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The right-to-life rampage: anti-abortion groups step up the terror.

Jeri Rasmussen lives in a quiet bedroom community of St. Paul, yet she does a careful sweep of her front lawn every day, looking for signs of vandalism. Before she starts her car, she checks the muffler to make sure there's nothing in it, examines the tires to assure herself they're full of air, and searches the driveway for nails. Then, when she turns the key in the ignition, she prays it doesn't trigger a bomb or any other device she's failed to notice.

Rasmussen owns a women's health clinic in St. Paul that provides gynecological services, birth control, prenatal care, and abortions. While she never imagined this daily routine would become part of her job description, she says "the abnormal has become part of the normal routine" for abortion providers around the country.

Over the last three years, Rasmussen has received threatening letters both at work and at home, she says. One morning she awoke to find that someone had dumped a pile of roofing nails in her driveway. Another day she discovered that a "huge hunk of concrete" had been thrown through her window with a note attached telling her not to kill babies. She says she's been followed to and from work.

Before Rasmussen persuaded the city to enact an ordinance outlawing targeted residential picketing, dozens of demonstrators appeared outside her home, sometimes daily. They chanted and put Wanted posters in her neighbors' mailboxes, giving her name and phone number and suggesting that the neighbors call her if they were against "child killing." She says many of these tactics have been used against the doctors and other employees at her clinic.

In Melbourne, Florida, Patricia Windle is having similar experiences. Owner of Aware Woman Center for Choice, Windle says attacks against her have been relentless. Her home was picketed regularly until she managed to get an injunction barring picketing within 300 feet of her condominium. She says she's received death threats, and her friends and employees have been picketed and harassed at home. One day, says Windle, "I had to hold an employee's fifteen-year-old daughter, who was screaming and scared because her mother went to work and one of them [anti-abortion activists] had come to the door."

And, of course, the February murder of Dr. David Gunn, an abortion provider in Pensacola, Florida, by an anti-abortion fanatic makes the threats and harassment all the more frightening.

Windle owns three clinics in Florida, and all three have been attacked with butyric acid, a noxious chemical which produces an overpowering stench that causes nausea, vomiting, dizziness, and headaches. Windle says one employee is still out of work with respiratory problems after eight months. To get rid of the smell, Windle was forced to put in new carpets, chairs, and other furnishings. She says anti-abortion demonstrators also follow patients home, contact their friends and family, and inform them of the women's abortions.

Anti-abortion activists harass even service workers. During a recent hurrican the roof at Windle's Melbourne clinic was damaged. After repairing part of it, the roofing company quit because its workers were being bothered constantly by anti-abortion protesters. Then, says Windle, anti-abortion activists called city officials to report that her clinic was violating safety standards because its roof hadn't been repaired.

One repairman who hasn't quit confirms that working at Aware Woman Center for Choice is not easy. Locksmith Kim Pollman was called in after someone glued all the locks shut. Windle says she called several locksmiths trying to find one who didn't mind working at an abortion clinic. When she called Pollman, he said, "Lady, right-to-lifers don't bother me."

But "right-to-lifers" certainly tried. According to Pollman, they attempted to block his truck in the driveway, and the entire time he was there they kept calling him "murderer." While working at the clinic, he says, he got a lot of hang-up calls at his business number, which is painted on his truck.

"Everyone with whom we have to deal is afraid of the harassment," says Windle. Even two newspaper reporters told her they were afraid of the anti-abortion protesters, she recalls.

Windle, a fifty-eight-year-old grandmother, has been an abortion provider for almost twenty years and says the litany of harassment is so long that "if I talked nonstop for two weeks, I couldn't even remember all the things to tell you."

Both Rasmussen and Windle say they have lost almost all their privacy. According to Rasmussen, anti-abortion activists, claiming to be a documentary-film team, came to her high-school class reunion with video cameras and tried to steal the class list--presumably so they could inform her classmates of her line of work.

