Atlanta, Tulsa Bombings

Women's Clinics Under Fire

Time for A Strong Defense

Revolutionary Worker #892, February 2, 1997

The recent bombing of women's clinics in Atlanta and Tulsa underscores the fact that around the country, women's clinics are under fire.

Doctors forced to dress for work in bullet-proof vests. Clinic receptionists greet patients in waiting rooms--not knowing if they will become the next target of an anti-abortion gunmen. Women forced to walk through a gauntlet of screaming reactionaries, just to get needed health services.

The murders of doctors and clinic bombings make headlines. But the daily state of siege goes on with little publicity: Death threats and hate mail. Glue in locks. Acid in ventilating systems. Doctors stalked and harassed. Pickets, blockades, and vandalism. And added to all this, an onslaught of legal maneuvers and government regulations aimed at restricting abortion rights in many and varied ways.

This is an urgent situation that demands urgent action. The majority of people in this country support a women's right to choose. There are millions who think these attacks on clinics are intolerable. Hundreds of thousands of women and men have marched in the streets to prevent the government from making abortion illegal.

There is great potential for mobilizing the masses to stop the vicious attacks on women's clinics. But there is fear and confusion preventing people from building the kind of strong movement needed to defend the clinics. So I'd like to speak to some of the wrong arguments, which have come up again in the wake of the Atlanta and Tulsa bombings.

The "Dialogue/Compromise" Argument

First, there's the argument for "dialogue and compromise." This is often expressed by the view that there are "two extremes" on abortion--and that both are equally bad. According to this view, what's needed is "dialogue between" the "two extremes" to stop the violence. This view argues: pro-choice people only make things worse when they take an uncompromising stand against the anti-abortionists and instead, they should appeal to more "moderate" forces in the anti-abortion movement to help fight these attacks.

Hillary Clinton and Vice President Al Gore put out this view at a January 22 luncheon sponsored by the National Abortion Rights Action League. Speaking about the recent bombings, Hillary said, "I hope that we will be able to find ways of increasing dialogue and working together with people of good faith who do not share extremism as their rallying cry." Gore appealed to "moderates" in the anti-abortion ranks to work with pro-choice groups. And the press was quick to report, "The 24th anniversary of Roe v. Wade was marked by calls for an end to violence at clinics and for greater dialogue between anti-abortion and abortion rights forces."

This argument for "dialogue and compromise" has influenced some people in the pro-choice movement who recognize the urgency of stopping the murders, shootings, and bombings. But the truth is, such an approach will not help to put an end to the vicious attacks by anti-abortion activists.

This talk of "compromise" only covers up the fact that the anti-abortion movement stands for the oppression and subjugation of women and that taking away the right to choose denies women the very right to control their own lives. There are two "extreme" sides in the battle around abortion--right and wrong. And all those who believe in the equality and liberation of women should be uncompromising on the question of a woman's right to choose.

There are a lot of people, including young high school age youth, who have been sucked in by the anti-abortion rhetoric. And we have to fight hard to win people over to a scientific and liberating view of abortion. We do have to re-polarize public opinion on abortion. But this is not going to be accomplished by giving any credence to the misinformation and lies put out by the antis.

If you want others to be strong, you must be strong. And trying to "dialogue" with so-called "moderates" in the anti-abortion movement is not going to help win people over who are honestly confused and mis-informed. The only way to win over such people is to be firm in telling the truth: That abortion is not murder. Fetuses are not babies. And women must have an unconditional right to terminate an unwanted pregnancy.

The "Rare" Argument

Some people who argue there should be "dialogue" with the anti-abortionists say this is possible because, "we are all working to make abortion rare." Hillary and Al urged people at the January 22 luncheon to "work with opponents of abortion to reduce the need for the procedure." Al appealed to moderates in the anti-abortion ranks to work with pro-choice groups on areas of "common interest," including "limiting the number of unwanted pregnancies."

These statements echo Bill Clinton's view that abortion should be "safe, legal and rare." Some people think this makes Clinton pro-choice, but they are wrong. In reality, Clinton is right in step with the anti-abortion view that abortion is something "dirty" that we should work to restrict and eventually get rid of.

