Atlanta Clinic Bombing: Brutal Wake-Up Call

by Mary Lou Greenberg

Revolutionary Worker #891, January 26, 1997

On January 16, a women's health clinic in Atlanta was targeted by two bomb explosions. The first blast demolished the Atlanta Northside Family Planning Services, located in a five-story building in Sandy Springs, just north of Atlanta. The second bomb went off about an hour later in an adjoining parking lot, injuring several people.

This vicious attack on women's right to abortion came just a few days before the 14th anniversary of the January 22, 1973 Supreme Court Roe v. Wade decision which legalized abortion in the U.S. In the past, the anti-abortion movement has used the anniversary of Roe v. Wade to escalate their activities.

The Atlanta bombing underscores the fact that a war on women continues to be waged. Convicted clinic bomber Michael Bray, who advocates "justifiable homicide" of abortion doctors, was quoted in the Atlanta Constitution as saying he was "relieved" by the bombings, that this was a "sign of revival."

In fact, reactionary violence against abortion providers has escalated in recent months. On December 18, Dr. Calvin Jackson was stabbed 15 times outside a New Orleans women's clinic. His ear was nearly severed in the attack. Later in the day, a man was arrested for the attack on Dr. Jackson after he brandished a filet knife outside a clinic in Baton Rouge. During December there were three arson attempts on the A-Z Women's Center in Phoenix, and a Planned Parenthood clinic in Dallas was robbed at gunpoint. Then on New Year's Day, a Tulsa, Oklahoma abortion clinic was fire-bombed with Molotov cocktails. The clinic was closed for the holiday and fortunately no one was injured.

In the wake of the Atlanta bombing, the press has been quick to claim that "there has been a slight decline in violence" against abortion clinics. But the truth is, women's health clinics around the country are still under siege--and were hit by all kinds of attacks throughout 1996. Planned Parenthood affiliates reported an average of five incidents of harassment or violence each month in 1996, an increase over 1995. A survey by the Feminist Majority showed that while some forms of attacks declined in 1996 (stalking and death threats), bombings, chemical attacks and arson threats went up. Threats and harassment have continued at clinics nationwide. And blockades and clinic invasions by antis, supposedly curtailed under the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) law, are still occurring. On December 7, for instance, 11 people were arrested for putting up a physical barricade against Planned Parenthood in Rochester, New York. Anti-abortionists blocked all entrances and put glue in the door locks. An old car with wheels removed was parked against the front door, and six people locked themselves into a large box blocking the staff entrance.

Another indication of the seriousness of this war on women's reproductive rights are recent statistics that show a decline in abortions over the past years. This reflects a situation where women are made to feel guilty about terminating a pregnancy, legal barriers are put in the way of women getting an abortion, and access to abortion is increasingly difficult with clinics under attack and some forced to close down. Getting an abortion under these circumstances is particularly difficult for young women in states with parental notification/consent laws and for women in rural areas where there are hardly any clinics that provide abortions. At least 84 percent of all U.S. counties have no abortion providers.

A Pennsylvania State Health Department report issued this month reported that the number of abortions done in the state in 1995 dropped by 6.2 percent over 1994 and was the lowest number since figures were first released in 1995. Restrictive Pennsylvania laws force young women to notify their parents before getting an abortion--something many young women are justifiably unable or unwilling to do--and require waiting periods between the time a women gets counseling at a clinic and the time she can get the abortion. This means that women have to visit a clinic on two separate occasions, a great hardship for those who live many miles from a clinic.

What's Not Needed

In the aftermath of the Atlanta bombings, politicians have been quick to piously proclaim their outrage and faith in the Justice Department and local cops to find the guilty. Their cries have been joined by calls for increased police and Federal protection for clinics from national figures in the reproductive rights movement. But let's deal with reality!

First of all, there have been 41 bombings, 108 arsons and 69 attempted bombings/arsons at clinics from 1977 to 1996. Not to mention the hundreds of clinic invasions, vandalism, death and bomb threats, etc. Only a tiny fraction of these incidents have ever been "solved" or even had charges brought by law enforcement. Very few have even been covered by the media. January 16 was not the first time Northside Family Planning Services was bombed. In 1984 it was hit by a firebomb and eight days later, a Molotov cocktail was thrown through the front window of another clinic, the Marietta Planned Parenthood Clinic. No one was ever arrested in either bombing. Laws and cops haven't stopped anti-abortionists from assaulting, shooting, and killing doctors and clinic workers.

