Report from Birmingham

On the Front Lines in the Battle for Choice

Revolutionary Worker #943, February 8, 1998

Thursday, January 29 a bomb went off at the New Woman, All Women Health Care Clinic in Birmingham, Alabama. Robert D. Sanderson, a security guard for the clinic was killed. And Emily Lyons, a nurse/counselor was seriously injured and lost an eye. This clinic has been subjected to continual anti-abortion picketing and protests. And the doctors working here have been threatened in the past.

This latest outrage underscores how serious the situation is in the battle to defend reproductive rights. And it should serve as a wake-up call for people to step up the struggle to defend abortion providers and clinics by any means necessary.

Counting this bombing there have been 199 attacks, including non-fatal bombings, on abortion clinics since 1982. Comparing 1977 to 1996, there were double the arsons and triple the bombings at abortion clinics. And five people have been murdered by anti-abortion violence since 1993.


Mary Lou Greenberg, long-time activist in the struggle for women's reproductive rights, member of Refuse & Resist!, and spokesperson for the New York branch of the RCP, sent the RW the following report from Birmingham on January 31:

A dozen pro-choice volunteer clinic escorts were already on the sidewalk when we got to Summit Medical Center at 6:30 a.m., Saturday, January 31. Summit is only a block away from New Woman All Women clinic where a bomb went off Thursday morning, killing a security guard and seriously injuring a nurse/counselor. Summit itself has been the target of vicious anti-abortion protests through the years, as had New Woman All Women. The block around the bombed clinic was cordoned off by police, but in Summit's window was a boldly lettered sign, "This Clinic Is Open."

As I, along with several other Refuse & Resist! activists, walked up, one escort in a bright orange vest was inspecting a pile of dead leaves near the clinic driveway. "We want to make sure this isn't hiding anything," he said to us.

A handful of antis were also near the driveway. We recognized the national head of Operation Rescue, Flip Benham, as well as others from past Operation Rescue assaults in other cities and the attempted siege of clinics in Dayton last July. They were spouting their lies about fetuses being babies--and only thinly covering up their support for murder and bombings at abortion clinics. We're "sorry" about the bombing, one local anti said as she tried to elbow me away from the side of the clinic driveway, but "we're sorrier about the babies murdered inside these places."

The women coming into the clinic were subjected to vicious lies and hateful "preaching" by Benham et al. But thanks to the escorts in their identifiable vests with the words, "clinic escort," all 30-plus clients were able to drive into the parking lot. One African-American man who had just driven a woman to the clinic marched angrily across the parking lot and challenged an anti who was holding a huge bloody fetus poster. "That bombing was terrible. Why are you out here?" he demanded. When the antis began pointing to the fetus sign, he interrupted, "It's not about that, it's about her life," he said, pointing to the clinic door. "It's a woman's choice!"

One of the escorts I talked with told me she hadn't been active for several years but that she'd called to volunteer right after she heard about the bombing. "It's time to get active again," she said. She told me about another woman who was escorting for the first time ever that morning and had been accosted by an anti when she arrived before veteran escorts were on the scene. "This is a dangerous place," the anti had told her. "You'd better leave." But this had made the escort even more determined to stay.

As we ate breakfast a few hours later at a nearby restaurant, our waitress also spoke some truth about what's going on here and across the country. When we told her why were in town, she told us that she had grown up thinking she could never have an abortion. But after she found herself pregnant, divorced with "no education" and supporting a teenaged daughter, she knew she wanted an abortion. "I got married when I was a teenager," she said, "and at age 38 I had no idea how I could support another child." She went to New Woman All Women to have an abortion and "found out who really cared about women." "I wasn't hurt by having an abortion, like the zealots outside the clinic said," she told us. "I was hurt by the zealots!" She said when she heard about the bombing she decided that she wanted to volunteer to escort women inside. We encouraged her to come to the pro-choice rally in the afternoon and said we would hook her up with the local escorts.

Some of the antis in Birmingham had been in Washington, D.C. just last week, when we had a pro-choice march and rally on the 25th anniversary of Roe v. Wade. They had been part of the group trying to shove us off the Supreme Court steps. Some of the antis in D.C. held signs that read, "Free Paul Hill, Execute Abortionists." (Paul Hill is the convicted killer of a doctor and his clinic escort in Pensacola, Florida in 1994.) Another anti, Rev. David Trosch of Mobile, Alabama, who has publicy upheld the killing of abortion providers, was quoted in The Birmingham News on Friday saying, "When the government fails to do this [stop abortions], it's mandatory for others to do it." Trosch has been an active clinic protestor here in Birmingham as well as in Mobile in recent years. Another anti was quoted in the press January 30 saying, "I don't like to see anybody die, but they're in a business of death. You live by the sword, you die by the sword."

Some antis have tried to distance themselves from the Birmingham bombing. But David Gunn, Jr., whose father was the first abortion doctor murdered by an anti five years ago this coming March 10, exposed the connection between the reactionary violence against abortion providers and the ugly lies and rhetoric of the anti-abortion movement. Speaking about the Birmingham bombing he told the The Birmingham News, "As long as they continue to portray the clinic workers as monsters and murderers, you can't be surprised." A local abortion rights activist also made the connection between the antis' words and deeds, saying, "These self-righteous people like Trosch distance themselves from the violence, but they create the environment for it."

Alabama long has been heavily targeted by antis. Birmingham clinics were hit by massive Operation Rescue blockades in November 1988 and had seen anti-abortion attacks even earlier. In May 1984, Birmingham priest Rev. Edward Markley was convicted and served time for a sledgehammer attack on equipment inside a clinic here. Pensacola, where the two doctors and an escort were murdered, is just 60 miles from Mobile--itself the scene of heavy protests by Trosch and cronies. And just last July a Tuscaloosa clinic was hit by arson and, while no one was injured, sustained $250,000 in damage. It has since reopened.

Alabama providers have been staunch in standing up to all this. The bombed clinic in Birmingham is presently owned by Diane Derzis, Summit's former administrator, who is well known in this area as an outspoken upholder of women's rights. And several years ago, New Woman's former owner forcibly removed an anti after he burst into the clinic waiting room.

As I write this, I have heard that offers of assistance for the clinic are coming in from around the country. The Feminist Majority and National Organization for Women sent national representatives to Birmingham and Refuse & Resist! activists from Atlanta and other cities are here. Protests have been organized in New York and the SF Bay Area.

In my opinion, this is a situation that demands a truly national response--renewed dedication to stop the attacks and defend abortion access, and a concrete practical program based on unleashing the masses of pro-choice people across the country. As our brief experience here so far shows, there is great anger among many people--along with courageous determination to support clinics and providers.

This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
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