Back in Melbourne, Windle is kept under surveillance by high-powered equipment, including long-range microphones capable of listening in to conversations hundreds of feet away and through windows. At a picnic for volunteer clinic defenders, Windle says, one of the volunteers, an Episcopal minister, left early but soon returned. Windle, who is a Louisiana native with a thick Southern accent and a wry sense of humor, says the minister looked white when she returned--"like who hit Nelly in the belly with a flounder." It turned out that the minister had gone home to find her picnic conversations recorded on her answering machine.

Interfering with telephones seems a favorite tactic. Windle's husband looked in the phone book recently to find their daughter's new address. "He told me," she says, "|You're never gonna believe this,' and I looked and there was my name with the [anti-abortion group's] phone number next to it."

Anti-abortionist Meredith Raney admits listing the phone number next to Windle's name--"for women exploited by abortion to call." Raney says he did it "just to aggravate her."

Raney also admits he and his fellow activists use a high-powered surveillance microphone to listen in on conversations among Windle and her friends. He justifies such activities by saying, "If we could get ahead of time a name and number of a client, and we can discourage her from having an abortion, it's worth it. We believe there's a higher issue at stake with these unborn children."

Even some anti-abortion activists, however, think people like Raney have gone too far. Kim Babington, pastor of the First Baptist Church in Cocoa Beach, Florida, and a staunch "pro-lifer," says, "I believe as Christians we are doing things contrary to the word of God. Instead of engaging in spiritual warfare, people have become our enemies." Babington believes the fact that so many women are still having abortions is a punishment from God for the behavior of many "right-to-lifers." He believes they have to start ministering and helping people.

But most anti-abortion activists say abortion providers are exaggerating or even lying about the actions taken against them. Wendy Wright, a spokeswoman for Operation Rescue National, the group known for its blockades of clinics, says, "It all goes back to a meeting Planned Parenthood had, where they said they would use certain terms like |harassment' and |stalking' when referring to the activities of pro-lifers."

Wright says her colleagues' activities against providers focus primarily on "exposing them for who they really are and informing women of the truth about abortion," all activities which she says are "protected by the First Amendment." And as for butyric acid attacks, which are occurring at clinics all over the country, Wright says there is no proof connecting them to "right-to-life" activists. Wright suggests that abortion providers do it themselves to collect insurance.

However, there is plenty of evidence that anti-abortion activists are engaged in much more than "exposing doctors" and "informing women." While Wright says members of Operation Rescue National must take a pledge of nonviolence, their allies around the nation may not be so committed to that concept.

There have been incidents of assault during "rescues" at clinics around the country. Dr. Brian Finkle, a gynecologist in Phoenix, says that during a blockade of his office by Project Rescue, two men got into the building, attacked him, and tried to lock him in his office. "Fortunately," Finkle says, "the police burst in before they were able to wreak havoc on me and my office." Court documents confirm that anti-abortion activists were found guilty of assaulting Finkle.

Louise Luck, wife of Dr. Bernard Luck of Goshen County, New York, is frightened of the anti-abortion protesters who have been picketing their home and her husband's office for more than a year. After the first protest in front of their house, she says, "One male [unknown to her] waited an hour-and-a-half after the picket was over for someone to leave the house." When Luck, thinking it was safe, let her sixteen-year-old daughter go out for breakfast with a friend, "The stalker followed her and called out to her and frightened her and let her know that they knew she was our daughter."

Relentless attacks and protests have also been leveled at their neighbors who, according to Luck, have received phone calls at 2:00 A.M. asking, "Do you know you live next door to a murderer?"

Even Louise Luck's mother has not been safe. When Luck momentarily left the hospital bedside of the elderly, ailing woman, Luck returned to find protesters had sneaked in and hung rosary beads on her unconscious mother's body.

The murder of Dr. Gunn raised the stakes for Luck and increased her anxiety. When she came home the day after the shooting to find her daughter had left the front door undone, she says she became "irrationally frantic."