No, relying on this system isn't going to bring about greater safety at the clinics, peace of mind for providers, or safer and easier access to abortion for women. Experience has shown us that only the strength of the masses can beat back the anti-abortionists at the clinic doors. And relying on the government to deal with the ongoing attacks on clinics will only take the initiative out of the hands of the people.

No matter what their intentions, the calls from leaders of the pro-choice movement for more protection from the courts, cops and Feds will only--as such calls have in the past--demobilize people and promote the dangerous illusion that we can trust the powers-that-be to deal with the situation. Historically, agencies like the FBI have spied on, hurt and tried to destroy the people's movements. And bringing in local and federal police only provides added opportunity and justification for them to come in and investigate and harass the people under attack, try to split the movement by warning people to stay away from "radical" elements, and discourage people from mobilizing mass defense of the clinics.

After a clinic in Everett, Washington was hit by three fire bombings in 1983-84, the local cops came in and suggested that the clinic workers did it to collect insurance money.

A more recent example is what happened when the Feds were called in after the bombing of several Black churches. They began their investigation by grilling members of the burned churches! To quote the statement circulated by Refuse & Resist! and signed by abortion providers and women's rights activists condemning the church burnings:

"There are connections between the acts of terror, the hate mongering groups and even the way law enforcement led the desultory first investigations. Just as Black church members have been, we, too, have been the ones questioned when the obvious perpetrators go unquestioned until their footprints are cold. We, too, are accused of setting fire to our own buildings even though dozens of arsonists are caught and convicted of the arsons, and are revealed to be anti-abortion extremists. Not one abortion provider has ever been actually charged with arson. We are denied justice from the Justice Department even though the crimes against us are those that would be swiftly prosecuted if the targets were a bank or another type of small business..."

New Spirit of Resistance

The recent attacks come at a time when a new spirit of resistance is beginning to develop in the pro-choice movement. At its October meeting, the National Coalition of Abortion Providers decided to launch a campaign to de-stigmatize abortion and encourage member clinics to hold open houses during the week of January 22. The purpose, according to NCAP, is "to remind people that January 22, 1973 was a day of liberation for millions of women."

And very significantly, October 26, 1996 was the first National Day of Appreciation for Abortion Providers, called as part of the October Month of Resistance initiated by Refuse & Resist! People stepped forward on this day in many cities to honor abortion providers. This was praised by National Abortion Federation Executive Director Vicki Saporta as "an unprecedented event which generated support for providers and energized pro-choice activism across the country."

These are important first steps in changing the climate and level of resistance. But much more is needed. Most providers continue to feel vulnerable to attacks and stigmatized in society generally. Even within the "pro-choice" community, abortion is too often considered a "necessary evil" and providers are looked down on as doing "dirty work." This is a direct result of the reactionary ideological and political offensive by the anti-abortionists.

Unfortunately, the coming inauguration of Bill Clinton is being celebrated by too many in the pro-choice movement who should know better. Some people point to Clinton as being "pro-choice." But his infamous remark that abortion should be "safe, legal and rare" is right in step with those who say abortion is dirty, undesirable and something to restrict. This reflects the unscientific, wrong view that fetuses are the same as children and that abortion is murder. In reality, a fetus does not become a baby until it is born and has a separate social existence from the woman. As I've said before, why should abortion be "rare" when the control of reproduction, including through abortion, is absolutely necessary for women to gain equality and liberation? Abortions should be available on demand, as often as women need them, and there should be no defensiveness or apologies associated with the procedure.

The Day of Appreciation unleashed people to act in a self-reliant spirit. We have to build on this and find the ways to embolden people and unleash them to step forward in additional ways, to stand up for and alongside providers and defend them in the face of murderous threats and reactionary violence. It may be difficult but it's critically necessary to resist the tidal wave of calls to rely on the system to stop these attacks. We need to find the ways to protect clinics and providers by any means necessary. And we need to do this by relying on the people and creating a liberating and empowering atmosphere where women don't have to apologize about their reproductive needs and choices, where they can hold their heads up and not fear for their safety, dignity and lives.

This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
Write: Box 3486, Merchandise Mart, Chicago, IL 60654
Phone: 773-227-4066 Fax: 773-227-4497
(The RW Online does not currently communicate via email.) 3