Drawing the Line in Birmingham

By Mary Lou Greenberg

Revolutionary Worker #950, March 29, 1998

The following report was sent to the RW by Mary Lou Greenberg, member of Refuse & Resist! and spokesperson for the New York Branch of the Revolutionary Communist Party. Mary Lou went down to Birmingham right after the New Woman All Women Health Care clinic was bombed to help organize pro-choice forces:

Outside New Woman All Women Health Care clinic there was little physical evidence of the bomb explosion six weeks earlier. New glass doors and floor-to-ceiling windows had been installed days after the blast, replacing ones shattered on January 29. A new, maroon-colored awning with the clinic's name in crisp white letters, similar to the old one destroyed in the blast, was over the door. The foot-deep crater beside the front walkway where the bomb evidently had been placed was filled in, and new sod covered the small lawn area. One new addition to the landscaping was a gem magnolia tree, planted on March 10 and dedicated to the victims of the bombing--security guard Robert Sanderson killed in the blast and nurse Emily Lyons who was severely injured--as well as all victims of anti-abortion violence.

The physical evidence of the explosion was gone from the clinic. But the people gathered here on March 14 were determined that not only would the bombing never be forgotten but that it would bring forth renewed dedication and commitment to stand firm in defense of abortion clinics, providers and women's lives. Well-known advocates for women's rights and representatives of national organizations joined with Birmingham activists and others to send a strong message nationwide: We're Drawing the Line in Birmingham.

Messages of national support and solidarity were presented at the clinic. Then speakers, clinic staff and supporters went to the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church where in 1963, during an intense period in the civil rights struggle, a racist bombing killed four little African-American girls. An article the next day in The Birmingham News quoted Gloria Steinem, who spoke at the site: "Just as the bombing here in '63 caused a turnaround in this country in thinking about civil rights, another bombing in this city, this time against reproductive freedom, may cause a similar turnaround in this country... If we're going to turn around opinion about a woman's reproductive choice this century, this is the symbolically right place and right city in which to do it. Let's do it right here."

After speaking at the clinic, Gloria went with a New Woman staff member to visit Emily Lyons in the hospital. Emily lost her left eye and sustained serious injury to her torso and both legs in the bombing. She has had to endure many surgical procedures and is undergoing intensive physical therapy. Still, she remains optimistic and upbeat. Steinem told the crowd at the church, "When I asked her what I should tell you, she said to tell you not to stop. Not to let those people win."

David Gunn Jr.--the son of Dr. David Gunn, murdered by an anti-abortion gunman in Pensacola, Florida five years ago on March 10, 1993--addressed the crowd outside the clinic. He said, "This is what we need. We need the community to come together and show clinic staff we really appreciate what they're doing for us -- they're carrying the torch for women's equal rights in this country." Looking toward the assembled clinic staff, he urged everyone to "applaud these people who are braving the violence." Later, David received a standing ovation after he spoke in the church.

As people spoke outside the clinic, Refuse & Resist! activists from Chicago stood in the adjoining parking lot and held up a vividly colored 9x12-foot mural by Chicago artists which depicted both the pain of the bombing and the heroism of abortion providers, with the slogan, "Draw the Line in Birmingham." They had also brought a banner with supportive messages and signatures gathered in Chicago. This was presented to New Woman administrator Michelle Farley along with a check for over $1,000 which was raised for the clinic at a Chicago event on March 10, the National Day of Appreciation for Abortion Providers.

At the church, tribute was paid to special guests in the audience, including staff of all Birmingham clinics; Linda Taggart, administrator of the Pensacola clinic where a doctor and clinic escort were murdered by an anti-abortionist in 1994; and other providers. Over 300 attended the church event, including carloads from Chicago, Atlanta, Pensacola, New Orleans and several Alabama cities.

I had the honor of being one of the co-MCs along with Birmingham activist Marayln Mosley. The main speaker for the events was Gloria Steinem, activist, author, co-founder of Ms. magazine, and president of Voters for Choice. Other speakers representing national organizations included Frances Kissling, president of Catholics for a Free Choice; Vicki Saporta, executive director of the National Abortion Federation (NAF), the professional association of abortion providers in the U.S.; Baptist minister Rev. Carlton Veazey, executive director of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice; Annie Laurie Gaylor, cofounder of the Freedom from Religion foundation; Ann Glazier, director of clinic defense and research, Planned Parenthood Federation of America; Krista Kurtzberg, Medical Students for Choice; and Belle Taylor-McGhee, communications director, National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League (NARAL).

Others speakers included Beverly McMahon and Dana Ford, co-owners of The Otherside Lounge, the Atlanta gay/lesbian club that was the target of a bombing in February 1997; Dexter Wimbish of the Center for Democratic Renewal in Atlanta (which organized support for burned Black and mixed nationality churches); New York University student and Refuse & Resist! activist Donna McKenna; and Birmingham residents Rev. Marge Ragona of the Covenant Metropolitan Community Church and Rev. Lawton Higgs of the Church of the Reconciler.

Statements of support were sent from the Feminist Majority Foundation and the national office of the National Organization for Women, as well as U.S. Congressperson from Georgia Cynthia McKinney.

Many speakers called for people to actively stand with and support abortion providers. Another theme was the common reactionary agenda behind the array of attacks coming down on the people today--attacks on abortion providers, on Black people, on gays and lesbians. Listening to the words--which expressed similar sentiments but came from and reflected different experiences and analyses--I was struck by the potential power of such unity and the vision of a revitalized, re-mobilized movement it presented.

The Birmingham bombing was a serious re-escalation of the war on abortion, proof, once again, that opponents of women's right to reproductive choice--and, therefore, women's ability to be free--will stop at nothing. But the horror of January 29 also brought forward great courage. One week after the bombing the clinic opened with their full staff, including another nurse who had come forward to fill in for Emily, and was seeing clients. The March 14 event itself was the culmination of a "Week of Remembrance and Renewal" organized by the Emergency Coalition for Choice, which included an outdoor rally March 7, as well as the tree-planting ceremony at the clinic March 10. As the March 14 gathering made clear, the bloody challenge thrown down by the bomber--and all those behind him--has become a rallying cry for a new level of national unity and commitment to defend abortion providers and stand up for abortion access and women's lives.

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