that I killed the baby.”
Center director Charles Pelletier declined comment, citing the pending lawsuit.

Doe said she finally had the abortion, but decided to move after the anti-abortion counselor called on Christmas Eve to ask about her baby.

“You have to be this way with these girls,” said Robert Pearson, the founder of a chain of centers, at the National Right to Life convention in June. Many women think they want abortions because they don’t know all the facts, he said. Of those visiting his centers, Pearson said, 85 percent carried their pregnancies to term.

“There’s nothing wrong with letting them think it’s an abortion chamber as long as you’re not telling her,” he said.

The new activists also find nothing wrong with picketing clinic workers homes. In Dallas, protesters stood outside doctors’ homes on Sunday mornings, yelling through bullhorns, “Beware Beware. There is a murderer on the block.”

In Granite City, Ill., Dr. Hector Zevallos was kidnapped for eight days and held at gunpoint because he worked for the Hope Clinic for Women. And in Pembroke Pines, Fla., clinic director Jeffrey Lynn watched one bullet burst into his bedroom and another into his car. Lynn’s clinic, the Ladies Center, was sprayed with 27 bullets from a machine gun.

Activists bombarded an Everett, Wash., center with more than 700 phone calls a day. In Denver, they got shoppers to phone one clinic by posting its number on a note advertising Cabbage Patch dolls. In Akron, Ohio, they dropped white powder on a clinic’s waiting room floor; it filled the air with noxious fumes, forcing patients to the hospital.

Clinic administrators, however, have learned to be most upset when picketing drops off suddenly: Protests often decline just before a bombing.

The pattern made many directors suspect a conspiracy. But the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, which has solved 23 of 37 recent attacks, found no evidence the convicted bombers knew one another, said bureau spokesman Jack Killorin.

What bombers did share was religious zeal. Matthew Goldsby and James Simmons said they bombed two Pensacola, Fla., clinics and a doctor’s office on Christmas Day 1984 “as a gift to Jesus on his birthday.” Curtis Beseda said he set four fires at clinics in Everett and Bellingham, Wash., “out of Christian love.”

As a result, some clinics have become armed fortresses. The Aware Woman Clinic in Melbourne Fla., would not be caught without attack dogs, guns, and mace any more than it would run out of syringes and gauze. At Reproductive Health Services in St. Louis, counselors remove stunned patients’ codes, repeating, “This is your right. This is legal.”

Many clinics have lost their leases because of all the ruckus. The violence has made insurance companies so skittish that even Lloyd’s of London, which insured Betty Grable’s legs, refused to insure the Dallas Medical Ladies Clinic.

More than 80 percent of all centers had insurance canceled this year; new policies often are 10 times more expensive.

“They hit us with Chinese water torture,” said Patricia Windle, director of the Melbourne clinic. “There are so many changing, constant tactics. There are so many different levels of trouble.

“I’m resilient, but I’m paying in bucket loads of stress.”

So are women seeking abortions. The same number still have the operations, clinic directors said, but they arrive angrier, more upset and often three to six weeks further along in pregnancy, when the operations carry a higher risk.

And everyone is more wary. At many clinics, counselors and patients eye each other as suspiciously as buyers and sellers of illicit drugs. Is that clinic a clinic? Is the patient a patient? Doctors say they worry because pro-lifers make appointments to get inside operating rooms, then take them over.

But clinic workers keep going. Bill Baird, a prominent abortion activist from Long Island, ignores repeated death threats by remembering the woman who screamed and died in his arms, her uterus embedded with eight inches of coathanger.

“There are moments when I’m afraid,” Cage said. “But it fails to rise to the level of fear when I think of illegal abortion. That frightens me more than any abortion protester ever could.”