Clinic Defense in Bombingham

Revolutionary Worker #944, February 15, 1998

In the wake of the January 29 bombing at New Woman All Women Medical Center in Birmingham, fighters for women's rights have delivered a courageous response. On February 5, the New Woman All Women clinic reopened its doors, and the other clinic in town, Summit Medical Center, has extended hours. There is a defiant spirit that no one will prevent women from making decisions on when, where, and whether they will have children.

In a letter to pro-choice activists, Mary Lou Greenberg of the Reproductive Rights Task Force of Refuse & Resist! wrote: "I arrived in Birmingham a day after the bombing to support the clinic and help mobilize and organize national support and assistance. It's a victory for all women and everyone who supports women's freedom that the clinic reopened today with a full (and very courageous and dedicated) staff and saw clients! Jeff Lyons, the husband of clinic nurse Emily Lyons who was gravely injured in the bombing, made an appearance at the clinic this morning to tell the press that the bombing `did not work,' that the clinic was open and that another nurse had stepped forward to take Emily's place on the staff to provide services to women. (Emily is improving but is still in serious condition.) Clinic owner Diane Derzis, her administrator Michelle Farley, and the entire staff of New Woman All Women Health Care have received offers of material assistance and letters of love and support from around the country."

Among the offers of support, Merle Hoffman, President of Choices Women's Medical Center in New York and the Diana Foundation, announced a grant to New Woman All Women's Medical Center to reopen the clinic. Hoffman called for "all abortion and other health care providers, progressive people and people of conscience to step forward with their commitment, energy, and financial contributions to assist New Woman All Women."

The bombing--only one week after the 25th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision which legalized abortion--was a deadly message to women. "We are outraged that just one week after marking the 25th anniversary of legal abortion, the bombing of an abortion clinic has resulted in the death of one person and critical injury of another... The bomber's attempt to strike fear into abortion clinic patients and staff is designed to put one more barrier to women exercising the freedom to choose," said Dr. Robert Rockwell, the National Secretary of R&R! "Limitations on abortion, through restrictive laws and violent attacks, are a part of the whole political program of `punishment, poverty and patriarchy' that Refuse & Resist! calls the `politics of cruelty.' We say it's all one attack."

On Saturday, Jan. 31, 150 people gathered at a park close to New Woman All Women Medical Center. People were outraged at the bombing of the clinic--which killed security guard Robert D. Sanderson and wounded nurse Emily Lyons as she was entering the clinic. The President of Alabama National Organization for Women said, "We'll do whatever it takes" to keep the clinic open. Katherine Spillar, speaking for the Feminist Majority, Planned Parenthood, National Abortion Federation, and national NOW, detailed the years of clinic bombings and challenged people not to see this as an isolated incident. Local activists, religious people, and clinic escorts spoke out. A veteran civil rights activist told how she, as a 13-year-old Black child, had been raped and assisted in getting an abortion--at a time when abortion was illegal. She recalled that when she sees the coat-hanger used to symbolize women's determination to never return to the days when abortion was illegal, she thinks also of knitting needles and catheters, which she had used to give herself an abortion after she'd had enough children.

Mary Lou Greenberg, speaking for Refuse & Resist!, received cheers from the crowd when she said: "Make no mistake. This has nothing to do with fetuses! It's about women's lives! Women have got to have access to abortion to participate fully in society." She pledged that R&R! will defend abortion providers "by any means necessary." The rally ended with a moving candlelight vigil as people lit candles for those hurt and killed in this bombing and all the other violent attacks on abortion, for those women who died of illegal abortions before 1973, and for those women who've lived with legal abortion. Many in the crowd said afterward, they had no idea how much violence abortion providers had suffered. Hundreds of dollars were raised for Emily Lyons, the nurse, and for the family of Robert Sanderson, the security guard.

On February 2, Refuse and Resist! reported that barricades had come down, allowing people to approach the clinic: "At noon today, representatives of national pro-choice organizations, including the Feminist Majority Foundation, National Abortion Federation, Planned Parenthood, and Refuse & Resist!, along with abortion providers, held a press conference outside the clinic. Clinic owner Diane Derzis announced that the clinic will be open, seeing patients, as early as this Thursday. When reporters asked skeptically whether patients would actually show up, Diane said that the bomb would not stop the staff from providing abortions to women who need them. She said that violence threatens every person who works in an abortion clinic, and that clinic staff and doctors are the unsung heroes of this situation."

Refuse & Resist! has declared their determination to support and defend, "in whatever ways necessary, abortion providers and staff in keeping abortion accessible." They have called on everyone who cares about women's lives to speak out against this bombing, and to stand with our abortion providers in concretely assisting them.

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