These doctors and abortion providers are just a few of the hundreds, nationwide, who have been subjected to such protests.

Ron Fitzsimmons is executive director of the National Coalition of Abortion Providers, which represents about 200 independents. He says hundreds of abortion providers have been harassed nationwide. None of his members was surprised this spring when Dr. Gunn was shot and killed in front of the Pensacola clinic.

"People kept saying, |I'm sorry it was David, but I knew it was going to happen,'" Fitzsimmons recalls. At least thirteen doctors have quit since Gunn's death, Fitzsimmons says.

The constant attacks on clinic staff are creating a national shortage of abortion providers. According to the National Abortion Federation, which represents abortion facilities, more than 80 per cent of the counties in the United States currently have no identifiable abortion provider. And, according to the Alan Guttmacher Institute, the number of abortion providers nationally in 1980 was 2,758; by 1988, the number had dropped to 2,582.

This decline came before Operation Rescue founder Randall Terry announced a campaign targeting doctors. During a rally last year in Washington, D.C., Terry vowed to "do everything we can to torment these people ... to expose them for the vile, blood-sucking hyenas that they are." Terry told his followers that if there are no doctors to do abortions, it doesn't matter whether abortion is legal.

Pro-choice activists are fighting back, though. They are pooling resources in an effort to thwart attacks on doctors and providers. Their movement was, in fact, given new life by the death of Dr. Gunn, which alerted people all over the country, on both sides of the issue, that things had gone too far.

Numerous states and the U.S. Congress are beginning to enact legislation to protect providers and their patients from harassment. The types of legislation vary from anti-stalking laws to "bubble bills," which create protected zones around clinics and doctors' offices.

Of all such measures, the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) bill now pending in Congress has received the most publicity. While the version being considered in the House is primarily aimed at clinic blockades, the Senate bill goes much further. It would make it a Federal crime to "use the threat of force, or physical obstruction, that intentionally injures, intimidates, or interferes with any person (or attempts to do so) because that person is or has been obtaining or providing abortion services, or in order to intimidate that person or another from obtaining or providing abortion services."

The bill also prohibits destruction of medical facilities that provide abortion and allows anyone injured by prohibited behavior to bring civil suits and get monetary compensation. The penalties against violators of the Federal law are stiff--fines and prison terms ranging from one year for a first offense not involving bodily injury to ten years for an offense involving bodily injury or a life term if someone dies. The Senate bill is sponsored by Senator Edward Kennedy, Democrat of Massachusetts, who has worked closely on it with Attorney General Janet Reno.

Many anti-abortion activists see the Federal legislation as a clear violation of their First Amendment rights if it becomes law. In testimony before a Senate committee, Carol Crossed of Feminists for Life charged that the bill "lumps together . . . lawless terrorism with civil disobedience." Crossed, who has participated in clinic blockades, says the law would punish too harshly those who participate in "rescues," which she considers to be civil disobedience. She asks why "pro-lifers" should be punished more harshly than animal-rights advocates who block a facility that does animal research.

"This is discrimination based on the content of my message," says Crossed. She and many other anti-abortion activists also argue that the language of the bill is too vague and could be used to punish activity protected by the First Amendment.

At the same hearing, attorney Nikolas Nikas of the American Family Association Law Center argued that the terms are so vague that "parents who, in their own home, momentarily stand in front of one of their minor daughters (|physically obstruct') to attempt to discuss with her an unexpected pregnancy and dissuade her from walking out the front door and obtaining an abortion (|interfere' or |intimidate') might be found to violate the FACE bill."

But supporters of the Federal legislation see a difference between the activities of certain "pro-lifers" and the civil disobedience of activists working on other issues. In testimony before the Senate Committee on Labor and Human Resources, Attorney General Reno pointed out that by blockading clinics or harassing providers and patients, activists are interfering with a constitutionally protected right. "We have tried to make this [bill] consistent with the 1964 Civil Rights Act," she said.