Too many people in the pro-choice movement are defensive about abortion. Sometimes this comes out in the form of people emphasizing other services provided at women's health clinics, like prenatal care and contraception--as if clinics should be apologetic about providing abortion services, or that they have to justify giving abortions by saying they work to prevent unwanted pregnancies.

But women should NOT be defensive or apologetic about abortion. There is nothing wrong whatsoever with a woman getting an abortion. As Mary Lou Greenberg has said, "Why should abortion be `rare' when the control of reproduction, including through abortion, is absolutely necessary for women to gain equality and liberation?"

There is no reason a woman should feel guilty about having an abortion. They should be available, accessible and safe to anyone who needs them, for whatever reasons. Women should be proud, not apologetic, when they take control of their lives, defy "traditional" oppressive roles and fight to be independent.

The "Bring in the Cops" Argument

In the wake of the recent bombings, a number of pro-choice leaders have called for increased police and federal protection for abortion clinics. The National Organization for Women issued a press release calling for "The same response to Clinic Bombings as Government Gave to Church Burnings" And NOW president Patricia Ireland said, "We're gratified by President Clinton's strong response and the FBI's involvement in the investigation of today's explosion and we take some credit for the political changes that have brought that about." But relying on the government will do nothing to stop these attacks and is dangerous and harmful to the people's struggle.

The example of government involvement in Black church burnings is being raised by NOW, so let's look at some history.

During the Civil Rights Movement in the early '60s, there was a wave of racist burnings of Black churches--the most notorious being the 1963 bombing of a Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, in which four Black girls were killed. In the summer of 1964, 34 Black churches were burned in Mississippi alone. It is now known that police officials, both local and federal, were involved in such attacks. Declassified government documents prove that FBI informants and officials knew about the 1963 Birmingham bombing before it happened and local Birmingham police were implicated in the bombing.

And what happened in 1996, when the FBI came in after the burnings of several Black churches in the south? Federal agents polygraphed Black ministers, fingerprinted church members, showed up unannounced at job sites and homes, and implied that church members burned their own church. In many places the federal, state, and local investigations became witchhunts aimed at the pastors and members of the Black churches. The situation was so outrageous a delegation of 30 Black church leaders and lawyers went to Washington to complain about such treatment.

In fact, some women's health clinics have had similar experiences when local and federal agents have come in after clinic burnings. For instance, after an abortion clinic in Everett, Washington was hit by three firebombings in 1983-84, local cops came in and suggested that the clinic workers did it to collect insurance money.

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.

It is also futile to rely on the system's laws and courts--as the recent court decision in the Dobbs Ferry case shows. Two anti-abortionists who had been arrested 20 times for blocking clinics could have been found guilty of criminal contempt of court. They had been told to abide by the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act of 1994 --that is supposed to protect clinic entrances and exits. But federal Judge John E. Sprizzo ruled that the two antis had committed no crime when they blocked access to a clinic in Dobbs Ferry, NY by invoking a 1970 Supreme Court decision in favor of a Vietnam War conscientious objector. Using this verdict to turn right and wrong upside down, he said the two antis were innocent because they had been acting on "sincere, genuine, objectively based" religious convictions. He then used a rarely exercised privilege that permits jurors to vote in defiance of a law if they believe it is wrong.

Experience has shown us that we cannot rely on the system's laws, courts and cops to get justice. Only the strength of the masses has been able to keep the clinic doors open. And it will take a mass movement to beat back the ongoing attacks on women's clinics.

No matter what their intentions, calls from leaders in the pro-choice movement for more protection from the courts, cops and Feds will only--as such calls have in the past--demobilize people, create a climate of complacency, and promote the dangerous illusion that we can trust the power structure to deal with the situation. This is the exact opposite of what's needed.

We need to find the ways to protect clinics and providers by any means necessary. We need to mobilize and rely on the people to do this. And we need to create an atmosphere where women can proudly hold their heads up high and demand: Abortion On Demand and Without Apology!

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.)