Indeed, many abortion-rights activists liken the behavior of some of their adversaries to the segregationists in the South who tried to stop African-Americans from voting or sitting on juries. "You don't have a First Amendment right to interfere with another person's constitutional rights," says Katie Kolbert of the Center for Law and Reproductive Policy. Kolbert's position is shared by the American Civil Liberties Union, which has found no conflicts between the Senate bill and the First Amendment. In addition, proponents of the bill point out that it explicitly states that it does not prohibit peaceful behavior protected by the First Amendment.

Wendy Wright of Operation Rescue raises a different objection to the FACE bill. She questions its effect on health-care workers who might strike outside a clinic. But Chris DeVries of the American Nurses Association says her nurses have no problem with the bill on that score. DeVries says they would never want to interfere with anyone's health care. And she notes that "there are always rules for where you can demonstrate." Indeed, since the 1942 case of Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire, the Supreme Court has held that "time, place, and manner restrictions" may be placed on First Amendment activities.

But other bills pending in states throughout the country may, in fact, pose conflict with the First Amendment. In April, a bill took effect in Colorado which prohibits certain types of behavior within a hundred-foot area around a clinic entrance. Inside this "bubble zone," no one may come within eight feet of another person unless that person consents. While the law has not been opposed by the Colorado chapter of the ACLU, Estelle Rogers of the organization's national office says she's not sure that everyone in the national office, or in other states, would agree. It seems likely the bill will be challenged by anti-abortion activists in Colorado.

But even if the Colorado bill stands and the FACE bill is enacted, will it really make a difference for abortion providers?

"You can build all the jails in the world, enact all the laws you want," says Melbourne clinic owner Windle, "and they still won't be enough if the police won't arrest them." She and many other abortion providers say they've had a hard time getting law-enforcement officials in some states and municipalities to enforce already existing legislation.

In fact, this has been such a problem that U.S. Representative Nita Lowey, a New York Democrat, plans to introduce a bill that will link Community Development Block Grants from the Federal Government to local authorities' willingness to enforce trespassing and other ordinances at abortion clinics. Ron Fitzsimmons of the National Coalition of Abortion Providers says most cities get at least $1 million worth of these grants and they don't want to lose them.

Even without Lowey's bill, though, abortion-rights advocates say the FACE bill will bring the resources of the U.S. Attorney General's office and the FBI to bear on investigations of violence and harassment at clinics. Fitzsimmons hopes that, with the resources of the Federal Government in play, it will finally be possible to catch the people who are gluing locks shut, using butyric acid, and bombing clinics.

There are other ways to slow down harassment as well, say abortion-rights advocates. Sally Patterson, a spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood Federation of America, says her group is trying to bring more physicians into the field. "We are making it possible for medical students to do internships in OUT clinics, and the American Medical Association just had a lengthy conference where medical students were approached and asked to think about learning the procedure."

In addition, Planned Parenthood and other groups are pushing for regulations that would allow physician's assistants and registered nurses to do first-trimester abortions, which are relatively simple procedures. Patterson says they believe that an increase in the number of providers will make it harder for anti-abortion activists to successfully target any single individual or clinic.

What they really need is "critical mass," says Windle. "I think the pro-choice side has fallen for the anti-abortion propaganda that providers are rich and greedy and just out for the money. They have got to come out and support us with their time and their money. The other side seems to have an endless supply of money and we just can't fight it."

But whatever it takes, Patricia Windle, Jeri Rasmussen, Dr. Brian Finkle, and Dr. Bernard Luck have vowed not to quit like some of their colleagues.

"Never," says Rasmussen. "Without reproductive choice, we would be enslaving half the population. Every incident that has occurred makes me more committed than the day before, and makes me know even more strongly that no one can make a decision for another human being. It's no different from when George Wallace stood in front of the school door and said, You will not enter.' I'm happy to be working in a field that is so noble."
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Author:Sydell, Laura L.
Publication:The Progressive
Article Type:Cover Story
Date:Aug 1, 1993
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